Video Gaming (EL 250)

2 Jan 2006

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

My kids loved this movie. We watched it one night, and when my three-year-old got up the next morning she asked to watch it again.

This movie is not destined to win any Oscars, but I included it on the list because of its depiction of gamer culture.

In Tron, within the virtual world of a mainframe computer, "users" are mystical god-like beings who give meaning to the lives of their avatars. In that world, "innocent programs" are essentially kidnapped by armed guards and forced to give up their productive work (accounting or actuarial) in order to compete in gladiatorial combat. (An early scene cuts between the digital avatars locked in a battle for their lives, and the humans who are casually, mechanically plunking quarters into the arcade machine.)

How does the depiction of the "programmers" in SK3D differ from the way "users" are depicted in Tron? The avatars who competed in Tron were helpess victims of other programs, and the programs looked to their users for metaphysical meaning. Note that in SK3D, we meet a group of beta-testers who have just been busted for cheating.

It was sentimental and a bit silly to have Demetra shed a tear for Juni (since she's supposed to be a program, part of the game), but leaving aside questions of software architecture and artificial intelligence, we see that the filmmaker is making a point about generosity -- Juni gives Demetra a valuable extra life powerup, and she rewards him by holding the portal open to permit him and his grandfather to escape, while the beta-testers continually plot against Juni in their quest to win the game.

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In the film gamer culture is almost depicted in a cut-throat form of kill or be killed. The beta testers are the main obstacle in Juni’s way when he is trying to beat the game in order to save Carmen. These three characters represent corruption and what happens when winning takes over. They are so into the game that they will do anything to win. When they believe Juni is “the guy” they help him so they will reach level 5, but when they believe he is the deceiver they threaten to end his life count (essentially removing him from the game forever). The beta testers represent corruption which has possibly trickled down from the Toymaker. The beta testers even went as far as cheating (a considerably dishonorable action) in order to achieve the goal of winning.

In regard to Jerz’s observation about Demetra, I agreed that it was silly and out of character for her to show emotion towards Juni. She claimed that she was deceiving them because it was how she was programmed and then later holds the portal for Juni and his family to escape. This is totally out of character for her to do. If she could not choose whether to deceive them or not, how could she make this conscience choice to help them in the end?

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 1, 2006 11:51 AM

Regarding cut-throat competition: Note also what happens to "The Guy" played by Elijah Wood, -- who inspires all the players to work together as a team, then charges into level 5, and meets a response from within the game world that is quite definite.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 1, 2006 02:06 PM

Though he convinces them to work together, he ("The Guy")runs head first into Level 5. Isn't he still acting out on an individualist level? Or is he being punished for convincing them to join forces? Are his actions contradictory or is that my interpretation?

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 1, 2006 03:28 PM

The programmers in SK3D differ from the "users" in Tron because within SK3D the programmers are there to detect those who cheat and send them back to level one. The programmers are depicted as leather wearing, cold young men who will do anything to send the gamers back to level one. But in reality they are boys who look like computer nerds. I agree with Leslie about the beta testers being a form of corruption to Juni as he is going through the game.Grandpa is Juni's hold on reality to help him get through the game and find Carmen.

Gamer culture is shown to be very competitive and as Jerz and Leslie said is cut throat. In reality it is just as or even more competitive, tournaments are held, money is bet, and soo much time is invested on these competitions, so SK3D is a close depiction of the gaming culture in reality.

Posted by: Kayla Lukacs at January 1, 2006 08:48 PM

The ironic thing is, this is a kids movie, not one targeted towards us (20+). So much real corruption and competition shown here(generally adult content)almost makes you wonder if the movie was tageted for us after all?

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 1, 2006 11:51 PM

This movie was very entertaining. I would think that the movie was created for a younger audience but then again the producers know that a yound child would be watching the movie with an adult, which is why I think that I found the movie interesting also.

I think that Spy-Kids sent across a positive message but also some negatives. For instance when Juni gabe Demetra his life pack he looked at the three boys standing there and winked, which seems to be how men think of women throughout their whole lives. Some men think that all it will take is a simple nice deed and the woman will cherish him and just fall into their hands. They think that they know how to "play" women which Spy-Kids could be contributing too just by that single action.

But I think that I am analyzing the movie too much and critizing actions that children may not pick up on. I think that kids would be more fasinated by the 3-D effect rather that what someone is saying. I like this movie and found it "silly" but worth watching.

Posted by: Gina Burgese at January 2, 2006 11:34 PM

Gina makes a good point about the power of visuals. As the Toymaker's peacenik personality might say: "We have the children's attention, but what are we teaching them?"

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 2, 2006 11:40 PM
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