Games: More Than Just Violent Murder Simulators

Why Real Gamers aren’t Necessarily Smitten with “Gamer,” the Movie


Published: August 27, 2009

I am a gamer. I play games regularly as a hobby. Recently, I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie “Gamer.” Was I excited? No, not at all. It has been promoted on Xbox Live as well as different Web sites which gamers frequent, including and, targeting gamers like me, but I just didn’t see the appeal. Yes, explosions are good. Yes, Gerard Butler is a pretty cool action hero. But neither seemed to intrigue me, gamer or otherwise.

“Gamer” is just the most recent example of the stereotype that many have about the video game culture, like how many games have no plot and focus just on killing people. For instance, in “Gamer,” people play the fictional game “Slayer” using futuristic virtual reality controls, think Wii on steroids. And instead of being just a digital game, the controls correspond to a human convict using real weapons. The convicts fight to try to win their freedom but usually get killed before they can. As a gamer, I find it insulting that people think that all gamers behave like those in this movie. Video games do often have violence in them, sure. But more than just violence goes into making these games what they are, including (and especially) the storyline.

I find this misconception understandable yet upsetting nonetheless. Not all games are the same. Some games pay little attention to the story and just focus on the gameplay. These games can range from elementary puzzle games like “Tetris” all the way to basic run and gun games—the gaming equivalent of “Rambo,” where though there is a story, it’s not the main selling point. While these stories aren’t great, we gamers still have the gameplay to keep us entertained.

Then there are a lot of other games that have mediocre stories, like mobster-inspired “Grand Theft Auto” games and those with space marines fighting aliens like “Halo” and “Doom.” These aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of plot points, but they give something basic to support the action.

In spite of the commonly known games with less than stellar storylines, however, there are many games that stand out for their stories. These include “Fallout 3” and “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” among others. “Fallout 3” is set in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., facing Cold War bombings. The game features real historical facts as well as a fictional history of the universe, in notes and audio logs, to enhance the gamer’s experience by defining a world that is interesting but undesirable. In “Knights of the Old Republic,” the player spends the entire game presumably in pursuit of the evil, murderous mastermind Darth Revan, only to find out that your own character is actually Darth Revan. Movies and books have used this convention of the villain essentially disguised as the villain, but the emotional investment that comes with actually playing that character in a game is exponentially greater. Both are award winning games and generally agreed upon as exceptional by fellow gamers, particularly for their storylines.

The problem is that these games are often overlooked in favor of basic games that consist solely of guns, space mutants and the urge to kill all. That is the kind of story that seems to be the inspiration for “Gamer.”

For those people who aren’t gamers, but still want to see the movie, it may seems like the characters portrayed are what the majority of gamers are like. Not only that, non-gamers are often also of the belief that video game violence leads to real-world crime, as is often cast upon games like “Grand Theft Auto.” “Gamer” does nothing to refute this common misconception, and instead seems to imply that there is a direct relationship between digital crime and the streets. In fact, the big selling point of the game in “Gamer” is that instead of being a totally digital game, the players control actual humans through the use of mind control.

Every gamer controls one convict and then uses that convict to fight the other people being controlled by the gamers. These people then battle each other to fight for freedom from the game. As one could probably imagine, fighting with real people can cause actual casualties. Obviously, people aren’t actually at risk in real games, where the violence is merely digital, but “Gamer” still does nothing to diffuse tensions. The idea that gamers have become so desensitized to human life that they would play a game that really killed people is preposterous and offensive.

Essentially plotless games can be both fun and cathartic and certainly have their place in the gaming community. They are needed just like the movie industry needs films like “Die Hard” or other action flicks. But just as not all movies or books are action-oriented, nor are video games. Sometimes games can have very real human drama that the player can relate to—without bringing the violence to real life. Games can be scary, funny or even romantic. It’s not all about guns and monsters.

As games become more established, I hope people will start to see some more of their merits and understand the complexities of video games. Maybe there will be a point where non-gamers won’t see them as just killing simulators, but as stories with plots and deep characters. In the meantime, a gamer can only hope that movies like “Gamer” will not be seen as a representation of what gamers and their games are like. Also, hopefully an increased awareness of video games will hopefully bring with it the awareness not to put John Leguizamo in game-based movies. I thought people learned that lesson from the “Super Mario Brothers” movie.