By Isaac Smith
I’m going to start of by saying that I don’t really like Adam Sandler or Kevin James. There, it’s off my chest.
Now I’m going to objectively (hah, yeah right) tell you why Pixels is going to be a terrible movie even without the dynamic duo dragging it down to the circle of hell reserved for stale kitsch comedy.
There are kids that were born after the internet became commonplace. There are kids graduating from high school that probably don’t remember not having WiFi. I’m gonna call these people “Tech Natives” for the purpose of this blog, but you can imagine them as people who use smartphones as easily as breathing, talk about clouds as things other than the fluffy white things in the sky, and who think VHS is a rapper.
Tech natives have a stupendous generation gap between the people older than them. They imagine arcades as things in malls or movie theaters, with a couple crappy games that you spend your quarters on while you’re waiting for Aunt Betty to get her XXL Giganto-cola. And also, Dance Dance Revolution. What arcades mean to the parents of these kids is something completely different: a lot of them had standard games, which weren’t expensive to play. They were social arenas where people could hang out, have a good time and compete with each other that (usually) didn’t result in bodily harm. The top high score position was a coveted achievement, and my dad still fondly recalls kicking everyone’s ass at BattleZone and claiming his right as number 1. Watching the original Tron movie or Wreck-It Ralph really makes me long for those days, because they seemed pretty cool.
But guess what, old-timey arcade lovers? The Game Has Changed. Gone are the pixellated, 8-bit heroes and their old-school electronic blips and beeps. Gone are the vectors of Tempest, QBert and BattleZone. Gone are the joysticks and rollerballs of your childhood. Gaming has evolved into a massive, multibillion dollar industry that employs some of the finest artists our world has to offer. Orchestral soundtracks recorded by real symphonies, teams of 3-D graphic designers, scores of voice actors who leave the video game studio after a hard day’s work to go back to their A-list acting careers.
When you ask my dad’s generation what they think of when I say “Video Games,” they say Pong and Pac-Man. My generation says Sonic, Metroid and Final Fantasy. The generation of tech natives that’s growing up now says Angry Birds, Minecraft and League of Legends.
So why the hell are does Pixels insist on pandering to my parents? Most of the “gamers” of their generation have full-time jobs, kids, SUVs, 401ks, and suburban houses with white picket fences (okay, exaggerating a little bit, but for heaven’s sake, they’re adults already). Demographic-wise, the people of my generation and the tech natives following us dominate the nerd scene. If they’re going to make a “nerdy” movie about “video games,” they’re shooting themselves in the proverbial foot only using characters that are almost as old as the leading actor.
Not only is it a bad marketing decision, but it grossly misrepresents gamers and video games as a whole. Who are gamers? What games do they play? Both of these questions get asked by society, and the answers that society at large believes to be true (regardless of their actual veracity) determines the social stigma behind being a gamer. Pixels makes absolutely sure to paint us and the games we play in the least positive light possible: we still play the same four games that everyone on Earth knows, and we happen to all be just like the hopeless, pathetic losers Adam Sandler portrays in most of his movies.
What’s the reality? “Gamers” are all ages, genders, races, income levels, and occupations. The games they play range from simple puzzles to rich, meaningful, beautiful works of art. They range from mindless button-mashing to deeply thoughtful and engaging. They range from cooperative to competitive. They range from the single-player intensity of The Binding of Isaac to a community in World of Warcraft that was at one point 11 million people large. Games and the gaming community are both massive, diverse, organic and constantly evolving.
And we’re constantly being slapped in the face by the media, because they want that old, worn-out shoe to fit so badly (get your foot in there, dammit, and play some Pac-Man like a good little gamer!).
For those of you who think it’s all in good fun, and there really isn’t any harm caused by another film like this, go out and talk to some gamers. Talk to people on Twitch who make their living streaming. Talk to people who write music for video games. Talk to anyone involved seriously in the gaming community, and ask them how they explain what they do to their family at Thanksgiving. Ask them about their most awkward conversation with someone who didn’t understand the first thing about gaming and derided them for participating. Everyone’s got a story, I guarantee it.
Pixels is just another step in the wrong direction in the fight to get video games to be accepted as a legitimate pastime, and as a legitimate part of our culture. It’s not just the tired cliche of a couple of people with no prospects trying to save the world. It’s Adam Sandler and Co. throwing gamers under the bus to (with the help of a crapton of generous ad placement) try and get his career an extra life.
Sorry, dude. Game over.
Official trailer for the movie: