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.