Saturday, September 26, 2009


Hold a mirror up to (virtual) life

Review of Gamer (2009)
directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

First, the supporting cast of this film is wonderful. Keith David, Ludacris, Michael C. Hall, and John Leguizamo steal every scene they are in. The two scenes when actors sing in character are incredibly effective and creepy.

It is strange to write this, but while I was very engaged by this movie, I am not recommending it to many people. “Gamer” reminds me of the 1975 “Rollerball”; it succeeds at being a movie about the spectacle of violence, something which “Gladiator” failed to do. In this case, it is the physical and social violence of virtual worlds. In “Gladiator” the violence is transformative; it is the main way that characters identify themselves. The violence in “Gamer” is inelegant, sudden, and ugly, and there is nothing expressive about it. It is something to survive and get through. However, there is a problem with making a film about violence: you risk creating what you are trying to examine.

If you are one of the millions who have familiarity with Sony Home, Second Life, Halo, The Sims, Team Fortress, World of Warcraft, and other virtual spaces, then you will immediately recognize when “Gamer” holds a mirror to a lot of features of those games: banning, overly bright colors, teabagging, absurd costumes, odd marionette-like movements, rudeness and childish acting-out, and of course, the miming of sexual acts with your avatar. If you are one of the millions who don't understand what any of that means, then “Gamer” will be an unredeemed pornographic mess.

As another commenter wrote, this is a dystopia; a warning, not a celebration. There is nothing titillating about watching Amber Valletta's character dressed in humiliating costumes, knowing that she has sold control over her body to another - that is scary and sad. At the same time, that is exactly the kind of thing people do with their avatars. The desire to completely control a figure in an imaginary circumstance is, at its heart, a very strange one, but it touches something very deeply in many people. Americans spend more on games than they do at the box office. “Gamer” is a flawed movie, but not one I can dismiss.

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