10 July 2015

RPGs at the movies II: The Gamers series (plus Gamers: The Movie)

Back in the day (2002), Matt Vancil wrote an produced a low low low budget film ($1000 budget) about a groups of role-players called The Gamers. It became a phenomenon and has led to a series of popular sequels. All are direct-to-video. Are they worth it? Also, I talk a look at another movie about role-players, called Gamers, released in 2006, and not related to The Gamers


This is the story of a group of fantasy role players enjoying their weekly game in their dormitory at college. As they play the film jumps into the game to show the events happening to the characters. They wander through a generic RPG adventure to defeat a villain known as "the Shadow." I'll stop with the plot description here (though the ending is a bit of a surprise) because this film is not about story. It is a send up of how stereotypical gamers approach play. It did fill a niche in entertainment for the RPG community. I wish I had thought of it first.

The thief has high skills so he tries outrageous ideas to test his mettle: pick pocketing a person's underwear and backstabbing someone using his high stealth to bring a ballista  (a huge crossbow used in siege attack on castles, it is so big it weighs in at over 100 pounds). Meanwhile, the party is more interested in how much ale they can drink rather than the adventure that presents itself.

I saw this in a game store when it first came out. The group loved it, laughing at the gags. Me, I was not laughing (except the ballista part) because this was a film about what I hate about most role playing groups. The players did not take it seriously, they do stupid things during game play, and they could care less about immersion, instead it is all about rolling the dice and kicking ass like some kind of video game. To me it was all about making fun of all the crap I hate from bad gaming. Others though laughed their asses off. Maybe I was a bit harsh on this piece of parody but I thought those kind of players were bad enough in real life, I did not enjoy watching them being glorified on the small screen. I know I am the odd man out here because of the universal enthusiasm for the video from those all around me.


"Crap, a sequel to The Gamers," I thought when I heard this was out. My wife bought it and she made me watch it. I was ready for some more of the same as the first film and was just trying to get through it for my wife who liked it a lot.

Dammit, I liked it too.

The "sort of" sequel to the first, written and directed again by Matt Vancil, was heads and tales above the previous film. While the first was about stereotypes and gags from games, this was about a group of people and their interrelationships.  Sure, it still had some of the gags, but they were not the focus.

The story was about a game master and his varied crew of players, a varied bunch (you had the munchkinizer who tries to "beat" the game, an new player who is a girl and cars more about story than rules and has to prove herself, a player who's characters always dies but has a good attitude- until he loses it, and a male player who plays a female character and appears as both a female in the "in game" scenes as well as his male self in the woman's costumes.

The main themes of the game are role playing versus roll playing, seen as constant bickering between the muchkinizer; the female player who has to prove herself and becomes a strong ally (and romantic interest) for the GM; and the idea that a role play adventure can tell a good story and not just be hack and slash as he struggles with writing a module for publication.

The acting is much stronger. Carol Roscoe, who plays Daphne the female gamer, is a great addition and the attraction between her and the GM (Kevin Lodge) is excellent and low key as they try and keep their attraction from the others. Brian Lewis as Cass, the power gamer, is a bit over the top but works because in the film he is the antagonist, not the many monsters and villains seen in game.

Not bad, Dead Gentlemen.


The third film was financed by a Kickstarter project (which is why my wife proudly shows off her name, Sandie "Warkitteh" Phillips, in the credits) , and was shot mostly at GenCon (the biggest game convention around) and had an actual card game based on the one in the movie produced by game company AEG.

I think some fans of the previous films may not have been as happy with this film if they are in the RPG's rule, CCG's drool camp. While Dorkness Rising was all about role playing, this one focuses its main story line on a card game championship. It puts many of the characters from the second movie into supporting story lines, while taking the bad boy from Dorkness Rising (Cass, played by Brian Lewis) as the main character.

Cass is a game player but meets a pretty and confident woman named Natalie (Trin Miller) and wants to date her. She is a part of a tournament for a collectible card game, and though Cass is not a fan, he buys in to get near her. He approaches the game like he does RPGs as if it is just a bunch of mechanics to exploit, but she loves the stories. Cass' friend coaches him and he eventually makes his way to the championship.

The dance of attraction between Natalie and Cass works and they make a nice on screen couple (Vancil seems to get how to write believable romance). However, even though Cass is winning and she is obviously attracted to him, she does not like that he is only playing the game to win her, much like he only plays games to win. Instead, she wants him to understand and live the story of the game that she loves so much, and to not treat her like a prize.

The villain this time is a group of players who have found a loophole in the rules and are dominating the tournament with the purpose of ruining the story that has been built up over the years. Of course Cass is in the position to be the savior once he embraces the story of the game. His dedication to the story and his powerful tactical skills win the day, and having accepted Natalie as a person and not a prize, ends the film with a hint of their future.

Other plots are interesting. One of the gang hates that a Pokemon like character knocked his favorite anime off the air and goes a little nuts, eventually kidnapping a guy dressed as the character and going Reservoir Dogs on him. Also, Daphne and Lodge are in love and have a little gamer on the way. While these subplots were nice, they were somewhat a distraction from the main plot for me, which is why I like the shorter edit of the film, as it is more concise and flows really well.

The big surprise here is Brian Lewis as Cass. His character was kind of a jerk in the second film who redeemed himself in the end, but here the character's bad traits are more sympathetic and fleshed out showing off a more emotionally complex interior. I found myself rooting for him early. Lewis is good, reminding me a bit of Jason Lee and his edgy but likable characters in Kevin Smith films like Chasing Amy.

I recommend this film (the shorter version especially).


The next film in the series is coming. This time it is about a bunch of fantasy characters as they take time from adventuring to play their own role play game. In the game they play the part of poeple living in the modern world. Some episodes have been released, but I have not seen them yet. I mention it because it sounds like an idea from a one-panel comic in the First Edition Dungeon Master's Guide on page 111:
Good idea, finally executed after all this time!


This is another film called Gamers, written and directed by Chris Folino. It was his writer/director debut and is a well made, well written film. Somehow, it is not well known in the RPG community, and it should be. Its very good.

This is a comedy about a group of four role play gamers that have been playing one continuous game weekly for so long they are about to set a world record. However, they are also kind of a stunted bunch, each in jobs they hate, and each having not quite grown up because they like their lives as is. However, when confronted by this dubious record, they face the truth of their lives.

Now, this is not a slap at RPGs. Sure, the characters are stunted, but they are not victims of a game. They are victims of themselves. They could just have easily been a group of young biker enthusiasts who used the hobby as an excuse to not fully join the real world. It is not a Mazes and Monsters demonizing a game.

The direction, writing and acting are pretty damn good. Folino is obviously a role player, as can be seen in the authenticity of the story. The script won award for Best Screenplay at the 2006 Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Folino was a film student and then worked for years in the video game, film and TV industry in production and acting. He self produced it for $60,000 dollars financed on his credit cards and shot it in six days. The rapid shoot does not show on screen, which tells you something about his directing talent.

He also had a series of guest cameos including William (The Greatest American Hero) Katt as a boss who used to play RPGs but now likes playing the Madden Football video game because "you can suck, but you can't die." John Heard and Beverly D'Angelo play one of the character's swinger parents, and Kelly LeBrock plays a MILF.

The best acting comes from Kevin Kirkpatrick as Gordon. He is not happy where he is in life, and when faced with a bit of immature betrayal in the group decides to grow up and save the day. He is consistently in the moment and owns this role, keeping him real and likable. The actor has a few more credits under his belt, including the TV show Greek on ABC Family, and guest appearances on some other shows including a personal favorite, Modern Family (which really needs to have a D&D episode with Phil and the kids).

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