Gamerz (spelt with a ‘Z’ to distinguish it from the -much better- The Gamers) is a Scottish indie movie about fantasy role-play gaming (RPGs). I was particularly enthusiastic to see this movie because it’s a British production and I am a British gamer. However it wasn’t what I expected because it isn’t really about gaming, it is a character piece about disparate people from different backgrounds being brought together and the relationships/conflicts which occur between them. The game is a vehicle to bring the characters together.
Gamerz follows Ralph, an extremely isolated young nerd whose parents died in a car crash. He is bullied and downtrodden so escapes into his imagination, creating his own fantasy world in which he is in complete control. When he starts University he takes over the role-play society and becomes Game Master, running an adventure campaign using his own setting and his own rules. The players hang on his every word. Ralph falls for the society’s only female gamer, Marlyn, a sexy Goth who, unfortunately, is as mad as a box of frogs. Also one of the bullys from Ralph’s neighbourhood – the drug-dealing, car-jacking Lennie – wants in on the role-playing action. He, too, is attracted to Marlyn, and soon things start to spin out of Ralph’s control. Will his house of cards come tumbling down?
Gamerz is something of an Urban Fairy-Tale with a love triangle. Unfortunately it’s billed as a comedy (watch the trailer) but as a comedy it utterly fails. There aren’t very many laughs to be had and attempts at comedy fall flat. To an extent they spoil a decent movie. These are broken characters with emotional hardships and tragedies in their pasts, and Marlyn undoubtably suffers from mental illness. Sure, their nerdisms and eccentricities can be amusing, but making fun of them seems insensitive, even distasteful at times.
The use of mental illness in particular was a bit too reminiscent of Mazes & Monsters, Dark Dungeons and BADD, which labeled gaming as evil and a cause of mental illness. In Gamerz Marlyn is insanely obsessed with her character and has difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. I’m sure it was just done for added drama but in my opinion it perpetrates a negative, not to mention unrealistic, stereotype.
Gamerz is written for drama rather than realism. For example Lennie threatens to destroy a paper copy of Ralph’s campaign, supposedly his only copy, which just doesn’t seem realistic. There’s a disparity between the mid-noughties setting and the technology we see: photocopiers and typewriters seem to be as good as it gets! These anachronisms would be explained if the script was originally written as a 1980’s or early 90’s period piece, which I suspect it was.
As a drama Gamerz succeeds, as a faithful reflection of role-play gaming it fails. There a a number of silly elements such as Ralph writing in the dark with a head-torch (his poor eyesight!) and the gaming group moving from a lovely, comfy venue (seriously it’s gorgeous) to a damp, asbestos-ridden basement! And of course they use candles at the gaming table as yet another peril to their character sheets! (Okay, okay – I know it’s there for visual excitement.) I won’t give away the ending but I will say it is… unbelievable (as in you won’t believe it).
None of the characters are particularly likeable and take the game a bit too seriously; Hank is the only one I can imagine role-playing with as he actually seems like a fun guy to be around. Ralph forces the previous Game Master to leave by rules-lawyering him, which is a fairly dickish thing to do. This makes it surprising that the other players take to him so readily, however their former GM is portrayed as boring and unimaginative so perhaps they couldn’t wait to replace him! Ralph is a tyrant of a GM and it’s inevitable that the players are not going to put up with that forever.
Although he isn’t likeable he is interesting and sympathetic with very clear motivation behind his actions. It is interesting to compare his confident persona as GM to his downtrodden persona out in the real world. Ralph’s ‘worlds’ collide when Lennie joins the game, but this is the catalyst for character growth.
Lennie seems the least likely person in the world to be interested in fantasy role-play. He is a thug, a criminal, a bully and up to his neck in gang culture. At first you will hate him (as Ralph does) but as you learn more about him you come to understand that he wants what the others want: escapism. He wants out of the gang culture (easier said than done) and this is his opportunity. Kudos to the writers for creating characters with depth.
The production values are surprisingly good and the acting isn’t bad. The Scottish accents may be a problem for some people but personally I didn’t have any difficulty understanding them. This is a low budget production with young, unknown actors but it does not appear cheap or amateurish. The minimalistic animations showing the fantasy world are particularly well done. They use silhouettes on a beautifully hand-painted background to great effect.
Unfortunately I was disappointed because I was expecting something else. Gamerz is a Gaming Comedy that isn’t funny and is far more about teen angst than it is gaming. Personally I did not relate well to the characters, maybe because they are very Serious role-players whereas our games are full of fart-jokes, innuendoes and constant ribbing (if you’ve read my comic you’ll know what I mean).
Gamerz is most likely to appeal to those who like teenage dramas and are a bit nostalgic about their University days. The set pieces, such as Ralphs room, are nice and gamers will recognise many of the books lining the shelves. Another thing this movie does well is creating character depth is a relatively small amount of time. Even the bit part characters seem three-dimensional. For me it fell down on believability; there was just too much I had to take with a pinch of salt for me to swallow.