What I Learned About Video Games From 'Lost'

john_locke.jpgThere will be "Lost" spoilers in this post, but I'll provide ample warning before you get to them.

I've learned a couple of things about how the rest of the world thinks about video games from watching "Lost."It's part of my discoveries on the never-ending Video Game Safari that all of us gamers enjoy when we spot our favorite interactive entertainment popping up in strange places.

I'm sure most of you know about "Lost," the hit show that features the survivors of a plane that crashes on a mysterious tropical island. A mysterious tropical island is not the kind of place you'd expect to find an Xbox 360 or a copy of "Need For Speed." But somehow, some way, video games have appeared on this show (there are flashbacks and stuff). I recall two instances, one in the first season and one in the third, each illuminating in its own way.

The first -- don't worry, no spoiler coming in this paragraph -- happened during a flashback scene late in Season One. During the flashback a father is using a pay phone and is having an anguished call about his young son, who he is nearby but presumably not within earshot. Dad vents. Then he looks up from his call to see that his son standing right in front of him, with a Game Boy Advance SP in hand. Has the son heard the whole call? I could quote the son's next line more accurately if I hadn't loaned Season One to my mother-in-law, but trust me that he says something to the effect of: "Dad, I need some new batteries for my Game Boy." The dad might be off the hook! The kid was probably just dwelling on getting new AA batteries and may not have heard a thing.

But....

This is what I learned: The "Lost" writers, representing the common non-gamer, do not know that the GBA SP does not take replaceable batteries. ... or ... The "Lost" writers, representing the common non-gamer, know full well that the GBA SP does not take AA batteries and they're slyly showing that the son has just tricked his dad with some canny misdirection. His son was playing him.

The other video game reference and more cautionary lesson about games and gamers involves Season 3 spoilers. Read on only if you don't mind, because I will be explicit.

lostlocke1.jpg In preparation for Season 4, my wife and I have been watching Season 3 on DVD. Thankfully Season 3 is not nearly as aggravating to watch on DVD as it was live on TV. You accept that many of your questions will go unanswered and you better appreciate the good stuff they did instead. And the Jack-tattoo flashback thing, well, at least you know it's coming this time.

Anyway, in episode eleven, called "Enter 77," video games return. The computer pictured to the left is found, and it's running a game of chess. This computer is discovered and played at a time when video-game playing really shouldn't be an option. Crash survivors John, Kate and Sayid have just discovered a communications bunker operated by a menacing guy named Mikhail. In fact, Mikhail had just shot Sayid, but is now being held at gunpoint by the three survivors.

lostlocke2.jpg

John is bit loopy, sometimes the most rational member of the survivors, sometimes the most flighty, eccentric and even mystical. While Sayid and Kate keep an eye on Mikhail he starts exploring the back rooms of the communications station. He finds a room full of computer equipment and dangling wires. What catches his eye is a computer monitor that displays an invitation to play a game.

Now in this situation, could you resist playing a video game?

Particularly, a video game that seems to belong to the bad guys?

Not John Lock from Lost. He can't help himself. He puts his stuff down. And he starts playing. Later, the captive Mikhail tells John that the game is un-winnable. I, in fact, felt the same way about "God Hand." But like John, I did not let that make me quit. John is undeterred and goes back to playing it. Note that while he is doing this, Kate and Sayid start exploring the station's basement, leafing through documents that may explain the mysteries of the island that has been driving them bonkers for three seasons. And note that John is surrounded by technology (and is under a rooftop satellite dish) that might enable him to call the civilized world to finally get rescued.

lostlocke3.jpgIt doesn't matter. John has a computer game to play.

And when he finally beats the game, well... it leads to him pressing a button that causes the entire station to blow up. At least he, Kate, Sayid and Mikhail got themselves safe outside by that point.

This is what I learned: The "Lost" writers apparently feel that an audience of millions will buy into the idea of a person getting irresponsibly fixated on playing a computer game even in the most inopportune moments. The world at large apparently accepts this aspect of video games: that games will hook you in, practically forcing you to play, say, "Halo 3" instead of finishing your term paper or to play "Minesweeper" instead of filing important paperwork that your boss is demanding. I also learned that those who give in to such temptation are basically the weirdos of the bunch, and possibly the most irresponsible. Shall I take offense?

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This is what I learned about video games and the way the world sees them from "Lost." Fellow show-watchers, what about you?