Ken Castle is extremely rich, popular and powerful since he invented and started exploiting the virtual online parallel reality games, in which people can either pay as user or be paid as 'actor' in a system of mind-control. The ultimate version, Slayers, fields death row convicts as gladiators in a desperate dim bid for survival, which no-one made yet. The champion, John 'Kable' Tillman, was scheduled to die just before he'ld gain release, but he persuades his teenage 'handler' to hand over the rains so he can fully use his talents and experience. Thus Kable escapes to freedom, only to be chased illegally by Castle's men, yet fights back all the way to his HQ and challenges his evil hidden plans.
Directed by: Mark Neveldine
, Brian Taylor
. Starring: Gerard Butler
, Amber Valletta
, Michael C. Hall
, Kyra Sedgwick
, Logan Lerman
, Alison Lohman
, Terry Crews
, Ramsey Moore
, Aaron Yoo
, Jonathan Chase
, Dan Callahan
, Brighid Fleming
. Music by: Robbie C. Williamson
, Geoff Zanelli
With the Great Recession (2007-2010) came the death throes of numerous mega corporations. But whilst Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Merrill Lynch, GM, Ford and Chrysler all fell to their knees, the sales of gaming hardwaresoftware hit an all time high. Games appeared to be recession proof, stay at home gamers turning to their Xboxes, PS3s and online universes. Coinciding with this came a huge decline in the number of young viewers attending cinemas (a figure that has been steadily dropping over the past 11 years), kids and teens turning instead to virtual games. Cultural theorists predicted this decades ago. Long before computers and gaming platforms became common household objects, guys like Baudrillard and Deleuze anticipated the end of the "unitary spectacle" and the age of interactive media and participatory networks of entertainment.
If "the game" is the tonic of choice in 21st century global hyper capitalism, "Gamer" takes things to absurd extremes. Yes, this is a sleazy exploitation movie, filled with hilariously over the top nudity and violence, but it's "Gamer's" very irreverence that makes it interesting, the film venturing into territory that "safer" films (Avatar, Surrogates, Moon) are generally unable to approach.
So "Gamer", like the films of Olivier Assayas, recognises that what we perceive to be the "real world" is already a "simulational" video game. The world is indistinguishable from a gamespace, humans already avatars willingly selling their souls in a massive multi-player network. Everyone in "Gamer" is therefore a "gamer" who plays either a game called "Society" or "Slayer". "Society" is a comically seedy version of Second Life, World of Warcraft or The Sims. Its landscape is hypersaturated, filled with eye-popping colours and raunchy costumes, everyone participating in sex, parties and drug consumption. Introduced to the tune of "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang ("You and me baby ain't nothing' but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel"), "Society" is not only a funny bit of bad taste but also a parody of our own world, in which professionalization means becoming as much like a bureaucratically controlled drone as is humanly possible.
"Slayer", in contrast, is a desaturated world modelled on real-time first person shooters. The characters here are all muscle men with guns, and the aesthetic is all chopped up and rapid-fire, director Mark Neveldine perfectly capturing the schizophrenia of "watching" someone else play a FPS shooter.
Significantly, in both games the "game characters" are actual humans (with no free will) who take their orders from gamers. In other words, in this lurid take on cyber-capitalism, you can either be a consumer by "paying to play" or be a worker by being paid to be played (a cyber whore). This is what Marx calls "real subsumption": the "character" is no longer selling his "labour power" (ie time for money), but selling his life itself as a commodity. In other words, profits are extracted from not only the whole texture of our lives, but from every inch of our world. Fittingly, Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" plays on the soundtrack during these scenes, the lyrics "some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused" reminding us that Social Darwinism lives on in the techno-age.
Lording over "Slayer" and "Society" is a guy called Castle. Castle is a cross between Bill Gates and a psychopath. He makes profits from user fees and pay-per-view subscriptions, and uses his "games" to "data mine" and "surveil" his customers, selling their personal information to whoever is willing to pay. In other words, plug into the game and every aspect of your lives will be exploited by eavesdropping mega-corps.
Outside of both "Society" and "Slayer", the real world is itself super-mediated, advertisements and digital eye-candy everywhere. Slums, cities, deserts, ancient ruins...they're all covered in binary graffiti. The film highlights how all-encompassing the media-sphere is and how "inner game" and "outter game" are virtually indistinguishable. This is a world of media glut, everything over-compressed, society overstimulated and hyper-mediated to the point that history seems to have been eradicated. All that exists is the moment, the "now", exemplified by the film's A.D.D style and its characters who are all obsessed with "latency" and "ping". In other words, the "speed of their modems" or the "speed of their connections to the real world" has life or death consequences. A millisecond delay will result in you losing the game. Keep up, evolve, or lose. Again, see the works of Olivier Assayas and Cronenberg: fragmentation and dehumanisation as 21st survival mechanisms. The human future is a cyborg future.
Fittingly, Castle -' who is himself the "new human face of capitalism", the kind of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Alan Sugar personality who exists only to put a hip and human facade upon what is really old school authoritarian management -' is no longer a human being. Over the years he has replaced over 90 percent of his body with cybernetics. This allows him to quickly transmit orders and control everyone who "plays" his games, allowing him to more efficiently manipulate and influence them. "I think and they do," Castle says, as he dances to Sammy Davis Junior's version of "I've Got You Under My Skin".
The film touches upon some other themes -' internet celebrity, prison overcrowding, capitalism exploiting prisoners, economic desperation, the fallout of materialism, the abuse of technology -' but these fizzle out in the film's final act, the film turning into a cross between "Escape From New York", "The Matrix" and "The Running Man" and ending with a generic action climax.
Still, for some genuine sci-fi ideas, some very good visuals (a kid's 360 virtual "gaming room", the zany look of "Society", the eye-popping speed and flow of the whole thing) and a hilariously crass style, "Gamer" is worth a watch.
Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.