What is it to be human?

What is it that makes us human? As ambiguous as that question is, and will always remain, it is a question that we must remind ourselves of, especially living in a society that is dominated by technological influence.

Neveldine and Taylor’s film, Gamer, touches on this idea of what it means to be human and to own our humanity. The audience is exposed to several largely encompassed themes throughout one major story arc: Castle versus Kable. As the audience, we know from the first several minutes of the film that one of the major theme is going to be how we, as humans, are constantly evolving into technological game pawns.

Although we are not becoming the excessive illustrated pawns that are shown in the film, such as Angie and Kable, the movie takes a critical stance on showing how we, as a society, are constantly and inevitably evolving towards becoming irrevocably entwined with technology. We are, essentially, becoming the modern cyborg.

I’d like to take that point and put it into conversation with Martin Heidegger’s piece, “The Question Concerning Technology.” Heidegger states, “As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall.”   To Heidegger, the concept of standing-reserve directly relates to technology. Technology, in its essence, will enframe any object, making the object a malleable resource. So what makes being a human an exception to becoming standing-reserve? There shouldn’t be an exception, as Castle believes it.

We can see this motif through the use of the film’s form: following the character as in a video game – without it being a video game.

We see the characters – specifically Kable and Angie, as avatars.  The form of the film allows us to experience these characters as avatars because of the way the screen depicts the scene.  The camera follows the character, often from behind or from how the controller would view the character and makes jolted movements and spastic screen jumps that depict most modern day video games. This is especially evident during the very opening scene when we are following Kable as he runs through the game zone and changes guns, makes movements and decision, all based exactly how it would appear if we were actually playing a video game.  The added in radical images, such as blood splashing and loud gun shots add another layer to the sensation the viewer gets.  We finally break away and see that it is a controller – Simon – who makes the decision to reload guns or change weapons.  And who ultimately has control over whether Kable lives or dies.  In this way, the form allows audiences to identify with Simon because they understand how winning or dying in a video game works.  But in this film, it goes one step further and begs the questions, how is this game of life or death justifiable, whether or not we enjoy the video game.

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4 Responses to What is it to be human?

  1. mjp99 says:

    I would argue that Heidegger, and Gamer, don’t see technology as evil at all, but instead as misused by a manipulated and in many ways blind society – a humanity that is unaware of how we enframe technology, not how it enframes us, into ordering other humans as standing reserve. A society which has a constrained/unfree relationship with technology that is dangerous not because technology itself is dangerous (language, hammers, etc are all very useful) but our perspective on it or improper use of it endangers.

    Concerning the ending I’m unsure also, its sort of the pitfall of the many plot holes of gamer, since you can’t really explain how the nanotechnology works and how a player connects, etc, or how Castle is technically different. I interpreted it as Castle almost making Kable kill him by imagining Kable stabbing him (why Kable tries to get him to think about it) but Simon doing the stabbing motion confused me too.

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  2. elexiusmusick says:

    Hah, I should have read your primary post before responding to comments you’ve made! For the most part, we said the same thing, but I somehow disagreed with you in the reply while agreeing with you completely here. Perhaps it was in the wording, or in my foggy morning brain.

    I completely agree that Tillman is really never more than a pawn, that Simon is actually one of the major players (and yeah, you’re right, the movie is named Gamer, not Game Character). As I said in my other response to you, I think that Simon is the major indicator of humanity in this universe, not Tillman or Nika or anybody else. He’s the one who makes the decisions, for the most part. There are few things he has to do (saving the NPC or not, letting Tillman talk or not, letting Tillman act independently or not, etc.) but he does make these decisions. Tillman is essentially still a character after Slayers, involved in an elaborate escort mission, and who approaches the final boss in the last stages of the “game” like any other character in any other universe. You’re right that the fact that Simon kills Castle is the twist.

    I actually think I prefer this ending, because instead of Random Rugged Action Hero X performing the end kill, we see the gamer rebel against the game creator. It has more meaning that way. That’s actually something I think that Gamer does well.

    What do you think about this? Do you think the fact that the gamer kills the game has more meaning or significance than the victim killing the perpetrator?

    Mjp99, with this in mind, do you think that the fact that we may not be 100% sure if it’s Tillman tricking Castle into killing himself, or Simon delivering the death blow, says anything about self-awareness in technology consumption? I kind of think it might but for now, my brain hurts and I want cereal and you seem to be circling the same conclusions as I am, so I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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  3. kalihira says:

    From what I could tell of the ending, Castle uses his mind to make Tillman stab him. Afterwords, the knife is driven in deeper and twisted, which is when the scene cuts to Simon doing the stabbing motion. So what I gathered is that the killing of Castle was a collaborated effort.

    I also agree that Simon, as well as Kyra Sedgewick’s character, is the indicator for humanity. They are the unmodified people, or at least Simon is anyway, Kyra Sedgewick went into the game to get Tillman so that may not apply to her. They are also the ones who do the right (ish) thing eventually, which is for the most part against their best interest. I would think that this shows some sort of hope reclaiming their lost humanity in the future, and through that, our future, which is nowhere near as dire or as ridiculous (I hope), but the film wouldn’t have been made if the underlying principles that Gamer tried to critique weren’t prevalent in our society.

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  4. pedropalmen says:

    I think it is very interesting in the moment you pointed out where Kable and Simon are able to talk, and how this eventually leads to Simon’s judgement in the situation: to let Kable loose. John Tilman was along for the ride for all of the killing in Slayerz. He learned how to stay alive by being controlled by Simon, so eventually his brain was better at making the movements and having reactions that what the technology could provide. I think this speaks to the way Neveldine and Taylor view technology. Yes there is Moore’s law that says technology will eventually have a higher processing power than all of human knowledge, but will it ever be able to replace the uniqueness of the human brain and become self-aware?

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