The IRC Bible

Button mashing

Now that video games are becoming part of mainstream culture, you frequently see TV shows and movies where the characters are playing games and talking. It’s a brilliant device, because so many dramatically complex things going on: The characters are interacting with the game, interacting with each other, and interacting with each other about the game. (When my friend Greg and I play Smuggler’s Run, we’ll frequently scream at each other stuff like “Hey! Those are my drugs! GIVE ME BACK MY DRUGS.”) It’s no wonder Hollywood has discovered this lovely new staging ground for human emotion.

But there’s one problem: The buttons.

If you look closely at how the characters are manipulating the joysticks, it makes no sense at all. They’re usually twitching and spasming away, randomly twiddling the joysticks in a manner that less resembles actual game playing than a crystal-meth trip gone horribly, horribly awry. Over at Game Girl Advance, Kyle Herbert became so incensed at this trend that he wrote a hilarious attack on the surrealism of Hollywood gaming:

Even shows starring actors young enough to play video games on a regular basis fail miserably at depicting game playing correctly. Nearly once an episode on Fox’s The OCtwo of the main characters, Seth and Ryan (played by Adam Brody, 23, and Benjamin McKenzie, 25, respectively) can be seen playing what appears to be a PS2. These two actors undoubtedly grew up gaming, and have been playing games long enough to know the proper way of maneuvering a character in a game environment. Even from these two though we see the same tragic button mashing that would only result in a quick loss of lives and continues.

In gamer circles, “button mashing” is actually a cultural term: It stands for the sort of random hammering of the joystick that you see when a newbie picks up a game for the first time and doesn’t know what he or she is doing. But there is, of course, a good reason why Hollywood mashes so heavily. TV always draws life in broad strokes, amplifying activities to make them seem more exciting. Remember all those 50s shows where someone’s driving a car purportedly down a straight highway, while nonetheless psychotically swerving the wheel back and forth?

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson