Film (2009). Lionsgate and Lakeshore Entertainment presents. Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Cast includes Gerard Butler, Terry Crews, Michael C Hall, John Leguizamo, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman, Ludacris, Kyra Sedgwick, Amber Valletta and Aaron Yoo. Colour. 94 minutes.
Death-row Prison inmate John "Kable" Tillman (Butler) murders his way through the real-life cast of the Computer Role Playing Game whose Virtual Reality and accompanying Media Landscape obscures the machinations of the Villain who has taken his daughter captive.
"It begins with a single nano-cell planted in the motive cortex of the brain," explains Mad Scientist and billionaire Videogame designer Ken Castle (Hall) of the Novum in Cybernetics that has allowed the Online Worlds and Interactive Narrative of the games "Society" and "Slayers" to overlay and subsume the everyday reality of Near Future consumers: "This cell can replicate, replacing cells around it with perfect copies [see Nanotechnology], and these copied cells contain remote-access functionality." A worldwide audience of billions tunes in for the bread-and-circuses-style panoply of brutality, Sex and death visited upon real-life human beings who act as Avatars for the gamers controlling their actions. "If Society let us live through others, Slayers lets us die through others ... [but] why isn't it murder?" asks chat-show host Gina Parker Smith (Sedgwick): because 68% of US citizens are in favour of the games and the federal government dared not stop us, replies Computer-programming genius and scenery-munching sociopath Castle. "When they watch their Hero die," Castle opines of his plan to destroy successful in-game killer "Kable" in one of a sequence of evil-guy soliloquies directed not so much at the minions around him as over their heads to the Cinema audience, "right in front of their eyeballs, so sharp and vivid it feels like they could touch the wet flesh, they're gonna change their point of view. They'll be seduced by the power of the violence, the dominance; it's in their nature."
Marrying the writing and directing duo behind the low-budget but commercially-successful Crime and Punishment thriller Crank (2006) to a potpourri of Clichés derived from other films, including the plot premise of Death Race (2008), the spectacle of gladiatorial Games and Sports at the heart of Rollerball (1975) and the exaggeration of contemporary anxieties about the degrading effect of the Internet on human activity from Comics-adaptation Surrogates (2009), and then stirring-in some of the visual syntax and pop-culture Sociology of an ever-expanding online Games industry, probably seemed like a good idea to the producers of Gamer, but any attempt at Satire or analysis of the impact of the "desert of the real" (see Postmodernism and SF) on modern-day Politics is buried beneath a relentless barrage of violence and misogyny. "If you want to get out and find the people in the fiction, you'll have to find your own way," says computer-hacker and "Humanz" activist Trace (Lohman) – a sketchily-drawn analogue of the character of Trinity from The Matrix (1999) – to crowd's favourite "Kable", winner of 27 Command & Conquer-style battles filmed in the lurid vein of a First Person Shooter, complete with automatic Weapons, War-torn Cities and slow-motion close-ups of exploding limbs. This Kable does, enlisting the help first of the Humanz insurgency, and then of high-status gamer Simon Silverton (Lerman), to sever the "ping" (i.e. lag) created by the "Nanex" Technology implanted in his brain, thereby finding his way first to his wife, Angie Tillman (Valletta), a real-life marionette in the game "Society" who is subjected to several onscreen sexual assaults (see Women in SF), and then to a final conformation with Castle, who has legally-adopted the Tillmans' daughter. It emerges that Castle plans to use the Economics of privatized Medicine to extend the tiny Nanex Machines into Genetic Engineering and thereby extend his control over society. Kable kills him in front of a world-sized audience.
Though Gamer references other well-known sf films – one of the avatars available in "Society" mimics the appearance of the character "Pris" from Blade Runner (1982) – there seems to be little or no cognizance of the many and various examinations of the links between Avatars and the Metaphysics of Identity elsewhere in the SF Megatext, from their use in combination with Drugs and Toys in "The Days of Perky Pat" (December 1963 Amazing; vt The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch 1964) by Philip K Dick, as symbols of the interrelationship of AIs and Cyberspace in the work of William Gibson, or as paradigmatic exemplars of Alternate Worlds in the work of Neal Stephenson and others. Films such as eXistenZ (1999) by David Cronenberg and The Truman Show (1998), written by Andrew Niccol, make more literate reference to the wider application of these themes, to the association between the aesthetics of avatars and the ideologies they disclose, and to the widespread unease about the growing estrangement of human beings from their environment. [MD]