Last year’s ultraviolent action flick Gamer (2009) is many things, most of them not well-executed, but a few of them are at least interesting to talk about. This is not, however, a review of the film. Instead, it’s a launching point to discuss an idea which lingers in a tiny, oft forgotten corner of the player’s brain: that anxiety that what we are doing to characters on a screen is more than unfair, it’s tantamount to torture.
On a larger scale, Gamer is the latest in a series of films challenging the empathetic disconnect between audience and spectacle. In each of these movies (Running Man, Network, The Truman Show, to name a few), we’re assumedly taught to appreciate that there is a real person on the other side of the screen and that our cynical appetite for entertainment becomes tantamount to sadism the moment that we cease to recognize the characters’ personhood. That’s the idea anyway. Gamer‘s dissonance within this trope of films occurs because the scenario that it proposes is more ludicrous than even the most outlandish of these reality show movie premises: game avatars are not real. They won’t be real. There is no practical, logistical way that games like the ones featured in this film will ever exist. Gamer‘s central idea is so absurd that the prototypical moral message of this subtrope of films is not only absent, it left the building before you even got there.