My first review, and it’s a text review. Let’s start this site on a positive note, shall we?
I’ve never been a guy who’s big on indie movies; I always have those visions of snobbish self-important wastrels wearing little black berets and sunglasses, sipping on their highly-caffeinated drinks with obscenely silly Italian names (Yeah, great “positive start,” Belmont…), but I digress.
Enter The Gamers. I discovered this little indie gem through a friend of mine from a local community college; he’s a professor there, who at the time was running the “Do or Dice” gaming club. The reason that this indie film was able to capture my attention is because the subject was right up my alley—gaming! I decided to give this indie flick a try, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Gamers uses a new spin on the rather tired “stranger in a strange land” genre, and turns it on its ear. We’re all sick of seeing “A [insert American stereotype] in King Arthur’s Court,” or its nigh-endless supply of spin-offs and remakes vomited up by the vacuous void of uncreativity and corporate red-light district that is Hollywood. Instead of a story about gamers themselves being thrust into a fantasy world where their adventures are real, we get treated to dual-natured movie in which we’re really watching two separate films. In one hand, you have a group of gamers playing an intense and rousing game of the little-known “Generic: The Fantasy” with their books wrapped with “+2 Brown-bag book covers of lawsuit protection.” On the other hand, you have the CHARACTERS of these dice-slinging dorks on the very adventure that the players are running.
The movie’s opening treats us to the main characters posed on sepia-toned character sheets, complete with twinked character stats (a 19 Intelligence or Strength? Shenanigans!). We have Newmoon the elven ranger, Nimble the thief, Rogar the Barbarian (who is unusually well-spoken for someone who’s just shy of riding the short bus to Barbarian school), Mark the Red, and Ambrose the Ruefully Temporary…magician by hobby.
After we’re introduced to our heroes, the movie cuts to a dorm room, and a fiery redhead in her PJs, reading a book; total cocktease moment…this IS a movie about gamers, and a chick in this movie isn’t going to give the kind of payoff that a decently attractive redhead on a bed SHOULD give. Nope, this redhead is the perpetually pissed-off Paula, who walks down the hall to scream at the nerds waxing geek in the hallway.
Lots of nerds, including the ones I know are reading this, have been in this sewing circle of nerdity; talking about movies and the inevitable attributing game mechanics and statistics to movie or anime characters. How much Constitution does John McClane have? How many natural 20s were rolled in that Jet Li fight? Who the Hell cares? It’s irrelevant unless you’re talking about Chuck Norris, whose game statistics are measured in exponents. I always thought this whole concept rather pathetic until I caught myself doing it. Now, of course, I can’t help but do it if someone else does it and sets me off waxing nerd-stalgic. Again, I digress.
After a sheepish apology, the gamers move into their gaming room and spend the first five minutes trying to remember what they did last week. Where the hell are these gamers when I’M DMing? Most of the time, it’s the characters reminding me of every single annoying detail of a campaign, and God forbid I get anything wrong, because I won’t hear the end of it. Most of my game sessions now require a stenographer, an accountant, and an army of continuity police to run a scenario or two. Then again, my friends are pricks…but I love them.
When the heroes finally decide on what they were doing, and bitching about their fifth gamer, Mark the Red being out with his real-life girlfriend, they meet at the one obligatory place that all adventures begin- the tavern. Here’s where the meat of the movie starts to show; the movie is really one long running joke. Almost every joke in the movie centers around the very things that piss me off as a Game Master, and all of the idiosyncrasies of gamers and their hobby. The barbarian wants to chug a mug of dwarven ale, and has to make a Stamina roll to stay awake…which he promptly fails because the dice hate him. The thief wants to pick pockets, and starts seeing what he can get away with, which includes stealing a customer’s weapon—and pants. This gives a literal meaning to “stealing the pants off” of someone. I would’ve loved to have those mad skills on a spree through the girls’ dorms in High School. The heroes’ are interrupted in the middle of getting their drink on by what I can only describe as the lost love-child of the Swedish Chef and Andre the Giant. It seems that only Nimble has the first shot at the menacing mercenary, being away from the table stealing beer money and dignity from the bar patrons. As a thief, the only real option he has is to backstab the hell out of the son of a bitch, but even Nimble’s buddies remind him that a dagger aint gonna take the big lug down, so he starts looking for bigger weapons. Then, it hits him. He walks off-screen and sets up a ballista behind the unsuspecting oaf. Now folks, this is just bad DMing. I would have put my foot down! “Where the Hell did you get that? Did you hide it up your ass?!?” Does a rule need to be written to prevent EVERY ass-headed bullshit idea to ever be conceived by players? Wait…forget I asked.
After painting the walls of the tavern with the mercenary’s innards, our heroes cheerfully begin their quest, oblivious to their act of remorseless premeditated murder (after all, he never really attacked them…he just came over to their table to bitch at them for leaving him for dead). After a travel montage, we get treated to a camp scene in which the barbarian sees a vision of the princess the heroes are after in the flames of the campfire. Our heroes have trouble remembering who’s awake and who’s asleep, to which the DM must consistently remind them of their snoozing status. What? A chance to interact with a female after weeks of a sausage fest? Hell, I’d find any excuse to be wide-awake, too! I can’t blame ’em!
Our next waylay in the journey is to ford a river, where our movie grinds to a halt. Our mage Ambrose is a hydrophobe (and has to be reminded). Well, it looks like we gotta have Hannibal put B.A. Barackus to sleep for his journey over the big bad ankle-deep stream. How do we do that? Why, bludgeon him until he’s unconscious, of course! Usually, this is a simple matter of knocking a guy out, but apparently it’s much better to have the barbarian dragon-uppercut his ass, sending him into orbit and watching his lifeless, pulverized corpse splatter on the ground. Problem solved! Sorry Ambrose…roll a new character. Of course, what good is the death of a player character unless you can capitalize upon his demise? Let’s give him a funeral and get lots of piety points to make up for the fact that our heroes are really a bunch of assholes. Finish the scene with a light looting of the body and we have the grand buffet of gamer dickery!
Our heroes march on, taking on the Bandit King. Of course, the DM has a long-winded speech all prepped up for the Bandit King, but of course, this group is like mine: “Shoot first, then listen to the DM bitch.” The movie then explodes into a mass battle with a horde of bandits, but our heroes quickly get overwhelmed (Karma’s a fickle mistress, isn’t it?). Suddenly, however, their fifth player arrives, and enters they fray, going into his berserker mode and makes salsa with the rest of the bandits. The DM, most likely wanting to make the Bandit King a recurring character, has him run away. The elf archer wants to kill him, but the DM rules that only a natural 20 will hit him from so far a distance. That’s not going to stop Newmoon! He takes the shot, and the gods of gaming kick the DM in the nuts, as they always do, and Newmoon rolls a 20. The boys celebrate with a “hup hup, huzzah!” only to be cut short by the howling harpy, Paula. She storms off down the hall, and we’re at least treated to the “I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave” camera angle as she stomps down the hall. It’s hard not to notice the “assets” she brings to the film, but hey, what can I say? I like a little junk in the trunk.
Mark the Red’s player decides to answer a booty call from his girlfriend and promptly leaves, breaking the cardinal “bros before hos” rule. The game halts for a brief moment while the others take in exactly what they’re missing…then plot to kill his character for his betrayal. I take offense to this nonsense! The stereotype of the eternal virgin gamer nerd pisses me off, only partly due to its ring of truth. Anyone who is a part of my generation knew that finding a gamer chick was about as likely as winning the Mega-millions lottery. We had to wait until the new editions, when the “Girl Gamer” Monster Manual entry changed its encounter frequency from “Unique” to “Uncommon.” You young’uns have it easy; girl gamers are becoming more common nowadays.
Our heroes finally reach the fortress of the illusive “Shadow” (“The Shadow?!?” “The Shadow…”) They meet a mysterious mage, “Magellan.” The DM wants the group to role-play the meeting, noting that most people they met were trying to kill them, and that they are in front of an evil castle, ignoring the knowledge that this is the replacement for Ambrose, the former party member and poor bastard that the rest of them murdered in cold-blood. Of course, being players, the deep role-playing comes in the form of:
“Hey, I’m a mage. You don’t have one.”
“Wow, what a crazy random happenstance! Join us, good sir!”
The new mage then promptly takes his place in the back of the marching order.
Rogar the Barbarian then attempts to rip out the fortress gate, seeing as he has a 95% chance to do so with his ridiculously high strength stat. However, he forgets that the dice hate him, and he rolls over, pulling a muscle in his back when he tries to do something that should be easy for him. Newmoon gives tearing out the gate a shot, since he has strength stat of a small child. In a twist of mechanics irony, Newmoon rips out the gate, gives his best Tusken Raider impersonation (which is quite good, by the way), and tosses it aside.
After dealing with an impossible trap they pass by throwing the party member with the most Hit Points at it, they confront The Shadow (The Shadow?!? The Shadow…. yeah, it’s a running joke. Bite me.). The mage has a brilliant idea on how to beat him, but he needs a distraction. The heroes make good on their threat against Mark and send him against the boss to buy some time for the mage to cast his spell. To no one’s surprise, but to the shock and horror of the rest of the party, Mark the Absent is made into Julienne fries. This is enough time for the wizard to cast “Polymorph into Ogre” on the Shadow.
“Why!?!” cries Newmoon, in what may be my favorite line delivery, “Those things are DANGEROUS!!!”
Rogar finally gets his due when he realizes the mage’s brilliance; he’s now able to use his Sword of Ogre-decapitation he’s been whining about all game session. Our heroes, cheating bastards that they are, make short work of The Shadow. We are then treated to possibly the whitest of celebratory dances I’ve ever witnessed on film. I was lost somewhere between Nimble ripping off his shirt, Newmoon’s player dog-humping the wall, and the in-game characters limbo-dancing under Magellan’s staff. The DM’s breaking of the 4th wall and looking at the camera is priceless, though. It’s pretty sad when the DM thinks that you’re a bunch of dorks.
What’s this, though? No princess? The quest is still on? Onward!
The party then moves beyond the Shadow’s chamber and into a very familiar hallway. They hear voices talking behind one of the doors. Nimble tries to pick the lock, but hears an angry shout of “We’re keeping it down!” Zounds! We’ve been heard! Kick down the door and kill everyone inside!
Well, that’s exactly what they do. They kick open the door to find a bunch of pasty nerds screaming like little girls. Of course, the logical thing is to kill them, of course, so the characters slaughter their players. I can hear Jack Chick orgasm as I watch the scene unfold. While the party investigates the scene of nerd-carnage, Paula comes in to excoriate our heroes for the noise pollution. She should really be more thankful, as they just took care of her problem for her. Instead, she threatens to call campus safety on their asses…which she really should be doing, as she’s just walked in on a grisly crime scene.
“The Princess!” Nimble exclaims, “we found her!”
Paula scowls and tells them to leave her out of their sick fantasy. Well, that’s not unlike the reaction gamers USUALLY get when media-controlled “normal” people get a glimpse of their hobby. Our movie ends where it began, in Paula’s lonely room, with her muttering:
Yeah, honey. I’ve heard that one, too. I seriously think you need to get laid far more than any of the nerds whose lives were cut short by metaphoric pseudo-suicide.
What did I think of this movie? Well, in short, I loved it. It was one of the most hilarious gamer movies I’ve ever watched. This movie, however, is not for everyone. The only viewers who will really take anything away from this movie would be gamers themselves. To the rest of the world, this movie makes no sense whatsoever. For the rest of us cool kids, there’s something for all of us. It hits home because we’ve ALL been there; we’ve all got a goober in our group who pulls the same crap as the guys in this movie. It’s hilarious because it’s true.
I think greatest of all, however, is that the movie laughs “with” gamers, rather than “at” them. Many of the movies out there that have gamers seek to ridicule them. The Gamers has fun with the stereotypes, and all of the ribbing is good-natured. Gamers are harmless folks, and nerdy hobbies don’t hurt anybody. So, if you’re thinking of picking on someone just because he plays with books and miniatures and funny-shaped dice, you might want to sit in on a game and try to see what you’re missing.
by Dead Gentlemen Productions
Directed by: Matt Vancil
DVD available through Paizo Publishing
Doctor Belmont’s Score: 8/10