The Perfect Ten: MMOs in movies and television

The Perfect Ten

While 1982's Tron explored what virtual life might be like inside a massive video game, it wasn't until fairly recently that real MMOs have crossed the divide between niche and mainstream to be referenced in television and films. Depending on how you see it, this mainstream acceptance of geek culture can be a thing to be either celebrated or shunned. What's for certain, however, is that we've only started to see the beginning of such mentions.

In today's Perfect Ten, I cobbled together a list of the first 10 MMO references that I know of from movies and TV shows. Some might be nothing more than a background detail or a throwaway line, while others are completely centered around the advertisement, er, massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. I tried hard not to use "cheats" such as fake MMOs featured in shows like The Guild, so this list is all about real-world titles with no sugar substitutes.

Ready? Insert quarter and hit player one!

Grandma's Boy

10. Grandma's Boy: City of Heroes

Set in a fictitious development studio, the sometimes-raunchy Grandma's Boy shows a great deal of affection for video game culture and references both real and imaginary titles all over the place. While employees are never seen playing an MMO, the main character's cubicle has City of Heroes comic books plastered to the walls. In addition, CoH decorations can be seen elsewhere throughout the studio. I guess the studio got a good product placement deal?

Stargate Worlds

9. Stargate Universe: Stargate Worlds, World of Warcraft

In the pilot episode of the now-cancelled Stargate Universe (SGU), a character can be seen playing "Prometheus," a thinly veiled Stargate Worlds demo. For Stargate fans looking forward to an MMO set in their favorite franchise, this would sadly be the closest they'd ever get to the real thing, as Stargate Worlds' studio went belly-up last year. Ironically, the character playing the game in the show gives a negative review to it afterward: "That was unsatisfying!" Huh, premonition much?

I'm guessing that this is probably the last time Stargate Worlds will ever be mentioned on Massively, so enjoy this final hurrah!

Second Life

8. CSI: NY: Second Life

The CSI series is no stranger to chase scenes and high technology, although it never really dabbled in virtual worlds much -- that is, until CSI: NY decided to get "hip" with the "kids" by centering an episode around escapades in Second Life, culminating in one of the strangest chases ever put on TV.

It's hard to describe it and give it justice, so you can just watch it here. The short of it is that serious-face Gary Sinise pilots a jet pack avatar version of himself with a remote keypad as he goes after a neon blue fox on a flying skateboard. Now we know that Second Life is under CSI's jurisdiction, so we can all rest easily at night.


7. Zombieland: World of Warcraft

In the excellent zombie comedy flick Zombieland, our hero gives us a brief flashback to just before the undead uprising. Here he shows how much of a loser he used to be, what with the playing of the WoWs and the stacking pizza boxes all over the place. I never had problems throwing out my trash during video game sessions, but maybe it's an inescapable stereotype.

Anyway. World of Warcraft. Zombies. There you go.

The New Guy

6. The New Guy: EverQuest

I'm going to cite this as one of the very first mainstream MMO references unless someone can prove otherwise. In the amusing 2002 flick The New Guy, one of Dizzy's geeky friends is a total EverQuest addict. There's a few lines referencing Kunark, powerleveling, and the like, and the EQ logo is seen here and there.

So what's up with this? Was EverQuest the word on the street in 2002 or something? Actually, the answer is far more pragmatic. The New Guy was made by Columbia Pictures, which falls under the Sony Corporation umbrella. You know what else is made by Sony? Yup! Cross-promotion, baby!


5. The Fellows Hip: Rise of the Gamers: Lord of the Rings Online

While this indie film hasn't been released yet, we've been following it closely as the entire movie is centered around not just Lord of the Rings but LotRO as well. The characters are seen in the trailer playing the game (specifically, the PvP section) and undergo a quest to make it to a convention where a LotRO tournament is playing.

You can read our full interview with The Fellows Hip creators on their affection for LotRO and relationship with Turbine in making this movie.

The Office

4. The Office: Second Life

In one of my favorite sitcoms, Second Life made a bizarre, almost non-sequitur appearance in an episode. For reasons not explained fully, Dwight is playing Second Life constantly, even at work. He later says he's come up for an idea to create a virtual world within Second Life: Second Second Life. Jim creates an avatar version of himself -- "Philly Jim" -- to follow Dwight in game. But it's all kind of dropped quickly and leaves a bad taste of "paid product placement" in your mouth.


3. How I Met Your Mother: World of Warcraft

Where's a good place to meet smoking hot guys and gals? Why, it's your local World of Warcraft dating scene, as proven by How I Met Your Mother. In an episode, a girl breaks up with Ted and he sheepishly admits to his friends that he met her online.

Oh, and by the way, Ted is shown playing a girl in the game. Progressive!

Big Bang Theory

2. The Big Bang Theory: Age of Conan, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, RIFT, etc.

Not only do MMO decorations abound in the form of posters and other set dressings in this geek-centric sitcom, but Big Bang Theory even centered two episodes around big-name MMOs. In the first season, the guys accidentally get their neighbor Penny hooked on Age of Conan, much to the dismay of Sheldon, who then had to put up with her noobish questions.

In the fourth season, Sheldon's World of Warcraft account gets hacked, and he tracks down the thief responsible in an effort to reclaim his lost goods. He does this instead of, y'know, calling customer support. But that does not make for a thrilling episode of television, I suppose.

1. South Park: World of Warcraft

Some no-name show featuring a never-heard-of-it game. Who greenlit that stellar idea?

Honorable Mention

NCIS for its bat-poop crazy interpretation of MMO games, which should be required viewing for all human beings. "You hold the high score in virtually every massively multiplayer roleplaying game!"

I didn't know they did an episode about me. I'm honored.

Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.