Simon Pegg from Spaced

Films based in video game culture: conclusion

The recent 3 month anniversary of Arcadian Rhythms (15,000 humanoid visits and yet Google still suggest that you meant to type ‘Circadian Rhythms’ when you search for us) made me kick start this article, one that I’ve been meaning to sort out for a long time.

The games-and-gamers-in-films series of articles which helped launch the site began with my review of Scott Pilgrim vs the World after which I trawled through the surprisingly alright Gamer, followed by The Wizard (which mainly gets hits for the picture of Tobey Maguire), Stay Alive and culminating with Hackers (Ed: given the film in question I wonder if “nadir” is a more suitable term than “culminate”).

The one thing that each of these give films has in common, other than being deliberately marketed at gamers, is that they simply don’t understand what gamers are about (barring some of the scenes from Gamer and Stay Alive). We aren’t super heroes, we aren’t (all) depraved freaks, we aren’t ‘special’, we may generally be anti-social but we certainly aren’t the misfits that Hackers presented no matter how much we like Angelina Jolie’s boobs.

We are all of the above and yet none of the above.

There has only been one good and accurate portrayal of video gamers committed to film: Tim Bisley, the character played by Simon Pegg in the TV series Spaced.

Simon Pegg from <em/>Spaced
The less said about 'Run Fatboy Run' the better

I alluded to this briefly in the Scott Pilgrim piece, but now it shall be writ in full…

Tim Bisley is a guy who plays video games, has ex-girlfriend problems and spends time trying to balance his life and job. He’s funny, sociable but still full of foibles. Overall, he’s an interesting and well-rounded character, not just a character who plays video games and happens to have a few interesting qualities.

Bisley is like Eriq Lasalle’s character, Dr. Peter Benton, in early episodes of ER (before everything turned into over the top melodrama). Lasalle’s character is an arrogant, middle-class surgeon who thinks he knows everything that’s important. As the series progresses you begin to realise that he is totally incapable of developing meaningful relationships despite his desire to be a loving father and a talented doctor. Every time he attempts to be anything less than clinical with patients he just fumbles it because that’s not something he’s prepared for, and yet he’s readily capable of coming out with some of the most acerbic lines while exchanging shots with fellow doctors.

He’s also black.

Eriq Lasalle in ER

The colour of his skin is secondary to who he is, in that he is a well-written character regardless of his ethnicity, rather than someone defined by a single superficial aspect of his life.

Some of the best characters in visual media include Sigourney Weaver in the Alien trilogy, most of the cast from The Wire, Thora Birch in Ghost World, Bruce Willis in Die Hard… and that fat guy in Superbad. It doesn’t matter about their gender, colour, stature, creed or beliefs; if you aren’t some massive bigot you will find them interesting as characters.

Tim Bisley is not a good character just because he’s a well-rounded nerd, he’s a good character because he’s a well-rounded character who also happens to be a nerd.

I am not in some way trying to clamour for accurate representations of nerds in films as if we’re some kind of under-represented minority (if sales of video games are to go by then that is certainly not the case). No, I’m just asking that people reverse that Big Bang Theory magnifying glass and focus on the characters instead of just the idiosyncrasies.






10 responses to “Films based in video game culture: conclusion”

  1. oddvorbis Avatar

    More or less related; I remember being very happy when, in shaun of the dead, the character of Ed is seen playing a video game, which can clearly be identified, by both sound and image as Timesplitters 2.
    It's a little detail, but oddly refreshing against the barrage of generic electronic sounds usually heard whenever a character isportrayed playing a video game, mashing buttons at random.
    Even better, they could've shown him playing zelda, mario, halo or tomb raider game, but they chose Free Radical's Timesplitters. Simply fantastic.

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      Have you watched Spaced? Has some very interesting game references in there.

  2. @SeekNoise Avatar

    I had no idea you rated Thora Birch's performance in Ghost World so highly (you probably have told me in the past, but I'd forgotten). I loved that movie.

    And, yes, I doubt there's anyone on Earth who actively dislikes Tim Bisley as a character. He's just perfect. ^_^

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      I think SW Episode 1 fans may not be mad keen on him, but they're probably operating at a mental level below what's necessary to recall a decade-old TV show.

      Anyway, I agree with the main thrust of James' conclusion here – that character should be about pouncing on a hobby, physical characteristic, sexual/gender identity or an idiosyncratic interest / passion and use that to define a character. What's demanded is, ultimately, good and convincing character writing.

      Where I disagree, and I fear I may sound like a broken record here, is this idea that these films are supposed to represent gamers as a whole. Now I'm sure some of them try to do so; I've not seen Hackers or Wizard or Stay Alive and it sounds like these three do a really bad job repping gamer culture (even for the time).

      Gamer does a better job in some ways but as James and various commenters rightly pointed out, it takes two narrow slices of two dominant pictures and extrapolates something monolithic out of these. It's a fun backdrop for a film but in terms of having something to say, it blurts out most of its few interesting ideas very quickly.

      Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand: as I think I mentioned back in my second opinion, I missed almost all of the marketing for this film. In terms of how it is marketed and who towards I can't really comment. But to include SP in a list of films that supposedly represent gamer culture strikes me as misguided. That film operates on several levels, the actual and the metaphorical, but utilises the usual fantasy conceit that the two are one and the same. And so we end up with a film in which weird, crazy shit happens that overtly represents or mirrors aspects of the main plot and character arc and people just go along with it (mostly). Buffy functioned in the same way; every episode was simultaneously metaphor and played straight, in a realist fashion.

      To explain Scott Pilgrim the metaphor requires noting that Scott is an emotionally damaged shut-in who is so torn up about the destruction of his past, perfect relationship that he retreats inside himself and articulates his worldview through the simple, cartoonish imagery and symbolism of videogames. And thus the beat 'em up conflicts with ex-boyfriends (a direct one-on-one confrontation with a challenger), thus the dance-dance-revolution and Rock Band collaborative efforts with friends (working together to play in a band and achieve a common goal), and simple things like understanding minor obstacles (the Pee Bar) and a sense of progression (acquiring coins). Even the 'extra life' is essentially about pushing Scott towards the realisation that in order to solve his problems he needs to look inside himself as well as outside.

      There are many problems with Scott Pilgrim the film, almost all of which are addressed in Scott Pilgrim the comic, but the idea that it is attempting to represent gamers or gamer culture as a whole is a misunderstanding of how videogame iconography and symbolism has been integrated into a story that is, ultimately, about one misguided young man's attempts to get over his past, grow up, learn to accept himself and get on with his life.

      I do think your argument stands with regard the other four films you looked at, however.

      1. badgercommander Avatar

        You had me until you then drew comparisons to Buffy. I was willing to let some fo that slide and bow down to the points (which sort of remain valid). But if your only go to is Buffy then it seems to me I have to sink to a C-grade level of television appreciation before Scott Pilgrim becomes 'deep' or at least meaningful. That is not a good thing.

        Buffy exists a notch above Friends in terms of entertainment. Some of it is well written but ultimately I think it is dreadful. So if that is SPs bed partner, I have nothing else to add.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          Haha. The comparison was made to draw parallels, that is all. I could equally have mentioned Dawn of the Dead where the zombies function simultaneously as horrific, terrifying monsters and as a metaphor for blind-eyed bovine consumerism.

  3. Wolf Avatar

    Scott Pilgrim for the win as far more entertaining that most of those other films.

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      Agreed, though that isn't saying much for Scott Pilgrim as the films are almost, universally awful.

    2. jake Avatar

      any conversation that uses "for the win" is by default for the loss.

      1. badgercommander Avatar

        hahahah (please note I did not use lol)