Tuesday, July 27, 2010

GOLD -- The Web Series that Does HALF Damage

If you want to see an excellent independent drama/comedy that focuses on Generation X geek culture, go watch FREE ENTERPRISE written by Robert Meyer Burnett and Mark A. Altman. The film combines a solidly humorous "turning 30" narrative with constant LOGAN'S RUN, STAR TREK, STAR WARS, and comic book references. If SWINGERS weren't already the geek's version of SWINGERS, then FREE ENTERPRISE would easily take that slot in film canon. Oh...and it has William Shatner as an actor named William Shatner who wants to make a musical version of JULIUS CAESAR with William Shatner performing all the speaking roles. The film is hilarious and on target.

GOLD, a web series created by David Nett, is an attempt to for gaming what FREE ENTERPRISE did for the rest of Generation X geek culture. That is to say that it attempts to create a compelling drama around the lives of a group of individuals how happen to be professional role playing gamers. Every work of fiction has its one "gimme," in the world of GOLD that gimme is that there is a role playing game league that has enough fans who wish to watch games being played that role playing is a professional sport. Other than that, the world is our world.

If I were of a mind to do it, I could make almost endless comparisons between GOLD the web series and FREE ENTERPRISE. One of GOLD'S co-protagonists is a tad whiny and fails to seize the initiative while wallowing in his own personal drama, like the character played by Eric McCormack in ENTERPRISE. Both have nightmare's related to their "drama." The other of GOLD'S co-protagonists sleeps around with people he has disdain for, and is the "cooler" of the co-protagonists. FREE ENTERPRISE'S Rafer Weigel character comes quickly to mind. But there are enough differences between the two that I believe that the similarities are coincidental, especially given the differences in the overall tone and narrative.

Some comparisons need to be made, because FREE ENTERPRISE did such a good job of translating geek culture to a wider audience, but not beat by beat comparisons.

I want to love GOLD. It is attempting, unlike most gamer web series, to present a serious drama series focused around the lives of gamers. Sometimes it succeeds, but most of the time it seems to suffer from what I call "pilotitis."

Pilotitis is when a show's pilot presents the viewer with an intriguing premise -- that is for the most part well done -- but that feels ragged around the edges. That describes GOLD to a T.

It's six 10-minute episodes equate roughly to an hour long drama pilot, and the overall story is interesting. The show isn't about gaming, it's about the people who play role playing games. This is where the show shines. The character interactions are believable and often compelling.

Where the show fails is in translating to its audience what exactly is going on in the narrative. If a viewer were to jump in at episode two without a knowledge of role playing games -- and without reading the background on the About tab of the GOLD website -- that viewer would feel lost to some extent. The episode narrative would be clear, but the season's narrative arc would be unclear.

Jon, one of the co-protagonists of GOLD, is in physical rehabilitation for some sort of injury sustained during a gaming competition. The cause of that injury isn't revealed until the 6th episode of the series. If one watches the prologue and episode one, without reading the website, one might come to believe that the accident happened in the kitchen when Jon was telling his soon to be wife he would still be a while at the game. That's not clear storytelling -- and that is what this show lacks.

It is often said, and rightfully, that stories need to be character driven. They also need to have a narrative that lets the audience see what is happening. An audience watching a visual medium needs to be shown and not told. They also need more than vague implications. They need to see the world at large and how it affects the characters.

Nett and crew get the characterizations right. They get the acting right most of the time, though it is agonizing to watch the acting injured moments. The characterizations are sometimes over the top, but that is appropriate to the genre. If only more of the characters were over the top. If only more of the narrative were over the top. If only there were more humor in the show.

Then the show would be great.

As it is, the show just hits my entertainment Armor Class. Given my desire to like shows in the genre, meaning that my gamer web series AC is lower than normal, I think that the show might struggle outside of the gaming community. It doesn't quite fill in enough information for the uninitiated and uses its website as too much of a crutch for filling in narrative elements that were not shown during the episodes.

For those who are gamers though, GOLD provides the first real attempt at a genuine dramatic entertainment featuring gamers as protagonists. This in and of itself is praiseworthy. The fact that it does a workmanlike job and presents compelling characters is icing on the cake.

If you're a gamer, I recommend watching GOLD and supporting its second season. If you aren't a gamer you should still watch it, but only after reading all of the background information on the website.

PEDANTRY ALERT: Rulebooks from quite a few different roleplaying games are used as props to represent the rules for the "in world" role playing game. Looking for these easter eggs can be a distraction, but they are proof that the creators are people who genuinely love games. Why else would Jon be picking up a copy of the Mayfair Games edition of CHILL? I don't even want to think about all of the licensing problems associated with the DM screens and wall posters in this series.

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