Going Beyond the Game
With Freddie Wong and company’s Video Game High School well into its second season and video games taking a more prominent place in the public eye, it’s time to take a look back at the way that gamers have been represented in popular media––the good, the bad, the factual, and the fictional.
Freddie Wong and company’s Video Game High School answers the question: “What would it be like if games were so prevalent in society that there would be a high school entirely dedicated to training pro gamers?” The series follows the exploits of BrianD, an FPS player who gets a huge opportunity when a lucky kill during a pub stomp by VGHS superstar The Law catapults him into the most scrutinized position in school. Excellent writing, acting, and the technical prowess that we’ve come to expect by this group of YouTube superstars makes VGHS a must-watch for gamers.
This documentary by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky focuses on prominent indie games Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Fez, painting an accurate picture of the many trials and tribulations independent developers must go through. It’s a a wonderful and honest look into the way in which indie games are developed, and allows viewers to get a much greater sense of the personality and culture behind independent games development. Unfortunately, it also further catapulted Fez creator Phil Fish into the spotlight, and as a result, was likely – at least in part – responsible for the well-documented Twitter meltdown that resulted in his quitting the games industry, at least for now.
Video games themselves and gamers alike have often been maligned by mainstream news media. While the days of Jack Thompson are fortunately over, every time someone under the age of forty commits a violent crime, the fact that he or she once played Call of Duty is mentioned without fail. While violence in video games is something that – without question – deserves more study, the vast majority of people who play video games are able to do so without any adverse effects. It’s also disheartening to see folks like Adam Sessler go on Fox News and be interrogated by people who want nothing more than to push their agenda and are about as informed as a rock.
When other networks were showing nothing but procedural dramas and reality television, G4 catered exactly to the interests of gamers who wanted to see quality television centered around their favorite hobby. With shows like Cinemateque, Icons, Xplay, and Attack of the Show, gamers were treated to a fresh onslaught of video games each and every day. Unfortunately, as viewership started to dry up, so did the network’s programming, and it was eventually sold to Esquire.
Chronicling the story of two young brothers trying to get to California to participate in a video game championship, Todd Holland’s The Wizard (1989) is an interesting look into how the public saw gamers near the peak of gaming’s popularity in the eighties. Rife with inaccuracies, The Wizard’s audience is clearly perceived to be young children, as the fact that these kids make it all the way across the country is a little less than believable. We did, however, get a first look at Super Mario Bros. 3 at the end of the film, so let’s not judge too harshly, eh?
If there’s one game that stands above all others when it comes to difficulty and sheer notoriety, it has to be Nintendo’s original Donkey Kong. This documentary explores the lives of Brian Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, perhaps the two most talented DK players the world has ever seen, and their competition to hold the highest score ever – to be the King of Kong. An exceptionally well put-together piece of filmmaking, this is a documentary that every gamer should see.
Capitalizing on the popularity of arcade games in the 1980s, Tron took gamers inside the arcade cabinet to explore the world within video games. While much more of a drama than commentary on gamer culture, this visually impressive film asks some important questions about the nature of AI and human interaction. The sequel, Tron: Legacy, can be skipped, although its visual flair is definitely something to behold.
This film, produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions, is exactly the type of movie that we’ve come to expect from Sandler and friends – sophomoric, vulgar, and uninventive. Its portrayal of gamers as socially inept stoners is highly reductive, and the way in which the development process for video games is represented is incredibly inaccurate. Although there are a number of laughs to be had here, Grandma’s Boy is far more insulting than it is insightful.
Masterminded by Felicia Day, The Guild is a wonderful sendup of all things MMO. Inspired by a true love of World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs, this web series chronicles the real life (mis)adventures of the Knights of Good. Although many of the characters may initially seem to be the kinds of caricatures that I’ve previously taken issue with, the level of authenticity provided by Day’s writing reminds us that, while not every gamer is Grandma’s Boy’s JP, people who play video games rarely have perfect lives. The Guild is a fantastic exploration of the way that video games can bring people together.
Hitting the Internet in 2004, Pure Pwnage has gone from being an incredibly successful web series to full-on television program on Showcase and finally a crowd-funded monster of an in-production film. A mockumentary chronicling the exploits of pro gamer Jeremy “teh pwnerer,” his film student brother Kyle, and best friend fps_doug, this show has had an undeniable impact on gamer culture, perhaps the largest being Doug’s famous “Boom, Headshot!” Much like The Guild, the amount of love that creators Jarrett Cale, Geoff Lapaire, and Joel Gardiner have for video games is apparent in every shot, and the show presents a uniquely hilarious and thoughtful commentary on those who play video games.