Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gamers Hilarious, if Sometimes Pathetic, in Web Series The Guild

When you think of gamers, you probably think of young, white, pale and dorky men who devote as much time to weird anime porn as they do to their beloved video games. Well, much as that world seems steeped in misogyny—perhaps because gamers tend to be dudes who are lower on the hetero dating food chain in general—the delightful web series The Guild gives us a look into the motivations and neuroses of a girl gamer and her wacky teammates in an online, multiplayer role-playing game that I can only guess is modeled after World of Warcraft.

Felicia Day of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog fame writes and stars in the show, which launched in 2007 on YouTube and later on Microsoft video host Zune, which is based loosely on what she calls her own one-time addiction to gaming. The show follows the Knights of Good, a guild of players in an unnamed game that features warlocks, priests, gnomes, dinosaurs, spells and bloody battles with archaic weaponry. The guild is made up of a zany ensemble: the stingy leader and Vork, the needy and obsessive Zaboo, the immature loose cannon Bladezz, the delightfully neglectful mother Clara, the cold as ice Tinkerballa and our protagonist, the anxiety-ridden Codex (played by the fire-haired Day).

The best part of this series is seeing this hilarious ensemble cast of misfits interact with each other in the game and in real life. Since the guild members live in close proximity—presumably somewhere in southern California—the action starts off when the antisocial players are forced to meet in person for the first time. The zany Zaboo kicks off the action when he shows up at Codex’s doorstep, having mistaken a typo for a flirtatious emoticon. He has become infatuated with his guild priestess, and he basically doesn’t leave her alone for the next two seasons. Codex calls on her fellow Knights of Good to help her get Zaboo back home, where has absurd Oedipal issues waiting for him.

While gamers will surely enjoy the banter, the excitement over expansion options and the detailed jargon that goes right over my head, the show is plenty relatable without knowing what potions do and why avatars sometimes ride mastodons. Codex is a sometimes frustrating but usually endearing protagonist to follow. Her neuroses and anxieties start out a little dark—she even gets fired by her therapist in the first episode—but at her core, she’s an adorable, quirky gamer girl whom you root for in every raid, date or other quest.

From a feminist perspective, it’s interesting to see another view of gaming by following a fictitious group made up of half men, half women that is centered on one of the latter. In fact, Day said in an interview with Wired that part of the reason she wrote the show was to bust the myth that all gamers are teenage boys in basements and that quirky girl characters are best used as sidekicks. Codex is front and center, and her fellow women characters get plenty of screen time, too. They're certainly flawed, but they're not one-dimensional.

Clara leaves her kids in department stores with a baby monitor and skips her sister’s wedding to farm gold for a special orb, but she also had a cute relationship with her husband. Tink is bitter, emotionally unavailable and uses her sexuality to manipulate men, but she proves herself loyal to her guild and vulnerable when her character gets erased. Codex is virginal, meek and socially awkward, but she stands her ground with Zaboo’s clinginess, brings the guild together during tumultuous times and even has a one-night stand with a rival gamer.

Other than a rape joke in the first season, the implication that women like behavior like Zaboo’s creepy stalking and the intense hatred the characters all harbor for his overbearing mom, The Guild is pretty tame for a mainstream text. It follows women characters in a male-dominated social network and doesn’t ignore the credibility issues that come up for women within the game. At the same time, the show gives all of us skeptics a sympathetic view for what people get out of these games in one hilarious, enthralling six-minute episode after another.

Four seasons in, The Guild is going strong with insane characters (the flighty but delightful mom Clara and uber-miser Vork are personal favorites), hilarious writing, and off-beat misadventures. And according to Day’s Twitter, season five shot earlier this spring and should be posted later this summer. Make sure you catch up on the first four seasons on the show’s website or Netflix before then.

Logging off ...

<a href="" target="_new" title="Season 4 - Episode 1 - Epic Guilt">Video: Season 4 - Episode 1 - Epic Guilt</a>

Bechdel Grade: Pass

Feminist Grade: C-

Overall Grade: A

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