MMOs haven't quite gotten popular enough to spawn their own sub-genre of films, apart from the odd fan project or the long-rumored World of Warcraft flick. That doesn't mean that we're lacking good movie role models for our hobby, however. I think that there are plenty of films that are perfectly suited for the MMO fan, even if they've never been thought of as such.
So here are 10 films that speak to us as gamers. To make things interesting, I excluded any movie that shares the same IP as an MMO. Read this list and let me know what you would pick!
Tron Legacy and its forefather Tron are good-looking if somewhat below-average films that explore a secret world that lives inside computers. Hey, this started back in 1982 when computers were barely understood by the public, so for all anyone knew, little people could have actually formed a society inside the gigantic metal boxes that perched on our desks.
Even with its mediocrity, Tron Legacy unwraps our mundane existence to reveal a fascinating world going on inside of our computers. Sound familiar? Plus, this film could be the poster child for every MMO that had more good looks than brains.
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
You might be thinking that I picked this film because of how prevalent Asian MMOs are in the genre. And sure, you'd have a point, but I like to think of this as a multi-layered selection. CTHD shows off the fluid beauty of physics-defying movement and fighting, both of which are staples of MMOs. We aren't happy any longer with our character taking half-hearted jabs; we want to see fancy flourishes, all manner of particle effects, and every move ripped off from the superhero yoga book.
At first glance, John Hughes' wacky sci-fi/teen comedy Weird Science may not seem appropriate for this list, but it's the character of Lisa I think merits inclusion. The creation of a virtual persona -- our character, our toon, or our avatar -- reflects our personal wants, desires, and fantasies. Lisa is the avatar of two horny, lonely teen boys, and at first she's created to be nothing more than eyecandy. Yet the film gradually shows us that she has the brains to go with her looks, and she goes from being an object of lust to something akin to a sisterly mentor. Their avatar gets away from them but also teaches them and helps them to grow. It wasn't what they consciously wanted, but it ended up being what they subconsciously craved. Sometimes that's how our characters in online games work.
4. In the Mouth of Madness
MMOs have an interesting relationship with horror that I'd like to explore more in depth at a later juncture. Suffice it to say, I'm including this particular Lovecraft-esque flick because it does the same thing that scary games (and games with scary moments) attempt to do: draw us in, blur the lines of reality, and then mess with our heads. Maybe it's harder to be frightened in an MMO when you're the equivalent of a walking battle fortress, but I've had moments when I forget I'm playing "just a game" and wonder if the game is leaking into my world somehow.
So let's talk about PvP. Is there any film that represents the chaotic, brutal, and sometimes extremely pointless exercise of players duking it out against each other? Those who just said "Hunger Games" can leave this column now. Thank you.
Battle Royale takes a class full of teens, puts them on an island, and makes them fight to the death. There's some social commentary, blah blah, but what's fascinating is how the teens respond. Some become heroes, some become villains, some group up, some commit suicide, and some fall into despair. Sounds like a PvP battleground to me!
6. The Princess Bride
I get three-for-one with this pick. Not only is The Princess Bride nominally a fantasy, and not only does it poke great fun at romantic tropes (take that, ERPers!), but it also injects a lot of humor into its setting. MMO developers are notorious for tossing in tongue-in-cheek references, in-jokes, quest titles that reference pop culture with a punny twist and generally not taking everything super-seriously. It doesn't mean that the game (or the movie) can't be good, just that sometimes life is ridiculous. Why shouldn't games have moments of levity to reflect that?
Not only is this a love letter to video gamers everywhere, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World represents a complete blurring of games with reality. You may elect to use the term "gamification" now if you like, although I shall abstain. It perhaps represents what MMOs might aspire to be like in five or 10 years, integrating progressive gameplay with the real world.
This might be the least-known film on this list, but it's definitely worth your time. Cube is an interesting sci-fi/thriller in which strangers wake up in a prison made of interlocking cubes. Some of the cubes contain deadly traps, and there's an urgency to find the exit before one starves or dies of thirst. I'm including it because it reminds me of PUGs: total strangers who assemble to tackle a dungeon together. Maybe it'll work out, or maybe they're just not compatible. You never know what you'll get!
If I had to point to a movie to be a complete representation of all that is MMOs, it would have to be the Wizard of Oz. Here we have a person from our world (Dorothy) who enters a virtual one (Oz). She meets a friendly NPC (Glenda) who sends her on a quest, encounters evil bosses (the Wicked Witch), and runs away from the local Gnome population (Munchkins). There's a path to follow through zone progression, leading Dorothy to meet and add members to her party. Each character has a class with strengths and weaknesses, and they battle flying monkeys and, er, flowers. Dorothy has elite gear (red ruby slippers) and encounters a GM (the Wizard) who tells her how to exploit the system.
10. The Care Bears Movie
You know, the term "care bear" gets thrown around as if it's a pejorative in MMOs, but have you watched this movie? They're hardcore, yo. They will care you to death if you don't watch out, and their stares are the stuff of legends. You cross a Care Bear, and chances are that the cloud police will find your body stuffed behind a rainbow three weeks later.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.