The Gamechangers

It’s been a while since I posted on here, huh. I just watched the BBC’s somewhat controversial film/documentary/drama The Gamechangers and felt compelled to write something, so here I am.

The Gamechangers (in case you’ve been living under a rock) is about Grand Theft Auto. To be more precise, it’s about two major controversies that arose following the release of Vice City and San Andreas. It primarily focuses on Sam Houser (co-creator of Rockstar Games) and Jack Thompson (a lawyer who is well known for being an anti-video game activist) and tells two stories which intertwine, despite the two never really meeting face-to-face.

If you’re interested in watching it, here’s a link. Be warned though, that’s a link to iPlayer so I have no idea how long it will be up for.

I think writing a complete review is a bit of a waste of time, but the film really intrigued me and I really wanted to get some thoughts down about it. So here you go.

  • The script is awful. I’m not a professional scriptwriter so I might not be in a great position to judge somebody else’s script (I do appreciate that writing ninety minutes of script based around a series of court cases might be difficult), but it’s unbelievably bad in places. My favourite part of the film is when Jack Thompson’s wife Patricia explains what will happen to him in court as though he were a young child. The dialogue is far too heavy with exposition and it misuses so many terms. At one point, Houser discusses the “RPG” within San Andreas as though it were a game inside a game; it’s a throwaway comment in a single scene, but it really annoyed me – the designers of the game seem to have no idea what they’re talking about most of the time.
  • On that point, what exactly did Sam Houser and his team actually do at Rockstar? According to The Gamechangers, very little. They have a lot of meetings about concepts, features and ideas, but they don’t really do that much work. If you’re hoping for some insight into how games are made, turn away now.
  • I thought the two lead actors were actually pretty good, despite the criticism. Daniel Radcliffe as Sam Houser did what he could with a thin script, while Bill Paxton actually manages to convey the complexities of Jack Thompson’s character very well.
  • The film glosses over several important questions, giving them little discussion time. Are video games too violent? Should developers be responsible for the social impact of their games? Should video games be more scrutinised than films, TV and music? All of these questions are featured in the narrative, but no discussion is really made on them. It’s a weird scenario; it’s a film all about ethics and responsibility, yet it never really makes a clear statement on anything. In fact, it kind of uses the real life outcomes of the two court cases to scoot the issue entirely – one of the final scenes talks about the creation of the Family Entertainment Protection Act in an “all’s well that ends well” sort of manner. It doesn’t discuss the issue or offer viewpoints at all; it simply lays the facts out and says “there you go, you solve it.” Weird.
  • Going on from that, some might argue that Jack Thompson is actually portrayed as the hero throughout this film. Shots of Grand Theft Auto are used throughout the film (leading to Rockstar’s lawsuit against the BBC, of course), but they all focus on violence or sexual content. No other element of Grand Theft Auto is featured or even discussed. Sam Houser does occasionally discuss some of the creative ideas that eventually went into San Andreas (the customisation, the realism, the gang warfare focus), but eventually, the film simply focuses on the Hot Coffee scene and how Sam Houser desperately wanted it to feature, even suggesting that he might have left it in the code so it could be found. It doesn’t paint a balanced picture, is basically what I’m trying to say.
  • The scene where Sam Houser bumps into Jack Thompson – lol.
  • The scene where Sam Houser and Jack Thompson are Googling each other – lol.
  • The scene in Compton – double lol.
  • Rockstar Table Tennis makes a guest appearance! That was a surprisingly cool game.
  • The final scene of the film is hilariously awful and it almost ruins anything that the film was trying to say or do. It shows Sam Houser having a fag, carjacking someone (as the real world slowly morphs into something that looks very similar to San Andreas) and killing a few pedestrians before driving off into the virtual sunset with the police chasing him. So, you’re saying that Grand Theft Auto is a murder simulator then? Or are you saying that Sam Houser was actually a maniac who created virtual worlds so he could unleash his evil inner demons upon them? Or (and perhaps worst of all), having roundly criticised the game throughout, are you then using the pedestrian killing and carjacking as a joke to leave people smiling? What a ridiculous final shot it is.

Well, that turned out to be a lot longer than I was expecting. Overall, I think the film is entertaining, but it really fails on several levels, much of which comes down to the woeful script. It’s well worth a watch though. I’m no expert, so I’m not entirely sure how accurate it all is (Rockstar, of course, have said it’s all complete nonsense), but it offers up the basic details of Grand Theft Auto’s two biggest controversies and that was enough to intrigue me.