At some time in the near future, a technology has been developed that will allow people to control the actions of other people. This technology gets used in a game called Society, which becomes hugely popular. People volunteer to be controlled (more than likely because they need the money - they're poor, or junkies, or whatever, according to one character) - these people get paid, but, considering what many of them are made to do, I'm thinking they're probably not paid nearly enough. Other people pay to control them.
You'd think Society would be enough for most people, but apparently people wanted more, and the game Slayers was created. Whereas Society uses ordinary people (desperate/messed up people who are, for the most part, pretty good-looking despite their situations, but still basically ordinary), Slayers uses death row convicts. Society is like Second Life or The Sims, only with real people. Slayers is like Counter-Strike with real people. Supposedly, Slayers gives these convicts hope - if a convict can survive 30 games, he or she gets to go free. In practice, these convicts rarely survive more than 10 games. Oh, there's also the "non-player character"-type convicts. Those can go free if they survive one game, but, since they're given pre-programmed actions (like sweeping streets, cheering during a game, etc.) and aren't controlled by a real person, not one of them has ever survived.
One particular convict, called Kable by his player (his real name is something else, but I can't remember what it is), has survived an astonishing 27 games and may become the first convict to ever go free. He doesn't know how hugely popular he is outside of the game - all he wants is to survive so that he can go home to his wife and child. His player, 17-year-old Simon, is contacted by a group trying to undermine Society, Slayers, and Ken Castle, the guy who created both games and the technology behind them. This group, which calls itself Humanz, gives Simon a mod that allows him to speak to Kable. Both Kable and Simon want Kable to win his 30th game, but Castle is secretly stacking the deck against him with a vicious convict who isn't controlled by anyone. You see, Kable's weakness is that any action controlled by Simon has slight lag time - Simon's commands need time to get to Kable. For this reason, Simon lets Kable control the shooting, although Simon could fully control Kable if he wanted to. An uncontrolled convict has no lag time to deal with. Kable manages to convince Simon to allow him to play without any control, and Humanz makes that possible by interfering with the link between Kable and Simon.
While Kable has been in prison, his wife has lost custody of their daughter and manages to eke out a living by allowing herself to be controlled in Society. Her player is an enormous, disgusting guy who likes to make her hit on and have sex with other people. With the help of Humanz, Kable manages to find her and drag her out of Society so that she can be freed the same way he has been.
When Kable hears that his daughter has been taken away and is currently in the care of none other than Castle himself, he goes to get her. Apparently, Kable was one of the first people to be given the new technology, back when it was thought it could be used to improve soldiers and increase human longevity. When things didn't work out, Kable was made to kill one of the other test subjects, a friend of his, and then put in prison. So, he and Castle have history.
While at Castle's place (no, I don't know how he got in so easily), he discovers that Castle has had the same procedure used on Society and Slayers people done on himself, only his brain cells don't receive, they transmit. Humanz has been infiltrated, and Kable's brain cells are back to being controllable (apparently, this can be done easily and remotely). Castle can fight Kable, but Kable can't harm Castle any more than Castle allows. Castle's plan is to one day be able to control everyone in the world, without anyone being the wiser.
However, his plans are transmitted to screens everwhere, ruining the whole secrecy aspect (a surviving member of Humanz and a reporter make this possible, although, again, I don't know how they could have managed it). Also, Simon gets control of Kable again and helps Kable kill Castle (thankfully before Kastle can make Kable kill his own daughter). Before Kable, his wife, and child leave, Kable has Castle's people free him and his wife. Except, you know, anyone could turn the control back on at any time, so I'm not sure how free they really are. Plus, Society and Slayers both still exist.
But don't think about that! Happy ending!
There were times this movie made me want to vomit. It was horrible enough seeing the convicts try to deal with the thought that they probably wouldn't survive the games very long, but I actually found Society to be more difficult to deal with. I doubt that the negative aspects of allowing yourself to be controlled in Society were advertised very much, so I wonder how many people volunteered to do that without knowing what they were getting into? Also, if you sit there and allow your Society "character" get hurt, shouldn't you, the player, be liable? The movie doesn't go into that at all. You could argue that the person being controlled brought it on themselves by agreeing to be controlled, but you could also argue that they aren't responsible for their actions and the results while they're being controlled. So, lacking a good answer, what, no one's responsible? Well, there's a recipe for hell.
The movie makes so many connections with games you currently see in real life (Second Life, Counter-Strike, etc.) that you might find yourself thinking, "Oh my God, something like this could actually happen, how horrible!" You know, if you could overlook the impossibility of the technology that makes it all happen, that is. I'd like to argue that, even if the technology were possible, something like Slayers or Society could never happen. At the very least, this is what human rights groups are for. Something like Society might be possible if the people being controlled were allowed to state that their players must abide by certain rules - those rules could be different for different people, but I doubt Kable's wife signed up for what her player was making her do. Plus, I think the appeal for the movie's players is that there are no rules they need to follow - they can do whatever their hearts desire, no matter how disgusting it is.
One part that sticks in my mind is a woman in Society who gets rammed into by someone - I think the other person was skating or something. The woman is horribly scraped and bloody, her mascara is running from her tears, and yet she's laughing hysterically, because her player (some old man) is laughing. Her player makes her lick some of her own blood off of herself.
You see why this movie sometimes made me want to vomit?
The players in Slayers and Society did a lot of the same things players in real life games of those sorts might do - you'd think knowing that they're playing with real people would result in some interesting adjustments, unless that's what all the sex and violence was supposed to be. One thing I did find interesting was Simon's reaction when he was able to talk to Kable. I'm only guessing this, based off of what little was shown of Simon and Kable's interactions, but I think Simon thought he had some kind of relationship with Kable. He seemed almost a little nostalgic about their past 27 or so games together and didn't seem to really comprehend that it wasn't a wonderful thrill ride for Kable.
When Simon starts going on about how all the convicts in the game deserve what they're getting, because they'd done stuff that got them on death row in the first place, Kable says that all that must go for him as well. Simon's response is interesting. He says that Kable is different, because Kable is his psycho. I wonder if this imagined relationship with their "characters" is part of the reason why some players like the games so much, and I wonder how many other people imagine that they have special relationships with the people they play. Well, if Kable's wife's player thinks of her as anything other than a doll and feels anything for her, maybe I don't want to know about it. Eww.
I was kind of surprised that Kable's wife didn't try to find herself a better job. I mean, how does the economics of Society work? I can't see anyone allowing themselves to be controlled unless they're either messed up or Society pays really, really well. However, I can't see players flocking to the game if it costs a ton of money - I don't see a guy like the one who controlled Kable's wife being able to afford to pay a lot, either. So, how does the money even out? And, even if it does pay a lot, why would someone like Kable's wife think it's worth it? Bagging groceries may not pay a ton, but at least it wouldn't give you nightmares.
Oh, and since I have the urge to poke at holes, how did a 17-year-old kid manage to get his "character" to survive 27+ games? Yes, Simon let Kable do a few things on his own, but still. These are real bullets, real grenades, real people with real wounds - I don't see how Kable survived as long as he did. Pretty much the only thing he had on his side was Simon's father's money - if a convict's player has money, he can get upgraded weaponry (which makes you feel sorry for convicts who, through the luck of the draw, got less wealthy players).
Also, as far as Society goes, how do schedules work out? Does a player say, "here's what hours I want to play, make sure you're available," and the person he or she controls fits their real life schedule around that? Personally, even if it weren't for the general ickiness of controlling a real human being, I'd still prefer games as they currently are. If the character you play isn't real, you don't have to worry about its schedule or whether it's hurt or sick or tired. The players in this movie might not worry about those things either (because, from what viewers are shown, they're all horrible people), but they'll have to worry when the person they control keels over dead.
So, did I actually like anything about this movie? Well, I cared about Kable and his wife enough to feel sorry for them. I hoped for Kable's survival, and hated it when Simon decided he wanted to have a nice conversation with Kable instead of paying attention to the flesh-shredding game he'd just begun (this annoyed Kable as well, and I don't blame him). Also, Gerard Butler looks good grimy. That's basically it. It doesn't paint a very nice picture of games and gamers, and I'd hate if it anyone pointed at this movie as an example of why games and gamers are all that is horrible and vile. It was depressing to see people used as living meat puppets, and, other than Humanz and maybe that reporter, it didn't look like too many people even cared.
The main reason I went to see this movie was because the idea sounded interesting, but the actual execution of it was less than I had hoped. I couldn't enjoy the action because knowing the situation made everything too horrific to be enjoyable, the movie was too fast and frantic for the characters to really get a chance to shine, and the writers didn't do nearly as much as they could have with their vision of what the future of gaming might be.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. However, those who prefer something newer might want to try the anime TV series. Because so many people's bodies aren't flesh and blood anymore, there is occasionally a similar "I can do what I want and not worry about the consequences" feel. Also, brain hacks can sometimes allow people to take over others' bodies. Ghost in the Shell (all its incarnations) is more philosophical than Gamers, but its slick technology and many action scenes may hold a similar appeal.
- Second Lives: A Journey Through Virtual Worlds (book) by Tim Guest - Tim Guest writes about and interviews a variety of people who play virtual worlds and are involved in their creation. He also writes about virtual worlds in general, and the many ways people use them. Those who'd like popular non-fiction about virtual worlds that are similar to what's depicted in Gamer might want to try this.
- The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse (non-fiction book) by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace - This book is not just about the Second Life Herald, a virtual tabloid that reports on Second Life events and people, but about Peter Ludlow's experiences in and research about virtual worlds in general (Second Life, The Sims Online, etc.). This book has several pictures, which can help the reader visualize what's going on in these virtual worlds a little better. Those who'd like popular non-fiction about virtual worlds similar to what's depicted in Gamer might want to try this.
- Uglies (book) by Scott Westerfeld - This young adult science fiction novel takes place in a future where, at age 16, "uglies," teens who haven't had any cosmetic surgery yet, are put through a major surgical procedure that turns them into "pretties," gorgeous, placid, fun-loving, bubble heads. Tally Youngblood is an Ugly who wants nothing more than to become a Pretty, but things become complicated when she is asked to betray a friend who has decided to leave the city and remain an Ugly. This is the first book in the series - next are Pretties, Specials, and Extras (the only book not featuring Tally as a main character). Like the players in Gamer, many of the people in Tally's world don't really have to worry about the consequences of their actions, because there will always be someone there to keep things from going really wrong. Tally eventually realizes that her world isn't the utopia she thought it was.
- .hack//SIGN (anime TV series) - This story is set mainly within a popular virtual reality RPG called the World. This particular story (there are several .hack//whatever series, manga, and games) revolves around a detached and introverted player character named Tsukasa. Many strange things happen around Tsukasa, and for some reason he can't log out of the game. Although the characters in this anime aren't playing other people, they're in a world so real that it might as well be the real world. It doesn't have Gamer's ultra-violence, but this vision of a world with a hugely popular, very realistic game might appeal to some fans of that aspect of Gamer.
- The Matrix (live action movie) - A hacker finds out that the "real" world is only a construct designed to keep people docile, so that they can be used as living batteries by robots - this hacker discovers that he is the only one who can free humanity from these robots and the constructed world. In a way, the people in this movie are controlling human beings - they don't know it, but they're controlling themselves in a world that doesn't actually exist. Those who liked Gamer's action, violence, and futuristic feel might like this movie.
- Surviving the Game (live action movie) - After the death of his two best friends, Mason just wants to die himself, until he is offered, and accepts, a well-paying job working for a hunting party in the Rocky Mountains. What Mason doesn't realize is that the rich businessmen in the hunting party plan on hunting him, and what the businessmen don't count on is Mason's renewed will to survive. Like Gamer, this is another action movie in which people are hunting people.
- Angelic Layer (manga) by CLAMP; Angelic Layer (anime TV series) - A 12-year-old girl named Misaki gets hooked on the game Angelic Layer, in which players battle it out with little dolls. Even though she's a newbie, Misaki becomes a strong competitor. She has no idea, however, that the game can give her more than just fun and excitement - Angelic Layer can bring her closer to her mother, a woman she hasn't seen in years. Like Gamer, the players in Angelic Layer control the ones that actually fight (who, in this case, are dolls and not people, although certain characters care for the dolls as though they really were people). Unlike Gamer, violence is limited to bloodless (or relatively bloodless - I can't remember) kicking, punching, and the occasional special move. This might be a good one for those who liked the idea of players battling it out through surrogates but didn't like all the sex and violence. The intended audience for this is children, but it can be enjoyed by adults as well.