How Not To Play Games On TV, From Someone Who's Been There

Tell an actor to play the part of a butcher and what you see on screen will be a butcher, chopping slabs of meat as if he's done so his entire life.

But put a real butcher in front of a camera and what happens? He turns into a bad actor.

Good actors excel in their ability to perform tasks with which they are unfamiliar and portray the action in a believable manner as if it's second nature.

Oh, except for when they have to play video games.

I've seen it a thousand times. You hand a controller to an actor and tell them to pretend to play, oh I don't know, Quest 64. Before long they are hunched over, rocking the controller side-to-side like a Wii steering wheel and button-mashing wildly while biting their lower lip with intensity. This is, of course, absurd, since we all know if they were really playing Quest 64, they would be flipping over tables and punching through walls in a profanity-laden fanfare. (Been there!) Why? Why do TV actors turn into overly determined buffoons when pretending to play video games?

The Big Bang Theory is a long overdue comedy series about extreme geek and gaming culture. However, the characters, who so convincingly represent socially awkward uber-nerdom, seem to have an extremely hard time pretending to play video games. For example, in an episode where the boys gathered to play Halo 3, each recklessly pressed every button on their controller as quickly as possible before proclaiming their victory with something like, "Take that, suckers!" But that's not how you play Halo at all. If you recorded someone utilising correct Halo 3 controls and then compared it to the actors on the show playing the same game, the result would be night and day.

Some would argue that it's because most actors are unfamiliar with gaming and are therefore unsure of how to portray a "gamer". But that's what actors do. It's their job to become a different person and accurately simulate their activities and occupation. I'm sure that a high percentage of loyal BBT viewers are also avid gamers, so isn't showing them such a poor representation of a gamer almost… insulting?

Okay, maybe not insulting. Maybe disappointing, since The Big Bang Theory certainly isn't the first or last program to show gamers as maniacal, screeching monkeys. Perhaps it wouldn't be such an outlandish idea to have the actors test out the games before acting the part as character research. Gaming is so mainstream these days that gamers deserve that level of authenticity.

Commercials for video games are even more inaccurate. While pretending to play a game on a blank TV without "over acting" is admittedly difficult, I've experienced the opposite, which also turned out to be difficult.

I did a series of commercials for Raving Rabbids TV Party, and it was a rare instance when my castmates and I actually did play the mini-games during each scene. Our controllers were on, the game was running, and the Ubisoft representative set up the levels before each take.

This should've made "pretending to game" easy since we were really playing, right?

NOPE. I got so into playing and kicking the butts of my castmates that I didn't look excited enough. I'd hear off-camera: "More jumping around!" and "Flail your arms more!"

See, the director didn't care that I was concentrating and looking like a real gamer. He cared that I was showing home viewers that this was the single most exciting moment of my young adult life.

What do I think is the most accurate depiction of gaming on television? Simple: GameFly commercials. They capture the true essence of an angry gamer and then take it to a level that turns it into comedy. Screaming, crying, and throwing things out windows… It's like I'm playing Quest 64 all over again.

Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.


    Thank you! I thought exactly the same thing of The Big Bang Theory. For a bunch of 'gaming' characters, they can't 'play' for shite.

    I look forward to the day when gaming ads don't embarrass me infront of the entire office. Of course, Wii ads don't count as they're not real gaming.

      Quite true, but haven't you just gotten used to their bad gaming acting? But I don't care, the big bang theory is too awesome and hilarious for me to care.

        Yeah, you can criticize the button mashing but you really can't fault the dialogue when they're doing it :D

    For more (as in further, not qualitatively) intelligent writing on this topic, search Tom Chick's blog for "Gamespotting":

    (If that long address doesn't work, do it manually at

    Ummmmm, we're talking about actors on a sitcom here. They're not so bothered to research the role.

    They should all do what Charlie Sheen did and star in sitcoms about themselves so they don't have to research ...or even act!

    Watching real people play games without seeing what is happening in the game is quite boring. They spice it up for the viewer's enjoyment. I've never had a problem with it.

    I think that is a problem with everything actors do.

    If you are that person for real, then you know what to look out for.

    I'm a molecular biologist so everytime I see CSI I get worked up because they do a weeks worth of experiments in ten minutes.

    An actor might play a butcher really well to a lay man but I'm sure the butcher's would be crying out.
    "Did you see how he cut that chop! He left all the fat on the right side and didn't remove the gristle!! Why can't they get the actors to learn how to debone a sheep properly!"

    It isn't the actors fault.

    If they looked they were really playing it would be like watching grass grow.
    There is little movement needed to play it is all in the fingers and concentration. The directors need people to show enthusiasm as they can not show the game that is being played. So yeah it is fake but it comes as watching other people play is boring if you're not watching the game.

    Imagine watching Starcraft on the Korean TV but only able to watch the players and not what they are doing.

    Disagree with the people that are saying that it's not interesting enough to show them playing games.

    If the scene isn't interesting without ridiculous over acting then why is it a scene at all?

    How I met your mother has them playing 360 pretty often which basically involves them sitting on the couch moving there fingers over the buttons, nothing wildly exaggerated, it's usually not even the focus of the scene. Whatever the conversation they are having at the time is the focus.

    While I agree it's annoying to have games over-portrayed like this, it's more annoying to see two actors holding a controller each, playing a game that's in singleplayer (from shots of the TV)

      Hahaha so true.
      A very good example is in that episode of Scrubs where Turk and the Janitor was playing a coop FPS on the 360, the TV had all single player gameplay hehehe...

    This is common in many different shows. It's probably a little more disappointing in BBT, since they're supposed to be fairly heavy gamers.

    To BBT's credit though, in the episode where Sheldon had to play Mario 64 emulated on his laptop in the hall way, each time he paused the game it was the correct sound that chimed (same one as M64). This was a very nice touch I thought, as they could have easily just not had any sound at all.

    Seems to happen a lot with anything technology based. A lot of shows will have characters mashing randomly on a keyboard despite the actor knowing perfectly well how a keyboard is supposed to work. TV and movies tend to love exaggeration.

    I think one of the best examples of this is in Charlie's Angels. When Drew Barrymore taps on the glass door (naked) to get some clothes from some kids, they're playing Final Fantasy VIII...with two controllers and some button mashing...

    It's called acting Kotaku. Everythings over dramatised to add interest. It's about communicating to the viewer that the character is 'really into the game'. If they where slouched back in the sofa (as most gamers would) it would look like the characters are bored to death of a game. Its just for storytelling purposes. I always laugh at it, but it never bothers me.

    I've always suspected that sometimes it's got to be the director saying move more, they audience need to know your enjoying yourself.

    And seriously four nerds playing 2 vs 2 Halo on one TV? You know in real life they'd do what my friends and I do. 2 TV's 2 360's 2 Halo 3. So you only know what your team mate is doing. Sure we all say we don't screen watch but your dead for 10 seconds what do you do?

    Also, OI get the feeling that they'd rather have them acting as most people see gamers, not as they actually are.

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