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Sucked in: 13 pop-culture portrayals of games that consume their players

In it to win it.

By Anthony John Agnello, Zack Handlen, Matt Kodner, Samantha Nelson, Derrick Sanskrit, Ryan Smith, and Dan Whitehead • June 6, 2013

1. Tron (1982)

When we talk about video games, we often end up talking about “immersion”—that sense that you’re existing in a fictional world. A lot of artworks have taken this notion to its literal conclusion, depicting heroes who get “sucked in” by a game to the extent that the game world actually becomes their reality. In Tron, one of the most iconic depictions of being sucked into a game, the game-designer protagonist is digitized by a megalomaniacal artificial intelligence and sent into a world where computer programs must battle to the death for the amusement of the Master Control Program. Along with its successful combination of racing and corporate politics, the Disney film showed off the potential of computer animation and remained influential for decades, spawning multiple video games, a TV show, toys, clothes, and a big-budget sequel.

2. Kid Chameleon (1992)

Released at the height of the ’90s virtual reality panic, Sega’s Kid Chameleon was more than happy to prey on parents’ secret fears that arcades were evil and modern video games were designed as a secret ploy to kidnap children. The evil boss of a new VR arcade game (stuck with a nickname worthy of This Is Spinal Tap, “Heady Metal”) manages to manipulate his own program’s code to trap the body of every person who loses the game. The only way to rescue the abducted kids is to beat the game yourself. That’s where Kid Chameleon comes in—a totally radical, skateboarding, leather-jacket-wearing pre-teen who looks like Tiger Beat-era Corey Feldman. He’s also got the approximate powers of Mario in Super Mario Bros. 3. The Kid leaps on the heads of enemies to kill them and changes into several suits that grant special powers. It’s an underrated game, and we can only hope that Middle-Aged Adult Chameleon gets made to celebrate next year’s inevitable Google Glass panic.

3. Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985)

The characters in this animated kids show aren’t even playing Dungeons & Dragons when they get sucked into the role-playing game’s fantasy world. One minute they’re taking a carnival ride together, the next they’ve been assigned magic items like a cloak of invisibility and a hat that spawns random items. Plus they have to contend with an evil wizard who wants their stuff. The heroes are pretty unhappy with their situation, as they spend the whole series trying to find a way home. Although it didn’t do much to entice kids into playing D&D, the show still felt the wrath of parents who were freaked out by media reports that the game could make players unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. The youngest character on the show, 8-year-old Bobby, refuses to go home and leave his pet unicorn behind, which might be a metaphor for that very idea of all-consuming immersion. But it was probably just a way to keep making episodes.

4. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003)

Ivalice is not a place for children. Yasumi Matsuno’s imaginary nation, the setting for multiple games including Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics, is constantly in a state of violent political upheaval. It’s populated by crazy lizard people and bunny-eared ladies whose entire fashion culture revolves around the thong. People die all the time because the land’s angry gods are always causing a ruckus. And yet Matsuno decided to make a band of misfit kids from Earth the main characters in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The setup goes like this: Marche and his little brother Doned are the new kids in town. They meet Ritz and Mewt in a vicious snowball fight, and the brothers invite the whole gang over to look at an old book—a book that transports them away to a fantasy land based on Mewt’s memories of his favorite game, Final Fantasy. (That makes this the most circuitous sucked-in story on this list.) The cruelty of Ivalice proves to have an upside when the kids arrive. They find that they prefer a dangerous world because it makes life choices easier, and the fight to survive proves to be less fraught than trying to make friends, dealing with illness, or coping with a parent’s death. When the heroes finally return home, they’re mature youngsters on the verge of adulthood rather than just kids who went on a zany adventure.

5. Adventure Time, “Guardians Of Sunshine” (2011)
Adventure Time: Guardians Of Sunshine

Adventurers Finn and Jake have little trouble beating up any of the monsters and villains on Cartoon Network’s hit Adventure Time. Despite their skills, though, our heroes still kind of suck at video games. Finn’s frustrations peak in one episode when he’s unable to beat the retro-style platformer “Guardians Of Sunshine.” When their living computer friend, BMO, lets it slip that the two would have an even harder time inside the game, they become obsessed and trick BMO into transporting them inside. It turns out that playing a game without a controller can be pretty tricky. Finn and Jake end up having a rough time inside and face multiple excruciating deaths from the game’s huge, menacing foes. It’s a fun riff on the sucked-in concept and chock full of sideways jokes about existing within a digitized world.

6. Captain N: The Game Master (1989)

In this Saturday-morning cartoon conceived at the height of the American NES craze, an average suburban teen named Kevin is minding his own business, fighting with his dog over the gamepad during a spirited round of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, when a sudden wave of techno-magic rushes through his bedroom and transports him to Videoland. This strange place is the shared landscape of all computer games (provided they’re available on the Nintendo Entertainment System). Kevin finds that he is the savior of prophecy who will save Videoland from its endless war against evil. Equipped with an NES gamepad belt buckle and an NES Zapper that grant him game-hero-like superpowers (read: whatever the plot demands), Kevin battles the cast of Mega Man 3 in a football game, narrowly evades being crushed to death in Marble Madness, and saves the magical world of Tetris (twice!). It’s best not to think too hard about any of it, particularly the parts where Metroid is the name of a planet, an anthropomorphic Game Boy is kind of a whiny baby with magic powers, and both Kid Icarus and Mega Man have debilitating speech impediments.

7. Harsh Realm (1999)

Kicking off during the tail end of The X-Files, Harsh Realm was supposed to be X-Files creator Chris Carter’s next big show. The action followed a soldier thrust into a virtual reality training simulation created by the U.S. Army. His mission is to take down a fellow soldier that got so good at the game, he decided to stay there and make it his personal fiefdom. Viewers complained that Harsh Realm was too confusing and too violent, and it was cancelled after just three episodes aired. Carter did get a chance to play with the idea of being stuck in a video game again in 2000 with “First Person Shooter,” an episode of The X-Files where a sexy leather-clad woman kills people’s characters in a VR game, causing them to die in real life.

8. Moon Remix RPG Adventure (1997)

Love-de-Lic, a small Japanese studio that made three games in the late ’90s before disbanding, had a penchant for messing with convention. Moon is the studio’s crowning achievement. It starts off pretty meta. First, you are a boy playing video games. Then, you’re playing the game he’s playing, an old school role-playing game in the Dragon Quest vein called Moon. After completing a truncated version of that adventure, ridding the land from evil, the boy himself is sucked into the game, and his perspective changes completely. Helpful but faceless townspeople become regular folks just getting by. That knight who you were controlling as the hero? He’s kind of a putz, obsessed with “leveling up.” Once inside the world of Moon, the boy finds that the only way to progress is by getting to know people and being a good friend. Even the monsters that were slain by the knight need a hand, and you have to go out and find their lost souls. It’s a fascinating inversion of a fantasy world adventure.

9. Hunter X Hunter (1999-2001)
Hunter X Hunter

No matter how many times you kill someone in a video game, it rarely feels permanent. While many of the heroes in this list personally take out digital persons, none are pitted against other sucked-in humans as much as the hero in Hunter X Hunter’s “Greed Island” story arc. Much of the series follows professional hunter Gon Freecss on his search for his absentee father. His first major clue comes in the form of Greed Island, a game playable only by super-powered fighters like Gon. Playing Greed Island entails physically entering its virtual world, where dying in the game means dying in real life. Early on, Hunter X Hunter pokes fun at role-playing game tropes and even introduces an interesting and rigid set of rules for the hunters to play by, but the story escalates quickly as players kill each other in hopes of being the first to conquer the Island.

10. Computer Warrior (1985)
Computer Warrior

Debuting in the British comic Eagle just a few years after Tron hit theaters, this plucky adventure strip (created by a pseudonymous Alan Grant) found schoolboy Bobby Patterson fighting to rescue his friend, who had become trapped in the digital “nightmare zone” after discovering a code that allows the player to enter computer games and experience them for real. Die in the game, of course, and you’re trapped there. The key point of interest with Computer Warrior was that, thanks to an agreement with British games publisher U.S. Gold, which specialized in domestic conversions of American arcade games, Bobby would be sucked into games you’d actually heard of. Gauntlet, Impossible Mission, Outrun, Bionic Commando and even Zak McCracken And The Alien Mindbenders all formed the basis of ongoing story arcs. Movie games like Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade also got the Computer Warrior treatment, in mind-boggling transmedia crossovers that would give today’s licensing departments a migraine. The strip ran until Eagle’s demise in 1994, far outliving the Tron hype that inspired it, and it eventually became something of a fantasy epic, with Bobby inheriting the mantle of the Computer Warlord and ruling the digital realm like a joystick-wielding Conan.

11. Superman: The New Adventures (1999)

Superman represents a design problem for game developers. How do you create a challenge for players with a character so powerful he can juggle skyscrapers? In 1999, Titus Software struck on a novel solution: Take Superman out of the “real world” and stick him in a virtual environment where arch-nemesis Lex Luthor can control the horizontal, the vertical, and everything in between. Unfortunately, that “control” mostly meant forcing Superman to fly through a seemingly endless series of loops in a murky city shrouded in “Kryptonite fog.” A victim of sloppy design, bad controls, and head-scratchingly bad game mechanics, Superman 64 (as it’s informally known) probably wouldn’t have worked in any case, but the decision to force its hero into a foggy, ugly alternate reality shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the character’s appeal.

12. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)

If it weren’t for Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, we may have never heard Sylvester Stallone utter, “There are no rules in this game except to win” to a group of gladiator children fighting each other in colorful robo-suits (rendered in lousy CGI). For the third film in the venerable Spy Kids movie series, Daryl Sabara, the reigning child spy supreme, has to save his older sister from the clutches of Stallone. Apparently, the only way for Sabara to do so is to enter the devastating world of Game Over, a game designed by Stallone himself, by putting on a pair of familiar-looking 3D glasses that pull Sabara into the game. For some reason, it’s easier for Sabara to do this on the moon, so he goes up to the moon, dons a mecha suit, whales on other child spies, and tries to beat the game. It’s not just Sabara who gets in on the fun, though. Elijah Wood even shows up to be electrocuted to death in a short cameo.

13. Jumanji (1995)

Superman 64 may well be remembered as one of the most broken games of our era, but let’s not forget about Jumanji, a supremely unfair supernatural board game. If you happen to land on the game’s equivalent of Community Chest, chances are you’ll be spirited away into its freaky jungle world, only to be freed if another player rolls a five or eight. That’s just plain mean, and it’s exactly what happened to Robin Williams’ character in the Jumanji film. Two children take up the game 26 years after Williams’ imprisonment, and when someone rolls a five, Williams is plucked from his existence as a bearded jungle-man and thrust back into the real world. Of course, along with Williams come lions, giant mosquitoes, and one nasty big-game hunter intent on killing Williams and the kids. Worst game ever.

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129 Responses to “Sucked in: 13 pop-culture portrayals of games that consume their players”

  1. PugsMalone says:

    From an interview with Eric Caen, head of Titus, the company that produced Superman 64:

    “Where did the idea of Superman going into a virtual world to save his friends come from?

    Eric: Political reasons, as the licensor refused to let Superman kick “real” people…”

    More here: http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/198862-superman/63473684

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Do you think those same people were concerned with Superman seeming too sensual in his long, flowing cape that they mandate it look like a rigid piece of cardboard that can only move in three places?

      • PaganPoet says:

        To be fair, I do find cloth flapping in the wind sexually arousing when it’s attached to muscular men in skin tight lycra.

        • Asinus says:

          Then you might want to watch out for physx. Here’s something to get you going: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8LpC0rrUC8 I think you’ll particularly like when they start hitting it with some balls. 

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          I’ve seen you lurking at the Jo-Ann Fabric sidewalk sale.

    • Girard says:

      How meta, having to nest a virtual world inside a virtual world, matryoshka-like, to create enough degrees of remove to justify super-human violence. “It’s only a game! Inside another game!”

      Incidentally, does this mean that one could make a truly, sadistically violent Superman game where you can indiscriminately reduce civilians to red mist or charred corpses, as long as you nest in in a virtual world inside a virtual world?

      • The_Helmaroc_King says:

        That sounds like a Silver Age Superman plot.

        “Inside! Superman… KILLS?! Not a hoax! Not an alternate reality!”

        Inside the issue:

        “It was a video game all along, suckers!”

        • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

          “Not an imaginary story!” will always be my favourite phrase from those covers.

    • Chalkdust says:

       This came up during the development of The Death and Return of Superman, a SNES-era side-scrolling Fatal Fury clone co-developed by a young Blizzard Entertainment.  DC had a weird-on about Superman kicking people.

      Hey, why not let’s develop a street-brawling game that grounds the famously flying Superman and limits him to fisticuffs and throws!  He even has a full-screen area attack where he leaps up off the top of the screen then comes down to… uh, punch the ground.

      Later stages mix in some limited flight and hero magic, but never a kick is thrown.

  2. vinnybushes says:

    Does ReBoot count? It’s sort of a behind the scenes look at the innards of a video game, but no one really gets sucked into it. Though if you lose a game that’s it so it definitely has stakes. I remember that the time they finally lose is while playing what is essentially Mortal Kombat, which seemed appropriate.
    It’s pretty dated visually but I remember it getting a lot of gaming stuff right.Also, it had the penguin from Wallace and Gromit in one episode. I don’t remember what one had to do with the other but the mental floodgates have opened and there’s no stopping it now.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      ReBoot! I loved it as a kid, but it’s yet another show that I never managed to watch as a series. It’s a lighter take on what Tron did, where the whole thing is populated by personifications of computer tech. I never realized as a kid that the Binomes were meant to be zeroes and ones.

      I think my favorite “game” was the Evil Dead one. Oh, they can’t say it by name, but you know what it is. Groovy.

      • vinnybushes says:

         I remember the series took a pretty dark turn and got what can only be described as “epic”. I remember the Evil Dead thing now that you mention it but I wasn’t old enough to get the reference at the time.

      • Matt Kodner says:

        Good god that is something I never thought I would see in ReBoot.

      • zerocrates says:

        But, but, the Road Warrior one!

      • Girard says:

        That was my first exposure to Evil Dead, too. Later, when I finally saw the actual movies, that episode’s weirdness made SO MUCH MORE sense in retrospect.

        • Samantha Nelson says:

          We talked about Reboot but since no one’s sucked in it doesn’t fit. Great show though.

      • Sarapen says:

        I think it’s on Netflix.

        Anyway, I must say that the computer User had a really crappy anti-virus program, how is it even possible for a virus to upload an anti-virus program online? Unless the virus programmer was an even bigger dick than most of his kind, I suppose.

    • hcduvall says:

      Posted “0 minutes ago” and I’ve already liked your post.

      I love Reboot. The premise was actually everyone program was a person, and every once in a while a user would load a game and the Bob program who came from a Mainframe would play against them, and if they lost, anyone caught would be nullified–presumably because the user beat the game and uninstalled it?

      I always liked the X-Files riff with Modem and Scuzzy.

    • I was always really disappointed that the show ended on a cliffhanger. 

      • CrabNaga says:

        Do I sense a Kickstarter in the works?

      • estta says:

        Cliffhanger at the end of the musical? I like to just cut parts of that episode out of my memory and keep the good stuff.

        • That wasn’t the last episode. They came out with two made-for-TV movies in 2001: “Mark of Daemon” and “My Two Bobs.”

          I don’t want to spoil it, but “My Two Bobs” ends with the villain of the movie taking over the central office and saying “Let the hunt begin…” 

    • nowimnothing says:

      The first ones I thought of were Existenze and Lawnmower Man.

    • CyberneticOrganism says:

      What about Brainscan with Eddie Furlong?

    • John Teti says:

      ReBoot and a couple other things like it came up in our discussions, but we decided a criterion for this Inventory was that someone had to be “sucked in”—i.e., someone from the real world has their reality replaced by a game world. However, I’m glad ReBoot came up in the comments; I used to really enjoy it.

  3. vinnybushes says:

    Also Sword Art Online! Trapped in a permadeath MMO and forced to start an rpg society. I haven’t finished the series but the concept is brilliant. Do you really want to risk your life beating the game or should you open up a shop and help other adventurers? They really explore a lot of interesting what ifs.

    • PugsMalone says:

      Another anime that used this trope was Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, where all the characters get sucked into a Japanese dating sim. You can watch the relevant episode here: http://www.crunchyroll.com/nyarko-san-another-crawling-chaos/episode-8-nyarkos-exciting-high-school-595413?p360=1

      And yes, most of the cast are based on Cthulhu Mythos deities.

      • vinnybushes says:

         I remember the rpg episode of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi Explored all the tropes pretty well, since that was basically the series’ job.

        • Sleverin says:

           I wish it stuck with those jokes and ideas.  They tried to play the love story way too hard and made it kinda weak in the end.  The space, rpg, and martial arts episodes were gold however.

        • vinnybushes says:

           @Sleverin:disqus that’s exactly why I never got around to finishing it. Those three episodes had me in fits, and nothing else quite measured up.

        • Melancholic_Rodeo_Clown says:

          This makes me sad that I lived near Abenobashi for 3 years but never found the Magical Shopping Arcade.

    • Sarapen says:

      I think the player killers were too enthusiastic. Okay, there’s no evidence that killing another player means their brains are microwaved but I would think most gamers would be too chickenshit to play when stakes get real. I mean, the whole point of video games is to face danger with absolutely zero risk to yourself.

      Plus it’s kind of ridiculous how many other video games the heroes enter. At what point would they just quit and take up table tennis?

  4. Mr. Glitch says:

    Captain N’s story ends pretty much how we all expected it to.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV3936RWTck

  5. Jer Link says:

    Wow that Moon games sounds awesome,  but upon Wikipedia search it seems that it wasn’t released in America. poop.

    • vinnybushes says:

      I just google searched it and found a NeoGaf post about the translation project from someone who seems vaguely familiar…. http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=450739

    • Girard says:

      There is an extensive fan translation in the works, which was originally scheduled to come out sometime this summer, but maaaaay take a little longer. Our own GhaleonQ has or had some degree of involvement.

      • Citric says:

        If I’ve learned anything about fan translation, it’s that something always goes wrong at the last minute and delays things.

    • GhaleonQ says:

       @Link_The_Ecologist:disqus @vinnybushes:disqus @duwease:disqus @paraclete_pizza:disqus If I wasn’t preparing to move, I would have been on top of this!  I guess talking about it irritatingly often worked.  Thanks, Gameological writers!

      What you need to know:
      The guys who made Super Mario R.P.G. really weird made this and other games.

      L.O.L.: Lack Of Love is probably more fun, U.F.O.: A Day In The Life is probably more innovative, but Moon: Remix R.P.G. Adventure is just fricking smart, way smarter than any other game.  I’m a little scared to play The Last Of Us because I couldn’t deal with a game that’s smarter.

      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1748556728/the-untold-history-of-japanese-game-developers is going to interview them.  2 of the people give interviews often, but the 3rd, my favorite developer ever, is mostly silent.

      I got a private message from the main person fan-translating it about a week ago apologizing for delay (Girard and I were talking about it almost being done last November) and saying that all that was left was text on graphics files, getting the MoonDisc player to work, and menu/item translation.  The beta works, and there are no bugs.  They are busy, so it’s taken a long time, but it will be as flawless as a patch can be.

      If you want to spoil it (don’t), my ripped playthrough is on YouTube and http://vgperson.com/other/moon.htm describes a different playthrough in English.

      • Ghaleon, I’ve been checking the comments sporadically this morning waiting for you to show up to talk about Moon! I was starting to get worried. 

        • GhaleonQ says:

          That is literally how my parents get me to call them if I’m overdue and “busy.”  They’ll just create a dummy account and post, “I dunno, moon’s pretty overrated” on a forum or Twitter.  I’ll come out of the woodwork and then it’s, “Are you getting enough sleep?  Can we visit and make you something special for dinner?”  I LOVE YOU, MOM, IT’S JUST THAT OBSCURE ART GAMES NEED DEFENDING.

      • Jer Link says:

         Thanks for the update! I’ll also look up those other games you mentioned when I get the time, as the weirdness of Super Mario RPG was one of my favorite parts of it.

        Also thanks @vinnybushes:disqus and @paraclete_pizza:disqus for the links to those forum threads. Reading through some of those almost made me feel like I was sucked into a fantasy world. Everyone was speaking a language I thought I knew but couldn’t always follow, and most of them seemed respectful and nice unlike on most forums. It was slightly overwhelming, but now that I think about it not completely unlike reading some of the discussions that go on here at gameological.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          You might have more luck with their separate games, most notably (localized titles) Chibi-Robo, Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, and Little King’s Story.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1748556728/the-untold-history-of-japanese-game-developers/posts/502163 They’re all excellent separated, but keeping the visionary, the workhorse, and the wild card together made for the best results.

          With Gameological and NeoGAF, you don’t need much else, I swear.  John and crew have attracted an extremely well-rounded and kindhearted crowd here, and if you need that extra bit of knowledge or dedication, NeoGAF’s your place.  I call it “civilization,” compared to much of the video game internet.

  6. Sleverin says:

     Possibly a fansub or fanwork conversion?  Surely someone may have tried, I mean the team for MOTHER 3 was a single person who did a fan translation.  Plus people fan sub the most garbage animes, so if this game is any good there should be someone out there doing good work.

    • Citric says:

      I think Mother 3 was several people, I know Tomato was the face of the effort but he’s always referenced a team. 

      Fan translation tends to be quite difficult though, especially if anything is compressed, and usually take a long time to finish. I know of several that have taken years to finish, some have been in the works for a decade. Keep in mind this is some very complicated work, being executed by people who aren’t going to receive any monetary reward most likely, and it’s easy to get discouraged or for teams to fall apart. Just going from the events that transpired way back when I lurked in the scene, I’m amazed any games got fan translated at all.

      • Sleverin says:

         True.  I’m surprised that MOTHER 3 got a translation after reading how incredulously difficult it was to re code the menus and dialogue boxes because they couldn’t properly fit all the text.  The really random one was the…was it Radical Dreamers?  That Sattellaview game for the SNES that was supposed to be a sequel to Chrono Trigger but was kinda weak and the team dismissed it as not very good.

        • Citric says:

          Radical Dreamers was a weird thing, a whole pile of early script ideas for Chrono Cross (some of which were even used) presented as a visual novel. I think everyone who worked on it liked it well enough, though it was always meant to be an ephemeral thing since it was on the Satellaview. Great music though.

  7. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    To this day, I receive unwanted, periodic recollections of Captain N’s King Hippo and his dangling and bruised, bovine nipples.
       Are his swollen teats more terrible than a Mega Man man depicted as an armor clad, hydrocephalic Kewpie doll with a Bukowski voice broken to gravel by whiskey and a lifetime of mistakes? 
       I don’t know.  But I do know that I wish my brain had it’s own miniature team of Franco-era Spanish censors to come in and airbrush a shirt on the guy. 

    • L_Ron_Jeffard says:

      Why was Mega Man green in the cartoon show? At least two Mega Man games were out by then, and his neutral color in both of ’em was clearly blue.

      Alternatively, I was disappointed when I reached Mother Brain in Metroid and wasn’t greeted with a sassy piece of stretched bubble gum sporting giant red lips.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        The only explanation I’ve heard is completely apocryphal, saying the show’s creators played Mega Man on a poorly color-balanced TV.
           Following Occam’s razor, I’d say it’s a simple matter of nobody involved giving a shit, not even a little.

        • George_Liquor says:

          Remember that tumblr someone pointed out here a few weeks ago? The one where a cartoonist tried to draw Pokemon characters based entirely on vague descriptions emailed to her? I get the feeling that Captain N was put together in much the same way.

        • PaganPoet says:

          I seem to recall Simon Belmont having a New England old money accent, too. I wanted to ask him if he would be summering in Ibiza his year (I was a very precocious 3 year old).

  8. George_Liquor says:

    Caprica’s entire plot revolved around an immersive game universe and how it ultimately gave rise to the Cylon race. The series’ main character, Zoe, gets blown apart in a suicide bombing early in the series, and her avatar basically spend the rest of the show’s run bouncing in & out of this virtual seedy underbelly of the 12 Colonies.

    • zerocrates says:

      That’s really interesting, I never knew that people actually watched Caprica.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Well, “People” may be overstating the size of its audience a bit.

      • neodocT says:

         I really liked Caprica! It was somewhat dull in the beginning, but really picked up towards the end to an incredible finale. Then again, I think season 2 of Dollhouse is awesome, so I may be particular in my opinions of cult sci-fi shows.

  9. JamesJournal says:

    This article actually happened without mentioned the Dot Hack series?

    • neodocT says:

       I also thought of .hack. I never actually played the games, but I very much enjoyed the .hack/Sign anime when I was younger.

    • GaryX says:

      I’ve never played any of the games or watched any of the show, but that’s what I first thought of.

  10. zerocrates says:

    BREAKING: Gameological Society expelled from the AV Club empire for failing to mention that one Community episode with the video game, even though nobody gets trapped inside.

    I feel like this is a really popular plot point. Digimon, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, and Code Lyoko are all mediocre cartoons with fairly similar virtual world deals going on, and I’m sure they get trapped in there at some point.

    Plus like, The Matrix, right? Or at least eXistenZ. Oh yeah, and Fallout 3 had that game-within-a-game part of the main questline.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, I think the article was focusing on “trapped in a game” specifically, rather than “trapped in a computer”- hence, no Matrix. Also, while Digimon technically doesn’t count (the Digital World wasn’t a game, really, just a computerized world), the plot of Digimon World for the original PlayStation involved the main character getting sucked into one of the original Tamagotchi style virtual pets, and Digimon World 3 involved the protagonists getting trapped in a Digimon themed MMO.

      And that was the day caspiancomic revealed he was embarrassingly knowledgeable about the Digimon franchise.

      • Travis Stewart says:

        Wouldn’t Digimon Tamers fit for the same reason as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance?

        • caspiancomic says:

           Sort of, I guess. In Tamers it’s more a matter of the game world entering the real world, but if Jumanji counts then you could probably argue that Digimon Tamers does as well.

      • WarrenPeace says:

        I imagine being sucked inside a Tamagotchi would be incredibly boring. You would just see a couple dots asking to be fed all the time.

        • caspiancomic says:

           You would think so, and indeed most people do. Digimon World has an interesting reputation. Among casual observors, critics, and people who generally have no stake in the whole Digimon thing, Digimon World is usually regarded as the worst game in an already bad series. Fans of the franchise though (like me!) tend to love it, and consider it the best game… of an admittedly bad series. It retains a lot of the “virtual pet” style gameplay mechanics (you have to feed your mon, tell it when to sleep, take it to the bathroom, scold it when it disobeys you, etc) which a lot of people didn’t like, but the game as a whole was open ended enough to be really enjoyable if you like that sort of thing. Plus, it happened to hit a lot of my personal buttons- exploration focused gameplay, experience driven narrative, a town building element, multiple characters to recruit, etc.

          The game was glitched all to hell and back though. There were something like half a dozen ways to crash the game and erase your save file if you weren’t very careful.

    • Girard says:

      Freakazoid did a great episode called Virtual Freak, which was a send-up of super-janky 90s VR games.

      • Cartoons, at least in the 90s, seemed notorious for this. Darkwing Duck had an episode where he was sucked into a game of “Whiffle Boy,” which looked to be kinda a Mega Man knock-off. The weirdest part of the episode? Gosalyn used a Power Glove knock-off which actually made her better at the game.

        Ducktales had an episode where Magica made a video game villain pop of a game and try to kill the nephews. That was a pretty good episode actually, dealing with characters fears and stuff.

        You also had Gravity Falls “Fight Fighters,” which doesn’t quite count, but still, it’s a good episode.

        The Amazing World of Gumball is actually really unique in this regard – it doesn’t really “suck in” characters into a virtual world. It simply switches its aesthetics to a video game conceit when the plot demands it, usually using the video game styles as a thematic point instead of plot point. It’s probably the coolest way I ever saw the “video game” thing done.

        • Girard says:

          Problem Solverz had an episode using that trope, too. The way they finally wound up beating the inevitable final boss/evil computer game was to not be entertained by him, robbing him of his power. Which was kind of a funny metatextual moment.

        • vinnybushes says:

          Good god did I love the Whiffle Boy episode of Darkwing Duck. I haven’t thought about it in years! I liked it for the same reason I was mildly obsessed with “Nick Arcade”.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

       Double Expulsion for leaving out the episode of X-files where they get sucked in a game that is cleverly titled “First Person Shooter”.

  11. Christopher Bradley says:

    You guys forgot the 1983 anthology movie “Nightmares” – Emilio Estevez plays a teen who gets sucked into the vector graphics arcade game he is obsessed with in the segment “The Bishop of Battle.”

  12. PaganPoet says:

    Oh god, Captain N and all those other terrible NES licensed Saturday morning cartoonw just remind me of the Nintendo cereal. “Nintendo, Nintendo, it’s a cereal, wow!”

    • Marozeph says:

      Videogame-themed food has kinda fallen out of favor lately. As have terrible cartoons based on video games. Now if we could just get rid of awful movie adaptions…

  13. TheKappa says:

    Wargames?

  14. Intermittent Hairdresser says:

    No Journey to Hawkthorne?! WHAT IS THIS

  15. Kilzor says:

    Reading about “Harsh Realm” make me remember the fantastic (i.e. what were they thinking) “Deadly Games” series on UPN, when that was a thing and they realized the channel needed programing other than “Voyager.”  Basically, antimatter experiments (uh, because) cause Christopher Lloyd’s evil video game character to come to life and take over the world.  Bonus points for being a UPN show that didn’t feature Harry Kim.  1995 was a strange time.

    • Marozeph says:

      1995 also brought us “Virtuosity”, where Russel Crowe playes a virtual serial killer escaping into the real world. Apparently a popular theme back then.

    • Girard says:

      I was reminded of that two. It’s possible we were the only two people watching that show.

  16. caspiancomic says:

    I’m debating with myself about mentioning the third instalment of a JRPG series concerned with Celestial Bodies of Water. I think mentioning its candidacy for this topic constitutes a spoiler? Does the spoilers statute of limitations cover a ten year old game? That I never even actually finished?

    • neodocT says:

       I never finished that unnamed game because near the end, when you can go back to explore earlier parts before the final confrontation, I went to an underground(underwater?) dungeon of some sort, saved in there, and couldn’t get back out because of a bug. So, basically, my party got trapped in the game within the game because of a glitch in the real world game.

      I could never bring myself to delete that save file, hoping there was some way to glitch the game to get them out of there.

    • Chalkdust says:

       Whoops, I didn’t see you fretting about Star Ocean 3 up here.  I don’t know what the statute of limitations on spoilers is, but 10 years has gotta be long enough.

  17. This forum is probably too smart to include Gamer. So…carry on.

  18. CNightwing says:

    Similar, but superior in my opinion, to Jumanji is Zathura. The movie has two brothers and their older, irritable sister sucked into a space adventure boardgame. Sounds like standard fare, as the sister is cryogenically frozen and asteroids wreck the house, but then a hunky astronaut turns up and things get really weird. See, the sister is unfrozen and immediately gets a crush on the astronaut. Then, after they’ve escaped some space aliens, the brothers get into a fight and it becomes apparent that due to some sort of time paradox, and the ability to have one wish granted, the older brother wished that the younger brother had gone away and then regretted it, but grew up into the astronaut. So the old version of the older brother warns them not to do this, everything gets fixed and the sister’s incestuous crush is played off for laughs. FOR LAUGHS.

    • fieldafar says:

      I once bought a DVD twin-pack, containing Jumanji and Zathura. We watched Zathura much more often than the former, and I was rather surprised at how dark it is for a family movie. It is enjoyable, though.

    • That older sister is Kristen Stewart.

      And the older brother is Josh Hutcherson, most recently seen as Peeta in The Hunder Games.

  19. Destroy Him My Robots says:

    There was a children’s novel by Terry Pratchett, Only You Can Save Mankind, where the main character got transported into a kind of Wing Commander-y universe (good choice, given Wing Commander’s creepy “While you sleep, they’ll be waiting” message when you quit to DOS). At least I thought that’s how it worked. It’s been forever and Wikipedia says he just visited the game world in his dreams. But apparently his being there did have effects on everyone else’s game world, so it counts, maybe.

    • Melancholic_Rodeo_Clown says:

      Yeah that was a favourite of mine as a young’un… I remember comparing Enders Game unfavourably to it in a book report when I was about 11.

  20. johnnysaucepn says:

    What, not even a passing mention of Better Than Life from Red Dwarf?

    In the series, it’s fully-immersive videogame sandbox where you can wish for anything and be anyone – even if your unconscious mind hates you and wants you to suffer.

    In the novel version, it’s even more insidious – it’s so immersive that players don’t even realise that it’s a game. Your mind invents scenarios to make your experience seem plausible. It’s so addictive that even if you realise it’s fake, you would never choose to leave, even as your real body withers and dies.

    • Girard says:

      The novel really extended on the premise in some genuinely interesting ways. And the way Rimmer’s mental self-sabotage was extended was super-grueling, and probably one of the saddest things 9th-grade-me had encountered in books til that point.

  21. Cloks says:

    SPOILERS FOR HUNTER X HUNTER

    If I remember correctly, the big twist about the island is that it’s not really a video-game at all. They’re just on some deserted island far out from the mainland, all kinds of mindlessly killing each other for the rare cards.

  22. Chip Dipson says:

    As a kid, the idea of being immersed into a video game sounded beyond cool and exciting. As an adult, it’s a terrifying idea for me. 

  23. Andrew says:

    Obligatory obvious missing entry: Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

  24. Girard says:

    Look at that beautiful, brightly-colored geometric TRON landscape! What were they thinking?! Someone needs to go back in time and tell those guys that TRON is supposed to be bland, desaturated, monochromatic space obviously produced by an imagination hobbled by watching nothing but Underworld, The Matrix and Equilibrium movies….

  25. Mighty_Ponygirl says:

    Only children start on the first shap: http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-passengermove-along-home,69342/

  26. BobaFettish says:

    My first instinct was to complain about the omission, but maybe it’s better if we all just forget  this ever happened.

  27. Chalkdust says:

    Spoiler alert!  In Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, you spend the first half of the game thinking you’re exploring a sci-fantasy world of its own, until it is eventually revealed that you’re all characters inside a massive MMO (which cleverly recontextualizes several major earlier moments: gigantic space beasts that threaten your existence turn out to be anti-virus software, and a powerful magical artifact you tracked down earlier is essentially a developer backdoor).

    The game kind of runs off the rails towards the end, though, with regards to the primary villain’s motives and actions, and how the day is exactly saved.  Ah well.

    • Citric says:

      Star Ocean 3’s twist seemed like an attempt to salvage a troubled production. It did kind of leave most of the plot unresolved, and the whole “we love this world we created but some big meanie wants to destroy it” thing smells a bit like the argument the development team might make.

      Also when it launched in Japan it was a bug-riddled mess, which lends some credence to that theory.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        Yep, @Chalkdust_TMAI:disqus that’s the 1st thing I think of for that reason.  If I recall, every one of them but Blue Sphere has a twist or unexpected turn, but that 1 was out-and-out crazy by the end.

        I remember a friend teaching English in Japan telling me that the bugs were, like, a commentary on the world, or something.

  28. APNDaveR says:

    I’m kinda shocked that Psychonauts wasn’t on this list….

  29. Everlasting_Godstabber says:

    There was a series of children’s novels based on Nintendo games that would fit here. The Castlevania 2 one involved a kid somehow getting sucked into the game and basically playing through it with Simon Belmont. Gather Dracula’s organs, etc. I think some of the levels/organs are just glossed over in a sentence or two to keep things moving. There is also a subplot dealing with the kid’s severe chocolate obsession, which the game suffers from a lack of.

    There is also a Blaster Master one where a kid chases his pet frog out back and down a hole, then basically plays through the game verbatim (I think…never played the game but it is clear we are reading the stages of a video game rotely converted to a story)

  30. King_Ghidorah7 says:

    You guys forgot the GEX series featuring the vocal talents of Dana Gould.

  31. dreadguacamole says:

     Would Omikron – the Nomad Sould fit in the list? It began with David Bowie coming on-screen and asking you to posess him…
     I guess you don’t get sucked into a game, but rather a parallel dimension, but the game acknowledges it’s a game. The plot involves a demon sucking people into the world using other copies of the game as a conduit, or something like that; I can’t remember the details, but it was wonderfully batshit insane. Just like Farenheit/Indigo Prophecy, but with actual gameplay. Even though it was completely broken

     I kind of miss the old David Cage.

  32. ItsTheShadsy says:

    Spy Kids 3D is, to be polite, a goddamn shithouse. The worst part is that “Game Over” doesn’t even look fun. It’s a punishingly difficult linear MMORPG for which there can only be a single winner, and it seems that the winner has been predetermined long in advance. And yet somehow even your grandpa does better than you.

    I once read someone argue that Mad Men works because the audience is convinced that Don Draper is a good ad-man; shouldn’t a fictional game have to be similarly compelling for anyone to get invested in it? At least on Star Trek: TNG they tried really hard to make the weirdo vomiting tuba game look addicting.

    (I saw Spy Kids 3D on a plane. I had no choice.)

  33. James says:

    Glaring omissions:
    Nick Arcade
    Are You Afraid of the Dark?’s “The Tale of the Pinball Wizard”

  34. Sudden_Valley says:

    It’s not quite the same, but I was instantly reminded of that old Canadian CGI show, Reboot. It’s a somewhat inverted conceit, but one that still led to a very, very fun show. And along with Hunter x Hunter, there are quite a few works of Japanese media (both manga and anime) that play around with the whole VR idea.

  35. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    No mention of Sonic Underground? Fair enough, it was crap.

  36. Sarah says:

    Interstellar Pig by William Sleator would work.

    Also I vaguely remember a TV show and/or series of novels from my childhood about a kid who gets sucked into a laser tag game. (ETA: The show was was called Photon, and the novels based on it were probably my earliest experience reading Peter A. David.)

  37. Chewbacca Abercrombie says:

    Not a single mention of Legend of Neil? After many months of lurking, I thought that omission was worth leaving a comment for, but I could be wrong.

  38. henwuyu says:

     tinyurl.com/l3cselt