What is with all these actors struggling to play video games?


– Tom Heath

So I watched Superbad for the first time on the weekend. I know, I know, I’m late to the party and you’ve all been chuckling about the whole “McLovin'” thing for the past eight years; but I still know people who still haven’t seen Jurassic Park so let’s direct the disappointment where it’s due.

Anyway, Superbad was full of incredibly unlikely situations where shoddy fake IDs fool police and vulgar high schoolers are as witty as Seth Rogan. It was pretty awesome.


OK, maybe not as witty ALL the time… (Source: Columbia Pictures)

But one particular moment in the film caught my eye, and it’s the point where Michael Cera completely shatters his awkward, geeky visage by showing he has absolutely no idea how to play a video game. Here’s the moment I’m talking about, specifically at 0:25.

What the heck is he doing with his thumbs? It’s like he thinks those analogue sticks are nipples and he’s tweaking them like his sheltered brain thinks he should.

Screenshot 2015-07-22 20.50.23


Now, some of you are surely saying: “but Tom, Superbad is a comedy. Michael Cera is MEANT to look like a fool fiddling with that DualShock 2’s supple nubs!”

OK, I hear you. But this isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone in a film or TV show playing a video game and looking like they have no-tweaking idea what they’re doing. They look like they’ve never touched a video game in their lives, even though their character is supposed to have.

In a dramatic example, here’s loveable Miami serial killer Dexter Morgan playing Halo 3 in order to show him quenching his blood-lust.

If playing Xbox exclusive Halo 3 on an office laptop wasn’t bad enough, he’s playing a modern PC first-person-shooter WITHOUT TOUCHING THE MOUSE. Clearly Michael C. Hall isn’t as thorough in his preparation as his psychopathic character.

Both of these examples are from the 2007-2008 era, so maybe things have gotten a little better since then? Gaming has become a little more mainstream now, so perhaps actors have caught up and are more familiar with the hobby?

Well, they kind of have. Here’s Kevin “god-among-men” Spacey playing some Killzone in House of Cards.

He’s doing all right. I mean, there’s no really weird analogue stick waggling and he’s actually using the proper controller for the game/console in question. He went a bit nuts towards the end there, granted that could be due to his character’s emotions. Not bad Kevin, you go on being awesome.

But it still doesn’t negate my question: why are actors struggling to act playing video games? Why aren’t they learning how to play the video games their characters are playing?

I know those scenes generally aren’t big pieces of the narrative, but actors have made the effort to learn other skills to really nail the subtle details of various roles. For example, in Master and Commander Russell Crowe’s character plays the violin, and even though we hear a recording of a professional violin player in the finished film, Crowe learned to play the instrument to really sell the moment.

Have you tried playing the violin? I gave it a go once, did not go well. The point is: submerging in method acting and playing some games is definitely much easier and a lot more fun.

Lift your game Hollywood (not even sorry for that one).

Chat to Tom on Twitter, @tomdheath, and he might just show you the film he acted playing video games in once. He thinks he nailed it, but would be interested in your feedback.

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