The Gamers: Hands of Fate

Hello, everyone! Sorry for not posting anything lately, but you know how life goes sometimes (and how it will keep on going for the foreseeable future, unfortunately). But I’ve missed writing for DQ, so much I even considered writing a recommendation post for assorted “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” media, especially the first two live-action movies – they both just ooze* so much personality! -, but those aren’t that interesting, academically speaking.

* Hah! I made a funny!

Instead, I’m going to talk about the third “The Gamers” movie, The Gamers: Hands of Fate.
First, some context: the first movie, called simply The Gamers, wasn’t so much a serious narrative as a look at just how absurd RPG sessions can get, with things like the Thief using (to quote directly from the movie) “a fucking siege weapon” to backstab someone, the scrawny Elf Ranger seemingly being stronger than the hulking Barbarian simply because the player is luckier with the dice, the players attacking the villains in the middle of their speech and asking for a surprise bonus, etc. It’s funny for RPG players, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, and even for us, it doesn’t maintain the same level of comedy with repeated viewings.

The second one, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, is a proper movie that only uses gaming as a backdrop. In this one, Lodge is a Game Master who’s interested in crafting a good setting and telling a good story, but his players – Cass, Leo and Gary – are only interested in the gaming side of things – you know, killing the bad guys, looting their lair, and so on and so forth. Lodge wants to turn his campaign into an official D&D module (unlike the first movie, they’re explicitly using the D&D rules system in this one); the problem is that the players always die before finishing it* (if I remember it correctly, the movie opens with their third attempt), and so he’s stuck as to how to actually write it!

* The movie actually fumbles this a bit. According to Lodge, they keep dying because they don’t pay attention to the story, but the only instance the movie shows us of the characters being killed is caused by the GM removing the Cleric’s powers without warning, which (outside of very special circumstances) is already extremely unfair, but it’s especially unfair when they’re fighting a high-level necromancer! In all honesty, though, this may be more of a peeve of mine.

So they have an idea: inviting new players to the table to help them finish the adventure. And so Joanna joins the group. Joanna is much more interested in the story and the setting than the others (she actually roleplays her character, for starters), and she helps the group become better roleplayers and Lodge become both more tolerant of the group’s antics and less of a railroading GM. In the end, they play the adventure to the end, Lodge writes it up and gets it published, and the group goes on playing ever after.

Now, I’d like to talk specifically about Joanna’s character arc, which is relevant for the subject of this post. Basically, this is a very genderized character – as in, her role in the story and relationship with other characters are all very steeped in her gender. Cass and Leo creating a character for her and not having any faith that the one she created is any good could be chalked up to her being a newcomer to RPGs, and thus, presumably having no experience with creating an effective character in a system that can be quite complex; but that (combined with the fact that the character they created for her is a female Fighter who wears bikini chainmail and wields a BROADsword, which immediately brings the subject of gender to mind) is very reminiscent of the stereotype of women being bad at Math and needing the help of their fellow male players to actually handle those icky numbers (you can even see this stereotype essentially being glorified in a column by Shelly Mazzanoble at the Wizards of the Coast site, “Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard”). Likewise, her being more interested in diplomacy and following the story can just be chalked up to a difference in playing styles (the rest of the group are all powergamers and hack’n’slashers, basically), but it also plays into the common stereotype of women being more sensitive and less prone to violence than men. Don’t get me wrong, she is a good character who isn’t defined solely by her gender; but her gender is fundamental to her character all the same.

And that brings me to The Gamers: Hands of Fate, which has Cass as the main character. To summarize the story: Cass is extremely disdainful towards card games (think “Magic: The Gathering” and alike), but then he becomes attracted to Natalie, an avid “Romance of Nine Kingdoms” player (a thinly-veiled reference to the “Legend of the Five Rings” CCG, which also exists as an RPG; indeed, AEG, the company that produces L5R, even shows up in the movie as the makers of R9K). R9K is a storyline-driven game, with players who win tournaments getting to decide certain aspects of the game’s storyline (this, too, is similar to how L5R tourneys work in real life); only, there’s a group of players (who play with the evil faction, of course), The Legacy, who created an unbeatable strategy and have been dominating the game lately, deliberately taking the most unpopular decisions regarding the storyline just to ruin the game for others (basically, they’re CCG trolls). With the help of Leo, Cass tries to master R9K, enter the R9K tournament at Gen Con (which will basicallly save the story, or ruin it for good) and win it, all in an effort to impress Natalie so she will date him. There’s more to the movie, but that’s basically the main plot.

If that summary made you uncomfortable, good. Cass is a dick – he’s been a dick since we met him in the previous movie; he knows it, the other characters know it, and the audience knows it -, and the movie acknowledges that he’s a dick, that his attraction to Natalie is extremely shallow (he just wants her because she’s a “hot gamer chick”, he doesn’t really care about her – in fact, he’s openly disdainful of R9K’s storyline, which is her favourite aspect of the game, and of LARPing, which is another of her hobbies), and that his reasons for entering the tournament (impressing her enough to win a date) are creepy. His character arc is actually handled well, with him realizing how much of a douchebag he’s been acting and actually coming to both care for the game’s story and respecting Natalie enough to back off and let her decide if she wants anything with him (the movie leaves things with both informally setting up a casual date the next time they meet, although she does seem a bit too impressed with his change of heart. At least the movie had already established that she did find him attractive, it was his personality that put her off).

Where the movie fumbles is with Natalie herself. For starters, we’re told she kicks ass at R9K, having played it for a decade or so, and she is good enough to reach the semifinals at the final tournament, but we never see her win any game; and since the movie has to set up a climactic confrontation between Cass and the main antagonist (the leader of the Legacy), it undermines her by basically relegating her to being his sidekick for the final game. By itself, this could be forgivable (although we could have been shown her winning at least one plot-relevant game), but there’s worse.

See, from the first scene in which the audience meets her, we see Natalie being horribly treated by several members of the male-dominated R9K community. One guy keeps making crude sexual “jokes” at her, others mock her for wanting to play even though she’s a girl… All the (sadly) usual stuff, something which is a constant bother to her (one of her first lines is “Here we go again”, when crude-sex-“jokes”-guy asks what she’s doing outside of the kitcken) and which, unfortunately, is very much based on reality. It gets to a point where even Cass, dick that he is, rightfully points out (paraphrased) “Why do you care so much about this community anyway? They’re always treating you like crap! Here they are fawning over me, when you’ve been kicking ass at this game for ten years and you get no respect!”.

And how is this plotline resolved? Well, it isn’t, not in any way in which her character had any input or influence. We see her losing at the semifinals to the leader of the Legacy, and then the whole auditorium applauds her and cheers for her, and Natalie is overcome with emotion at finally winning the respect she deserves. Except she didn’t really win it, did she? It was handed to her by the movie, almost like a pity win. Now, don’t get me wrong: in real life, Natalie shouldn’t have to make any special effort to not be treated like crap. But since the movie focused so much on her plight, that arc should have been resolved in a satisfying manner like any other plot point, and it wasn’t. It left me with the feeling (and this might be entirely subjective on my part) that the filmmakers didn’t have any faith in the character being able to accomplish things by herself and simply handed those things to her.

Basically, I feel the movie unknowingly undermines itself when Cass only learns to respect the woman he’s interested in once he’s in a superior position to her. Even strictly from the point of view of writing analysis, the resolution to Natalie’s plotline is very unsatisfying. So, a fun movie, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Myself, I’ll probably only rewatch it when I get the extended cut, which expands Joanna and Lodge’s roles.

Cheers, DQ!

8 Comments

      1. Thank you for your reply. The thing is the imaginative game is named ‘Romance of the Nine Empires’ actually.
        When Cass came to the counter and asked for a starter of the game he made the same mistake and asked for Romance of the Nine Kingdoms. He was corrected with the simple word ‘Empires’. (because the players care about their game and its story)
        Nice review btw even though I hardly agree.
        1. SpoonyViking says:
          Huh. You’re right, my bad. I suppose I had the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” in my mind?
          Thanks for pointing that out, and I’m glad you enjoyed the review. :-) Would you mind telling me what are the points with which you hardly agree, though? Thanks!
          1. EDIT: I probably could have writte one paragraph but I really don’t know how to say what I want. Hope the wall of text bellow helps you understand me at least a bit.

            Well, I’m not good at expressing myself and writing something for starters. And Gamers 3 moved me so much that I cannot look at it objectively enough or rather from a different perspective than mine…

            If I look at it from the perspective of someone outside the gamer community or from movie director’s/script writer perspective can imagine making similar remarks about the movie as well. We see certain tropes everywhere and this is not an exception but there is more truth in gamers 3 than in probably anything else I’ve seen so far. Looking at the movie from my perspective as an avid TCG player, being female who went through hell and ended being called to join the ‘Legacy’ players even though I want to just play what I like and play well…I just don’t understand where your thoughts come from.

            I don’t really get the whole Joanna point. It’s been quite some time since I last saw all the Gamers but this never dawned on me. Probably because we just see it everywhere, read about it everywhere, we hear about it at cons etc. But she’s just fine. For me it’s not really about her, but about the others that look at her from a different point of view. The thing is that it is about their attitude not her being genderized. She’s there being like this so Cass can be the dick he is. The rest takes her the way others do. But why do you look at it the opposite way than me?

            I read some posts about Gamers 3 because I was interested in other opinions different people have about it. Rather three different group of people – RPG players, TCG players (notably L5R players) and non-gamers. The reason why I was so interested is because Gamers touched me deeply. It planted something in my mind and heart. A game I love and care for is just not the same anymore because one of the deck types that I prefer and can pilot well is gone. Not matter what format it is. And majority of those people around behave like jerks even if they are not.

            There was one thing that resurged quite often in the reviews and that was the ‘girl’ issue. I wonder why all of you wanted to see Natalie win at least one major tourney? This is something that I would have never thought about. Why is it important? It makes perfect sense (in a way) but I just don’t get it. It is not needed to showed. We all know how it is. She got a better record in Worlds than case in the swiss part.

            The way she is treated. Well that’s what is going on. Gamers 3 show the gamer community as is with a bit of exaggeration. To me this looks more like a message to the people out there. We should treat people with respect and it doesn’t matter if they are good at the game or not. That is te reason why Natalie did not answer Cass’s question. Isn’t clear? We play the game we love and care for. Some of us are strong enough to stick with it but many are not.

            The fact that the TO actually did something at the storyline event also shows a change.

            As for her loss in the semifinals. What would you expect to happen? It did not really feel satisfactory or right, but Natalie is not the principal character and was never meant to be. To me her role was perfect and well done.

            Gamers is about the table. Not a completely new character. (yes Joanna and Lodge should have more space there – I haven’t seen the extended version yet…well just part of it actually.)

            I don’t think the movie undermines itself. It just feels like this in reality. What is wrong with that? The resolution of Natalie’s plotline is something that would certainly feel odd to me for example.

            my first impressions about the movie can be found on my blog, but that is probably far from being a review. but that is how I feel.
            http://stsu.blogspot.cz/2013/09/gamers-hands-of-fate.html

            1. SpoonyViking says:
              Thanks for explaining! Let me just address some points, if you don’t mind:

              But why do you look at it the opposite way than me?

              Because Joanna isn’t a real person, nor are Cass, Lodge, Gary or Leo; they’re fictional characters written by real people. The writers could have chosen to focus only on her inexperience with the game, instead of also bringing up her gender. Her gender isn’t relevant to the story; it would have been useful as a commentary on real life issues women have to deal with at gaming tables, but the movie never really addresses that, either – it just takes for granted that those things exist and would happen to her. Which does happen often enough in real life, unfortunately, but fiction isn’t real life and follows a different set of expectations: if you’re going to bring something up, it should be resolved by the end of the story, even if that resolution is only an acknowledgement that there was no resolution.

              Which leads me to my point about Natalie. The movie treated it as one of its plot points, that Natalie faces prejudice from the gaming community because of her gender. Which, by itself, is fine, especially since it’s meant as a commentary on issues present in real life; but it’s a plot point that’s not resolved to satisfaction. She goes from suffering prejudice to being cheered onstage, but there were no actions in between – either taken by her (which would be preferable), or by someone else – that justified such a change. This is even more glaring with her story than it was with Joanna’s in “The Dorkness Rising”, because there, at least it was subtext; here, it’s one of the plotlines.

              “Dorkness Rising” basically said “Some players WILL treat you differently because you’re a girl, but if you learn to be just like one of the guys, the problem will be solved!”; “Hands of Fate” is saying “You WILL be treated like crap just because you’re a girl, but if you clap your hands and believe hard enough, the problem will magically go away!”

              I don’t think the movie undermines itself. It just feels like this in reality. What is wrong with that? The resolution of Natalie’s plotline is something that would certainly feel odd to me for example.

              And it doesn’t feel odd to you that she gets crap from basically everyone the whole movie, but then they applaud her at the end for no reason at all? Would the same people who have been saying she’s a crappy player because she’s a girl applaud her after she lost a match,or would they jeer and grumble and say things like “See, she plays like crap”? Which one sounds more realistic to you?

              Reply
              1. if the game would be more like Magic or well already the competitive version of R9E I wouldn’t expect anyone to cheer but in this case it could have happened. legacy players weren’t a majority. actually a minority. even in magic it is about 4 percent of the player base. if i would see someone fighting for questing and since they seemed to be quite visible and known something like this could have happened even though it is certainly odd.
                Thanks for you replies!
              2. SpoonyViking says:
                Ah, but she didn’t face prejudice only from Legacy players throughout the movie; she faced it from everyone, with the exception of her friend with glasses (I forget his name) – and even he basically ignored her once Cass came into the picture.
                No problem! And if the blog’s caught your attention, stick around, read the other posts. :-)

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