Dumb Guy Stuck In Video Game
In November of 2004, a mere twenty days after the launch of SydLexia.com, I posted my fifth article. That article was a review of the first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and for a long time it was one of the most popular things on the site. My screengrabs of Dr. Vink and the Midnight Society are hotlinked all over the place, and I have received numerous requests for more articles on the show. And for the longest time, I declined. I argued that there were dozens of other shows that I wanted to review episodes of before I went back to the popular horror show that aired on Nickelodeon. And now, four years later, the vast majority of those other shows remain unreviewed. But I'm going to review another episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? anyway, and it happens to be the final episode of first season. Enjoy.
The episode starts with David making goofy faces as he plays Game Boy by the campfire. As his handheld emits sounds effects that clearly belong to the Nintendo classic Donkey Kong, David frets that he needs to get a key. This scenario is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, while there was a Game Boy version of Donkey Kong and while did it feature keys, it didn't come out until 1994, two years after this episode aired. Second, it was damn near impossible to play Game Boy in those sort of lighting conditions, because the system didn't have an illuminated screen. So if the first issue seems eerily prophetic, the second one proves that it was anything but; the writers knew absolutely dick about video games. This is illustrated again moments later when Eric walks by an accidentally hits the reset button on the front of David's Game Boy. You know, the one that DOESN'T FUCKING EXIST. After that, David cries like a bitch about how he'll never get the key, then Frank grabs the Game Boy and starts playing.
Kristen, being an attractive girl, decides to start whining that video games are dumb. Kiki, being a significantly less attractive girl, argues that video games aren't dumb, that they require you to be fast, smart, and patient. Then she grabs the Game Boy from Frank, who has had it for less than a minute, and starts playing. Kristen complains some more about video games, saying that it doesn't matter if you win because they don't count for anything. This is what's called foreshadowing. Right after that, Gary shows up and takes away the Game Boy because it's time for him to tell a story. And wouldn't you know, it's about a cautionary tale about video games. You see, in America, people play video games. But in
Soviet Russia tonight's story, video games play YOU!
Cue the title card. If you happen to be stoned right now, the hypnotic flames of the Midnight Society's campfire will probably keep you from reading further.
"Ross Campbell was the kind of kid who was on his own a lot, so he knew how to take care of himself. If there was something he wanted, he'd do everything he could to get it. Ross did just fine for himself, but on this particular afternoon, he was about to go a little too far to get what he wanted. And unfortunately, he was going to get it."
This Gary's opening narration. It's important, because it helps you empathize with the character, which is the hallmark of a good horror story. In a slasher film, the characters are usually annoying stereotypes, so you don't feel bad when they die. Instead, you cheer. But in a well-written horror tale, the characters are largely undeserving of the misfortune that befalls them, so you become emotionally invested in their survival. It helps, of course, if you can identify with the character. Take Ross Campbell, for instance. He's not so different from you. He's got a first name and a last name, and he wants stuff. Also, the opening scene shows Ross walking into a mall. You like malls, right? See? He's just like you. And he's on his own a lot, which is a polite way of saying his parents don't love him. And now, on top of being completely unloved and unwanted, Ross is about to have more bad stuff happen to him. Poor kid.
Just when you thought it was okay to feel bad for Ross, we see him fishing quarters out of the mall fountain. Who the fuck does that? That sort of moronic behavior might work when you're five and you don't fucking know any better, but by the time you're Ross's age, you should have enough goddam self-respect not to steal coins out of a fountain in a very public area. Well, unless you're homeless. Speaking of which, there's a homeless lady wandering around in the mall. She starts a fight with Ross over a quarter he's taken out of the fountain. Rather than just giving her the damn thing, Ross tries to grab it back out of her hand. What the fuck, dude? She wants the money for food, you want it to play a game of Pac-Man. Didn't anyone ever teach you about compassion? Oh wait, that's right, your parents don't love you. So I guess not, huh?
Ross's fight with the crazy homeless lady attracts the attention of a mall security guard, who tells Ross to stay where is. Inevitably, Ross does no such thing. Instead, he hides behind a display case that appears to be a Super Soaker 200 that's been repainted to try and prevent you from realizing that it's a Super Soaker 200. What the fuck is a really badass looking Super Soaker 200 doing in a case in the middle of a mall? That's a good question. Ostensibly, it's a prize of some sort of mall-sponsored contest, but we're never explicitly told that. It's a very weird detail, the kind that an astute viewer is drawn to. A slightly less noticeable oddity is that the mall cop has an eyepatch. There's only a few quick shots of him and he's always shown from a distance, so it's easy to mistake his eyepatch for sunglasses, but he most definitely is missing an eye. What the fuck is the point of that? It's a very minor role and there's absolutely no reason that the character should have an eyepatch, is there? Actually, there could be. Perhaps this is actually a well-written story and these seemingly unnecessary details will end up being important later on.
After evading mall security, Ross makes his way to Olson's, a junk store run by the titular Mr. Olson. You know, this mall fucking sucks. They have a junk store and they let crazy homeless ladies wander around. Oh well, I guess it's still better than the closest mall to me, the Square One mall in Saugus, Massachusetts. That place is a complete fucking ghetto. Anyway, Ross has come to Olson's for two reasons: to beg Mr. Olson for a job and to play the pinball machine he has for sale in his store. Of course, Ross only wants the job so that he can play pinball all day. Mr. Olson realizes this and tells him to fuck off.
Fun Fact: Mr. Olson is played by A.J. Henderson, a fairly successful voice actor.
But Ross isn't taking no for an answer. He follows Mr. Olson into the backroom of the store and continues to harass him about a job. While they're back there, Ross lifts up a dust cover and finds what he believes to be a super awesome pinball machine, but we don't actually get to see it. Olson yells at him not to touch it and says that it's broken. He tells him to go play the machine out front instead. Reluctantly, Ross does so.
No sooner does Ross start playing pinball than Mr. Olson pulls the plug and tells him he's closing the store for an hour so he can have lunch. I don't know what sort of crazy ass regulations malls have in Canada, where Are You Afraid of the Dark? was written, filmed, and produced, but in AMERICA business owners sign lease agreements that require them to keep their stores open during the mall's posted hours of operation. Failure to do so can result in fines or even eviction. Ross, still desperate to get his pinball fix, tries to convince Mr. Olson to let him watch the store while he goes to lunch so that he doesn't lose out on any business. Olson caves in and agrees, and he promises to give Ross a permanent job if he doesn't fuck things up.
After Mr. Olson leaves, Ross decided to play around with random shit on his counter. After about thirty seconds of that, he gets bored and decides to go check out the machine that the store's proprietor explicitly told him not to fuck with. Could this end badly? Gee, I fucking wonder.
Ross uncovers the machine and even though Olson told him it was broken, he decides to try it out anyway. It turns out that the machine DOES work, and he immediately begins playing it. Outside the store, Mr. Olson hears Ross playing the game. The sounds of the forbidden pinball machine bring a weird smile to his face, and he walks off.
After an indeterminate amount of time, Ross's pinball session is interrupted by the service bell from the desk. Ross goes out front and encounters Sophie, who wants to know if Mr. Olson has fixed her throne-shaped music box yet. Ross tries to bullshit her and act like he's Olson's assistant, but that doesn't work out so well. He only finds the music box when Sophie points it out to him, and it isn't even fixed yet. So then Ross admits he's a liar and Sophie leaves empty-handed, though not completely uncharmed by Ross's desperate attempt to impress her.
Fun Fact: Sophie is played by a very hot named actress Polly Shannon who I totally want to fill with my babies.
Now, a clever teenage boy would think, "Hey, that girl kinda liked me. I'd really like to see her again. Maybe I should stop being an asshole and actually watch the counter so I can get an actual job here and ask her out next time she comes back." At the very least, one would think, "Hey, Mr. Olson only said he was going to be gone for an hour. I should probably stop playing the pinball machine and cover it back up, so that he doesn't catch me fucking around with it when he comes back." But not Ross. Ross is a fucking tool, so he goes right back to playing the pinball machine that he wasn't even supposed to touch in the first place. Loser.
Next, we're treated to a montage of Ross playing the game for a long, long time. We're not told how long, but it is clearly much longer than an hour. We're also never really shown the game. Ross remarks that it has three levels, which is a very rare, if not completely imaginary, feature. Two-level machines certainly exist, with the classic 1980 Williams table Black Knight being the first, but a three-level machine seems rather infeasible; it would be way too cluttered. But despite having the amazing technological innovation of three levels, the pinball machine Ross plays has a rather unprofessional looking hand-painted marquee that doesn't even feature a title. It does however feature four distinct characters: a witch, a princess, an executioner, and some shady guy with one eye.
God, Ross is a fucking loser. He gets so obsessed with playing the damn pinball machine that he loses track of time and doesn't realize that Mr. Olson should have been back long ago. Hell, the only reason he finally stops playing is because he runs out of quarters. And by that point, the mall is closed. Ross frantically pulls on the exit doors, but they're locked. He is totally fucked.
Suddenly, one of the payphones starts ringing. Ross rushes to answer it, and I have to wonder why. Who the fuck does he think is going to be on the other end? No one should know he's there. Besides, there are only two types of people who call payphones: phone company employees who are testing them to make sure they work and complete fucking douchebags who are trying to freak people out. I should know, I used to be one of the latter. But unfortunately for Ross, he's about to encounter the super rare third type of payphone caller: creepy old men who tell you it's about to rain quarters, laugh, and then hang up.
Despite being locked in a mall, and despite having just received a very mysterious phone call, Ross starts stuffing quarters in his pocket because he's a complete fucking idiot. OMG FREE MONEY! GRAB IT, GRAB IT, GRAB IT! Yeah, pay no mind that you're trapped or that coins doesn't normally fall from the sky, asshole. As Ross greedily stuffs upwards of five dollars into his pocket, he suddenly notices a man in a smart black suit and a matching derby marching around. A security guard perhaps? Ross taps him on the shoulder, hoping for assistance...
Denied! The derby guy grabs his hand! Ross pulls away, and derby guy's hand comes with him!
HOLY FUCKING SHIT, DERBY GUY IS A ROBOT!
So anyway, in case you're a dumpy idiot and you haven't figured it out yet, Ross is trapped inside the goddam pinball machine. Ross won't figure that out himself for quite a while, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't mention it now, especially not when there's a clever sight gag to point out. Look at the circular mall bench behind Ross. It's been illuminated with some red lights so that it looks just like a pinball bumper. Congratulations, Set Decorator Claire Alary. You = WIN.
So then Ross turns around there's a whole bunch of Derby Guys. They slowly start marching towards him, possibly so they can give him the butt sex, but then they suddenly stop. Ross notices that there's water on the ground and deduces that they must be afraid of it. He hasn't figured out that these silver-skinned robots are basic enemies in the pinball game he's currently stuck in, but he fucking figures out they don't like water. Outstanding work!
Suddenly there's a cry from the second floor. It's Sophie, all dressed up in a pretty blue gown! She tells Ross that he needs to get a tiara out of a vault, shortly before being hauled off by a guy who looks just the one-eyed bad guy from the pinball machine marquee, not to mention the security guard he pissed off earlier. She also drops a key... right into the crowd of Derby Guys. Ross jumps into the fountain and splashes some water around until they retreat. Then he grabs the key and runs off.
Ross somehow figures out that the vault Sophie was talking about must be the personal storage lockers located in the center of the mall. I'm pretty sure that no malls have these anymore, since terrorists could hide bombs and stuff in them. Ross realizes that the key he has won't work on the lockers, so he decides to randomly start opening them and hope for the best.
Attempt #1 - Slimed!
Attempt #2 - Nasty air that smells like farts!
Attempt #3 - Success? When Ross opens his third locker, he finds a headband, which clearly wasn't what Sophie told him to find. Nevertheless, he picks it up. When he does, celebratory music plays and the elevator behind lights up and starts moving. Ross doesn't realize it, but he's advanced to the next level.
When Ross makes it to the second floor, he notices something: the headband he was carrying has turned into a tiara! And if that wasn't weird enough, the quarters in his pocket have turned into metal marbles. Ross is confused, but not confused enough to realize he's in a fucking game.
Suddenly, Sophie reappears. She tells Ross to follow her, which he gladly does. She leads him down a long hallway that's clearly only meant for use by mall staff. You know, like the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled a shotgun out of a box of roses and saved John Connor from the T-1000 for the first time. Oh, and in case you haven't figured it out yet, Sophie is the princess from the pinball marquee.
Since Ross spends all his time playing video games, he's out of shape and can't keep up with Sophie. When he finally makes it to the end of the hallway, he's confronted by an evil witch who looks suspiciously like that baglady from earlier. She blocks his path while a scary guy in a black executioner's hood, previously seen as a statue in Olson's store, carries Sophie off to parts unknown. Now we've seen all four characters from the pinball marquee.
Before Ross can react, the witch begins huffing and puffing, thus turning the hallway into a wind tunnel. To help signify this, random pieces of paper have magically appeared in the previously clean hallway, thus letting you see that it's really windy in the hall and the witch doesn't just have bad breath or something. Ross is blown clean out of the hall.
Ross lands on the floor of the mall, temporarily stunned. The evil witch grabs the tiara and teleports away. When Ross regains his senses, he hears Sophie's voice telling him to get the throne music box. Looks like it's back to Olson's store...
When Ross gets the store, he finds Sophie chained up in the backroom. He frees her using the key she dropped early. After that, they have a brief conversation that goes something like this:
Ross: Sophie! I'm a complete fucking idiot and I haven't figured out what's going on!
Sophie: Did you get the music box?
Ross: Not yet. Who are these fucktards who keep kidnapping you and then letting you go?
Sophie: There's no time! We need to get the music box!
Ross: Even though I'm addicted to video games, I can't possibly recognize a cliche video game plot! What the hell is going on!?
Sophie: I'm an NPC. My sole purpose here is to tell you what to do next. Music box! Music box! Music box!
Sophie finally convinces Captain Retardo that they need to take the music box. As soon as she grabs it, the executioner comes out of the store's display window and tries to mace them both to death. They scream, run away, and hide behind a pillar. To find out what happens next, continue to the next page.
Onward to part two of Dumb Guy Stuck in Video Game!