Videogames in other Media Ep. 3: Superbad

A quick post today. I thought I pick up the old idea of looking at how video-games are represented in other Media. I recently saw the movie Superbad. Don’t ask why, I just did. If you don’t know the movie, here is a trailer:

From what I gathered the movie is somewhat like American Pie but with a bit more nerdy main characters and a bit more purpose. I actually enjoyed it. It conveyed the dilemmas and anxieties of growing up in a humorous manner. The female side was hopelessly simplified but that’s to be expected I guess.

But let’s talk games. There is one inconspicuous scene where one of the main characters (loser / nerdy type) is changing clothes while the other one (loser / nerdy type) is playing a video game. It struck me as quite odd. I’m struggling to grasp the function of that scene. It seems to me like there is just one answer.

Superbad Screen

Quiz: Does anybody recognize the game? I don’t. :(

The entire scene characterizes the main protagonists as immature losers. Video-games play a pivotal role in this scene as an immature and silly activity. The scene is at the beginning of the move (30 minutes in). The game he is playing is not recognizable but seems to have to do with police and terrorists. The guy playing mumbles something about terrorism which I guess is supposed to be funny because of the stark contrast between terrorism and the harmlessness of the protagonists. It is the only time we see the bedroom of one of the protagonists. We are treated with a display of strategically placed objects in some of the shots, one of them including a Lara Croft poster.

Superbad Lara

Oh hello Lara. Long time no see!

But the scene falls flat for me. The integration of video-games is not only stereotypical and fallacious, it is also poorly executed. For starters, I think Lara Croft is a tad too old to strike the fancy of today’s high school graduates. She is obviously here to be recognized by a video-game uneducated audience.

The gaming setup doesn’t seem believable either. The player is sitting in a char in an upright position. It doesn’t seem like he could play like that for longer periods of time.

But what REALLY gets me is the acting. The way the player (Michael Cera) is holding a controller is utterly unbelievable. He is constantly switching his hand positions. He slowly, nervously and aimlessly massages the analogue sticks. It looks more like he is kneading some dough than playing. He even looks at the buttons at one point.

Superbad Hand

What exactly is you right thumb doing in this shot, Michael? Well, at least he is holding it the right side up.

All this these details completely undermine the scene for me. The player doesn’t come off as an experienced video-game nerd. He comes off like an actor that picked up the controller for his life. But even worse, the entire set doesn’t look like a place where the characters live. I actually had to listen to the dialogue to figure out whose room this is supposed to be. It would make sense if the Cera’s character was just visiting and actually wasn’t into video-games at all.

Superbad makes the very same mistakes lots of movies and TV series do – it doesn’t pay any attention to the medium of video-games. It haphazardly stitches together some superficial stereotypes to make a shallow point. But the problem with Superbad is that it is a movie with nerdy guys as main characters. Throughout the course of the story, the losers actually do hook up with extremely good looking girls. This is a movie that many nerds are supposed to watch to feel good about themselves. By portraying video-games that poorly, at least for the duration of this scene, the entire plot falls apart and the intended messages is exposed as a lie.

And here is something weird: I really enjoyed Michael Cera in that movie. I am looking forward to see him in the upcoming Scott Pilgrim Movie. But it seems like Michael has no idea of video-games. I am concerned about his ability to perform in a movie as deeply connected to video-game culture as Scott Pilgrim. Maybe it’s time Hollywood starts hiring video-game coaches and consultants?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

9 responses to “Videogames in other Media Ep. 3: Superbad”

  1. Switchbreak

    That looks like SOCOM in the picture there.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Good call, sir!

  2. sirleto

    >But it seems like Michael has no idea of video-games.
    >I am concerned about his ability to perform in a movie
    >as deeply connected to video-game culture as Scott Pilgrim

    that would not wonder anybody, would it?
    he is such a good actor with such a clear character and if anybody asks me, rather flexible in playing for his age. so i bet he had not had much time his entire life to play games. probably when being younger on older consoles, but not something newer.

    and you know what? for me its okay, he’s just not into games. so the problem is as usually: if you have that good looking actor you want to him play a cowboy in that western romance. but what if he never sat on a horse? even if it is only a small scene (horse before romantic sunset, marlboro ad style) – they will give him proper horse-riding lessons.

    but who would do that for games, right? after all they are a mass market product intended for every non-smart person out there, right? so, no wonder nobody gives actors lessons about them ;)

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Good example! Things like horseback riding are considered an important skill that needs to be executed believably in order represent a character. Video-games are just as important for that specific character in Superbad but nobody seems to put that much effort into it.

      I wouldn’t link this to the intelligence of the audience, the movie has some non-trivial aspects to it. It has certainly more depth than American Pie. I would say the problem is on the other side of the screen: the director (and the actor) had too little exposure to that culture. I think as more and more people grow up with Video-games, it will get more and more difficult to get away with such omissions.

  3. Lazaro Cruz

    Krystian, have you seen “The Wrestler” yet? I think the scene where Mickey Rourke plays an old NES wrestling game against a young neighbor is one of the most accurate and entertaining portrayals of gaming in a movie. IIRC there is some hilarious dialog with the kid schooling Rourke on modern games like Call of Duty. Rourke’s perplexed reaction is classic!

    Actually after a quick google search I found the scene here:

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Yeah I completely agree with you. I already wrote about it here

  4. rodge

    its the getaway

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I thought the vans looked suspiciously European!

  5. Rotf

    The game is definitely The Getaway: Black Monday, but in the movie you can see a copy of SOCOM 3 US NAVY SEALS on top of the TV facing spine out on top of a stack of other games.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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