SPLASH DAMAGE: Videogaming in “Undeclared”

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Unlike my videogaming habit, I try to stick to watching a single TV show at a time. This allows me to stay immersed and connected with the characters and storylines and not have to juggle a billion different happenings in my limited headspace; of course, due to the wealth of shows out there and number of places you can watch stuff for free or relatively cheap, I’m juggling three to four shows at the moment, namely Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead, Top of the Lake, and, lastly, Undeclared. Actually, I’m only one episode away from finishing Top of the Lake, which is a hauntingly beautiful and sad show filmed and set in New Zealand, and Tara and I only catch up with The Walking Dead every week and Downton Abbey every few weeks. So really, for me, it’s just been Undeclared over the last few days because I wanted something light and breezy after finishing up Breaking Bad recently–hey, check out my newest comic if you’re a Heisenberg fan–and that third season of Louie did not cut it.

Undeclared comes from cult favorite Judd Apatow and closely follows up on Freaks and Geeks, a show I very much adored. But instead of high school and hour-long episodes, we’re now in college with a potpourri of freshmen and 30-minute long episodes. A lot of the same themes are present here, such as taking responsibility and accepting who you are, but they are buried pretty deep beneath general goofiness, zany character motivations, and bombastic plots. At one point Adam Sandler playing Adam Sandler shows up. It’s not amazing, but it’s okay and bite-size, and I’m enjoying seeing many actors in their prime that I follow now, such as Lizzy Caplan, Seth Rogen, and Amy Poehler. Will Ferrell also appears in episode 7, “Addicts”, and his performance and script and the way he acts when it comes to videogames only confirms for me that Elf was and will always be his best, as well as that most people in TV have no idea how to portray entertainment gaming or those that like it.

In “Addicts”, Ferrell plays a townie called Dave who, for a small fee, will write papers on any subject for struggling–or lazy–college students. This works out well the first time, getting our leading lad a high mark, but the next set of papers turn out simply terrible, and it’s then that we realize that Dave is supremely messed up, on drugs, and unable to distinguish reality from videogames. See, Dave just got a PlayStation 2, and you can clearly see him enjoying Kessen, a real-time tactics simulator set in feudal Japan. As he plays, he is literally mashing on every button and moving the controller in his hands as if it covered in butter and he can barely hold on. When confronted about how bad the papers were, Dave says it’s because he was “this close to getting to level 24.”

As far as I can tell, in Kessen, there are no levels, not at least in the traditional sense. The game is broken up into different events, such as the Skirmish at Kuzegawa or Escape from Minakuchi, each with their own objectives, and I don’t think if you even added up everything in the game you’d come up with 24 somethings to do. Though I could be wrong. Still, it comes across as Dave just shouting gibberish, a phrase better associated with something like Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog–though not perfectly. If Dave was really into the game, as they show he is, he could’ve been more specific, like saying the name of the final war encounter. Later, he also refers to it as “that ninja game” when he is out of his mind on speed and trying combat the trio of college freshmen in his own house. It’s over-the-top and embarrassing, and only reinforces negative stereotypes of what a gamer looks like (well, in 2001)–college dropout, skeezy, on drugs, hyperactive, and unable to keep a grip.

If you’ll remember, I also ran into some problems with how games like Crash Bandicoot were handled in Felicity, and many of the same stereotypical dramatizations happened there as well. I wonder if Judd Apatow and J.J. Abrams shared emails with one another.

Anyways, you can watch clips of Dave being a loosely wired videogame freak from the show here, but the action really starts around the 4:00 mark:

SPLASH DAMAGE is a non-scheduled feature on Grinding Down that examines the way videogames are handled in different types of media, such as comics, movies, and TV shows. Basically, whenever I see them being grossly misrepresented, I’ll write about it. Expect a lot of grumbling over people thrashing around like wild beasts when holding a controller and shouting out strange things that many non-gamers might assume a gamer would say. Also: obvious links to drug addiction tendencies. Seriously, we can do much better than this.

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