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For all that is holy, why can’t actors convincingly pretend to play video games?

We live in a world where some of Hollywood’s most bankable action stars do their own stunts.

If you’ve seen footage of Keanu Reeves shredding up a tactical shooting range, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Mission Impossible: Fallout even had Tom Cruise train to be an actual helicopter pilot, just because they could. I bet he’d still have an aneurysm and try to grow a third arm if you passed him an N64 controller.

Movies and television want you to believe that these actors are capable of the feats they perform on-screen. It’s why they pump them full of anabolic drugs and force them to go to the gym six days a week if they want to play a superhero. Despite these pushes towards realism, the world of linear entertainment never fails to p**s me off whenever someone has to pretend to play a video game. Last night, for example, I started watching revenge drama Tin Star and this particular scene made me want to die.

It’s always the same: they’re either hammering on the controller or keyboard like it dishonoured their family, or the characters move on screen autonomously as they chat to their co-stars. You never see anyone saying, “Hold on, let me get to this save point,” or, “This is an online game so I can’t pause, sorry.” - evergreen excuses, by the way.

So let’s have a good laugh at some of these sorry attempts at physical acting.

Dexter and Halo 3

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This one has it all. First off, he’s playing Halo 3 on a PC in a cop’s office - how powerful are their computers? Secondly, Halo 3 isn’t on PC. Thirdly, he’s using the keyboard as the sole input. And lastly, what in the world of everloving f**k are those 8-bit-era sound effects? Seriously. I know this is a show about a serial killer, but the director and actors murdered this moment.

Breaking Bad and Rage

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This scene is so jarring in the context of the rest of the series, and it goes on for far too long. It’s meant to highlight Jesse Pinkman’s damaged psyche, but it comes across as a brazen piece of product placement. Breaking Bad is well-researched and grounded, right up until it has Pinkman playing first-person shooter Rage with a lightgun. It was so bizarre that I asked id Software studio director Tim Willits how it came about.

iZombie and Dying Light

If you’re going to show two people playing a game together, each with a controller in their hand, at least have the decency to use a game that has f**king split-screen. I mean, how would this even work - one player for the legs and another for the head and arms?

Atypical and Fortnite?

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This one really takes the p**s. Here we see an actor playing a game believably, but he’s talking about it via comms as if he’s playing Fortnite when it’s clearly Horizon Zero Dawn. It might be the most “How do you do, fellow kids?” thing since games media outlets started stealing jokes on Twitter.

40 Year Old Virgin and Mortal Kombat

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Nope. That is not how you hold a controller, Seth Rogen. He’s meant to be playing Mortal Kombat here, but he looks like he’s auditioning to play an extra in a b-movie about hacking. He looks like he’s entering a jazz competition with the world’s smallest keyboard. He looks like a prick. Rudd isn’t much better. It’s almost as embarrassing as the banter.

The Sopranos and Mario Kart 64

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Is there anything more gangster than beating your kid on Mario Kart 64 without even touching the accelerator? I thought not. In this clip, Tony Soprano manages to come fourth in a Mario Kart race while holding the N64 controller with one hand and only using the analogue stick. What a don.

Scrubs and not-Halo

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This Scrubs moment sees two actors play and chat about co-op Halo. Carla is firing with the bumpers, the game isn’t in split-screen, and it’s not even Halo. Still, at least they mention driving a Warthog - that’s the most important thing.

NBC’s Life and Prince of Persia

You have to head to Metatube to watch this one, but it’s an episode of Life where they’re trying to catch a crook by investigating their gaming habits. Apparently the criminal was well into the 3D Prince of Persia games and had somehow hidden clues in the game - if only they could reach level 10 (?) to unlock its secrets. There’s even a screen that comes up that says, “You win, advance to level 2”. It’s not an arcade game. There’s an entire Mary Sue article dedicated to breaking this episode down and pulling it apart if you want to go down that rabbit hole.

Bonus entry: Beyonce murdering the s**t out of a Nintendo DS


Ray Donovan - Just Dance Stadium Flow

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This one is actually good and wholesome and I just wanted to include it for that reason. Thanks.

Can you think of any more? Hit us up in the comments.

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Breaking Bad

TV show


Android, iOS, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch

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PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac

Super Mario Kart

Nintendo Wii

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About the Author
Kirk McKeand avatar

Kirk McKeand

Former Deputy Editor

Kirk is an award-winning writer from the UK's Lincoln, and has written for the likes of IGN, Vice, Eurogamer, Edge, Playboy, and several other magazines, newspapers, and websites. For several years, Kirk also acted as the editor of VG247.