The American subculture has been experiencing an interesting sort of revival in recent years. With the Internet becoming almost universally accessible, people from all around the nation are only a few clicks away from finding innumerable other people who share their interests, no matter how specific or unknown.
The 90s and beyond were bumper crop years for “fandoms.” Where once there were small, separate cliques of people dedicated to a facet of pop culture, now there are unified groups who define themselves by their dedication. In a post-modern twist, these groups, united by their fascination with some specific aspect of pop culture, are themselves becoming the subject of fascination by another sect of people: filmmakers.
In 1997, Roger Nygard directed “Trekkies,” a humorous examination of the Star Trek fan culture. This documentary was so popular that it even got a sequel. Another documentary entitled, “Ringers: Lord of the Fans,” is about “Lord of the Rings” fans (this movie is currently awaiting distribution, but will be playing next Thursday at the Angelika as part of the USA Film Festival).
One film following this motif of casting light on heretofore-unseen subcultures is Steve Metze’s, “Uber Goober,” an intriguing look at the world of role-playing gamers. According to the film, there are three distinct types of gamers: miniature gamers, who create miniature battlefields upon which they wage miniature wars, pen-and-paper gamers, the classical “Dungeons and Dragons” players who assume the roles of heroes in a usually fantasy-based setting, and “LARPers,” or live action role-players, who get into costume and act out their roles, going so far as to engage in “Braveheart”-esque clashes in parks with foam-rubber swords and shields. The film examines each of these groups and the people who, often fervently, belong to them.
The world of role-playing games is often murky and alien to people who have never played themselves, so some time must be taken to explain the rudimentary basics of what role-playing games are. However, Metze rightly keeps the exposition to a minimum; this is a movie about gamers, not the games themselves.
Indeed, this movie is not about the phenomenon of role-playing games, or about what the outside world thinks of the people who engage in them. It’s about the people who choose to identify themselves as “gamers,” and Metze does not shy away from showing them in their humanity, flaws and all.
The social stigma affixed to gamers is a particularly brutal one. Two different interview subjects in the movie are filmed in silhouette to keep their identities hidden, lest any of their peers should see the movie. These self-described “closeted gamers” could almost serve as an allegory for the unjust discrimination of gay men and women in the workplace; one of the subjects even says that he’s scared of being “outed.” They are afraid of becoming the victims of commonly held misconceptions about role-players that range from simply inaccurate to accusations of witchcraft.
That’s right, witchcraft. There are religious groups that accuse role-playing games, and gamers themselves by association, of being unholy harbingers of Satanism, black magic and countless other blasphemies. While Metze does grant these groups a say in “Uber Goober,” he quickly and quietly discredits them by cutting from their condemnations of role-playing games, to clips of these same people admitting their belief in astral projection and other pseudoscientific hocus pocus.
The segments of the documentary are separated by some surprisingly vicious “man on the street” interviews in which “average” people are asked what they think about people who play “Dungeons and Dragons.” The list of gamer stereotypes held by non-gamers is long and shown through the course of the film, “Uber Goober” dispels some while reinforcing others, but again, that’s not the point of the movie. It’s not a movie designed to debunk myths about role-playing gamers. It’s simply a movie about people.
“Uber Goober” is the video portrait of the real American geek: an otherwise normal person who forges their self-identity through subculture. And while it may not seem very appealing to people with no experience with gaming or gamers, it is nevertheless an engaging film about a fringe of society that has never been seen in the media for what is really is.
“Uber Goober” is currently playing at the Angelika Film Center.