The new scifi/action movie â€œGamerâ€ didn’t do well with critics, but it wasn’t expected to â€“ the movie caters to the popcorn action flick audience that appreciates, or is a part of, geek culture. It’s a violently brutal mindtwist of a movie that offers more substance, self-reflection, and cultural criticisms that even the best indie art films cannot compare to, and leaves the audience with lingering philosophical questions about modern society. This is its strength, and it is through this lens that we are allowed a glimpse into a future that may very well one day be ours.
The movie opens with an ultra-realistic battle scene reminiscent of a WWII movie recast in the near future, but the audience quickly realizes something is different, courtesy of static-frame inserts and other clues that hint at a digital connection. As the opening scene progresses, references are made to popular modern videogames, like Halo, via â€œteabaggingâ€ (achieving a kill and repeatedly crouching over their dead body) and the double-foot obstacle jumping common to such action/shooter games. In the almost-full theater I was in, the only laughter at these references came from me â€“ did the audience not understand, or just not find it amusing?
Regardless of the many attempts at referential humor that presumably fell flat on most audiences, the movie is a bastion of darkness in the gaming world, because it is largely a condemnation of the continuing digitizing of the modern world’s lifestyle. The essential premise is that real, live humans can have their brain transformed into a control center that gives remote access to paying customers â€“ the war simulation, â€œSLAYERSâ€, and the social simulation, â€œsocietyâ€, are variations on a theme for this style of game. â€œsocietyâ€ is a real-world version of â€œThe Sims Onlineâ€, where individuals are paid to become willing avatars for remote control, completely subject to the usually malevolent will of their players, while â€œSLAYERSâ€ is a real-world version of the common war game, where the so-called avatars are condemned criminals that experience actual death and injury.
Watching this movie, it’s hard to miss the condemnation of the current gaming culture and the potential future it has â€“ everything from the very premise to the dialog contains references, biting criticism, and allegory. But is it unfair to say this is a possible future? Absolutely not.
Every year, more and more violent, realistic games reach the market (in and of itself not an problem), and an ever-younger audience pays to play them. With the rise of online gaming, â€œtrash talkâ€ has become common, along with defamation practices like the previously mentioned â€œteabaggingâ€, which are not only confusing but unintelligible to outsiders. Losing a game now somehow warrants any and all insults that the player can imagine, and any sensible, intelligent, or coherent discourse is impossible at any point during the game.
If the modern gaming culture of living vicariously through avatars with absolute control continues, it’s not difficult to imagine the transition from â€œgamesâ€ to â€œreal gamesâ€. In the movie, the technology arises through a failed military project that resurfaces in the corporate world as a way to support the crumbling American prison system â€“ given the current state of prison privatization, this scenario sounds eerily familiar.
The ultimate condemnation, however, is not of the gaming culture but of modern humanity itself, asking: when did it become acceptable entertainment to watch others live, suffer, and succeed in lieu of actually living your own life? When did it become entertainment to watch from afar actual people die or be injured? The realistic escapist fantasy began with video games decades ago and continues with both their distant relatives and the unending slate of mindnumbing reality television programming. When the two finally mergeâ€¦
Perhaps the world will have it’s own version of â€œSLAYERSâ€.