Special Topics In Gameology

Mr. Belvedere

Games Go To Hollywood: Mr. Belvedere, “Pinball”

Desperate to win, the put-upon Englishman is doomed to lose. For society’s sake.

By John Teti • November 15, 2012

Special Topics In Gameology is an in-depth look at a specific corner of the gaming world, in miniseries form. For this edition of the feature—Games Go To Hollywood—we examine the terror prevalent in classic TV episodes about gaming. Previous entries covered ’90s Friday-night mainstay Full House and Nickelodeon spook show Are You Afraid Of The Dark?. This week, we look at the Mr. Belvedere episode “Pinball.”

It’s a longstanding rule of pop culture that “higher” forms of entertainment will crap on the “lower” ones. The cinema loves to shove its prestige in television’s face with a bit of artistic jiujitsu: movies that make TV the star. Network, Quiz Show, The Truman Show, Broadcast News, The King Of Comedy. Films like these place television on a grand stage to make the junior medium seem small and petty by comparison. And inevitably, TV is both a catalyst and a vehicle for the most corrupt tendencies of human behavior.

TV needs its own whipping boy, and games—well, they’re just sitting there, nearly devoid of cultural cachet. How can television resist? In modern portrayals, you generally see games employed as poster children for violence and mindlessness. Even nuanced, top-tier shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland portray video games according to an industry-standard template: A gape-mouthed adolescent figure sits too close to the television, rubbing his humanity raw with an endless sequence of grunts and bullets and headshots.

The 1980s ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere was neither nuanced nor top-tier. But it, too, adhered to the template of its own time. For TV producers of the ’80s and ’90s, games’ addictiveness was their signature quality (aside from their tendency to emit cartoonish sound effects). In the 1985 second-season episode “Pinball,” then, it’s practically a given that the title character will become a “pinball junkie.”

The premise of Mr. Belvedere is that a sophisticated English housekeeper—that would be Belvedere—takes up with a typical American family. The title sequence depicts Belvedere traveling the world to all sorts of exotic locales, and then it shows him hitchhiking with a large cardboard sign reading “PITTSBURGH,” as if that is the natural next step after having experienced the greatest sights of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Mr. Belvedere’s employers, the Owenses, are a typical household of well-to-do suburbanites. The parents are careerists—father George (played by national treasure Bob Uecker) is a sportswriter for the local paper, the kind of back-slapping, yuk-yukking man-child who will hang on every word of a Coors Light commercial.

His wife, Marsha, begins the series as a law-school student; she later finds gainful employment at an outfit called The Legal Hut—just one example of how Mr. Belvedere laughs at its characters’ desire to climb the social ladder and escape their upper-middle-class purgatory. That is the fundamental joke of the series, after all: What the hell are regular folk like the Owenses doing with a butler, anyway? Do they think they’re better than people? What buffoons!

The other members of the family are Wesley—a precocious and mischievous grade school brat—and his older siblings, Heather and Kevin, bland filler characters who exist mainly to utter expositional dialogue and provide Wesley with straight lines.

In “Pinball,” Mr. Belvedere becomes hooked on a vintage “Firebomb” pinball machine purchased by George. Belvedere’s work suffers, the Owenses become worried, he hits rock bottom, and the butler returns abashedly to the family’s warm, loving embrace. That’s how the episode is supposed to read, at least. But look deeper into the black heart of Mr. Belvedere and you will find the story of five passive-aggressive monsters who refuse to allow their employee and supposed friend enjoy a single moment of triumph.

The jokes in the first act work mightily to establish the childishness of pinball. Mr. Belvedere tries to figure out who brought this flashing, clanging machine into the house: “I was certain it was one of the children,” he tells Marsha. George arrives and claims the machine as his own. “I was right,” says Mr. Belvedere. The butler sneers at the lack of redeeming moral value on display. When George yelps that he got a “bonus ball,” Belvedere rolls his eyes. “Wonderful,” he replies. “Now, if we could just end world hunger.”

Before long, George loses interest. “I guess it’s not like when I was a kid,” he says, and he walks away from the machine, all grown up. Belvedere sees an opportunity: George couldn’t beat the machine, and maybe Belvedere can. It only takes 100,000 points to become “King Of The Fire Gods,” after all. Is it any wonder that this cultured, prideful, intellectually deft person is tempted by a chance to prove himself superior to the loogie-hocking cretin who employs him? That’s why we love to win—because it proves something. And you’ve got to figure that, confined to this generic Western Pennsylvania cul-de-sac, Mr. Belvedere does not get many chances to win.

So of course he plays the machine. He blows off work. He wakes up in the middle of the night. With his lizard brain electrified by the aroma of victory, now he needs to taste it for himself. Is Lynn Aloysius Belvedere not a man? This overweight tea-sipper needs the world to answer, yes. Yes, he is.

The suffering of the Owens clan is trifling in comparison to Belvedere’s crisis of identity. They must make their own beds. They have to cook a few meals. Yet they act as if they have been left to die in a piss-soaked ditch while the heartless Mr. Belvedere ignores them, off somewhere injecting a stream of pinball into his track-marked veins.

Is it possible for reasonable people to be this distraught by the prospect that they take care of themselves for a little while? The Owens certainly put on a good act, but no. That’s not what scares them. They’re afraid that Mr. Belvedere, the servant, the inferior, will get one lousy win. That would shatter their illusory order of things. You don’t let the help take a dip in the swimming pool of success.

Belvedere hits 85,000 points, and the Owenses respond by removing the pinball machine from the house. Enough is enough. Belvedere won’t be so readily thwarted, though. He’s too close now, and the aroma is stronger than ever. Belvedere heads to the local arcade, presumably by crafting a cardboard sign that reads “ARCADE” and hitching a ride into town. When Wesley et al. track him down, his score is climbing past 89,000, and he’s on a roll. The family panics.

George approaches Belvedere and invites him to come on home. But George is a sportswriter, after all, and anyone in the sports world has an innate love for the thrilling pursuit of victory. So he finds himself distracted, even entranced, by Belvedere’s ascent up the scoreboard. “Nice save!” George remarks, despite himself, when Belvedere keeps the ball in play. (The Englishman’s success is all the more remarkable given his preferred technique of wobbling his torso a little bit and unaccountably fondling the plunger used to put a new ball in play.)

Caught in Belvedere’s cresting wave of triumph, George signals for his family to help. Belvedere is surging toward greatness, and at the last moment, Wesley makes a last-ditch effort. He grabs Belvedere around the torso and cries, “I love you!” The butler yelps and turns around. His ball drains. George whistles at the final tally: “Ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety,” he intones. Belvedere cinches his necktie up tight, rather like a noose, and declares that he’s fine with it. The camera lingers on the machine’s backlit display: “GAME OVER.”

At breakfast the next day, Belvedere apologizes and then launches into a remarkable speech explaining his actions. “Eccentric behavior is sort of a trademark of us English,” he says. “Rigid class structure. Everything and everyone in its place. From time to time, we buckle under the pressure of our ingrained formality and go a little bonkers.” By seeking the holy grail of 100,000 points, and its according title of “king,” Mr. Belvedere stepped outside his “place,” you see. And now, having narrowly avoided the upset that ascension might have caused, he can return to the gray monotony of plumping pillows and cooking eggs for the privileged social climbers who sign his paychecks.

The Owenses are all smiles. Insecure in their own standing—perhaps rightly so—they like existing atop this inferior stratum. It makes them feel elevated. And TV is the same way. Perhaps the most explicit lesson of the “Pinball” episode is that it’s folly to seek delight from games, that lower form of entertainment. It’s far more admirable to while your time away in front of the glowing tube, cosseted by its safe morality and lulled by the rhythm of its push-button laughs. Sure, maybe you’re not ending world hunger when you plunk your ass down for 30 minutes of Mr. Belvedere and toothpaste commercials. But at least you’re not playing pinball.

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1,057 Responses to “Games Go To Hollywood: Mr. Belvedere, “Pinball””

  1. Effigy_Power says:

    Beautifully written. Really well done.
    Though all of that doesn’t make it into my brain as the “mom’s” cheek-blush reminds me of this guy I knew. He was riding a motorcycle without a helmet and slipped out in the rain, his cheek grating over the blacktop asphalt for about a hundred feet. It looks similar. 80’s makeup is scary.

  2. Enkidum says:

    This sounds like an awful show, somehow I think I managed to avoid ever watching it.

    Favourite pinball games? I haven’t played in years, but at one time mine were…

    Star Trek TNG – holy crap that was a well-designed game, felt like playing an episode of the series if you were any good.

    Wipeout – at least I think that’s what it was called, the one where the setting is some kind of water park with a volcano and gorilla if I remember correctly.

    World Cup Soccer 1990 – another really, really well designed one, felt like you were playing a series of matches.

    • Twilight Zone is perfect, Adams Family is classic, and I’ve had good luck with Revenge from Mars.

      i’ve played pretty much every table, though… the local pubs were full of them.

      i’m an addict

      • PPPfive says:

         I was recently lucky enough to go to a pub with a working Midway ‘Doctor Dude’ machine, if you remember that one

    • John Teti says:

      Great choices. The second one you’re thinking of is White Water.

      I think Star Trek TNG and Twilight Zone are two of the best ever. Over the years, I bought used machines of both and spent a while restoring them. (Fun hobby, by the way, if you like working with electronics and small machines.) Somehow, unlike Mr. Belvedere, I’ve managed to avoid crippling addiction.

      • Xenomorph says:

        As of late, all my pinball gaming has been done in digital form. There was a great PS2 game that had tables from the 20’s as well as tables that were only prototypes (Goin’ Nuts was especially awesome, as it was just multi-ball from the get-go) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinball_Hall_of_Fame:_The_Gottlieb_Collection
        And the amount of money I’ve spent on Pinball FX 2 on Xbox Live is crazy. The Marvel tables are excellent, but it’s the Street Fighter 2 one I love, even though it’s not quite as cool as its real-world counterpart. 

        • Enkidum says:

          Oh yeah, the Street Fighter pinball (the real thing) was frigging awesome!

        • Raging Bear says:

          Zen Pinball (2, which is basically just an engine upgrade over 1) is really rather good.

        • Ghostfucker says:

          I enjoy the odd game pinball now and then, but digital pinball games have always seemed monumentally boring to me. I just don’t really feel any satisfaction from the game if I can’t feel the real click and clack of the machines guts.

        • Andy Tuttle says:

           I really enjoy the Thor table on Pinball FX 2 and Street Fighter II is great as well. The Rocky & Bullwinkle one is beautiful looking but really difficult to play on.

        • duwease says:

          Pinball FX2 and The Williams Pinball Collection reintroduced me to the hard, hard addiction of pinball.  I’d still be sitting there trying to climb the superscore board had I not encountered a glitch on Paranormal on Pinball FX2 that kept me from reaching the upper echelon :(

      • Enkidum says:

        Oh yeah, White Water is the one. I’d probably enjoy restoring them too, as I’m pretty handy and evidently like the things, but I think I might get booted out of my house if I did…

        You and Christian Brimo are right about Twilight Zone, and Addams Family was also really well done. Star Trek TNG was, I thought, the best use of moving parts in any game I’ve every played – the phaser/launcher/whatever was woven into the “narrative” (for want of a better word) so well, and was also possible to achieve quite a high level of skill on relatively easily.
        I’d like to say I’m not an addict, and I guess I can’t be now because it’s been years, but I’ve probably sunk on the order of a grand or so into the damn things. (Which is nothing compared to what I’ve sunk into regular arcade games over the years – I used to just go get 20 bucks in change or whatever and stay there for hours upon hours, brushing off the drug dealers.)

        There’ve been quite a few good software pinball games as well. Space Cadet for Windows 95 was pretty well done, used to obsessively compete with the folks in my undergrad in that and write offensive messages to each other in the high scores (I remember one score that was unbeatable for a while was named “Suck it Barnesy!”). And the Retro Pinball games for iOS are also really quite good.

        • Moonside_Malcontent says:

           An arcade at the movie theater in Milwaukee where I went as a kid had an Indiana Jones pinball table that I must have spent easily ten or fifteen dollars of my parents’ money on over my pre-teen years.  To my eight-year-old ears hearing Sean Connery’s tinny voice announce, mournfully, “I’ve lost him” when your last ball drained down the gutters, was the height of pathos.

      • missmoxie says:

        And wouldn’t those machines look nice tucked into a corner of your apartment? Then I could expand my knitting and sewing addiction….

        • stakkalee says:

          I recognize a mom trying to offload a grown kid’s crap when I see it!  In my family we call it “getting ‘Danned'”, when we go visit my father Dan and he says “I was just cleaning out the garage and I found this box of stuff.  Is it yours?  I’m probably going to throw it away, so if you want it…”  The threat works wonders – I recommend using that tactic.  Hell, I’m even holding on to some of my brothers’ crap, because good-old Dad just puts everything indiscriminately into the same box.

        • sirslud says:

          My mom sold our Apple IIe+ and 500 floppies full of games at a garage sale when I was off at university … I don’t care if I was 24 at the time and it was ancient. That damn thing was a part of me – how could she not have known that?

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I am not sure if the Star Trek TNG one is one of the best ever, but it was highly popular and just everywhere, so there might be some synergy effect.
        My local hangout as a teen had a Terminator 2 pinball machine which was also great, but really easily tilted. The thing was standing on an elevated wooden floor that was pretty wobbly and if someone would trip over the step, it might have been enough to get the machine to lock down.
        It was a great way to make sure someone didn’t beat you in a head-to-head and yes it’s cheating what of it?

    • fieldafar says:

      Star Trek TNG is awesome, I was kicking myself for not supporting the Kickstarter.

      I also have a soft spot for both Simpsons-themed tables, only because I used to play them a lot when I was younger.

      @Enkidum mentions World Cup Soccer 1990. I remember the 1994 USA version, I would always play it whenever I was at the airport.

    • Girard says:

       I take it you’re not a member of the Mr. Belvedere Fan Club?

    • Andy Tuttle says:

       I absolutely love the South Park pinball game. When I worked at Montgomery Wards in 2000 they had one at the arcade in the mall and I would spend my lunch break eating corn dogs and playing that game. I eventually got so good I would win free games and end up coming in late from lunch, and when the store started going out of business I would just leave work and go play whenever I felt like it.

    • Basement Boy says:

      Medieval Madness is my personal favorite! The Elvira machines are pretty good too.

  3. Jackbert322 says:

    Wow, really mean joke at 0:53.

    Butler: “Perhaps they were the pinball fairies”

    Kid: “Well, one of them had an earring.”

    Way to teach your child actor to be an asshole.

    Also, the laugh track is crazy overbearing. A child saying he is eating lunch while he is actually playing a pinball machine is not that hilarious. No need to guffaw! Jeez, this is just the first minutes and it’s already horrific.

  4. The_Misanthrope says:

    Wasn’t the use of Rage a bit of cross-promotion?  If I remember correctly, Jesse played it with a light gun, of all things.

    Teti is spot-on about that condescending, “new kid in the neighborhood” phenomenon that happens when a new media enter the pop-cultural conversation.  Theater did it to movies, movies did it to TV,  TV did it to games…then there’s the hardcore gamers looking down on casual gamers.  Clearly, to advance games into legitimacy, we’re going to need to cone up with some new media that broadcasts directly to your brain.

    I suppose it is probably due to the fact that it is hard to adapt (and you just don’t have the time to invest) to new forms of media as you get older.  So you are stuck with whatever you grew up with, with what you know.

    What I am saying is that I dread my oncoming pop-cultural irrelevance. 

    • Jackbert322 says:

      It still seems as though the condescension for video games has lasted longer than most other forms of entertainment. It’s been, what, thirty years since Pacman? Television shows started in the fifties; this show was the eighties, so thirty years later. It’s not like television was maligned when this show was around, but chronologically, gaming has been around as long as television had in the eighties. I do think we’re starting to see gaming covered as less of a bad thing, but they’re still often maligned. For example, the other day CNN was covering the Medal of Honor/Navy Seal fiasco. They were interviewing a former Seal, and I was really pleased to hear him saying that the game isn’t a murder simulator, terrorists aren’t gonna train with it, and ultimately you’re just pushing a button. Then I switch to ABC, and they’ve got some psychologist saying the opposite. So yeah, it just seems like gaming has had a longer period to still be looked down upon than most other forms of entertainment.

      • John Teti says:

        Well, TV is still routinely maligned in many works, as is practically every art form. Factionalism in culture dies hard. The sort of inter-media condescension I’m mocking in the article is just one strain of it.

        I don’t worry about it too much. Status isn’t as important as a lot of people make it out to be, and the pursuit of it can be corrosive. In the short term, I think the best way to spread the belief that games are worthy of discussion as cultural artifacts is simply to behave as if this is true, and no hysterical news report can stand in the way of that. (This is why it drives me nuts when well-meaning people exert huge amounts of energy shouting to the world that Games Are Important—a classic case where the more you have to protest, the less people tend to believe you—rather than proceeding with that belief as the premise and letting smart people judge the results for themselves.)

        In the long term, I think that “medium” as a primary organizing concept for discussion of culture is in decline—a decline hastened by, for instance, the more democratic, less formalistic creative environments on the internet. And also by games, an amazingly polymorphous art form that voraciously borrows from and recombines other forms. The mode of production will always be important to consider, of course, but “medium” is a big, rigid idea that has become a worse and worse fit for the more agile, flexible creativity you’re seeing in pop culture today. And as medium becomes less important, your medium’s position in the cultural pecking order becomes less important, too. (Of course, there will always be other pecking orders, so it’s not like we’re all about to sing Kumbaya.)

        I don’t know whether video games as a “medium” will ever attain the cultural standing of cinema or TV. Probably not. I just don’t think that particular kind of status matters very much, as the concept of medium is already becoming inadequate and outdated. After all, some Catholics still think mass ought to be conducted entirely in Latin and look down on those who worship in vernacular. But most of the world doesn’t give a shit, because those old organizing principles and indicators of status have become irrelevant—we’ve moved on to new ways to look down on people for the language they use, LOL amirite? ;-)

        • Jackbert322 says:

          o teti u alwaze rite lol but srsly bra u cant beat me @ this im a teen this tote cum ez 2 me :p


          As to saying Games Are Important And Must Always Be Taken Very Seriously, I do hate that as well. Many great games Are Not Important And Should Not Be Taken Seriously. Still, it doesn’t seem as though other STUFF, whether it be movies, television, sports, books, checkers, essentially anything not related to consumption and reproduction, are as routinely hated on as video games. Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge; maybe it’s a deep rooted fear; but I still think video games in general aren’t as positively viewed as some other forms of entertainment, especially more recent ones, were when they had been around for comparable amounts of time.

        • Enkidum says:

          Wow, that was worthy of an article on its own. Actually, seriously, you might want to consider expanding on those ideas in some sort of special feature, because they’re pretty awesome.

        • John Teti says:

          @Jackbert322:disqus  Sure, maybe you’re right. My take is just that the question of which camp has been beat up the most/longest is so slippery and impermanent—and the camps themselves are so slippery and impermanent, especially in modern pop culture—that you’re better off not worrying too much over which medium has the MOST reason to be aggrieved. Certainly games are among the low men on the totem pole today. But perhaps tomorrow, new pole—that is, if we don’t keep trying to rebuild the old one.

        • John Teti says:

          @Enkidum:disqus Thanks! Maybe I’ll do that.

        • Girard says:

           And once we’ve transcended bickering over the inter-media pecking order, we can always resort to the old standby of bickering over the inter-city pecking order…Like when a New York boy tries to mask his intense-admiration-brimming-on-jealously for Pittsburgh by condescending to it in a video game article!

          “then it shows him hitchhiking with a large cardboard sign reading ‘PITTSBURGH,’ as if that is the natural next step after having
          experienced the greatest sights of Europe, Asia, and Africa.”

          DAMN STRAIGHT IT IS! Yinz got a problem with that? HERE WE GO, STILLERRRRRRZ!

        • Girard says:

           Also, wouldn’t it be great if somebody took back up the old Cervantes-era criticisms that novels were total-brain rot? Or, hell, go back to the Phaedrus and write-off writing altogether! Those seem to be threads of media-enmity that have totally atrophied. Some perverse part of me wants to design the first pointedly anti-literacy video game.

        • matrixschmatrix says:

          I think the worst fallout of the quest for prestige amongst videogames is games that attempt to make themselves ‘cinematic’- by cramming in hours’ worth of unskippable cutscenes and cutting the player’s ability to change what’s going to happen down to nothing, or at best, two or three pre-scripted tracks. I understand that videogames have to railroad you somewhat, but I’d rather it be in service of making the game move along than in trying to be another medium.

          It reminds me of the prestige pictures that would come out in the earliest era of film, when movies were theater’s idiot kid brother- they’d be stagey and confined and unutterably boring, and nobody remembers them anymore.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @Jackbert322:disqus I’d argue against the idea that some games aren’t important and should not be taken seriously. That’s not to say that a lot of games aren’t produced with the intent of being simply enjoyed but not thought about, but once they’ve been made, they’re in the same pool as the “issue/art” games that do intend for their players to take them in with serious consideration. 

          One thing that has always irked me about academia is the attempt to divide art into High Art or “serious” art, and Low Art or “not serious” art. This sometimes leads to very strange (and, in my opinion, dangerously arbitrary) divisions. Roy Lichtenstein creates Pop Art (the visual arts movement, not another form of art) reproductions of single panels of old romance comics. Lichtenstein’s reproductions are considered High Art, while the romance comics, which contain the exact images Lichtenstein reproduced, just smaller and in context, are considered Low Art. One gets studied in class, one gets studied on the student’s own time without professorial oversight.

          The dangerously arbitrary bit I mentioned earlier comes from the fact these divisions ascribe a worth to different forms of art. The great painters of the Renaissance (high art), who in many ways fail to influence or reflect the problems in our daily lives, are worth more time and effort to study than a contemporary television show (low art). And we tend to protect the things that are most valuable. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t know what will be most influential in art to later generations. Some stuff that might have been quite valuable simply hasn’t survived because it wasn’t considered worth it. Some stuff that is quite valuable survived by the skin of its teeth. Shakespeare was eclipsed in popularity in his day by bear-baiting, and nearly went bankrupt a number of times. Luckily, thanks to lack of copyright, his works persisted after his death and were preserved, and now he’s at the forefront of English literary tradition. Melville’s most popular work in his lifetime was not Moby-Dick, which met with scathing reviews (it was considered to be poorly written, of all things) and sold terribly. It took over a 100 years of reputation rehabilitation until it became part of the American canon. 

          Now, I’d be hard pressed to imagine a world in which Mr. Belvedere makes his triumphant arrival on the world cultural stage, neither would I desire to live there, but I’m not particularly challenged by the idea that Pinball might very well do so at some future point. Or The Sims, perhaps (or better yet, Dwarf Fortress). 

          It might seem pretentious to ascribe equal footing to Shakespeare and Tarn Adams (creator of Dwarf Fortress), and it almost certainly is, right here and now. But not having the benefit of being in the future looking past, I’d rather be pretentious about a medium here and now and have it only be a passing fad than have it dismissed and forgotten when it might have had value.

          In closing, play Dwarf Fortress, it’ll change your life.

        • Here’s the thing, though; culturally speaking, I think that we’re (in the universal sense) sort of implicit in the disparaging of video games as a legit cultural signifier.

          The growing power of niche audiences has a creative benefit for those willing to utilize it for potentially great projects (kickstarter, podcasts, etc.) but it indirectly creates conflicts among niches in terms of superiority. WHY this happens has to do with social responses, at both the macro and micro level. Discussions are rarely pushed out the niche and placed in a position to offer outsiders a method or avenue of understanding.

          For example – I love TGS, but I often wondered why games, as an audio/video medium, was split off from the AVClub. Sure, I understand it’s a sister site, but the medium seems strong enough (and the commenters smart enough) that game related articles could and would fit perfectly on the same page. Splitting it out creates an non-visible wall between potential legitimate fields of thought. When will TGS get its ZMF?

          Beyond your suggestion, Teti, we need to go further. We need more adults and experts to discuss not just games are worthy of discussion, but that all media has merit, collectively. We need to be able to discuss, let’s say for example, horror entertainment as related to Night of the Living Dead (a movie), The Walking Dead (a TV show), and Resident Evil (a game), in the same breath, in the same cultural conversation.

          We need a place that connects the dots between all these forms of entertainment and media (oddly enough AVC was that place until TGS was created) and we need our critics to be more receptive to accepting that multi-media cultural conversations are worthy of having.

        • Fluka says:

          I think this all will change, frankly, as people grow up who are used to engaging with games on an intellectual or emotional basis, and know that their worth is something more than “Point gun at man to kill man and to make self winner.”  I think there are already signs that this is starting to happen.  This site, with its focus on the thematic and artistic elements of gaming, rather than pure gameplay mechanics, is a good example of that.  As a small example, I also ran across a blog post in the NY Review of Books of all places by a former classmate, arguing for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games as an excellent companion piece to the Tarkovsky film.  Eventually, these kinds of arguments will reach critical mass, I hope, enough so that one won’t be able to just dismiss out of hand the notion that games are art.

          To take the TV parallel, maybe we also need the game equivalent of The Sopranos or Mad Men, a game where someone can point and say “There!  That is art!”  Do we really have an agreed-on game like that right now?  

          Also, frankly, the people making and playing games need to think they’re “worthy” too.  Commenters need to stop criticizing writers for being “pretentious lol”, and the gamemakers themselves can’t just say “This is just a videogame.”

        • Citric says:

          @matrixschmatrix:disqus  Your post has made me go off on a tangent, but I find it interesting so I’ll go with it.

          So right now I’ve started a game of Romancing SaGa, which basically gives you a big world and sets you loose, with only the barest of stories to give context. It otherwise just tries to give you the tools to have an adventure, and then steps out of the way.

          Out of curiosity, I checked out the reviews, and people hated it, but they all gave the same reason – it didn’t have a story. One guy even suggested it was a bad remake because it didn’t add in a central narrative that the original game didn’t have. They didn’t want to meet the game on its own terms, they wanted it to fit into preconceived notions of what the genre should deliver.

          That’s not to say that it’s brilliant or for everyone. It is quite aimless, and not everyone is going to take to a game that provides you with so little actual direction, but it was interesting to see the reaction against it. It was a case of people wanting something that more closely resembled pre-existing genres rather than something that the game attempted to deliver: a big world to wander and figure out on your own, something that can’t be accomplished in film or TV.

        • Bad Horse says:

          @facebook-501651:disqus I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to treat games as occupying a different cultural space from the “passive” media (movies, TV, music, and here I use passive very loosely to mean you don’t have to do anything to make them advance). Historically, those two have mixed very poorly, and neither has been well-served by tackling the other, with the possible exception of Wreck-It Ralph. 
          As a rule of thumb, the most successful art games are the ones that discard passive media tropes, though there are exceptions.Also, it’s not like there isn’t tons of crossover between Gameological and the AVC. 

        • Girard says:

          @Bad_Horse:disqus : Historically, interactive media and more traditional media haven’t interacted poorly, I’d say. And I’d wager there’s a continuum at play, rather than a hard-fast distinction between the two. There are books that invite passive reception of the story, books that require more intellectual engagement, and books that are formally inventive enough (like some Calvino or David Foster Wallace) to require you to actually interact with the text in a different way to put the story together. That’s a short step to choose your own adventures, and more complex gamebooks, which share DNA with tabletop games, which many complex computer games adapt parts of their rulesets from.

          Further muddying the waters between traditional/’passive’ media and electronic/’interactive media: we’re reading written (‘passive’) articles on films and so on at AVClub, and on games*, here, but in both cases, have the opportunity to participate with the text through the comment boards. While I love the editorial voice and the close-knit community around here, and am definitely glad TGS exists, I don’t think that existence is justified by some inherent split between two kinds of media (it’s rather justified by the strength of the site itself).

          *I’m still waiting for the first review of a game that is formatted as a game. We’ve had text reviews of text and film/video. We’ve had video reviews of film/video. And we’ve had text and video reviews of games…when can we expect a game review of a game? That would be amazing. A drastic difference in format like that would more clearly justify creating a whole new platform/site/whatever.

        • John Teti says:

          @facebook-501651:disqus The reason Gameological is its own site is because I wanted to do things editorially that wouldn’t fit into the A.V. Club rubric. I was going to start the site on its own, but when I told my Onion colleagues about it, they thought it would dovetail nicely with AVC, and we agreed to work together, which was so exciting for me. If that partnership hadn’t happened, the AVC games section would have been wound down when I left. Instead, we have had a flourishing of games discussion on a site that extends the A.V. Club approach in other directions.

          So it burns me when you characterize my formation of Gameological as somehow “splitting off” games from the critical conversation. I think it’s self-evident by now that when things live on different dot-coms, that does not prevent ideas from cross-pollinating. That’s the premise not only of the web, but of the broader cultural conversation. You write as if all the discussion needs to happen explicitly under the auspices of one united avclub.com monolith in order to be considered valid. My response is that the ideas are far more important than the institution, and at Gameological we happen to be interested in exploring the ideas that emerge from games and play. Those explorations can (and do) respond to and inform all the other discussion on the web, regardless of whether there is an A.V. Club banner or a Gameological banner at the top.

          You keep talking about games as an “audio/visual medium,” but like I said above, this “medium” concept is not an especially important one for me. I think of games more as a concept and a cultural force than as something so rigid as a “medium,” and likewise Gameological is built not around a medium but around that idea of “game”—maybe that’s an irrelevant distinction to you, but not to me.

          As for this: “We need a place that connects the dots between all these forms of entertainment and media (oddly enough AVC was that place until TGS was created) and we need our critics to be more receptive to accepting that multi-media cultural conversations are worthy of having.” First of all, the notion that AVC was somehow diminished rather than enriched by the creation of Gameological is silly. Second of all, the implication that Gameological is NOT a place that’s receptive to and conducive to the kind of conversations you’re talking about is, in my eyes, undercut by the article to which you’re posting this comment.

          The truth is I agree with most of what you’re saying. I think, however, that in arguing quite rightly that criticism should transcend the artificial barriers between media, you’re inventing artificial barriers in the critical conversation, and contradicting your own point about the merits of interdisciplinarity.

        • Girard says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus : Maybe it’s because I see Lichtenstein shit upon so much on the internet, but I kind of find your dialectic with him as the establishment on one side and popular artforms on the other as problematic. Lichtenstein, and the pop artists in general, by making fine art about pop ephemera raised the question about what constituted valid subject matter for art which lead directly to the type of case you’re advocating, where the notions of high and low art are antiquated and the barrier between them is permeable or non-existent. I’d say at this point, it’s pretty much taken as granted. Warhol guest starred on the Love Boat, Ben Jones has a cartoon on Cartoon Network, Tim Burton had a show at the MoMA (and MoMA’s “Talk to Me” exhibit juxtaposed art games, digital art, and even product design as works of high art).

          Even when that’s that case, I’d say Sturgeon’s law applies, and it’s still valid acknowledging that not every game requires critical attention (just as not everything aired on television or foisted on the shelves of bookstores requires such attention). If we don’t include that caveat, and overstate the case of games, then when people do encounter a crummy game, and have been sold a line that games are uniformly great, high culture, whatever, they’ll assume that that assertion was basically fan-boy bullshit.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus I’ve heard that argument before. It’s undercut somewhat in that Lichtenstein is still the one who appears on the syllabus for collegiate art classes, while people like Kirby have significantly smaller followings in academic circles (although not in popular circles). I learned it from the literature standpoint, where even though we read a book that eulogized romance comics and their contemporary genres (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) as expressions of artistic thought, Lichtenstein was still given more credence (he doesn’t even write!) than those he is supposed to have been drawing attention to.

          It bothers me (and it bothers me in the history of science, as well) that we often seem to applaud people like Galileo or Antonie van Leeuwenhoek for their inventions (the telescope and light microscope, respectively) than what they did with those devices. The discovery that Jupiter had moons and the existence of red blood cells are far more important than the tools used to discover them. It may be that you can’t have one without the other, but you also shouldn’t focus on the tool to the exclusion of the discovery, and it seems to me that’s what has happened with Lichtenstein. He’s shown us comics possessed a depth beyond what we had imagined, but rather than following his lead (as astronomers and biologists did in the previous cases) the art community has instead immortalized Lichtenstein, the magnifying glass, than those he magnified. You still see articles that seem to be amazed that museums might even think to display people like Jack Kirby or George Herriman in the same building as ol’ Roy, let alone not show Roy at all in favor of those who came before him.

        • @paraclete_pizza:disqus I’m sure you’re familiar with Homestuck, or perhaps the superior-in-every-way Prequel Adventures, which combines, brilliantly, comics, forums, comments, gaming and flash video in a flat-out new way of storytelling and entertainment. It’s VERY good and arguably on the cusp on the new way we tell internet stories.

          @JohnTeti:disqus Well, firstly, I want to apologize if I came off a bit more aggressive or blaming than I wanted. I certainly didn’t mean to imply in any way that by positing the cultural conversation of “games” on another site, it somehow demeaned your work or the site itself. I had no intention to “burn” you.

          That being said, I’m standing by what I said. As you mention, had things with the partnership not have happened, the games section on the AVC would have been eventually cut. To me, that’s a red flag; couldn’t AVC improve its game output overall? Add videos and essays, play to gaming marketing opportunities; write-ups of E3 and PAX, or even touch upon the gaming booths at SDCC?

          But my larger point really has nothing to do with AVC or TGS (keep in mind I love them both). I’m only using them as an example. To that end, I disagree that “cross-pollinating” is happening as much as you claim. Sure, it’s happening at the social-micro level (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but it’s still fairly rigidly defined by THIS video game site or THAT movie site. Geekier websites certainly opened up those walls, but not in the collective manner of cultural conversations of entertainment pop culture to the level of /Film, or Alan Sepinwall.

          Frankly, I’m kinda surprised that the response to this was so hostile. I neither (meant to) implied the AVC was diminished nor that TGS wasn’t receptive to other conversations. But let’s be straight: generally speaking, TGS focuses on “game” (concept or otherwise), and AVC doesn’t. And this is OKAY. Sure, the web opens up that cultural conversation, but there’s few places where the core nature of it considers all of these concepts collectively, beyond these barriers. Cracked and Overthinking It still posit articles that focuses on -games- and -movies-, quite carefully keeping each one separate from each other. It’s minor, but it keeps “a” sect of people clicking the Movies tag and “a” sect of people clicking the Gaming tag. And we still have factions of people, adults, and critics, disparaging one over the other.

          Hell, I’ve been focused quite squarely recently on cartoons and animation, and I know all too well the barriers involved in placing them in the cultural conversation (if it’s ain’t Pixar, it ain’t worth it, apparently).

          So, no, I don’t agree that I’m “inventing” these artificial barriers. They may be on their way down, but they’re still there, hindering the cultural conversation we COULD be having until they’re gone.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          The AVC/GS schism will damn you all to hell!!! Repent, sinners!

          Nah, I think the issue is that while evolution in art and media is going faster than ever, it’s still not going fast enough for people.
          Media as a form of limiting format it dying out very clearly and will at some point only be held on to by the usual traditionalists. As devices become more and more able to do everything at the same time, the idea that cinema, tv, game, print and so on are vastly different things separated by unbridgeable gaps will fall by the wayside.

          You also have to remember that for the vast part of human history our choice of media was very limited at any given time. There were the plastic arts, like sculpting and painting (which we barely consider media as such anymore), the theatrical arts and a limited selection of literary arts. Up until the renaissance nobody but the richest nobles owned a couple of illuminated manuscripts, then print rolled in and well until the invention of audio recording, that was it.
          That explains pretty exactly how and where certain media get their sense of superiority from, seniority. Theater considers itself better than musical revue, which finds itself superior to cinema, which considers itself better than television and all look down on the new kid, games. Quality or actual merit has very little to do with it, I think, it’s all just a question of who did it first.

          Now, gaming has a chance to go beyond that because it is far less form-limiting, more fluid than all its predecessors, but again, you have to give people time to accept these changes, because 30 years ago, computer games were beeping pixel things. The medium has changed in roughly a single generation from Pacman to Half Life 2. No other medium, with maybe the exception of the printing press, has had such an immediate and rampant evolution. And the movers and shakers, the people who write and produce for movies and tv, they just about grew up on Pacman and Tempest and Asteroids and Centipede. Those are games vastly of a different kind than what we get to play today.

          So I think becrying some sort of eternal media divide is indeed silly, because we are, in comparison to other media, still at the forefront of gaming.
          Cinema was invented roughly in the 1880s and it took until the 1920s for some real movies to come to light, like Nosferatu or Metropolis or Dr Mabuse. Compare the evolution of gaming in the same time period and it blows cinema out of the water in that regard.
          We are still very much the first generation of gaming that transcends the aggressive bleeping and sparking of Arcade-style skill games, the first ones to experience narrative, emotional themes and character development. Even the advancement of background story to Super Mario from his first appearance in 1985 to today.

          Gaming has in many ways already outclassed the innovation speed of all other media and influenced it very greatly. Just consider CGI and most filming techniques the gift gaming has given to the filmed picture. All these types of media are fusing together, with actors being employed for games, music being written, and so on.
          Just give it some time.

        • John Teti says:

          @facebook-501651:disqus I’ve said my piece, but on a meta level, I’ll add that I didn’t interpret your remarks as aggressive; I just disagreed strongly with one piece of what you were saying. I feel fortunate to have thoughtful people like you as readers, so while I might be spirited in my disagreement—especially when it comes to something so close to my heart—it’s not meant as hostility. That would be foolish on my part.

          I think your desire to see less stratification in discussion of media is very well-considered, and I concur wholeheartedly. I hope articles like this one and the overall philosophy of Gameological advance that cause in their own way.

        • Jackbert322 says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus Maybe I shouldn’t have said some games Are Not Important. I was more meaning for that to fit with Teti’s Games Are Important bit. I’m still gonna stand by my some Games Should Not Be Taken seriously. Ideally, that’s how all art should be. I mean, if someone who has never been exposed to art sees a Picasso picture, they’ll probably laugh, And I think that’s okay, Picasso’s pictures are funny. That doesn’t make them inferior to a Rembrandt picture. I don’t think a stody art history professor should frown upon that. Again, ideally, all of the “stuff” I referred to previously should be viewed like that. Hamlet isn’t better than Much Ado About Nothing just because everybody dies. You can make the argument that Hamlet is better, I just don’t think it should be based on those grounds. (PS I’m sure you’re aware that painting-of-a-comic-of-a-painting-of-a-comic low-or-high-art bit is from Calvin and Hobbes. It’s high art, because the final adaption is a painting. But wait, it’s being explored in a comic! *head explodes*)

          @JohnTeti:disqus Well, maybe I’m wrong. I can’t say that I have a degree in contempary media, or that I wrote a dissertation on the history of cinema. Just to me, it seems as though games are taking longer…

          Leading to my next point. @paraclete_pizza:disqus I thought what you said in reference to interactive art was very interesting. Going back to what i defined as “stuff”, I mentioned movies, books, sports, checkers. Video games hold a very interesting place there, because they’re something that can specifically set out to tell a story, like a movie or a book, but they’re also something that can be played, like other types of games. Maybe people in the spheres of non-interactive storytelling are fearful of this. It’s not like you see Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books being cited as classic literature, even though I’d say a great one would be better than most great regular books. And that’s because of the variety of ways to experience it. I remember reading Roger Ebert’s dismissal of video games as art. What REALLY bothered me about it was his base assumption; video games give people different experiences, and art shouldn’t give people different experiences. No. Not at all. When I listen to gangster rap, I’m going to have a completely different experience based on my enviroment in a very diverse lower middle class area,  compared to my friend who lives in a Baltimore ghetto, or my other friend who lives in a swanky suburb. Maybe my first friend likes it because it hits close to home; maybe my second friend likes it because it has a catchy hook. Doesn’t matter, it’s still art either way.

          So hopefully, piggybacking on @Fluka:disqus , video games and interactive art starts to get recognized more in general. It’s beginning to happen, which is great! Thanks in part to this site. I just hope, that when we’re old and crotchety, we accept the next trend really quick.

          TL; DR: Video games are cool! Yay! Pumpkin ales on me!

        • @JohnTeti:disqus Ah, that’s awesome. Definitely always down for spirited debates, I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t touching on some nerves. Conversations like these are always great to have.

          @Effigy_Power:disqus It’s always nice to be the indirect cause of schism – they look great on resumes.

          Now, what’s all this about Pumpkin Ale?

        • Girard says:

           @HobbesMkii:disqus : It sounds like we had some pretty different subjective experiences in college!

          My mandatory freshman art history class focused on Modern and Contemporary gallery art (something I’m kind of glad it did, since that’s not something I had encountered before – even if it took me a few more years to come around to actually appreciating that stuff). But beyond that, there wasn’t a huge distinction between popular and “high” art forms, and that distinction was pretty universally seen as having died at least 20 years ago. My animation art history curriculum examined Looney Tunes alongside experimental animation, my video studio classes analyzed Stan Brackage films and ABBA videos as cultural artifacts, and the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh’s big biennial art show, featured conceptual gallery artists like Trisha Donnelly as well as a gallery of ink drawings and original pages by Robert Crumb (whose stuff I also saw, incidentally, in the Venice Bienalle last year). When I was in school, the whole poppy Fort Thunder thing was looming large and the influence of, say, Kirby on Matt Brinkman or Sesame Street on Force Field was frankly and openly discussed. Our campus gallery ran shows like this, where comic art was hung in the gallery, as was fine art influenced by comics and comic culture. I had Clowes’s Art School Confidential comic recommended to me by one of my concept art professors.

          While there was certainly a cultural distinction in Lichtenstein’s time, in my experience with art school and the art world, that distinction doesn’t really come into play any more. There’s a distinction between “gallery art” and “sequential art” and “film” and whatever, but in most institutions that distinction is practical and non-hierarchical. And I’d wager the number of publications or institutions where gallery art is held to be objectively more important than popular art is dwarfed by places and publications where video games are seen as totally awesome and contemporary art is seen as some kind of scam or waste of time.

          Video games have a bit of a tougher row to hoe, since they’ve been a largely commercial medium for so long, and the proprietary nature of consoles made it near impossible for inspired individual visions to come to fruition. The concept of an “indie” game is a relatively novel thing (though of course there were exciting things happening with independent basement programmers in the PC world, but the obscurity of that scene probably meant it didn’t register in the larger culture at the time). Games were seen as art objects 10 years ago at my school, but that’s probably because the uni has a big CS department and is pretty tech-friendly. A decade later, though, games seem fairly well regarded as an art medium in most places (my grad school is much less tech-oriented, but my profs have been receptive of games I’ve made for projects, and one of the new faculty is all about game design in art education).

      • Girard says:

         @Jackbert322:disqus : If you want some bona-fide high-literature choose-your-own adventure, check out Cortazar’s Hopscotch. Awesome folks like Borges and Calvino wrote weird metatextual stuff that often discussed branching narratives (Borges’s Garden of Forking Paths is paradigmatic in this genre), and Calvino even wrote a ‘second-person’ novel (If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which is amazing and another touchstone in interactive and meta- fiction discussion), but it wasn’t really a “choose your own adventure.”

        Yeah, Ebert’s fundamental thesis was super-flawed. Something isn’t art because the author doesn’t have absolute authorial control? a.) Barthes declared the death of the author in 1967 – the author’s intent needn’t dictate the “right” way to read even a traditional work of art b.) Game designers exert an amazing amount of control, shaping the emergent possibilities and/or concrete branching paths of the player’s experience. The computer doesn’t magically make up the outcome of the player’s choices – the artist either designed all of those possible outcomes, or designed the algorithm that generates them. And traditional relational aesthetics artists have been interacting with the audience since before digital media. Marina Abramovich sat in a gallery stock still with an array of implements with which the audience could do whatever they wished with her body. The ENTIRE PIECE was about ceding control, and it was undeniably art. The fact that I can stack tetrads in myriad ways certainly doesn’t invalidate games as art objects.

    • Girard says:

      Go forward, most/many new media will likely be interactive, and fall under the broad umbrella-term “video games,” so to observe this phenomenon occurring in the present, and the future, rather than looking for the “next medium” after games, it might be more useful to distinguish between different types/generations/whatever of games.

      Like, I don’t think a game has ever been overt about it, but there are certainly ‘retro’ gamers (and likely some ‘retro’-minded games) that either overtly or tacitly show contempt for contemporary games, or more broadly for 3-D games since the 32-bit generation. Another possible strain is the blanket dismissal of motion controls as meaningless “waggle.” And you mention the distinction between ‘hard core’ and ‘casual’ gaming.

      It seems like the main consistent thread in all of these prejudices is a fear of being usurped. It’s like these media creators, so beholden to a myth of linear progress, can only imagine one medium being prevalent at a time, and feeling it necessary to snipe at ascendant media before they “take over.” Despite the fact that film and television were comfortably coexisting in the 80s, the Belvedere writers apparently couldn’t imagine a world where arcade games, television, and film coexist, and some contemporary game enthusiasts fear their hardcore games will vanish in a puff of waggle rather than acknowledging that multiple modes of interaction and types of games can exist in tandem.

      (This may also be why in the mid-90s there were a lot of TV shows and films that played up paranoia about the Internet – its addicting qualities, the fear of interacting with anonymous entities who may not be what they seem, and out-and-out conspiracy theories about identity theft and so on.)

      • PaganPoet says:

        My favorite of those internet-paranoia media being the awful first-season X-Files episode “Ghost in the Machine.”

        The building’s computer network is trying to kill me!

    • PPPfive says:

       The most baffling, on-going cross-promotion of modern days is the small vacuum robot. They are in EVERYTHING

      looked it up: Roomba

  5. Bowen Kerins says:

    But I am playing pinball…

    I’ve also never understood TV’s need to retheme or even change the sound of pinball machines. What, is someone going to get sued if he’s playing Fireball and not Firebomb? It’s still the same game otherwise.

    Was Gilbert Grape the only one to do this right?

    • John Teti says:

      The most appalling thing for me is that they painted over the cool Fireball cabinet with a much lamer design. I guess the original awesome flames weren’t quaint enough.

  6. The_Misanthrope says:

    Mr. Belvedere and Alfred Pennyworth must have quite the bull session when they get together.  There must be quite a lot of repressed rage underneath all that stiff-upper-lip servitude.

    Are there any British shows that do the whole fish-out-of-water thing with an American?  

    • Jackbert322 says:

      The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.

      The main character is played by David Cross, and Will Arnett is a secondary character. It’s a pretty good show, though maybe not as good as it could be. The first season is on Netflix.

    • Girard says:

       Rich Fulcher is a common incongruous American presence in a number of surreal British comedy shows (Boosh, Snuff Box), and I think occasionally they’ll acknowledge/comment on his nationality, but those shows are so full of non-sequitirs that they’d be just as like to comment on his being a werewolf or an Azerbaijani as an American, probably.

      Speaking of Werewolves, “An American Werewolf in London” might fit? Or Andi McDowell in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”? The Cat in “Red Dwarf” is kind-of-sort-of a caricature of a stylish black American dude (James Brown meets Little Richard) who contrasts with the alternately prim/sloppy British white dudes (though, obviously, he’s a cat).

      But nothing, so far as I know, as low-key as Mr. Belvedere – a family sitcom with a single incongruous and eponymous American character.

      • Arthur Chu says:

        Also Kryten is apparently a Canadian. They said they specifically picked a Canadian accent because that fit his personality (even though it always sounded like just a mildly “robotic” American accent to me).

  7. wordsampersand says:

    The show is set in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. I live in Beaver Falls, and I always chuckle that TV writers would have ever thought it was plausible that anyone at any point in time would’ve had a butler here. 

    • Girard says:

       I have a friend with family in Beaver, PA. I love that Pittsburgh has (at least) two suburbs named after beavers.

      And Google maps tells me they’re apparently adjacent to each other, which seems like it would be confusing.

      • wordsampersand says:

        For the folks that live here, it’s not too bad. There are some other towns between them, but it is one giant connecting sprawl of Rust Belt towns. 

        Beaver would have actually been a more likely place to set the show, since it’s somewhat ritzy. 

        • savior14 says:

          I live just south in Rochester and always got a kick how Belvedere made Beaver Falls to be the picture of suburbia in Western PA.  And it just confirms that portrayal with how Teti describes the suburban life of the show.  

          BTW, the burst fire pistol on Black Ops 2 is beastly.

    • Citric says:

      Let lone a sports writer in Beaver Falls. Sports writers aren’t exactly the most well paid people in the world.

  8. Wayne Kotke says:

    This is a great article: fascinating topic and well-written. I remember watching “Mr. Belvedere” as an undiscriminating kid, and this was an entirely new perspective on that episode. Each medium has a history of treating other media badly, mainly out of fear of being replaced. Movies took a swipe at television, too. And look how badly TV — especially SNL — often treats the Internet.

    I wonder: have games ever criticized OTHER media? No examples come to mind.

    • Girard says:

      It’s a different flavor of criticism, but Molleindustria’s “Phone Story” uses a piece of software native to phones (and the web) to comment on the production of the hardware of phones.

      Their “Free Culture Game” criticizes IP practice in media in general.

      But I can’t think of any glib inter-media dismissals like this or the Full House episode… I’m sure there’s some political simulation game where supplying your citizens with TV/Movies makes them more docile and pliable.

    • PPPfive says:

      Smash TV, Manhunt, Books Are Gay (last one doesn’t exist). These are more focussed around societies obsession with violence as a whole though. GTA4 skewered the internet pretty grimly, their Youtube has what appears to be a shot from a nasty snuff video with sneering, derisive comments underneath

      • HobbesMkii says:

        GTA makes a habit of routinely knocking radio, TV, and the performing arts through all the advertisements that play in its world (and the world itself). I especially enjoyed Jason Sudekis’ Glenn Beck parody in GTAIV

      • Fluka says:

        Surely Youtube and the literate, incisive comments inscribed therein have provided every medium with a perpetual whipping boy?

        Flash forward to a 2050 hive-mind neuroblogmissive: “Are Internet Comments Art?  A Defense.”

        • HobbesMkii says:

          2050? Right now, there’s probably a grad student somewhere whose Master’s thesis is on just this subject. It’s probably more focused and has a longer title, though, like From the Mouths of Anonymous Snarky Babes: An exploration of the communal nature of the depth of satirical writing contained in the comments section of A.V. Club articles.

        • Fluka says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus The Mimetic Meme: an Analysis of the Dawes Phenomenon as a Postmodern Post-Ironic Hipster Narrative. 

          …Of Cock.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          I think @Fluka:disqus just broke the internet. All the porn has been replaced with pictures of unicycles and thick rimmed glasses.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus fapfapfapfap…fap?

        • Fluka says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus Just the way I likes it!

  9. PappyBojiggity says:

    Is this the appropriate place to wish John Teti a Happy Birthday?  If not, I’ll just drop-kick my jacket. . .when I walk through the door.  Will anyone care?  Mr. B was a killer show back in the day- no haters.  Great piece!

  10. Oh my god, John! John, excuse me, John.  Please do this episode of Law & Order SVU next.  Okay, thanks, buh-bye.


    • Effigy_Power says:

      That makes me want to throw up more than I can eat.
      “The real world, join us.”
      Strong words for someone on a TV-show.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Xbox tournament? In Korea? HAHAHA, what will they think of next!?

  11. PugsMalone says:

    No mention of Mario on Ice, starring Mr. Belvedere as Bowser?


    • GaryX says:

      Goddamn. I swore I hit Ctrl+F and searched “Ice” before posting.

    • John Teti says:

      Holy shit. This is the single most amazing and important document I have ever seen.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      That is both awesome and severely painful to watch. The sweaters, the obvious video of a computer game on the screen, the fake excitement… That is… wow. Just wow.

      PS: Milano was so cute.

    • stakkalee says:

      That Princess Peach will haunt my dreams.

      • GaryX says:

        Not Luigi hump-killing the villains?

        • stakkalee says:

          Oh, there’s plenty of horror to go around, but her gigantic lifeless eyes, terrible voice, and horrible undulating movements just spark a primal fear in me.  Like a Mae West cobra, about to distend it’s jaws and devour a mouse.

  12. valondar says:

    “Eccentric behavior is sort of a trademark of us English,” he says.
    “Rigid class structure. Everything and everyone in its place. From time
    to time, we buckle under the pressure of our ingrained formality and go a
    little bonkers.”

    Oh this article was worth it for that line. Only American sitcoms could make the British sound like Minbari.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Belvedere should have been executed for trying to be part of the military pinball caste. Silly worker-caste.
      -files down boney head-crest-

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

      I’m not a frequent viewer of the television, but from what I have watched, I was under the impression all British folk were either:
      A. 18th century street urchins
      B. Uptight aristocrats with monocles (usually evil) or
      C. John Cleese

  13. Citric says:

    Something I noticed, both from this and the Full House story, why don’t they ever let the game play out on these shows? In both cases, the “addicted” have a goal, whether it’s reaching a certain score or completing the series of actions the game requires. The goal is clear from the outset. Once they reach that goal, it is logical that they’ll move on from the game. Hell, I know that I have a great deal of difficulty firing my stuff up once I see the end credits.

    However, both cases the games are interrupted before the goal is reached, and the cast is strangely content to have never seen their project reach its conclusion. Is this an attempt to devalue projects with an end goal, since sitcoms themselves have no goal, or conclusion they are working towards? Weirdly, it reminds me of Home Improvement, which had long arcs about Tim’s project cars, and the cars would inevitably get crushed in accidents, and he would be forced to start again. It was like they had something against people actually achieving a goal.

    • John Teti says:

      Yeah, great point. I think the Home Improvement comparison is an apt one, and that there’s a strong impulse by these productions to preserve a certain stasis, since for a commercially successful show, there’s no definite end in sight.

      In addition, I think the games aren’t played out because having the characters reach a goal would force the writers to portray them experiencing some sort of finality and satisfaction, and this would contradict the message that games are a bottomless pit of mindlessness and vacuity. If Mr. Belvedere were allowed to score 10 points more, he could probably walk away pleased with himself, laugh at how obsessive he had gotten, apologize for slacking off, and move on with his life having blown off some steam. But no, he has to learn the lesson that pursuing the goal in the first place was embarrassing and childish.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      That is a good point.
      In many ways there’s an ironic twist going on in that a format that is or at least was designed to never end is making disparaging remarks of addiction about a format that at least in most form has a logical conclusion.
      Maybe TV-writers were more perceptive than we think they were and saw games as a threat to keeping people glued to the TV. So they used the great forum of “Mr Belvedere”, the TV-show equivalent to the United Nation’s Council, and made sure that teenagers everywhere would be forever repulsed by any sort of gaming enjoyment. Clearly the emerging grunge generation would do what that stuffy butler and his sociopathic family suggested.
      Boy did that backfire or what? Today we live in a world were gaming is as popular as ever and Mr Belvedere runs on… does it run anywhere? Maybe TVLand or something. What a tragedy.

      EDIT: I just read and posted for 45 minutes. If that’s not a sign that GS is working, I don’t know what is.
      That or I am not working, which I probably should.

    • lokimotive says:

      It is interesting that they aren’t actually allowed to achieve the goal they set out to have. What’s even more interesting is that they are clearly identifying that there is a goal, especially in this case. It seems unusual that a Pinball game would have a set “end” of a point goal.

      What I find most fascinating about both this and the Full House article is that the primary problem isn’t really the video game itself, but addiction in general. It seems indisputable to me that addiction is, in general, a problem, but when a sitcom tackles it they hardly ever address the issue head on, instead superficially attacking what a person is addicted to.

      I think that has a lot to do with an unwillingness to actually explore the medium that is providing the addiction, which constantly makes for very facile criticism. Instead of exploring the culture of video games or pinball, hack writers will simply trot out the age old addiction plot and slot in a new object. Viola! A new message show about a relevant topic!

  14. GaryX says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned Mr. Belvedere at the NES Ice Capades: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fuuhn2cfVUE

    Starring Jason Bateman and Alyssa Milano. 

  15. Charles Amick says:


  16. boardgameguy says:

    not sure where else to post this but for all you settlers of catan players, there is this kickstarter project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/trammel/the-official-settlers-of-catan-gaming-board?ref=live

  17. Jason Reich says:

    Assuming the urban legend is true, actor Christopher Hewett sure could have used a “bonus ball” after he “Belvedered” himself during that script read. Eh? Eh?

  18. Kevin Irmiter says:

    “his older siblings, Heather and Kevin, bland filler characters who exist mainly to utter expositional dialogue and provide Wesley with straight lines.”

    I’m pretty sure the reason they were there was to bring in hormone-driven teens and pre-teens who would watch the show because they thought the actor/actress was “hot.” After Kirk Cameron, Alyssa Milano etc. But yeah, the show really couldn’t do much with the characters so they usually just had filler dialogue.

  19. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    I’ve been awol from the internet for most of this week, but I love this episode (the way I love bad movies) so I got real happy when I noticed you covered this.  made my day.

  20. duwease says:

    I didn’t realize Ziggy Stardust was on Mr. Belvedere