Top 10 fictional videogames

Matt rounds up the best fake videogames of the movie, gaming, TV and book worlds. So how do we get to play this lot, then?

Insert coins. If you could...

Video games and other media, especially film, don’t mix. Aside from the surprisingly decent Silent Hill, their collaborations range from the distinctly average (Street Fighter, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Max Payne) to the downright awful (Dead or Alive, Double Dragon, A Dragon Siege Tale). Unfortunately for us, studios still think this is a good idea – expect ‘Imagine Babyz – The Movie’ (below) sometime in 2010.

Of course, we could have saved contributing to Uwe Boll’s pension by paying attention to the 80s and early 90s, when games could be released without a half-arsed film equivalent flopping into cinemas the following week. This selection of films, games and novels understood that adaptations based on real games don’t work, and made up their own fictional ones instead. And you know what? They’re all better than anything featuring Bob Hoskins with a bushy mustache and blue dungarees.

Brainscan (Brainscan, 1994)

Edward Furlong thought he’d played them all (he obviously hadn’t, 1994’s Theme Park had us addicted for months) until he was offered Brainscan, an immersive murder simulator with the aim of killing innocents and leaving no evidence behind. Naturally the murders are real thanks to his cyber buddy Trickster, a good reason as any to never meet people online. While it sounds a little on the rubbish side, but it has a cult following between Furlong fans and horror maestros alike, and holds the esteemed accolade as the most violent fictional game. (But still isn’t as dangerous as a game of Wii Sports.)

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Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge (The Simpsons, 1995)

There’ve been dozens of fictional games in The Simpsons, but Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge ‘putts’ the rest to shame. After shoplifting fighting game Bonestorm, Bart has to win back the approval of Marge, with the end credits showing this loving gift for correcting his ways. Every parent has tried (and failed) to guess what game their kids want, but Marge was on to a winner here. Forget cumbersome analog sticks or shaking a controller, we want to press 7-8-7 to tie off, dammit. “Ball is in parking lot. Would you like to play again? You have selected ‘No.'”


Eternal Sphere (Star Ocean: Till the End of Time – PS2, 2004)

To explain why this is here, the game must be spoiled. Completely.

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Your loved ones left the room? A plot twist toward the end of this 40-hour role-playing behemoth is that it takes place in a game called “Eternal Sphere”, the alien equivalent of World of Warcraft, where every character is played by 4D beings. None of the convoluted plot hints at such a reveal, causing players to angrily revolt on forums, or not bothering to finish it with mere hours to go. It was so jarring that the next iteration in the series is a prequel, hoping to forget this stupid hoodwink. Rumours of a Tri-Ace developed Dallas videogame are unfounded.


Degenatron gaming system (GTA: Vice City – PS2, Xbox, PC, 2002)

The soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is perhaps the best in any game, period, no thanks to its hilarious radio commercials slotted between episodes of K-Chat and bouts of Lazlow banter. One infamously aped the Atari 2600 with the Degenatron game system, offering console adaptations of arcade classics Defender of the Faith, Monkey’s Paradise and Penetrator – where players “smash the green dots deep inside the mysterious red square!” While you can’t actually play the console in-game, you can try them out online – chances are you’ll never go to school again.



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Better than Life (Red Dwarf series two, 1988)

The first of many ‘Total Immersion Videogames’ in Red Dwarf, Better Than Life created anything the mind could think of, spawning Harvey Davidsons, Reliant Robins and caviar vandaloos from thin air to share with Marilyn Monroe and Napoleon. Of course Rimmer’s endless drive for self loathing ruined the game completely, bagging himself a mortgage, seven children and a massive tax bill, literally in the space of ten seconds. The TIV returned for later episodes, and also featured in two novels.

Watch a few scenes in the streaming trailer here.

Better than life


Starfighter (The Last Starfighter, 1984)

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An arcade game that trains up intergalactic fighters (Starfighters), our hero Alex becomes headhunted by the Star-League after topping the high score board. It was ahead of its time, using groundbreaking CGI effects, and even a suspicious Delorean spaceship. The premise isn’t that unbelievable today though: game prowess can lead to actual jobs in the industry, just sadly not with fedora wearing extra terrestrials. That doesn’t mean we’ll stop playing Donkey Kong in the hope of finally kicking his ass.


Leisure Suit Larry 4: The Missing Floppies (PC, 1990)

This smut laden adventure series plays host to an elaborate joke – the fourth game in the series never actually existed, and was used to explain the gap between the third and fifth iterations. There weren’t meant to be any more games after the trilogy, which designed to be self contained, using this fictional sequel as a means to cover missing plot elements (which were clearly a drive for the series in the first place). The subtitle is both deliciously smutty and descriptive, too.


Metaverse (Snow Crash, 1992)

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A virtual world in the classic sci-fi novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, the Metaverse is a playground for hackers, samurai, and academics alike. The term Metaverse was coined in cyberspace theory years later, making this perhaps the most valuable entry in the list. It also helps that the novel is utterly fantastic – a story where hacker Hiro Protagonist tries to find the origin of the devastating Snow Crash virus amongst a virtual landscape complete with light-speed bikes and sword fighting.



Global Thermonuclear War (WarGames, 1983)

There’s something about the global apocalypse that would make anyone’s doomsday. A young Matthew Broderick clearly agreed, choosing to play a game that was actually a supercomputer simulation of impending nuclear war with the Soviets. Predicting the outcome of nuclear warfare by day and failing at tic-tac-toe by night, this was the paranoia of the Cold War bubble wrapped for kids to both enjoy and have sleepless nights over. It inspired PC game DEFCON (below)- essentially a real Global Thermonuclear War without those annoying ‘mutually assured destruction’ setbacks.


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Tron (Tron, 1982)

The distinctive world of Tron is an unforgettable take on cyberspace, a dazzling look at what life would be like within a computer. Jeff Bridges gets accidentally sucked into a computer while trying to thwart a thieving game designer, where his only chance to escape is to survive a few games of Light Cycle and Space Paranoids,  and take down the ominous Master Control Program on the way. This iconic virtual landscape became reality when several Atari games and Kingdom Hearts II used the license to Tron-mendus effect.


Honourable Mentions

“The Shop” project (The Lawnmower Man) Only You Can Save Mankind (Terry Pratchett novel) The World (.hack anime, games) Californication (music video, Red Hot Chilli Peppers)

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21 January 2009