Ever since the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, I’ve been looking for things to fill the zombie-shaped hole in my Sunday night TV watching. While searching my Netflix queue, I scrolled past Video Games: The Movie for the billionth time and decided that tonight was the night that I’d watch that beast. While it didn’t satisfy me in the visceral, “everything’s gone to hell” way that The Walking Dead does, it had its moments–interspersed with a lot of self-congratulatory posturing, that is.
The whole point of a documentary is to either prove some kind of point or to raise awareness for a specific cultural phenomena. What separates good documentaries from not-so-good documentaries, however, is defined by the film’s use of one tiny word: objectivity. A good documentary makes its point or shares its concept objectively, allowing the viewer to form their own opinions about the content. When this doesn’t happen, you’re left with something that veers into propaganda territory, which is both dangerous and insulting.
While I wouldn’t call Video Games: The Movie a propaganda piece, it was sorely lacking in objectivity. Instead, the filmmakers gathered up a large amount of video game developers and celebrities whose nerdité is inextricably tied to their notoriety. They are all pleasant enough, and they’re honest about the impact that gaming has had on their lives, but none of them are going to offer a point of view that allows for a proper discourse on their thesis–many of rely on video games for their livelihood.
Additionally, I couldn’t help but notice how the film glossed over certain gaming controversies. While I don’t think there’s much of a relationship between video games and violent behavior, the film touched upon the controversy only to criticize it. It would have been interesting to bring in someone who might deign to disagree with the people who crank out the stuff for a living. Even though the film was pre-Gamergate, it was surprising that the it didn’t mention any disparity between male and female gamers. In fact, it seemed to be contributing to that disparity by featuring the statistic that 47% of gamers are women while simultaneously featuring a cast that is only 8% female. Though it was inadvertent, the film managed to position itself as a convincing piece of evidence regarding the long history of gender stereotyping that has plagued the gaming community since its birth.
Also, can we please give the “nerds get picked on” trope a rest? I can’t think of a better time to be a nerd/geek than right now. The job market is recruiting STEM majors like crazy, everyone who lives and works in a developed part of the world is dependent on technology, comic book movies are dominating the box office, video games are studied on college campuses, and we have a new Star Wars trilogy on the way. When will it be enough for nerds to say, “You know what? We’re good. Thanks, world.”
If you’re after a documentary that offers a few interesting factoids about the evolution of the gaming industry while making you feel like patting yourself on the back for being in to video games since the Atari age, then this is worth dedicating a Sunday night to–at least until The Walking Dead comes back on.