Zero Charisma

Dir: Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews
Star: Sam Eidson, Garrett Graham, Anne Gee Byrd, Brock England

Game master Scott (Eidson) has been running a role-playing campaign for three years with a dedicated group of friends. When real-life intrudes to create a vacancy, he recruits Miles (Graham), but he turns out to be funnier, smarter and a great deal more popular than Scott. Seeing his players gravitate toward the newcomer, Scott issues them with an ultimatum, only to discover that he is now on the outside looking in. Making matters worse, his grandmother (Byrd), with whom he lives, has a stroke, and Scott's long-absent mother shows up in the aftermath, looking to sell the home out from under them. With just about every element that provided solidity to his life apparently cracking underneath him, can Scott repair the damage before it overwhelms him entirely?

I played D&D for four years at university, and that's likely a requirement to take anything away from this at all: if you don't know anything about games and gamer culture, large chunks will fly right over your head. Even as a former player, however, I'm somewhat uncertain of the approach taken by the makers. Is Scott supposed to be sympathetic or a figure of fun? Because, to be honest, he's a bit of a dick. As is Miles, and just about all the other players, in fact, who are largely portrayed as losers with no life. Now, there are certainly gamers for whom that's an accurate portrayal - I encountered my fair share over those four years - but the relentlessness of that depiction here does make it come off as an exercise in mean-spiritedness.

It does a good job of showing that "nerd" or "geek" doesn't just embody the socially-acceptable elements now much more perceived by popular culture. However, it skews too far the other way, and considering it was produced by self-proclaimed "nerdist" Chris Hardwick, makes for pretty harsh viewing. If there are some amusing and certainly accurate moments - and it certainly works as a cautionary tale regarding the perils of taking anything too seriously - this seems to be doing its hardest to alienate the only people who would probably be able to understand its nuances, with its unflattering portrayal of them.

[October 2013]

Fails its saving throw
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