For years, TV shows have introduced ideas that put the game industry to shame. I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of great titles on the market. Some have even been adapted into shows themselves. But oftentimes, AAA companies choose to play it safe. There’s no question whether or not a new Zelda or Call of Duty will sell. But writers aren’t bound by creating games they think will actually turn a profit. As a result, they’ve gifted us with some incredible ideas that will only ever exist within their shows.
But do they have to stay relegated to fiction? What if the games we see our favorite characters playing were something we could try out for ourselves? Games in TV shows may not be the most thought out or well designed, but I’d gladly shell out the cash for these 5.
1. Death Factory III: The Legend of Death Factory II (Futurama)
Death Factory III appears briefly in the Futurama episode A Bicyclops Built for Two (Season 2, Episode 13). This episode gives us a glimpse into what the internet has become in the year 3000. The crew dons their ‘net suits’ and log into a virtual world. After perusing the more sultry areas of the internet, they head for the web’s second most popular purpose, video games. Like many comedies, Futurama focuses first on humor, leaving plausibility to be debated by fans. Personally, I believe the internet we see here very easily could be possible in the next thousand years. With the current state of virtual reality, it doesn’t seem like a far jump to fully realized digital locations, at least not so far in the future.
The game looks to take inspiration from a variety of genres, most noticeably 3D platformers and shooters, adding in stealth mechanics for safe measure. In practice, it plays like a massive game of laser tag. Players shoot lasers from their fingers and try to be the last surviving member on the map.
The factory setting offers plenty of platforming opportunities. We see Fry dodge industrial presses, run on conveyor belts, and jump over lava pits. All that leads me to question what this factory actually makes, but that’s not important. The augmentation made possible by the virtual environment helps this become an experience far exceeding modern laser tag. It doesn’t matter how much I want to win; I’m not jumping over a pit of lava in real life. But I’d gladly do it to outmaneuver my opponents in a game like this.
2. Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne (Community)
When Pierce’s father passes away in the episode Digital Estate Planning (Season 3, Episode 20), his will instructs Peirce to bring six friends to collect his inheritance with him. When they arrive, the group learns that the money will be given to the first to complete a game made by his father. The group decides to work together, but they still face tests at every turn.
The draw to this game, aside from the prospect of winning the inheritance, is the amount of freedom it gives the players. It seems like every NPC was programmed to be incredibly lifelike. Most players would probably treat the village shopkeeper like just another weapons dealer. But when Annie accidentally sets him on fire, we learn he has a family. This leads to a series of events that end in her and Shirley robbing the store and burning it to the ground.
We also see innocuous set pieces, like a crooked painting, acting as the key to secret areas. These give a hint at the freedom players have, but we don’t see its full potential until later. We soon learn that Abed has fallen in love and started a family in the game. He builds a castle with his face on it and is able to reprogram his ‘wife’ to bear children who help him mine resources and build fantastical vehicles.
Although fans have recreated a version of the game, the version we see in the show could never exist. The programing it would require would take decades to pull off. Not to mention the overt racism and prejudice involved in the plot and setting. Including level locations like ‘Gay Island’ would definitely land a company in hot water. Without them, though, a game that offers so much freedom would be hard to pass up, especially if the cheats shown in the episode were real as well. I’d pay good money to figure out what ‘giraffe mode’ does.
3. Roy: A Life Well Lived (Rick and Morty)
Rick and Morty has given us some of the most nonsensical jokes on TV today. One of my favorites appears in the episode Mortynight Run (Season 2, Episode 2). When the pair visits an arcade called Blips and Chitz, Rick forces Morty into a VR game simply referred to as “Roy.” From what we see, this alien VR has some sort of mind-altering capabilities.
Morty fully takes on the role of a child named Roy. When he tells his mother about being at an arcade with a mad scientist, she explains it was just a bad dream. We then see a montage of his life as he becomes a star athlete and is forced to take over the family carpet store to provide for his family. Eventually, we see him meet his end, and Morty returns to the arcade. It seems so real to him that, at first, he rejects reality. Even after the game is over, he asks where his wife is and has to remind himself what’s happened so far in the episode.
The idea of an arcade game that can simulate a full life in only a few moments is mind-boggling. It’s very unclear if there’s actually any point system, and it’s hard to imagine how you’d control yourself if you actually believe the game to be reality. But it can be done. Rick amazes the other arcade patrons by taking Roy off the grid. This kind of technology would have to be made by aliens to actually exist. But I’d love to fully hop into a characters shoes and see how I might live their life. Of course, the sequel, “Roy 2: Dave,” might offer even more possibilities. The game’s tagline may be ‘A Life Well Lived,’ but with someone else at the reins, is there any guarantee it would be?
4. Pro-Pain (King of the Hill)
Most of the games on this list are too far removed from reality to actually be made. The exception is this entry: Pro-Pain from the King of the Hill episode Grand Theft Arlen (Season 11, Episode 8). The episode starts with Bobby taking an alternative gym class. The ‘Active Electronic Lifestyle’ class lets the kids playtest new video games rather than exercise.
Reasonably upset by this, Hank confronts the teachers, who are actually Junior College students designing the games the students are testing. Later on, a visit to Strickland Propane give them inspiration for a new title. Pro-Pain is a Grand Theft Auto-style game themed around propane. You play as a muscular version of Hank himself and use propane tanks as weapons in an urban city.
Despite his complete hatred of all the game represents, Hank’s boss assigns him to play it and see if he can sue for copyright infringement. But as he learns the ropes, he becomes a bit too interested in playing. What we see of the game isn’t overly impressive, but if an old-fashioned outdoorsman like Hank Hill enjoys it, there must be some intrinsic thrill to the experience. It looks like this game really is just a GTA clone that takes place in Arlen. It may not be the most original idea, but does it not sound like a great time? Watching Hank build muscle and climb the ladder from propane salesman to commissioner appeals to me even more than the Grand Theft Auto we already have.
5. Riddle of the Minotaur (Batman: The Animated Series)
The Batman: The Animated Series episode If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? (Season 1, Episode 41) sees the show’s first appearance of classic villain The Riddler. This version of the character’s origin story tells how Edward Nygma was cheated out of the royalties for a video game he designed, Riddle of the Minotaur. The injustice causes him to seek vengeance against the head of the company.
As a testament to Nygma’s talent, the game is apparently very popular. Even Robin spends his spare time navigating the minotaur’s maze. This version of The Riddler’s origin story is genius. After all, if it weren’t for the villainy, he really could craft an exceptional puzzle game. The show demonstrates this by explaining that no one has beaten Riddle of the Minotaur in the two years since its release. Interestingly enough, the game has been partially recreated in the SNES version of The Adventures of Batman and Robin. It features a level where Batman must navigate the maze, although the focus here is mostly on combat rather than puzzles as in the original episode.
The extreme difficulty spike aside, Riddle of the Minotaur has the makings of an incredible experience. The game consists of a huge maze populated with riddles at every turn. If you guess right, you get to continue your journey toward the minotaur at the center. If you guess wrong, though, the ‘hand of fate’ grabs you and deposits you at a random point in the maze. It’s even been adapted into an amusement park attraction, which The Riddler weaponizes as part of his scheme. In either form, this is something I’d love to try out. The digital version would be the perfect challenge for lovers of puzzle games. The theme park attraction, on the other hand, would make an incredible escape room.
6. Honorable Mention- The Game (Star Trek: Next Generation)
I’d like to give an honorable mention to The Game from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode of the same name (Season 5, Episode 6). The episode sees Wesley Crusher return to the Enterprise on vacation from his time at the academy. Around the same time, Lt. Commander Riker returns from vacation on an alien planet, bringing a game with him that he picked up there.
We never get a proper name for it, but it still succeeds in becoming an overnight sensation aboard the starship. A device similar to Google Glasses beams the experience directly into your field of vision. A simple concept; the goal is to use your mind to steer a disk into a cone. That’s all. And yet, Crusher is the only one able to avoid the game’s pull.
Why wouldn’t he want to give it a try? For precisely the reason I left this off of the main list. He performs some test scans on the device to see how people react to playing it and learns that it has some disturbing effects on the human mind. With each level completed, The Game stimulates the pleasure center of the brain while also altering your mind, leaving you completely addicted to it. As you may have guessed, the whole thing is an alien plot to take over Star Fleet. The power this mind altering gameplay has to ensnare their best and brightest is both terrifying and fascinating. If you’d like to try a version of The Game that isn’t an evil plot, it can be played as an Easter egg in the mobile game Star Trek Timelines.
It’s clear to see why it’s good The Game isn’t real, but there are parts of it that I would like to experience. The idea of controlling a game solely with your mind has fascinated designers for years. At the time this episode saw airwaves, it was pure science fiction. But some companies are currently running experiments to create games of that nature. Hopefully, they won’t have any mind-altering effects. Although, on smaller levels, there could be interesting potential there as well. It’s an age-old debate how far is too far, and this reaches an area that crosses the line for most. But purely as a thought experiment, the places games like that could take us would be unparalleled.