In Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s 2009 film Gamer, the game “Society” is much like a sensationalized, ultra-sleazy and barbaric version of modern-day Second Life – the key difference being that avatars are real people who have consented to being controlled by “players.” In the film, our first introduction to this world is a vivid, gaudy sequence of characters dressed in ways that resemble everything from 70’s disco attire, day glo, and rave fashion. Most are scantily clad, some with bare breasts. “Avatars” roller skate through the plaza, and at one point one of them collides with a woman, injuring her. The injured woman appears animal-like, laughing and licking her wounds, mascara and eyeliner dripping down her face. Everywhere people are engaging one another sexually – in fact, when Angie approaches a pig-nosed man, they seem content to have sex right then and there in the square. Meanwhile, an obese man sits in his living room messily eating waffles dripping in syrup and sweating profusely as he controls Angie’s actions, even speaking the words she is using in the game.
The methods used to portray this moment are very interesting – the camera techniques and editing seem to give the whole scene a jumpy, animated feel, effectively making it seem as if it is being viewed in an actual video game. The film at times straddles the line between the two forms. Gamer very much fits in with the idea of “post-cinema” – it would never be defined as a film in the classic sense. At the same time, it isn’t truly a video game; besides lacking the interactive component, it doesn’t maintain a constant view point or track like gameplay would – instead the camerawork is visceral and alive, at times making the audience feel as if they are a character following the plot of the game. The way the film is constructed effectively assists in conveying its point – the world in which Angie lives is one in which technology is engrained and fundamental.
In Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” he discusses the modern-day act of altering the definition of natural things to bend to our needs, objectifying things and treating them as “standing reserve” that may be used as seen fit. In the film, desperate humans are paid to have artificial cells injected into their brains, replacing their own cells and giving them an ISP address to allow them to be controlled. In this act, they are “enframing” themselves as standing reserve; objects that are at the mercy of their “players” and exist in that moment only to provide them with a sense of satisfaction and a vicarious life to live. The animalistic and gaudy video game-like portrayal of “Society” very purposefully makes the avatars seem fake and cartoonish, driving home the fact that while being controlled in-game they have lost all of their humanity and are merely objects free of wills or their own desires.
Heidegger acknowledges the dangers of technology, and it is clear that in this case technology has become dangerous, causing humans themselves to be treated as resources (and disposable even, as seen in the “Slayer” game) used for sexual gratification and to satisfy humankind’s insatiable need for apocalyptic violence (in “Slayer”). In the bigger picture, all humans who are under this control (voluntarily or not) are even further enframed in Ken Castle’s eyes. To him, his large collection of walking ISPs are nothing but receivers to whom he can project his own thoughts, causing them to buy, vote, and do as he wills. If he had been allowed to infect the whole world with his cells, he would in a way be the last human to exist – all others would, in his eyes, be a collection of data points, dollar signs, and resources using which he would build his empire.
The story of Gamer is that of a not-so-far-fetched dystopia with chilling similarities to our own society, seen with seemingly “evil” technology as a filter through which we can objectively view the short-comings of the modern day. “Society,” though exaggerated, isn’t that different from some MMORPGs that exist today. It is that exaggeration that sets Gamer apart and allows it to “[say] more about the world we actually live in today than nearly any other recent American film,” Steven Shaviro postulates. And though “Slayer” seems barbaric and we judge its audience for their perverse enjoyment of its broadcast, how different is it from modern-day reality shows and media’s obsession with sensationalizing war and conflict? When tragedy occurs one can be assured that the media will scramble to cover it and their ratings will skyrocket. Many games that exist today are criticized for their excessive violence – “Slayer” is no different except for that it has added a human element. Even Ken Castle’s notion of controlling all of humanity’s decision-making isn’t all that different from the aims of modern-day advertisers, though their methods are much less effective.
The film posits that as technology advances, humanity will be able to more thoroughly satisfy its needs for violent and sexual gratification through the exploitation of humans themselves, and the realism of their stories will make the experience all that much more gratifying. This realization, though frightening, isn’t all that unbelievable.