Over the weekend I watched two ‘web’ based documentary-films on Netflix, so I thought it would be fun to review them together. I’ll try not to drone on too much. You know what I’m like – and we have two to get through.
And yes I realise what a sad, lonely wench I am staying in to watch documentaries whilst the rest of the world is going down Fury Road. Oh well!
Indie Game the Movie (2012)
I’d watched this before, a couple of times in fact. It’s a really solid and dare I say inspiring documentary. The premise is of course indie games, or more to the point, the crafting of indie games. Anyone who has a Steam account or even X-Box Live, will know that there are loads of indie games out on the market and without the constraints of big companies like Sony or Microsoft, creative indie programmers are able to make pretty much anything they like. There are some fantastically weird games out there that obviously come from the depths and crevices of wild imagination.
The documentary follows the story of three indie games, their construction and release – and their respective creators. We have Braid (Jonathan Blow), Fez (Phil Fish) and my personal favourite Super Meat Boy (Edmund McMillan and Tommy Refenes). Anyone played any of them?
It’s a thought-provoking documentary and if you’re interested in gaming or programming then duh, obviously you should watch it and why haven’t you already? But even if you’re not, it’s still got that classic ‘fly on a wall’ documentary feel, where it’s just fascinating enough to watch people – watching them work, watching them panic, argue and make death threats (I’m talking to you Phil Fish) and of course the excitement of reaching their goals. Which they all deserve so much.
Super Meat Boy is my favourite of the three (my boyfriend loves Fez). Edmund and Tommy based it on all the games and adventures they loved as kids. And I love stuff that’s got that kind of feel – made purely for the unadulterated joy that we only truly get as children. Plus they’re about my age and that means I get a lot of the games references! (Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, Mario etc)
The life of a programmer can be a lonely one and it’s interesting to see the sacrifices that these guys have made. I have no doubt they could all be earning mega bucks at an institute like Microsoft (they’re all highly talented coders) but they’d rather make the games they love, even if it means sixteen hour days, no life, no money (they’re all stinking rich now, don’t worry) and hateful, bitchy comments from ‘fans’ online.
Why are so many people so horrible online? You think because you’re anonymous it’s okay to be a complete cretin?! Say that to my face. You motherfucker.
A lot of us have dreams and Indie Game the Movie does serve to show that our dreams are possible. It just means a lot of hard work along the way. But it’s one of those films that afterwards you think ‘right! I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that and I’m going to achieve this…..’ and then the next day you’ve probably forgotten how you planned on taking over the world but, well I guess you could always watch it again?
Web Junkie (2013)
I actually watched this first, which was lucky – as I found Web Junkie to be a depressing – though undoubtedly engaging – documentary. It was also the first foreign language documentary I’ve watched – Web Junkie is entirely in Chinese (but does have English subs) – and though it was weird having no Louis Theroux type figure to pop up and ‘explain everything to the audience’, it did make things less biased. It was really fucking strange though.
Basically, in China, the government have classified their idea of ‘internet addiction’ as an actual disease and have opened up a rehabilitation centre – a cross between One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and prison – to ‘cure’ teenagers.
At first appearances it seems fairly sensible – we’re given horror stories of kids dying whilst playing video games. We’re told of adult nappies – to avoid missing any gameplay. I really cannot see any pleasure in sitting there shitting yourself, just to level up on World of Warcraft – so yeah, you can see the point. Especially when twinned with videos of insane Internet Cafes where hundreds of teens all sit elbow to elbow playing games all day.
But as time goes by, the documentary does seem more disturbing. The children can’t all be addicts surely? And who even says it’s a disease?! The teens are fed medication, forced to sit through medical tests (and boring, patronising seminars about how none of them ‘understand’ what it’s like to be human). Some kids even willingly admit that their parents drugged them before taking them to the hospital. One poor boy was told he was going skiing – when did it become okay for parents to lie like that?
As the film went on, I felt more and more as though the problem was not with video games or the internet, but rather the relationship these kids had with their parents. I mean, one man admitted he had beat his son and even tried to stab him. A boy receiving treatment told of his father yelling at him ‘why don’t you kill yourself’ because he wanted to play a game online.
I’m not a parent, but that doesn’t seem right to me.
The vibe at the clinic was not the happiest, the only time they acted normally – like teenagers – was when they were alone together inside their dormitories, inevitably talking about the heady highs of gaming!
It seemed to me that most of these kids were pretty normal – obviously some had taken gaming to the extreme (nappies!) but a lot of them just got pleasure from it. Not everyone is social, not everyone is an intellectual or a sports star, but we all have something we’re good at. For some of these kids, it was just fun being online.