With all the talk about virtual worlds and first-person shooters (FPS) I would have thought that the usually reputable X-Files crew would actually do some digging when it came to their videogame focused episode, aptly dubbed "FPS" that premiered Sunday night on February 27th. Instead of thoroughly researching why people play games like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament then providing some keen insight, it was the same old stereotype of a videogame player: male, immature and overtly aggressive. If nothing else this episode was successful in painting male gamers and men in general with a broad brush. If we aren’t chest-bumping each other and screaming obnoxiously about how we're going to kill everything in sight, then we are behaving like sex-obsessed Neanderthals that devolve before your eyes at the first sight of a sexy woman.
These two messages permeated this episode of X-Files and to my amazement the only defense of gamers was the lame response from Agent Fox Mulder, who said, "Maybe the game provides an outlet for certain impulses. That it fills a void in our genetic makeup that the more civilizing effects of society fail to provide for." This is by no means an acceptable rebuttal to all the negative depictions and I am dubious as to whether the writers even wanted one. The show starts off with three clowns hopping up and down and screaming how they were going to kill everything in site, followed by practically five minutes of non-stop shooting as they make their way through the first level of the 'game'. Any thoughts of this portrayal possibly improving, were squashed as soon as the virtual murderer (named Atreya) shows up and executes the unsuspecting players. In search of her identity, we learn a couple of new things about our would-be conspiracy unearthers. For one, Mulder is a gamer. To find Atreya in the computer, he asks the programmer to search the 'wireframe' to see where she was hiding (even if from a technical standpoint, I don’t see why that would make sense) and after they found it Mulder asks to 'texture map' the image. Yes Mulder we get it, you are true blue gamer, however unbelievable. Aside from that single line expressed by Mulder in the entire series running, has there been any other hint that Mulder can handle the old keyboard and mouse FPS setup. Where does Mulder find the time to partake in the gaming hobby with his porn obsession and X-Files work anyway?
Aside from penning in Mulder’s sudden interest in videogames, the writers, William Gibson and Tom Maddox, spend a great deal of time elaborating on the sexism and gender themes in games. We find out that the Atreya was 'scanned' in (another techno term thrown around loosely) from a real-life stripper named Jade Blue Afterglow. The men bashing went into overdrive here with Dana Scully representing the voice of reason and being thoroughly annoyed by all the men’s leering antics. With Ms. Afterglow doing her best Sharon Stone impersonation from Basic Instinct, she pursed her lips, crossed her legs and even Mulder was reduced to a pile of drool (in front of his inevitable squeeze Scully no less). Seeing the members of law enforcement reduced to a bunch of immature horndog schoolboys as well, was simply pathetic and I was in disbelief that males actually wrote that degrading scene.
My peeves with the episode didn’t end there. It only worsened after the first in-game murder took place and Darryl Masashi, a mercenary gamer for hire, was brought in by the game’s creators to purge the system of its undesirable killer. As soon as he appeared, I was on the floor laughing. The guy is Asian, makes his living playing FPS and is a living legend. Could this be a caricature of infamous undefeatable Quake player (Firing Squad's own) Dennis ‘Thresh’ Fong? Again my enjoyment was short-lived as Darryl turned out to be a weirdo more than anything else. He stands stoically with an oh-so-serious look on his mug and carries two guns like a geeky Chow Yun-Fat; unfortunately he can't pull it off at all. Equally sad was the fact that Masashi's death followed quickly after his appearance early in the episode. I would hope that the writers didn't see the folly of this, but they had to know that by killing off Masashi, they were symbolically showing the futility of game playing or weakness of hardcore gamers when it came to real-world combat situations. If they really cared to develop the Masashi character rather then making an example out of him, he would have actually helped out Mulder and Scully with his knowledge of videogames in eventually defeating Atreya. Perhaps that's just my opinion that gamers should be represented more accurately getting in the way.
Ultimately, this episode boils down to Mulder and Scully getting into the game which doesn’t build into an exciting climax, but rather an unsatisfying ending and unresolved mess. Through some testosterone-induced impulse (like that’s something he is known for), Mulder goes further into the game, chasing the Atreya and gets lost. Or maybe lost is the wrong word because he was more likely kidnapped by the program itself. Here a massive plot hole is left wide open. Where does Mulder's body go when the program shuts itself down with him inside of it? Has he been somehow digitized and now sits in memory? We also learn that the sole female programmer working there created Atreya as a character for her own personal sanity and game. It is never explained how the program jumped from her computer to the main program. And for maybe the only time in X-Files history, we don't get a supernatural explanation from Mulder or even an overly scientific one from Scully as to how it all happened.
It's as if all that was unimportant information and could be disregarded. Anyway, with Mulder in trouble, Scully takes it upon herself to go into the game to save him (its amazing how players can’t exit the game, but players can enter), but it is all a monumental letdown. Scully dons a sexy soldier suit (or at least it looks sexy on her), enters the game and just starts shooting. She literally stands in one place and looks more like she's in a virtual version of Duck Hunt and not a FPS. John Carmack, John Romero, Warren Spector and every other FPS developer must have been rolling their eyes across the country.
Despite X-Files being renown for having big-budget movie-like production values, I still didn’t have high exceptions for the way FPS's would be portrayed graphically and conceptually after watching the preview trailer of the episode. Still I had high hopes for the way gamers and programmers would be represented and prayed they would be shown in a decent light. However none of this happened. Instead, what I got was the typical outsiders' view of the industry and all those involved. And even worse, the writers decided to pile some dissection of the male condition on top of that. I know for sure that anyone who had their doubts about these types of games and the industry in general than their beliefs were only strengthened by this episode. All in all this was a waste of time and if this episode is any indication of popular sentiments toward videogames in general then the industry needs a lot more work to reach mainstream acceptance.
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