If someone has insistently recommended that you watch the whole of The Wire, David Simon’s television series of Baltimorean institutional dysfunction, that person has — let’s face it — probably been a thirtyish white guy. But we thirtyish white guys do have our isolated moments of cultural astuteness, of which, according to all the legitimate critics, enthusing over The Wire counts as one. But we also go into voluptuous Proustian raptures at the sight of our favorite old video games, so you’d do well to take us with a grain of salt. The above video from CollegeHumor, a site that knows its audience, transposes the socially critical, borderline-nihilistic action of The Wire into the pixel-intensive, usually morally simplistic form of a console role-playing game from the late eighties or early nineties. This will make a certain overlap in the cultural Venn diagram quite excited indeed, and no doubt provide a source of strange fascination to the rest.
The player takes the role, for the most part, of troubled Baltimore Police Department Detective Jimmy McNulty, whose equippable items include “gun,” “badge,” “whiskey,” and “hair gel.” When he elects to “fight the system,” a turn-based battle launches, pitting McNulty against the system’s literal embodiment, a phalanx of invincible bureaucrats. The game renders a drug deal as the kind of store you’d visit in The Legend of Zelda. Items available: “crack,” “heroin,” and “mana potion.” One stage even turns into something of a graphic adventure, where the player, in search of evidence, clicks commands like “inspect,” “take,” and “hit,” although every possible action seems to result in nothing more than cursing from either McNulty or his partner Bunk Moreland. Clearly, this video contains a wealth of laughs for the Wire (or vintage role-playing game) diehard. If you’ve put off getting into the show, perhaps the prospect of getting these inside jokes will convince you to take the plunge. And putting in a few hours with the early Final Fantasy titles won’t hurt.