Playing the Game of Life 2.0

If Brian Bielawski, the co-writer of and solo actor in Gamers isn’t a player of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), he must have done some intensive research for his role. As Steve, a drop-out from MIT working in tech support for a software company, Bielawski has the stereotypical gamer look, mannerisms, and lingo down frighteningly well. But unlike many gamers, Bielawski has a good sense of humor about the MMOG phenomenon and the people caught up in it, and he makes the short play very entertaining to watch. The set consists of Steve’s tiny office cubicle, its walls papered with anime and sci-fi posters and its desk cluttered with toys and Mountain Dew bottles. He would seem to be just another office drone, irritated by his “jack-in-the-box” cubicle neighbor, an annoying boss who keeps insisting for some reason that he work, and, of course, by the idiots calling tech support. But Steve is actually the leader of what he believes is the best MMOG army ever assembled. Today he’s leading that army into enemy territory to reclaim a “relic” stolen the previous month. At least, that’s the plan, if he can avoid getting sabotaged by inconvenient intrusions from the real world, such as his girlfriend.

The army’s progress to and through battle provides a convenient dramatic plot hook that keeps the audience on the edge – will Steve’s team win, or will his newbie protégé mess things up? But the game also offers a backdrop to the exploration of slightly more serious subjects. As Steve hunches in his chair, clad in a baggy sweatshirt and jeans, typing frantically away on his computer or juggling his cell phone and work phone headset, one can’t help but contrast this weak, skinny gamer with someone who might have led real army legions in the past. Have humans actually evolved? Less subtly, Gamers shines a critical light on Steve’s inability to grow up. He concentrates all his energy on a fantasy world instead of working on his relationship or reapplying to MIT and figuring out a real career.

Bielawski’s acting is good enough and Gamers moves along well enough that he and his co-writer Walter G. Meyer could have conveyed this message without spelling so much out, but in the end they take the easy route of telling rather than showing. Fortunately, audiences will be too busy laughing at Steve’s grandiosity and geeky antics to care. Gamers manages the neat trick of making the isolated MMOG player’s world into something others can enjoy watching.

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