Science fiction is all about advancing into a shinier future - so why are people always playing such terrible video games in science fiction shows and movies?
In the distant future, will we really be stuck playing bad 8-bit knockoffs, or trying to get a frisbee into a tentacle mouth over and over? Here's are the 10 most embarrassing games people play in science fiction.
10) Normal Combat from Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs. At least this one is supposed to be crappy. Fry is all heart-broken over his bad polyamory drama, so he goes to an arcade that's full of shitty future games, including Exlaxian and Coin Vacuum. But he chooses to play Normal Combat, where the fighting dudes don't even bother to fight properly.
9) First-Person Shooter from X-Files, "First Person Shooter". I know, I know, this episode was co-written by William Gibson and directed by Chris Carter. But come on! It's not even clear to me how this virtual reality game works - what happens to your body while you're inside, exactly? - and the virtual "world" is seriously low-rent looking. Some of the earlier scenes look like a soundstage with dry ice inside. The game's "bug," the killer goddess Maitreya, is the only good thing about it. Oh, well, there's also Scully going nuts with a machine gun. That's good too. Not as bad as some of the other games on this list, but still not good.
8) Bodysurfing For Algernon from Lawnmower Man. Actually, I don't remember if they ever gave this game a name, but I think "Bodysurfing For Algernon" is a good one. It's basically a game you play with your pelvis, except not as fun as that sounds. I'm guessing navigating the chompy teeth would actually get kind of annoying.
7) Whatever the hell game Sheppard is playing in this scene from Stargate Atlantis, "Search And Rescue." It must be the least challenging video game in the history of the universe, judging from his expression and the way he wields that stylus. Wisely, the show never lets us actually witness any gameplay.
6) Wizards And Warlocks, from The Greatest American Hero. It's kind of confusing - in this episode, a Middle Eastern prince has disappeared and it turns out he's part of a real-life game of Dungeons & Dragons, using L.A. landmarks as parts of the dungeon. But meanwhile, Ralph uses his superpowers to play a D&D themed game, whose UI has almost nothing to do with the gameplay. After I chose it, I read here that the game is actually a mash-up of three existing games: the console art is Tempest, the controls are Scramble, and the screenshots are from the home console game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Okay then.
5) The Scooby Game from Scooby Doo And The Cyber Bunch. Yet another entrant into the heroes-zapped-inside-video-games sweepstakes. This time, the Scooby gang is fighting a computer virus inside a Scooby-themed video game, and they meet cyber versions of themselves. It gets points for being meta, by having the final round take place inside a virtual video arcade that attacks our heroes. But that's about all it gets points for.
4) Sumo Slammers from Ben 10. Many, many shows and movies have done the Tron-esque hero-trapped-inside-game thing — including last night's Warehouse 13 — but few of them had as cruddy a game as the sumo-wrestler-in-space saga Sumo Slammers. I guess this is a PC game, because one of the cliffhangers is that grandpa finds a laptop PC running the game (with the kids inside) and hits "pause." The kids are unable to move, and are left floating in mid "air." And then Grandpa almost shuts down the game, which would delete the kids stuck inside. Haw.
3) Global Domination game from Never Say Never Again. Is this James Bond movie science fiction? I'm not sure. It does have a threat to destroy the world, plus James Bond's urine sample turns out to be a form of toxic waste. In any case, it does include one of the dumbest-looking video games I've ever seen. What's up with Spain only being worth $9,000? And how exactly does this UI work anyway? It's like a bad version of Atari's Tempest, only with a world map stuck in there nonsensically. How is this a game of global domination exactly? I do like the joysticks that give you a shock, plus the way the villain keeps saying things like, "Oh, did I forget to mention? If you don't press the red button at the right time, spikes come out of your chair. Ha ha ha!"
2) Bishop Of Battlefrom Nightmares. "Bishop Of Battle" is one of four short stories featured in the horror anthology movie Nightmares. Emilio Estevez is J.J. Cooney, video game champion and arcade hustler. (Seriously, there's a whole scene where he tricks a gang into thinking he's no good at video games, then takes their money.) But he has his eye on the one game nobody has ever beaten: "Bishop Of Battle." It's got a super bizarre UI, consisting of the twirly knob from Tempest and a joystick/gun combo that doesn't look very useful. Not to mention the built-in obsolescence. If you actually get to the mythical "Level 13," the game collapses to let the polygons and vector-graphics ships out into the "real world," where they trash all the other games in the arcade as well. Plus I can't help but notice that Estevez's ray beams never actually hit his targets, but they vanish anyway.
1) Suckdisk from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Actually, we don't remember this game having an actual name on the show, but "suckdisk" feels like a good name for it. The object of the game is to suck a disk into a tentacle with a mouth. That's it. And it's not even a game of skill - you win by "letting it happen." D00d. At least the UI is simple, but basically this episode is a cautionary tale about improved technology - once we have the ability to stimulate the pleasure centers of your brain, you may be ridiculously satisfied with some pretty weak gameplay. Actually, I like this episode, despite the game looking seriously ridiculous.
Runners up: Batman and Robin faced a deadly video game in the storyline "Mind Control" (in Detective Comics #635-636, written by Louise Simonson.) It was basically a crappy Dungeons & Dragons type game, but it came to life and started killing people. Meh. The unmade Doctor Who story "The Nightmare Fair" would have ended with the Doctor having to play a crappy arcade game against the Celestial Toymaker, who plans to distribute the deadly game all over the world. Jimmy Olsen gets sucked into a horrendous game in Adventures Of Superman #592. Spider-Man plays a weak-looking Incredible Hulk video game in a Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends comic. Lois is playing some kind of alien-shooting game in the Smallville episode "Exposed," but for some reason the only thing anybody remembers about that episode is the fact that Lois becomes a stripper. Funny, that.
This post originally appeared on io9 back in September 2008.