Dir. Kiyash Monsef. http://www.thegamingproject.com, $15.00, 80 minutes.
Every weekend, at college campuses, homes and various other locations around the nation, fans of First-Person Shooters such as Quake III, Unreal Tournament, and Counter-Strike, hold LAN parties and play against each other for hours on end. While the consumers of films and television are viewers and the consumers of the printed word are readers, consumers of videogames are distinctly different. They are not viewers or readers, but rather players. While film or television viewers interact with texts, the way in which videogame players interact with games is much more direct and active. Viewers interpret what occurs in film or television, players participate in them.
Despite the fact that dozens of LAN parties occur every week around America, and the videogame industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, videogame players are under-studied and misunderstood. While there is a steadily growing body of literature about videogames and videogame players, up until now most audio-visual coverage, be it television programs or radio interviews has been concerned with the violent aspects and devolve into the moral crusader battle cry, "What about the children? Won't someone think about the children?" Gamers: A Documentary takes a distinctly different approach to videogames than previous documentary attempts such as First Person Shooter, which detailed the fears of a parent over his son's videogame playing. In contrast, Gamers, looks at the life of several videogame players, the videogame subculture, and the creators of Counter-Strike one of the most popular games.
In Counter-Strike, teams of players compete either via the Internet or at LAN Parties. Gamers does a good job of making the players seem like real people who are social and have real lives rather than present the typical stereotype of gamers as anti-social loners who do nothing but game all day everyday. About half of the documentary is devoted to describing Counter-Strike, what a LAN party is, and how a gaming clan works. The other half takes the standard documentary process of following two gaming clans through a competition. This is the real strength of the documentary, it gives the gamers a face, it makes them human. All too often in depictions of videogame players in the media they are depicted as alienated, isolated deranged teenagers. Through numerous interviews with the gamers, we see that this is not the case. These are regular people not stereotypes.
Particularly interesting was the brief segment with a father and son who became closer to each other by playing Counter-Strike. While there is little substantive analysis present within the documentary, it paints a compelling picture of avid videogame players. It would have been nice to see a bit more analysis of why those interviewed play videogames, but as an introduction to the subculture it serves its purpose well. The documentary gives viewers a real sense of what goes on at LAN parties and what it is like to attend one. It lets the gamers speak for themselves, something little coverage of videogames has done. Certainly, it would have been nice to take a more critical eye toward gaming and attempt some analysis of the subculture, but for what it is, Gamers does a good job of making gamers into people. I found Gamers to be an entertaining and fascinating, if somewhat uncritical, look into the world of videogames.
Videogames are a growing area of study in academia and documentaries like this are a good first step at raising the public understanding of exactly what is going on at these events. As videogame studies matures as a field, however, there is a need for more insightful, more probing examinations of the subculture of videogame players. Gamers, and works like it, which focus on the players are an essential part of the evolution of videogame studies. The distinction between watching and playing is key to understanding why videogames are a unique phenomenon. This distinction must be examined more closely. As we determine what it means to be a videogame player we may find that existing theories about film and television viewers is insufficient and we may have to look beyond film and television theory for insight. A fruitful approach may be to consider videogame-playing a performative act and compare that performance to other areas such as theater or sport which also have players rather than watchers.
Because it presents us with a representation of videogame players as regular people rather than the stereotypes, Gamers is certainly a documentary worth watching for those interested in videogame players.