Skip to main content

David Harbour likes video games. In fact, the Stranger Things actor – rugged as a cliff face and friendlier than someone who wants a favor – used to like them a bit too much, but he’s been weaning himself off them over the years.

In his prime, Harbour used to be in a World of Warcraft raiding guild, spending his nights smashing through Blackwing Lair and Molten Core, and “ruining all sorts of relationships as a result”.

His obsession was so much that, in 2008, he was working on a movie called Revolutionary Road alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and he would sprint back home during lunch to take control of his night elf warrior for a BRD run. If you don’t understand what any of those words mean, don’t worry – that just highlights how deep he’d fallen.

“To have this amazing moment in my career, but also just to be so drawn to this virtual world, where I also wanted very much to achieve [things]… I've had to manage my time with games like that as a result, because I wanted to spend more time on my career,” Harbour explains.

A colourful image of a mage and a dragon in World of Warcraft: Dragonflight.

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight just launched.

Before he ended up like Cartman in that one episode of South Park, he had to pump the brakes.

“The danger of gaming is isolation,” Harbour says. “I've struggled with mental health-type ideas in the past, and I know that being alone for a long time staring at a screen in any capacity will make you not understand human beings in a certain way.

“I think part of the goal of society is for us to get together and understand how each other works, and develop empathy so that we can understand each other and grow as a society together. So that isolationism can be a danger. It has to be treated with the respect that it deserves.”

Those times helped the actor learn about moderation – and using video games as a treat, rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet, gave him a newfound respect for the medium.

“It's like going to the movies or any sort of artistic passion,” he says. “It has its own artistry within it. It has its own talent. Those guys who play [professional] StarCraft are like Mozart. I mean, truly, I've never seen anything like that sort of hand-eye coordination.”

A battle rages in StarCraft 2.

Just like Mozart. 

Like most people who play video games into adulthood, it started for him when he was just a boy. Seeing the kids of Stranger Things playing Dungeons & Dragons felt like being transported back into his own childhood for Harbour, who plays James "Jim" Hopper in the Netflix show.

“I remember playing that with my friends after school,” Harbour says. “But I loved video games as well. When those things started to combine, it felt like the best thing ever. I used to play RPG games like Fable, which I think was the best of its kind before World of Warcraft came out.”

If you check out Harbour’s Twitter feed, you’ll see that the actor is partnered with Blizzard to promote the new World of Warcraft: Dragonflight expansion, which adds fire-spitting reptiles to ride across the MMO’s expansive world. But he’s not just in it for the payday. Despite joking about the MMO destroying his life and Blizzard being “masochists” for working with him, there’s a real fire in his belly too.

“There are so many things that I find fascinating about WoW, no joke,” Harbour, who flies his WoW flag for Alliance, says. “You test out economy, you test out democracy. How do you divvy resources of like two pieces of boss raid loot among 40 players for one night of raiding? How do you create these governing systems to allocate resources? I think that aspect of it is fucking fascinating.”

A World of Warcraft player faces off against a spider-like creature in a fiery location.

Time for MMO games? In this economy? 

Harbour loves it all – “the big shoulder pads, the press of a button, the cooldown of an ability” – and he still jumps on whenever he gets some free time, which is more of a rarity these days, as he travels the world to promote his movies, with Violent Night being the latest in a string of professional wins.

He recently hit level 63 playing Dragonflight in Budapest while working on the Sony-backed Gran Turismo movie, but he mainly only plays while on the road now. A self-confessed “Mac Guy”, he sticks to his laptop for WoW and has no plans to build a Henry Cavill-style gaming rig anytime soon.

“When I went to college, I took a Mac with me,” he says. “I’ve had a Mac my whole life. Whenever you get me in front of Windows I tend to get the shakes.”

Harbour does occasionally squad up with other thesps – not Henry Cavill, but other “actor friends who will remain nameless” – and he recently got an offer to play Diablo with Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi in the Marvel movies, but it’s still mostly a solitary affair.

“I remember some of my greatest days back in the old World of Warcraft was just sitting around in Ironforge and talking to people, making bolts of linen cloth or whatever while you try to get in this dungeon together,” he laughs.

A car speeds down the track in GT Sport.

Harbour is currently filming a Gran Turismo movie. 

His partner, British singer Lilly Allen, is supportive of his “nerdy pastime”, but you won’t find her next to him “on the computer rolling a gnome mage, or whatever - that’s not gonna happen”.

When he is at home, he tends to play games in bursts on his PS5. Most recently, he’s been playing Gran Turismo for research while he works on the movie – yep, they’re definitely cars, alright – and he just started putting serious time into CD Projekt Red’s grim vision of the future, Cyberpunk 2077.

“Damn, I know it came out and people had problems with it, but that game is so goddamn creative and detailed,” Harbour says. “I think that world is extraordinary. It's such a sad thing when games come out and they have bugs or problems, and everybody goes after them. I don't know exactly what the net result of that was with Projekt Red – I think the game still was successful – but to go back in and really play that game, it's just incredible.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel the same about CD Projekt’s other game, The Witcher 3, which he finds a little “highbrow” and “hard”. “There's something about The Witcher – maybe it's the controls,” he says. “I can't get very far and I'm not very good at it, so I wind up getting frustrated throwing the controller and jumping ship.”

Ciri will have to keep waiting - Harbour prefers Cyberpunk 2077. 

Ciri will have to keep waiting - Harbour prefers Cyberpunk 2077. 

He’s had a similar experience with FromSoftware’s Dark Souls, a notoriously tricky dungeon crawler where progress is often slow. “I talk to the Duffer brothers, who created Stranger Things, all the time about Dark Souls,” Harbour says. “They love it. I always get one boss in and I’m out. I hate games like that. They frustrate the hell out of me.”

Skyrim is much more Harbour’s tempo. Basically, he’s down for anything where you can sit around and create bolts of linen cloth (but now in moderation).

“When I was growing up, it was, ‘Nerds, you're wasting your time,’ and all that stuff,” Harbour says. “And those things have weighed on me and plagued me throughout the years. But what I see with the comic cons when I go out and meet people there, it's really fun, this nerd culture – very earnest, very pure. It's no different than people who love romance novels, or love movies. It’s becoming less stigmatized, and even I am becoming less afraid to share my passion for it.”

If you're looking for more, David Harbour is currently working on a horror game with Jodie Comer, and he also wants a part in the next God of War game