ABC Family’s new science-fiction comedy The Middleman (the pilot is available for free on iTunes) has a good shot at being a cult hit, or a least a guilty pleasure—it’s rapid-fire cultural references, charming cast, and tongue-jammed-firmly-in-cheek tone overwhelm the cheesiness of the low-budget sets and deliberately over-the-top scripts.
The central premise is that a Men-in-Black-style superhero, the Middleman, has recruited Wendy Watson, a struggling artist working temp jobs, to be his sidekick.
One of Wendy’s main qualifications? The Middleman figures her hours spent shooting XBox baddies with a light gun has given her a quick-draw and aim to rival Wild Bill Hickok’s.
It’s not a new idea in science fiction — video games surreptitiously or incidentally preparing young heros for real combat, with the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter being the prototype for the trope. It’s also an idea that had a pretty smooth and swift transition to the real world: in 2002 the U.S. Army launched America’s Army, a free First Person Shooter with production values that rival any commerical game’s. The game is designed to promote team play and is modelled on what a soldier would experience during training, rather than the elite-lone-wolf-warrior-blazing-guns-throughout-a-villian-filled-level style of most games, and the Army makes no bones about using the the game as a recruitment tool.
Do other games teach real-world skills? Certinaly, the line between flight simulation games and flight simulators used for training is now quite blurred — for example X-Plane comes in both a home version and a version that pilots can use to train towards various FAA-certificates. The flight software in each version is the same — it’s just that the official training version works with simulation hardware somewhat more sophisticated than a PC keyboard and a mouse. Nor can we forget Guitar Hero: if the secret vulnerability of the aliens bent on world conquest happens to be an aversion to air guitar, we’ll be all set. (What? It’s no worse an idea than some other ultimate weaknesses.)