The five Twilight Zone episodes all gamers should watch
I love The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling’s iconic 1960’s anthology series, which conveyed life lessons through a series of original sci-fi stories, debuted well before I was born, but I was fortunate in that my dad is also a big fan of the show and thus introduced it to me at a young age. I have since seen every single episode of The Twilight Zone, and I find myself revisiting my favorite episodes on a frequent basis. The truisms and life lessons that Mr. Serling worked to embed in his viewers’ minds were almost always poignant, and more than a few of them remain relevant even today.
The Twilight Zone is a fun show to watch for any sci-fi fan, but a few episodes in particular actually stood out to me as both a lover of sci-fi and as a gamer. If you’ve ever wanted to check out The Twilight Zone for yourself (which you can do quite easily if you have an active Netflix subscription) and you’re looking for a good place to start, the episodes below all feature themes and characters which should resonate strongly with dedicated gamers.
The Jeopardy Room
You can kind of tell just from its name that this episode from the fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone will involve some sort of game, but it’s a game of a deadly sort. The Jeopardy Room involves a Russian KGB defector finding himself trapped in a hotel room while at the mercy of an inventive hitman. The hitman has booby-trapped a specific object in the room with a bomb, and if the defector can find the bomb and disarm it within a specific time limit, he can go free. However, if the defector tries to leave the room, the hitman’s assistant will gun him down.
It’s fun to watch the episode’s unique game of cat-and-mouse play out, and it’s also a scenario which could easily fit into a more sadistic puzzle game sequence (a Resident Evil or Dishonored game would work nicely). While the episode’s pacing does feel a bit rushed (Twilight Zone episodes were only about a half-hour in length), The Jeopardy Room still offers a creative premise that could work quite well in a video game.
A Nice Place to Visit
Going back to The Twilight Zone’s first season, A Nice Place to Visit is ultimately meant to show the viewer that getting everything you want isn’t always a good thing. The episode focuses on a small-time crook named Henry Francis Valentine, also known as “Rocky Valentine,” who, after getting shot and killed in a botched robbery, is introduced to his afterlife guide, a jovial man named Pip.
To ease Rocky’s distrust, Pip grants him instant access to whatever he desires: money, a swanky apartment, beautiful women, and access to a casino where he wins every bet he places. Rocky thinks he’s in heaven, but when, after a month of always getting everything he wants, he grows bored, he realizes that the place he’s in may not be heaven after all.
I like to think that the same lesson which Serling was trying to impart way back in the 1960’s with A Nice Place to Visit can also be applied to modern-day gamers, especially those who favor competitive games. Sure, it sucks to lose, especially when you keep losing over a prolonged period, but playing a game where you were guaranteed to win every single time, while nice at first, would also quickly lose any potential for fun. After all, what’s the point in playing if you already know you’re going to win ahead of time? Balance is key, even if it means having to take the bad with the good.
The Little People
Real-time strategy (or RTS) fans know what it’s like to feel like an omniscient being from on high looking after a series of small units that they can influence and, oftentimes, control directly, and Rod Serling took that concept to a rather literal level with the season three Twilight Zone episode ‘The Little People.’
When two astronauts, one a noble and kind commander and the other a lazy subordinate, land on an uncharted asteroid to repair their ship, the boorish subordinate, who is clearly not a fan of taking orders, soon discovers the asteroid is also home to an entire race of tiny humanoids no bigger than ants.
When the little people start worshiping him as a god (mainly out of fear due to his size), the subordinate realizes he can now be the one giving orders, and he proceeds to embrace his true nature as a power-crazed tyrant.
Ultimately, the moral of The Little People is that one should always have respect for the power they are given, lest it turn around and bite them, and it’s a lesson that has been explored to varying degrees in video games as well, though maybe not so much in the RTS scene. Still, it helps to provide some moral context to the idea of acting as a guiding hand for an entire culture of tiny units, be they human, alien, or something else entirely.
This season two Twilight Zone episode is one of my favorites, and it’s also somewhat unique in that it’s one of the few episodes that doesn’t really contain any overt sci-fi or supernatural elements, though some parts of The Silence could still be considered fantastical in that they’d likely never happen in real life.
The Silence is centered around a gentlemen’s club, specifically two members of that club: a retired military colonel and a young upstart who is always loudly trying to get the other club members to lend him money for his various ventures and schemes (he secretly needs the money because he is in a massive amount of debt).
The old colonel, having suffered through the younger member’s loud scheming night after night, finally reaches a breaking point and presents a bizarre sort of wager to the young man: if the younger fellow agrees to remain in a specially-designed glass-enclosed room and manages to not utter a single word for an entire year, the colonel will pay him $500,000. The young man agrees, and what follows is a battle of wits and minds that has to be seen to be believed.
I think that, as a gamer, I enjoyed this episode in particular because it has all the elements of a well-constructed contest. Both parties, the colonel and the young man, have their own justifications for wanting to win, and neither is portrayed as wholly good nor wholly evil, they’re just two men who decide to settle their differences with an old-fashioned (albeit unorthodox) wager. Again, if the competitive nature of games is what drives you to play them, The Silence is one Twilight Episode entry you definitely need to watch.
A Game of Pool
The season three episode ‘A Game of Pool is at the top of my favorite episodes list, and not just because it has the word “game” in the title. In order to properly explain why I like this episode so much I will have to spoil its ending, so if you want, go and watch the episode first before reading further.
A Game of Pool starts off by introducing viewers to an up-and-coming pool player who has spent several years honing his skills. He’s good and he knows it, but he also laments the fact that nobody will ever give him the time of day since, as good as he is, they say he’ll never be as good as his local pool hall’s resident champion, a champion who has been dead for 15 years.
When he loudly declares he would give anything to have just one chance to play the champion in a game, the younger player gets his wish when the champion appears from the afterlife and offers the following stakes: if the younger player plays him and wins, he’ll go on to become one of the greatest champions ever, but if the younger player loses, he forfeits his life.
Now, hopefully by now you’ve watched the episode and you know that the younger player does indeed win, but the twist is that he also ends up having to take the champion’s place in the afterlife, answering the call of other would-be-champions for all eternity until he too is beaten, while the former champion gets to finally enjoy his time in the afterlife. What you may not know is that this was actually an alternate ending that was written after the episode’s original script was submitted.
In the original ending, the younger player loses, but he doesn’t immidiatly die. Instead, the champion reveals that the younger man will still get to live a long life and eventually die of natural causes, but he’ll also die in obscurity with nobody remembering who he was, essentially dying two deaths.
When The Twilight Zone was revived for a limited run in the late 1980s, the producers actually did a remade version of A Game of Pool which used the original ending in which the younger player loses. Both versions of the episode’s ending have different lessons to impart, with the original ending (in which the younger player loses) being that perseverance is the only way to ensure you’ll make a lasting impact on the world, and the alternate ending (in which the younger player wins) being that, while devoting yourself wholesale to the mastery of a sport or other venture can lead to victory, there’s not much point if you don’t take the time out to live, especially once you discover that said victory can come with a hidden detractor (i.e. having to keep proving yourself as the best).
I personally prefer the alternate ending since it’s the one I’m most familiar with, but I can see the value in the lessons both endings teach. Those are lessons that can be applied to gamers as well, teaching that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to prove you’re the best (even if you lose to a few champions along the way), but that it’s also important to not let your passion for competition morph into an obsession.
So there you have it, five Twilight Zone episodes that feel particularly suited for viewers who also consider themselves gamers. There are definitely other Twilight Zone episodes among the bunch that gamers could enjoy, and honestly I’d recommend watching every episode at least once if you have the time and the inclination, but these five episodes are all great places to start if you ever want to visit Rod Serling’s dimension beyond space and time.