this was a thoughtful production by the director of Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii. as a Japanese live action film it is most certainly *not* a Sucker Punch! movie. like many of his works it is full of philosophical quips and quirks. this is more art film than action, though it is still a feature film, not some surrealist, bauhaus production.
be prepared, there are long sequences of characters within the mmorpg world he portrays wandering for long periods of time looking for mobs and a particularly difficult mob boss Madara. (think EQ1 corpse walking.) the game portrayed is a 3d virtual world of complete neural immersion. the game is skill based and characters spend points on items and skills. the particular world in the game on which the characters find themselves is a desert planet of rocks, little wildlife and scrub brush.
the filim is primarily about two things it seems, though i am sure there is more buried in there. Oshii's commentary on the direction of society and the growing feeling of futility and stagnation amongst individuals in the more inudtrialized world. thus they turn to a virtual world where rules ensure that gameplay is balanced and individuals can experience restarts and rebuilding that the real world cannot provide them. it is also about alienation, betrayal, and the human need to group, if only for mutual benefit.
the acting at times can be a bit stilted, but i attribute that mostly to the use of English as the primary language for Japanese actors who are clearly not fluent. (don't worry there are subtitles throughout the entire film.) there is no character development. instead this is a lengthy vignette in which we are dropped off to view a snapshot of 4 gamers versus themselves and versus the mob boss Madara.
what was really well done was how Oshii blends these themes with the world of mmorpgs. i think he does an excellent job here and shows evidence of a deep metagame understanding of the genre and the social interactions players experience on a day to day basis. it would perhaps have been better as a short film, but then again, the sweeping vistas and camera play that Oshii provides really could only have been done in a full length feature film.
all in all, i would highly reccomend this movie for individuals who enjoy thoughtful discussions of their games, gamers, and gaming. for those of you who prefer not to metagame in your gaming or in real life, this film will probably bore you to tears.
now for discussion, i was fascinated with a topic Oshii broaches which i have found myself and my friends discussing time and again. in fact perhaps, this is a cliche by now, but i think it worth bringing up. how much of our enjoyment of gaming relies on the futility we feel in our own lives?
i am not talking about the 40 year old in his mother's basement and the stereotypes associated with such a fictional person. more to the point is, in an advanced industrial or post-industrial world, with an economy lopsided in its average wealth distribution between a small minority at the top and a large one at the bottom, how much of gaming for us is a release? a release, i mean, from the lack of upward mobility, new places to explore (even if only new to us), a sense of disjunction from our own work in real life, and our desires to create, to become, and to be seen?
is this perhaps a viable explanatory theory for hardcore gamers, griefers, sandboxers, and crafters? do you feel your own inability to afford or have time to create things in the world leaves you looking for such opportunities elsewhere, as in gaming?
i know this is true for me. i have several interests, sadly they all require money, space, and time that i do not have. let's be honest, blacksmithing in real life, boat building in real life, and doing so ingame are two very different things, even if you could spend the same amount of time on them. resources cannot simply be mined out of a node in your next door neighbor's front yard, nor would they appreciate you skilling up on their backyard shade trees.
we are a generation limited by resources, time, money, and space (or land if you prefer) constraints like no other generation in our Western countries have ever seen.
there is no more frontier, you can't simply go walking into the local national forest and plop down the house you've crafted at the local crafting station. and speaking of money, especially in this economy, grinding on your neighborhood pets to level up and get vendor trash to sell isn't going to work either.
but this is not true of virtual worlds. and this will continue to be part of our underlying struggle with them over the next few decades.
so perhaps we turn to alternate forms of creativity to give ourselves room to express and make.
it is in this that i appreciated Oshii's examination of life and game worlds the most. he attacks economic stabilization it seems, for fear we will al crawl into a virtual world. i would argue that it is the economic destabilizaation, the shifting of the majority of income and resources to an ever smaller portion of the population is what breeds stagnation.
what things *would* you create? what work would you do, given the time, space, and resources?
would this affect your gaming at all do you think? or do you have such working and creative fulfillment in your life that you can't relate to those who do find such satisfaction ingame?
looking forward to hearing your responses.