Video games have been a fixture of modern life since they invaded households in the late ’70s and early ’80s. As a result, gaming is sometimes used in movies to add realistic set dressing and demonstrate aspects of a character’s life or personality.
Video games and movies have a tumultuous relationship. Everyone has seen a terrible movie based on a video game or played a bad video game inspired by a much better film. However, even if video games are only a small part of the movie they’re featured in, actors and directors often make silly mistakes regarding games that can seem awkward on one end of the spectrum, and can seriously damage a viewer’s experience on the other end. It gets so bad in some films that it can make you question whether anyone involved in making the movie has ever picked up a controller before.
With that, here are the things movies get wrong about gaming.
You always see the same people online
Early on in Avengers: Endgame, an out-of-shape Thor receives a visit from The Hulk and Rocket to enlist his help in regathering the Infinity Stones. When they arrive at the New Asgard settlement in Norway, they find the God of Thunder holed up with fellow refugee Korg. While Thor seems mostly focused on drinking, Korg has developed an interest in Fortnite, which he is playing when the heroes arrive.
Korg interrupts The Hulk and Thor’s conversation to announce that someone online had returned to call him names. Thor then grabs the headset to threaten his new nemesis, Noobmaster69.
On a whole, it’s a fun scene and a cool shoutout to Fortnite. The only problem is that anyone familiar with Fortnite knows that the likelihood of running into the same random tormentor is slim. In fact, Epic recently announced that there are over 350 million registered users playing Fortnite, making it the largest online game in the world.
While Fortnite does divide its servers up by matchmaking regions and subregions, there are still enough people playing in Northern Europe to make repeat run-ins with the same cyberbully unlikely.
Any controller is compatible with any system
Gamers know all too well that if you’re going to game, you need the right controller. While those lines blur these days with the rise of Bluetooth and USB connected controllers, most people know that if you’re playing a PlayStation game, you need a PlayStation controller.
That’s why it’s jarring for gamers when they see their favorite games being played with the wrong controller. Such is the case in Reign Over Me, an Adam Sandler film where the main character develops an obsession with the 2005 classic Shadow of the Colossus.
While the film does a great job using the right button terminology and showing real footage from in-game boss battles, whatever controller Don Cheadle is using is not a DualShock 2. WIth so much effort expended to portray the game correctly, it makes you wonder where they even found the wrong controller, and why the filmmakers decided to use it.
Of course, it is at least respectable that Reign Over Me made an effort. A scene in Pitch Perfect 2 shows three characters playing Kinect Sports — a game that is motion controlled – using an Xbox controller and two iPhones.
Two players in a single-player game
Filmmakers use video games as an easy way to show characters having a good time together in a contained shot. Showing two people having a showdown with multiple controllers is even better. However, the filmmakers might want to pick a game that has multiplayer before they put a couple of controllers in their actors’ hands.
In the 2000 reimagining of Charlie’s Angels, Drew Barrymore falls over a fence in the background while two boys are playing a video game together. Each has their own controller and both look like they’re having a good time. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll notice that the game the kids are enjoying together is Final Fantasy 8.
As with almost all games in the series, Final Fantasy 8 is a single-player RPG and has no support for a second controller. Even if the boys were somehow taking turns working their way through the epic RPG, they would have to switch controllers to do so, which would be just as weird.
Button mashing is the only way
As gamers grew up with the video game industry, video games stopped being seen as toys and became more accepted as part of the normal adult world. Their depiction in movies started to grow as well, and in the early 2000s, filmgoers started to see more characters in their 20s and 30s playing video games, such as in Shaun of the Dead.
While Simon Pegg and Nick Frost do a pretty good job of making it look like they’re actually playing TimeSplitters 2, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd do slightly worse in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The two are shown playing what looks like Mortal Kombat by button mashing in a way that makes little sense to anyone who’s ever picked up a controller.
To be fair, you can make some progress playing these games by hitting buttons at random, but anyone who’s spent any time with these games knows there’s a better way. It makes a scene designed to show Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd as normal guys feel awkward, and that’s before you factor in the controversial banter that Rogen now seems to regret.
No cartridge required
All too often, movie makers forget a crucial detail when they get a console ready for its onscreen appearance – the cartridge. While this easy mistake when the console uses a CD or is out of frame, it is particularly egregious when it is seen with older handheld game systems.
The 1995 Jackie Chan movie Rumble in the Bronx features a scene where a young boy, Danny, receives a Game Gear from Jackie Chan’s character as a gift. The cartridge slot is empty when handed off, but who knows, maybe Danny can borrow some games from a friend.
However, a later scene shows Danny actually using Game Gear with some great 8-bit sound effects accompanying it. However, as you might have guessed, there is no cartridge plugged in, leading viewers to wonder not only what game Danny is playing, but where the sound effects are coming from.
Arcade games that never were
Some of the things that movies get wrong about gaming aren’t necessarily mistakes, but they are still a little disappointing to gamers. Every once in a while, you might spot one of your favorite classic video games converted to a sleek-looking arcade cabinet that never existed in the real world.
The hitman comedy-thriller Grosse Pointe Blank features an arcade version of DOOM 2 that hooks the attention of a clerk so much that he fails to notice the gunfight around him. The cabinet features the game’s box art enlarged, and while viewers may wonder how the this mouse-and-keyboard title was converted for the arcades, it looks like fun!
However, as convincing as it appears, it is just a prop. Only one was made, and on a second glance, you’ll notice that the monitor is likely showing pre-recorded footage of DOOM 2 while the clerk simply button mashes along.
Almost any movie featuring virtual reality
Virtual reality has been the dream of video game pioneers since the technology debuted. While solid, consumer-friendly virtual reality products have only recently become available, the possibilities of the medium have provided plots and twists for many films over the years.
It’s not hard to see why. Virtual reality enables filmmakers to tell futuristic stories and introduce outlandish elements . However, as hardware developers struggled in the past to figure out what virtual reality would look like in real life, movie set designers took a lot of guesses. Most of these landed pretty far from the mark.
A scene in Hackers starts off strong, with a shot of a character wearing a headset that looks alot like what the Oculus Rift does today. Then the shot zooms out to reveal a kind of virtual reality treadmill that never came to be and that the average gamer would hesitate to install in their home.
Likewise, Lawnmower Man shows a character with a realistic, if bulky, headset. However, he is wearing gloves and is seated in an uncomfortable looking chair that once again is not part of any real gamer’s setup.
Game release schedules are unconstrained by time
Ever since Shakespeare wrote a game of billiards into "Antony and Cleopatra," writers have been placing games in the wrong time. Usually this isn’t much of an issue, as most movies feature whatever games are around at the time. However, in recent historical films, you might notice some continuity errors being introduced when games and game systems appear before their time.
For example, the Iraq War movie The Hurt Locker shows a couple of characters kicking back and playing Gears of War on an Xbox 360. Everything seems fine, until gamers started to realize that The Hurt Locker was set in 2004. The Xbox 360 didn’t even arrive on store shelves until 2005, and Gears of War wasn’t released until 2006.
The filmmakers might have got away with it if the movie hadn’t been such a massive critical success. After The Hurt Locker won an Oscar for best picture, Xbox Director of Programming Larry Hryb tweeted about the inaccurate scene while congratulating the film’s big win.
Right game, different screen
Not all filmmakers ignore the realities of gaming when adding a video game scene. Back to the Future 2 features an arcade version of Wild Gunman in a scene that connects to earlier time travel events of the film and foreshadows the western adventure of the third film.
Everything is in the right time and the game uses a light gun-like controller just like the Nintendo version did. While this particular cabinet was created for the movie, it all looks pretty good at first. However, when Marty McFly shows off his skills for the two boys who start up the machine, including a young Elijah Woods, the camera pans over to show footage of the game. What is shown is nothing like what gamers were familiar with. The graphics were fabricated for the movie and were far smoother than anything seen on the Nintendo.
The craziest thing is, Wild Gunman did have an arcade version, but that looked even less like the gameplay in Back to the Future 2. The original cabinet arcade game used filmed footage for players to aim at, making it the first full motion video game.
Everyone owned a Power Glove
For a minute, the Power Glove became an easy video game reference point for movies. It was a filmmaker’s dream at the time; a high-tech-looking device that integrated virtual reality elements in a product that consumers could afford to purchase.
The most memorable appearance of the Power Glove was in 1989’s The Wizard, where a character famously tells Fred Savage, "I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad." The Power Glove even showed up in the horror film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, where Freddy Kruger has his own modified version of the controller.
With such notable appearances in movies, you might think that there was a Power Glove next to every Nintendo Entertainment System in the world. Of course, this was far from the truth. The Power Glove was a famous flop, and although it did sell over a million units during the year it was available, the original NES sold more than 60 million units. These days, you’re more likely to find a Power Glove that’s customized and repurposed than hooked up to a working Nintendo console.
Space Jam 2 makes a colorful mistake
Viewers wanted to slam and be welcomed to the jam in "Space Jam: A New Legacy," but some felt disappointed when the film made a gaming mistake. Fans noticed that in the movie, LeBron’s friend Malik shares that his dad got him a new Game Boy Color, but the handheld system LeBron has is the original Game Boy, a clunky gray brick that was rendered in black pixels.
The scene especially confused Nintendo fans, but games journalist Ben Bertoli clarified the issue on his Twitter after a long rant. Bertoli explained, "People are saying his friend is gifting him the old one after getting a Color… and that may be true, but I still don’t get why in the few seconds he plays they show color gameplay behind him." In other words, even with a small explanation the movie staging doesn’t make sense, adding "Space Jam 2" to the roster of movies that get gaming wrong.