The Best Movies about Videogames

December 15, 2022

This is the nineteenth in a series of posts dedicated to works of playful literature and theater—not just games that are literary or theatrical, but rather novels, plays, television series, graphic novels, museum installations, poems, immersive theater, and movies that represent in some fashion or another games, game players, and game culture. For a general description of my critical framework and purposes, though one that’s more focused on videogames rather than games more generally, see the first post in the series, “What is videogame literature?”

One list deserves another

The Guardian‘s Keith Stuart and Kez MacDonald recently posted a list of their favorite videogame movies—movies that aren’t adaptations of videogame IPs but are, in some fashion or another, about videogames and the people who play and make them. Like Stuart and MacDonald, I’m fascinated by the stories we tell with, about, and around videogames (in fact, I’m co-editing a collection of essays on the topic). And like anyone reading someone else’s top list, I’ve created one of my own.

My differences with Stuart and MacDonald are less about the quality of their choices (except Free Guy [2021], which is objectively a work of tendentious trash), then about what counts as a “videogame movie.” First, there’s the question of how “videogame-y” a film needs to be to count. As I’ve argued in detail elsewhere, even a seemingly incidental appearance of a videogame can highlight a theme or leverage insight into what videogames mean to the filmmakers. For example, when Frank plays video chess with the AI Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), it cues the viewer into the nature of the intelligence that is running the mission and foreshadows the fatal endgame between Hal and Dave.

Two of the movies I’ve included here are of this sort. One is the Netflix series Russian Doll, where explicit references to videogames are few, but their influence pervasive.  Another is Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, which doesn’t include a single reference to videogames, but tells a story of a lesser-known ludonarrative tradition. More on these below.

A second objection is that, with the exception of the interactive movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018), Stuart and MacDonald limit their choices to films of conventional format and cinematic release–a limited understanding of “movie.” That means no place for most episodes of the Netflix science-fiction series Black Mirror, which tend to run about an hour in length. Also absented are multi-season series like Russian Doll, Halt and Catch Fire, and The Guild. However, these are among the most thoughtful cinematic speculations on a medium that is both increasingly pervasive and powerful. One of those series is not included on this list, though perhaps it should be. Mystic Quest tells the story of a fictional videogame studio. For no particularly good reason, I haven’t gotten round to watching it. If/when I revise this, I’m likely to include it. And I’m back and forth on the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot, in which Angela is kidnapped and forced to play a surreal text-based adventure game. There’s a good argument LINK to be made that the entire second season can be understood in terms of the logic of old-school adventure games.

If you’re interested in learning more about videogame movies and the different ways we might think about them (including movies that remediate the storytelling strategies of videogames like Sam Mendes’ 1917 (2019), take a look at this.

So, in no special order, my list of the best “movies” about videogames:

Before you start, SPOILER ALERT!!! Lots of details in the discussion below, including some big plot reveals, so maybe check out the titles, then watch those you haven’t seen before reading on.

GTFO (2015)

The absence from The Guardian‘s list of Shannon Sun-Higginson’s documentary about women’s experience as videogame players, designers, journalists, and critics was what initially inspired me to create this list. GTFO (acronym for “Get the fuck out”) is a regular presence on my videogames course syllabi and my advisee’s reading lists. It is comprehensive, high-impact, and inspirational.

The film opens with a notorious clip showing Esports team captain Aris Bakhtanians relentlessly sexualizing Miranda Pakozdi while the rest of the team basically does nothing. But as common as this and other forms of harassment are, the film doesn’t only focus on overt kinds of mistreatment. It also describes the systemic pressures that silence women or chase them away from videogames, as well as the work of feminist and queer activists working to change that system, including organizations like Code Liberation Foundation. A lot of important people pop in: Leigh Alexander, Robin Hunicke, Brenda Romera, Jennifer Hepler, Jessica Hammer, Anita Sarkeesian, among others.

Finally, I appreciate the fact that it relegates Gamergate to a postscript. In that postscript Maddy Myers, now Deputy Editor for Games at Polygon, nails it: “Singling out Gamergate is . . . a mistake, because it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the problem exists on a much larger scale.”

 World on a Wire (Welt am Draht, 1973)

Welt am Draht, Werner Fassbinder’s adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s 1964 novel Simulacron-3, was one of the first to explore the now-common trope of characters finding themselves trapped inside a game; in this case a simulation. Fassbinder resists the urge to look either hyper-futuristic or hyperrealistic. His gameworld is all leather and chrome, mirrors and glass, smoke and feathered hair, dark-daubed eyes, and wall-to-wall shag carpet—sensuous maximalism. But it’s all . . . off, perfectly so. The performances are inspired. Klaus Löwitsch is twitchy, headstrong Dr. Fred Stiller, the new technical director of a supercomputer social simulation whose “identity units” are unaware they’re not human but are starting to suspect something’s off. Karl-Heinz Vosgerau channels the spirit of super-chilled vodka as CEO of the project. Tertiary characters are all weirdly static, aloof, disconnected. They’re set decoration, providing detail and drama for Stiller’s struggle. They look, from the perspective of a twenty-first-century videogame player, like NPCs in a photorealistic sandbox game. Which is essentially what they are.

Fassbinder drops the clichéd epistemological baggage of simulations (i.e., how do we know we’re not living in one?) into the paranoid action of political thrillers like The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975). It’s a sharp look at the role of simulation in authoritarian societies, a theme as old as Plato and still going on right now.

(FWIW, the 1999 English-language remake, The Thirteen Floor, isn’t bad, but lacks the shiny funkiness of the original, going instead for the drab palette typical of 90s sci-fi movies.)

 The Guild (2007-13)

The Office for videogame players! Felicia Day’s long-running series about a group of videogame players is never not spot-on authentic to the experience of playing a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game as a member of a guild. As someone who was dedicating a lot of time to World of Warcraft and not one but two guilds, I fully sympathize with Cyd and her struggles, whether they be managing the personalities of those she plays with or pursuing romance IRL. The jokes aren’t always great, but they always land—as do the plotlines addressing online harassment, toxic masculinity, and the messy bleed between in-game and IRL. Season 5 is my favorite. Codex, Zaboo, Vork, Bladezz, Clara, and Tinkerballa travel to MegaGame-O-RamaCon where, among other awkward obligations, they’re forced to play together in a single cramped hotel room. Cringe-y but always warm-hearted.

 Her (2013)

Spike Jonze’s pastel sci-fi love story about a nebbish guy and an AI is one of the more thoughtful and thorough stories you’ll find about videogames and their role in our lives. Videogames appear throughout in obvious and less obvious ways. The obvious are the games Theo (Joaquin Phoenix) plays and Theo’s best friend Amy, who designed one of the games Theo plays. Among the less obvious ways concern how Theodore and Samantha (Scarlett Johanssen) learn to love and express their love for each other.

One of my favorite scenes is when Samantha guides Theo through a busy public space, his eyes closed, grinning ear to ear, his phone held straight ahead as she gives him directions his ear. They fall in love at this moment, the moment when Theo trusts Samantha enough to be her avatar. Her is ultimately about our need to embody our desires, a need that can lead to both life-changing emotional discovery, but also to callous self-absorption. In contrast to the trust he showed earlier, Theo rejects the performer Samantha has hired to mediate a moment of sensuous togetherness. It’s hard to watch—everyone comes out wounded. “Just play with me, Samantha pleads!” To be an avatar for another person requires trust and Theo fails to protect it and Samantha begins her exit.

I’ve written about Her at greater length in my essay, “What Is a Videogame Movie?”

 Tron (1982)

Be still, my Gen-X heart! This is a sentimental favorite, for sure. Watching Steven Lisberger’s movie rhymes with my experience watching other antique fantasy and science-fiction films with similarly ambitious special effects and heavy childhood memories: The Wizard of Oz, King Kong, Things to Come, Jason and the Argonauts, Metropolis, Star Wars.

To use an overused term, Tron is a vibe. There’s a coherence of story, performance, cinematic design, music, and special effects that simply works, and works not in spite of, but because of everything that feels a little old, odd, or ad hoc. It is in many ways one of the most successful remediations of videogames, managing not only to capture the look and feel of the videogames of the time, but also the culture around it. It’s almost site-specific, not just a movie but the videogame in the Aladdin’s Castle arcade just a few hundreds yards down the mall from the theatre where I saw it three times.

Part of that culture was an expression of growing understanding and affection for the videogame as a medium. Tron‘s about the romance of gaming. It’s about the way we allow ourselves to be absorbed into games and their romantic little systems, including places like malls. It’s a corny, swoony affair. The 2010 sequel’s fun, too, especially the Daft Punk soundtrack. Tron‘s vibe is au courant in design circles, as evidenced in lo-fi videogames like 2064: Read Only Memories (2015) and Hyper Light Drifter (2016) and Coffee Talk (2020).

 Russian Doll, Season One (2019)

Time-loop movies have been around since before videogames became a popular entertainment. Wikipedia lists 1964’s The Time Travelers as the first. But they’ve grown in popularity since videogames became a popular entertainment, with 57 films released since 1990. I’m kind of tired of it, but its continuing popularity reflects the pervasiveness of die-and-repeat storytelling has become—the result of the basic performance dynamic of the videogame and our collective videogame literacy.

For me, the first season of Russian Doll sits with Groundhog Day (1993), Looper (2012), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and Tenet (2020) as top-tier die-and-repeat narrative. It’s also a good example of a videogame movie that isn’t centered on videogames, but positions them in a way that, once you’re attuned, enriches the narrative. In the first episode, we learn that Lyonne’s character is a designer for Rock and Roll Games and someone with a reputation for impossibly difficult game challenges and little patience for those who don’t have the stamina to work them out.

Later in the season, we learn that Nadia’s mother was mentally ill, seriously so. For the attentive viewer, it’s not hard to see Nadia’s ironic fatalism and tendency to treat those around her like problems to be solved as survival techniques she developed as a child. Like Scott in Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) and Theo in Her (2013), Nadia’s mind is honed to play. Though it’s never shown—an odd oversight, maybe just a plot hole—Nadia would have learned to play on consoles and personal computers of the 1980s and 90s. For more on the series and the presence of videogames, see this excellent article by Alex Barasch.

 eXistenZ (1999)

There’s nothing subtle about David Cronenberg’s nested-reality thriller in the vein of Inception (2010). Jennifer Jason Leigh plays top videogame designer Allegra Geller. She is the target of an assassin’s bullet, said assassin being an agent of a “radical realist” organization that finds Geller’s latest creation—a full-body virtual reality game—a threat to, well, reality. The winsome Jude Law steps in as security guard/publicist/lover Ted Pikul.

As Fassbinder does in Welt am Draht, Cronenberg drops the skeptical epistemology of simulation theory into the narrative framework of the thriller. Also like Fassbinder, Cronenberg mines the erotic gravity of simulation, though here the vibe is less chrome and leather, more action-adventure, temporary trysts, and cybernetic gooiness. Geller and Pikul find themselves in intensely sensuous situations, sometimes erotic, sometimes something else. There is a scene at a Chinese restaurant located near a bioengineering factory that comes close to the awkward ickiness of the family dinner scene in Eraserhead (1977 LINK). Also also like Welt am Draht, women are the problem of this nested reality, an inception motive posing potentially fatal epistemological and existential hazards to the protagonist—Geller is a cybernetic version of the classic femme fatale. 

Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Like its applications to other media—indie film, indie music—”indie” can mean two things. First and most importantly, it means economic and creative independence from big game companies and traditional distribution channels. But it also means independence from mainstream aesthetics—an attitude and vibe.

James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot profile four indie designers: Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy), Phil Fish (Fez), and Jonathan Blow (Braid). They capture the independent design scene at the moment of its emergence as a third way between the mainstream and the hobby community. This was when it became possible to maintain a degree of aesthetic independence while making some serious cash—the moment when media companies like Sony and Valve were doing with videogames what Miramax was doing with movies like Pulp Fiction and Def Jam with rap.

The conflict between commerce and attitude is captured when Refenes freaks out because Super Meat Boy isn’t visible on Xbox Live, then later refuses to celebrate when the problem is fixed and the game sells big. He can’t trust the machinery that’s generating the profit.

Shame there weren’t any women designers that Swirsky and Pajot could have profiled lol.

 WarGames (1983)

John Badham directs Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, and Ally Sheedy in one of the first techno-thrillers to center its narrative on videogames. Also, a solid 1980s action thriller with a healthy dash of teen romance. Its message is cemented about ten minutes in, when we transition from a military nuclear-launch bunker somewhere in the high plains to a suburban pizza shop/arcade that is inexplicably open at 7 in the morning. Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes’ script communicates with that transition the idea that videogames are part of a much larger system of government, surveillance, and war.

Unlike The Last Starfighter (1984) and Ender’s Game (2013), which are also movies where the protagonists’ gameplaying ability leads them into high-stakes thrills, David is also an adept hacker. This isn’t just a movie about playing games, but about the systems in which games are played and the ways systems can be put into play (for example, when David offers to alter Jennifer’s grades in the school’s database). With the right combination of charisma, chutzpah, tech skills, and whiteness, you too can stop global nuclear anninilation!

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

More meticulous critics than I have analyzed the diverse and pervasive presence of videogames in this coming-of-age story about a hipster schlub who is weirdly attractive to manic pixie dream girls. It’s Edgar Wright at his best:  kinetic editorial style, fascination with loveable slackers, great playlist.

Like Russian Doll and Her, the topic is less videogames than the protagonist’s game-addled mindset. Michael Cera is perfect as Scott, combining ironic detachment, under-the-breath astonishment, and the late-adolescent physicality needed to excel at videogames and the bass guitar. (Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel is also great, especially its wistful late chapters.)

There’s historical value to the film, too. Scott’s a social type that emerged alongside the trolls of Gamergate, a gamer guy with at least a modicum of feminist consciousness and some degree of respect for the intelligence and skills of the women around him, but coasts on his wit, privilege, and do-just-enough-to-get-by ethos. I’m not sure what to call them, though I’ve explored the idea of “patriarchal light” to characterize putatively progressive male-centered videogames like Braid.

Killer cast, too! 

Black Mirror

An anthology series that explores the shaded dimensions of screen technologies would be grossly negligent if it didn’t dig into videogames. And to Charlie Brooker and his team’s credit, they do so often and well. There are episodes that center on videogames (Playtest, USS Callister, Bandersnatch), but also gamified social systems (Fifteen Million Merits, Nosedive, Hated in the Nation), simulations (San Junipero, Hang the DJ), and augmented reality systems (Men Against Fire). Here are the ones I’d call “videogame movies,” all of which are worth watching:

  • Nosedive (2016 Series 3, Episode 1): This is a regular presence on my playful literature course syllabi. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, desperate to achieve higher status in a society governed by a ubiquitous five-star rating system. Like many Black Mirror episodes, the big idea here is the objectification of feelings and people. Unlike the downbeat tone that prevails in the series, this one is bright and bubbly, especially when Lacie hits the bottom. Production designers Joel Collins and James Foster trade the science-fiction grey-and-green scale for-egg blue, pale pink, and peppermint, with Howard’s peaches-and-cream complexion, pale blue eyes, and red hair fitting in almost perfectly.
  • Playtest (2016 Series 3, Episode 2): More sizzle than substance, this story of an aimless, emotionally traumatized young man who volunteers to playtest a new augmented-reality horror game is high-quality sizzle. Wyatt Russell stars, with emotionally intense direction by Dan Trachtenberg of 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) and Prey (2022). One thing the episode does especially well is focus on the way time works in games (also a theme of Hang the DJ). As both performative structures and intense experience, videogames are potent shapers of time. Poor Cooper discovers this too late.
  • San Junipero (2016 Series 3, Episode 4): Aw, Yorkie and Kelly . . . A fan favorite and deservedly so—and one of the few episodes with an uncomplicatedly happy ending (well, unless one really starts thinking about it). In the most abstract terms, the episode explores playful experience, virtual embodiment, and the trepidation that accompanies the idea of committing fully to the rules of a game. But it’s also just good romantic storytelling, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis (apparently queen of videogame cinema?) bringing the thrills. I very much appreciate the absence of the paranoid puritanism of other simulation-set films like World on a Wire and eXistenZ. Is this perhaps because it’s centered on women’s experience?
  • Men Against Fire (2016 Series 3, Episode 5): We follow Malachi Kirby’s Stripe, a soldier hunting humanoid mutants that he and the other soldiers call “roaches.” Unfortunately, there are technical problems with the neural implant in his head—the one that provides him real-time, head-up-display info and, when he fights well, intensely erotic dreams. The malfunction reveals that the roaches are humans, their identity altered by the implant. Stripe is helping carry out genocide. The ending is gut-wrenching, a long shot of Stripe walking into the literal home of his dreams.
  • Hated in the Nation (2016 Series 3, Episode 6): Videogame here means large-scale play mediated by computers. Simple premise done well. Robot bees are hijacked and kill the person with the most #DeathTo mentioned on social media. Robot bees!
  • USS Callister (2017 Series 4, Episode 1): Jesse Plemons is Captain Robert Daly of the starship USS Callister but also the resentful incel CTO of Callister Inc., the producer of a simulated-reality, Star-Trek style MMORPG. Daly works out his frustrations in a personal copy of the game reskinned to resemble Star Fleet, basically the original Star Trek His crew and enemies are genetic duplicates of his co-workers, their DNA stolen from coffee cups and lollipops Yes, this is another trapped in a videogame movie and also another videogame as metaphor for the mind of a gamer movie. However, director Toby Haynes handles the proceedings with a light touch and a cast with perfect pitch and great chemistry. The revenge-porn plotline is a misstep in an otherwise thorough takedown of toxic masculinity, the conclusion capped by a voiceover cameo by Aaron Paul as “Gamer691” that keeps the episode from hitting too triumphant a final note.
  • Hang the DJ (2017 Series 4, Episode 4): “Everything happens for a reason.” I love the romantic episodes of Black Mirror almost as much as Charlie Brooker loves the homunculus fallacy. What is the homunculus fallacy, you ask? It’s a logical fallacy, typically applied when debating theories of mind, the idea being that there’s some thinking agent in our head doing something different than what we ourselves are doing. For example, there’s a little guy in our head properly sorting the shades of that dress, but their good work is being interfered with by the other guy, meaning us, who insist it’s gold and white, not black and blue. Simulation narratives often play with the homunculus fallacy—think the simulations within simulations within simulations of World on a Wire or The Matrix or Black Mirror episodes like “White Christmas,” “USS Callister,” “Black Museum,” and, for the suspicious, “San Junipero.” Here, the fallacy is the engine for the second most romantic episode of the series (behind, yes, “San Junipero”). The story is set at a walled commune whose inhabitants, not unlike those in The Lobster (2015), seek a perfectly compatible life-partner. Here, choices are determined by an AI that selects both the partners and sets the length of the partnership, which might be only a few hours. A potentially overburdened concept is buoyed by a sprightly sense of humor, perfect chemistry between Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole, and Alex Somers’ dewy score, punctuated with tracks by Sigur Rós and (spoiler alert) The Smiths.
  • Bandersnatch (2018): Interactive film isn’t a new medium, but the amount of money media companies like Netflix are sinking into it definitely is (as of the writing of this essay, Netflix has produced 23 interactive films, most of them oriented to the youth audience). As Michael Chemers and I discuss in a forthcoming essay, interactive films resemble conventional narrative films in many ways, but their construction of plot, character, and empathy works and feels different. One particular difference—and the one that sets Bandersnatch apart from its interactive ilk—is the way they construct the relationship between audience and character. Yes, the choices we make are often about making the character, but just as often about making the character do something that amuses us. Though a first playthrough might take a kinder, gentler path, subsequent playthroughs tend to be more experimental, if not downright cruel. Charlie Brooker weaves that cruelty into the narrative, which focuses on a young, troubled, mentally ill game designer who is attempting to adapt a legendary choose-your-own-adventure-style gamebook into a videogame. Fionn Whitehead’s prickly performance eases our transition into “what if we tried this” sadism, though there is precious little attention paid to the way the story treats its female characters, all of whom treat Stefan with love and kindness.

 Halt and Catch Fire (2014-17)

The first season of this criminally underrated drama about life and love in the 1980s tech sector is the worst of the four, though it has its charms, particularly its fifth episode, “Adventure,” which happens to be a perfect example of the ways storytellers can tell stories with and about videogames. The episode’s title is a shortened version of Colossal Cave Adventure, and adapts that game in several ways. It does it diegetically: we see characters playing the game (indeed becoming obsessed by it, including the irascible Bosworth) and hear them talking about it. The game builds character: Yo-Yo is revealed to be a deeply knowledgeable player, so much so that he recognizes Cameron is playing it by the click-click-click of her keystrokes. The game moves the plot forward: the coders who complete the game—by wit or by cheating—are identified by Cameron as creative problem-solvers whom she recruits for her nascent gaming company. Finally, the game functions metonymically, too, establishing the early-1980s setting along with the furniture and costumes. But most importantly, it functions as a metaphor for the Cameron’s desire for a life that is bigger, riskier, and more rewarding.

Videogames shape much more than one episode. The fortunes of Donna and Cameron’s gaming company Mutiny is a primary plotline of the second season—as is the relationship of the two women, their different perspectives and priorities on gaming and community eventually undermining their business and poisoning their friendship. And I’d be remiss not to mention the episode in the third season in which Cameron and Gordon freeze out the kids so they can beat Super Mario Bros in a single, all-day, all-night co-play session. Director Michael Norris and writer Angelina Burnett (who produced the third and fourth seasons) capture the unique chemistry of sharing a couch and a videogame with an old friend.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Videogame arcades were weird. Though the ones I haunted in the 1980s never produced a player as good as Billy Mitchell, there was always one guy who thought he was the shit because he could play videogames like a god. Game skill was social currency in those musky-smelling dens of electronic iniquity. In addition to the personalities in the high-end Donkey Kong gamer community, Seth Gordon’s documentary also tells an early chapter in the history of competitive videogaming. It also teaches us about the embedded weirdo machismo that continues to shape the competitive gaming space.

 Westworld, Season 1 (2016)

In 2018, a series of videos were posted on YouTube, each of them showing different ways that players of Red Dead Redemption 2 could creatively abuse and/or murder an NPC suffragette. While players didn’t have to creatively abuse and/or murder the NPC, the fact that one could cast a pall over the proceedings for many players, though not enough to keep us from playing.

I feel that way about Westworld, HBO’s luxe television series about a full-immersion theme park where guests can live out their wildest Wild West fantasies. Though ostensibly focused on the suffering and emerging consciousness of two of the parks’ android hosts, Dolores and Maeve, that focus doesn’t seem to have suggested to the writers that they should be less objectified by the camera.

One could argue the contradiction is intentional, given that the action of the first season is ultimately controlled not by Dolores or Maeve, but by three men with specific and uncategorically masculine visions of how to play in Westworld: park director Dr. Robert Ford, William, and the heartless Man in Black. Spoiler alert: William is the Man in Black—the season has told one story in two overlapping halves: William’s first visit to West World and his latest, now in the guise of West World board member and in-park serial rapist and killer the Man in Black. William’s break to the bad is driven by an all-too-familiar flavor of male resentment about female agency in playful spaces.  These several concerns noted, I find Westworld to be one of the most engaging, compelling, and rewarding representations of videogames, videogame designers, and videogame players.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

One of the earliest forms of videogames were multi-user dungeons (or MUDs). Players in MUDs collaboratively developed text-based virtual worlds, usually with a fantasy or science-fiction theme, in real-time and according to mutually agreed-upon, though always evolving rules of storytelling. While this kind of improvisatory world-building is far less common in videogames nowadays, it is hardwired into some of the more playful projects of social media.

One such project is explored by Jane Schoenbraun in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. While the participants in the film’s viral “World’s Fair Challenge” share videos and media instead of typing words, they’re still co-constructing a digital world in which they present identities that are different than those they have in real life, identities that can become something fantastically other if they can just commit to the game.

The problem—a problem that the participants consider a feature, not a bug of the challenge—is that their performances bleed into their real lives. That’s where the thrill of the movie lives. Casey, JLB, and the other World’s Fair Challengers are playing by dangerous rules—what play theorist call “dark play,” play in which, as Richard Schechner puts it, “contradictory realities co-exist, each seemingly capable of canceling each other out.” Dark play, Schechner continues, often “subverts order, dissolves frames, breaks its own rules, so that the playing itself is in danger of being destroyed, as in spying, con games, undercover actions, and double agentry.” That’s the case here. Writer and director Schoenbraun perfectly captures the delicacy of dark play and the deep hurt that can be inflicted when the magic circle is shattered.

What have I missed?

Please let me know by leaving a comment! And thanks for reading!



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