Most video game movies are about actual video games. Unless you’re talking about Tron, The Last Starfighter, or 1983 classic Joy Sticks, which is about little more than an arcade, kids and flimsy excuses to get some tits on the screen.
Being made in the early 1980s, and featuring the struggle to keep a popular local arcade open, you’d think Joy Sticks would be hailed as a pioneering film, one of the first to put video games in a starring role. If you think that, you haven’t seen Joy Sticks.
Remember, this is a cheap comedy flick about teens made in the early 1980s. And just like its contemporaries, like the Porkies series, that meant fart jokes, a struggle against authority and, most important of all (at least according to the priorities of the writers), breasts.
Director Greydon Clark wasn’t in this for the love of video games. He got the idea to make the game when he saw a bunch of kids lined up at an arcade, figured there was a market there, then figured the best way to tap that market was with girls getting their jugs out.
The overall plot revolves around the evil businessman Joseph Rutter, played by Joe Don Baker, who is intent on shutting down the local arcade, which he believes is having an adverse effect on the kids in the town. To stop him, the staff and a motley crew of patrons and misfits band together to save their local hang-out. There’s also a sub-villain, the video gaming King Vidiot, who is awesomely played by Jonathan Gries (ie Rico’s uncle in Napoleon Dynamite).
So, yeah, it’s a teen movie. What’s notable from the video game side of things is that it’s full of actual, official games (like Satan’s Hollow!). As you can see in the trailer in the gallery above, you may never have seen Pac-Man brought up in a movie like that before. You can see plenty of other arcade classics in the film’s intro.
And in terms of portraying video games as a medium, hobby and pastime on the big screen, it also does a surprisingly good job! I mean, they’re initially shown to be a bunch of losers, geeks and no-hopers, but the arcade patrons are the stars of the film, and their struggle to keep the arcade open and play games makes them the heroes of the story.
It’s a slight shame, then, that what could have made this a great video game movie is overshadowed by the fact the arcade is a hook to hang countless topless scenes on. Not that this is entirely a bad thing – there’s a certain charm to these 80’s teen flicks and their obsession with boobs – it just comes off in this context as a little crass.
If you’ve never seen Joy Sticks, you can get it on DVD. There’s even a remastered version!
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.