I'm an old man, and I see some clouds that need yelling at. Over my time videogames have never felt especially well-served by mainstream television, and the last few years are the period where it's felt like this is changing. There's not just great adaptations like The Last of Us or the various Netflix shows, but games appearing more naturally in other shows as the secondary elements of life they are (kudos to Channel 4's Spaced which managed this in the late '90s).
This weekend, Saturday Night Live took aim at videogames, specifically the hugely positive response to HBO's The Last of Us adaptation. The chosen vector of attack was Mario Kart and, while SNL doesn't always hit the mark, this was a clear bullseye.
I mean, they're adapting Twisted Metal so why not. All the jokes here land, and I was sold as soon as the voiceover announced it was coming from "the master storytellers behind Mario Karts one through eight" and flicked through a bunch of Mario Kart logos in a few seconds. The way it sends up elements like the banana weapon and side-characters is spot-on, and ultimately this feels sharp because it's coming from a place of love. The writers of this sketch aren't just funny but have clearly played a whole bunch of Mario Kart.
It's not perfect: There's that slightly irritating thing you get with SNL where the captions are explaining the joke as the joke's being made. But this is par for the course when it comes to the long-running show, and doesn't change the fact that it's probably the first good mainstream videogame parody I've seen.
That's not to say there haven't been great game parodies elsewhere. I used to be big into machima thanks to the gateway drug of Red Vs. Blue, and when YouTube came along the big appeal for me was the gaming content and parodies. Lots were terrible, but then you'd get something like Mega64 (which I still love) that skewered gamer pomposity, made great gags about games in the real world, and was like manna from heaven.
I mention Mega 64 because it made this exact joke three days before SNL did, in its own inimitable style. Though given the timeframe and production values, I'm not sure it's a rip off.
One of the writers of the SNL piece says this was all brought together in three-and-a-half days.
Written with @mikeyfuntime Directed by @mikediva All around a really really amazing job on everything - costumes, props, makeup, sets. Just awesome. And a huge accomplishment for our editors and VFX artists. This was all done in 3.5 days. Incredible talent https://t.co/TtyKfv8eurFebruary 5, 2023
So yeah: The two videos are miles apart in what they actually do, but the coincidence felt worth remarking upon. It took a while to get here but regardless, the mainstream finally managed a good videogame parody.
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Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."