Netflix’s Dear White People is one of the best shows that I’ve seen this year for any number of reasons. I could go on about its incisive social satire, brilliant cinematography and phenomenal world-building — but instead, it’s this tiny moment from a late-season episode that got me the most.
I’ve written before abut my frustrations with TV shows that muck it up when it comes to portraying video games. When Dear White People’s eighth episode took a brief tour into the murky waters of performative game-playing, I had good reason to worry.
It’s a comic moment: Troy, the charming student body president whose outer perfections hide inner turmoil (surprise, surprise) stops by his roommate Lionel’s end of the suite to let out some steam.
“You’re the only one who can give me what I need right now,” Troy says, sighing, after talking around what a rough day he’s had. Lionel’s dreams of some intimate quality time with his roommate are dashed — or at least, adjusted — with a smart cut away to the pair ... playing video games.
And yet, foolish was I to think that Dear White People would let me down after seven other perfect episodes.
“Is it weird Mario still dresses as a plumber?” Lionel asks, gripping his controller with just the right amount of casual intensity required by the game I’m convinced they were playing. Troy references a hammer weapon doing him in, so combined with the invocation of Nintendo’s most famous character, I knew they had to be playing Super Smash Bros.
But what are those controllers in their hands? They weren’t immediately recognizable to me. Were they ... were they black DualShock 4 controllers? Did the prop master at Dear White People really give these Nintendo-loving boys some PlayStation 4 controllers to play Smash Bros. with?
Upon closer inspection, those are definitely Wii U Pro controllers. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, (all but) confirmed. (Not our preferred control scheme for that game, but work with what you have.)
The scene is short and sweet, without a thrown controller or aggressive, total-body shake to making gaming seem far more physical than it is. Troy lets out more than the occasional “fuck” of frustration, and both of them have their eyes locked on the screen, buttons pressed furiously when the match commences. But for the most part, he and Lionel manage to play and have a conversation, just like ... anyone playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U with their friend during a stressful time.
With the benefit of better writing, Dear White People clears the bar previously set by Riverdale’s bros-playing-games scene. Both shows are diamonds in the rough in a media landscape riddled with hysterical representations of what it’s like to play a video game. There’s no one universal experience, of course — but rare is the person in real life who throws their entire body into a game, or plays a Nintendo game with a PlayStation 4 controller.