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For all the real video games that get adapted into large-scale movies, there are those other games that sit unremembered, unwatched and worst of all, unplayed; games that look alternately fun, horrifying, clever, and nostalgic; games that feel so real, we could almost reach out and touch them... if only they actually existed. Whether we're talking Space Paranoids in Tron or Wrestle Jam '88 in The Wrestler, Hollywood is awfully good at making up video games that the rest of us desperately want to play. I've compiled my favorites, in the hopes that I might one day get my hands on them.
eXistenZ, as seen in eXistenZ (1999)
I'll be the first to admit that, should a game like eXistenZ ever exist, it would probably be responsible for the downfall of society and the slow death of humanity. Still, the game might be fun for a little while. Serving as both the subject matter and title of David Cronenberg's spiritual successor to Videodrome, eXistenZ is a virtual reality game that is indistinguishable from real life. That is, if real life consisted of huge military conspiracies, domestic terrorists and guns made out of Chinese food and human teeth. The movie takes an immense, borderline-sadistic pleasure in assuring the viewer that what they are watching takes place in the "real" world before suddenly pulling out the carpet and revealing -- whoops! -- it's all been part of a simulation within a simulation. Either way, the actual eXistenZ game seems so patently bizarre (you play by hooking a fleshy-looking game system into the back of your spine), I can't help but be interested in the prospect of it. Sort of like Suda 51, cranked up to eleven.
Space Paranoids, as seen in Tron (1982)
I must admit, I have absolutely no idea how Space Paranoids -- the game designed and played by Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) in Tron -- is supposed to work. Every time we see footage of the game, it always looks exactly the same: A crosshair slowly moves towards a hulking spaceship, and sometimes Flynn shoots the spaceship. It's either got the most invisibly complex combat system in the world, or it's about as complicated as a game of Minesweeper with only one mine. Still, the too-pretty-for-the-time 3D graphics and hilariously condescending title (I realize not all video games have crackerjack names, but Space Paranoids?) make me yearn for a playable version.
Wrestle Jam '88, as seen in The Wrestler (2008)
Simultaneously the least spectacular and most emotionally affecting fake video game on this list, Wrestle Jam '88 would be great to own -- not so much to play, but to stare at for a few minutes before spontaneously bursting into tears. Randy "The Ram" Robinson, unemployed and almost forgotten, invites the kids into his trailer to play Nintendo. Only one child shows interest, and even then he feigns only the slightest amount of enthusiasm while playing Wrestle Jam '88, presumably an old 8-bit NES title from the '80s with only two playable characters (one of which is Randy). The game, like Randy himself, is a piece of ancient history; enjoyable to those with a hardcore nostalgia gland, but effectively pointless in today's day and age. When one considers that Aronofsky's programmers made Wrestle Jam '88 fully playable, I have only one question: Why the hell wasn't it included as a DVD extra?
Stay Alive, as seen in Stay Alive (2006)
I don't think I'd ever play Stay Alive (nor re-screen the movie that shares its title), but I have to admit that a game that kills whoever plays it might be... interesting. Or perhaps useful. The basic premise of Stay Alive is as follows: If you die in the game, you die in an identical fashion in real life soon afterward. It's a stupid, cliché premise for a horror movie, but it's got some interesting Death Note-esque implications. What if you tricked your worst enemy into playing the game? What if a government introduced it to another country's military under the guise of "training simulations"? What if, instead of killing a bunch of stupid, good-looking teenagers, the game became an actual menace on a larger, social scale not unlike the death-dealing poem in Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby?
Actually, I guess that would be pretty awful. I take it back: I would never play Stay Alive. Unless it comes packaged with a free copy of Space Paranoids.