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Friday 25 October 2013

Thoughts on "Zero Charisma"

So The Wench and I have just come back from watching Zero Charisma, the crowdfunded nerd-comedy about a D&D guy.  For those of you uninformed about the film, its a story about a guy with very low social skills, living with his grandma, no decent job, never had a girlfriend, but runs a game twice a week with a stable of other similar social-retards.  Then everything changes when a new guy joins the group, who's more of a hipster-nerd, with a social life, hot girlfriend, has impeccable geek-cred (runs a famous geek website) but still has a life, and starts to encourage the rest of the group to get out of their shells.  Everyone except the main character starts to do so; main-dude sees hipster-geek as his "nemesis", becomes jealous, things spiral out of control, and hilarity ensues.

Both The Wench and I agree that the movie is very funny, unlike, oh, EVERY SINGLE OTHER GAMING MOVIE I EVER SAW.  I generally can't stand movies, fan-films or webcomics about gaming geeks; they're usually unfunny, stupidly self-referential, and tend to be more about mild ribbing while still implying that geeks are pretty darn wonderful instead of some kind of meaningful satire.  You know what all those movies and webcomics remind me of? When Evangelical Christians try to make humour "poking fun" at themselves.

This movie avoids that trap: it points out that in fact, geek culture is pretty fucking awful sometimes and the people in it are shitty.  Even hipster-geek is fairly shitty, though far less so than his counterpart.
They're also realistic, within certain limits; watching it we saw characters that we immediately identified with actual people we know (though it also reminded us in some ways just how different RPG-geeks here in Uruguay are from the ones in North America; there's no one here that I would be perfectly able to identify with the main character, while there are half a dozen geeks I remember from Canada that would immediately fit the bill).

Nor does anyone really end up "learning a valuable lesson". By the end of the film, while people have changed, main-geek guy has in no significant way "turned around his life" (no, he doesn't get a girl, nor does he figure out how to be normal with people), nor for that matter does hipster-geek figure out that the slavering Lawncrappers are actually wonderful people that should be tolerated (quite the contrary, he realizes just how fucked up they are, and that its by their own choice).

So yes, its awesome for all that.

What's more, its awesome because it takes a look at how geek culture is evolving; it doesn't really manage to do this in a very nuanced way, but within the specter of RPGs it looks at how the mainstreaming of all things previously "nerdy" is making geek-culture less and less the safe-haven for Lawncrappers it once was.
More interestingly still, it raises up the question of "who is a real nerd"?  This is a topic that's been a big deal the past couple of years, with accusations flying left and right about "fake geeks" (and that particularly toxic variant, "fake geek girls") being used to mean anyone who somehow doesn't pass the user's personal litmus-test of geekdom (which usually involves being in some way sufficiently separated from mainstream society, when you get right down to it).

The question (which the movie raises subtly but never really answers) is an important one: who gets to claim geekdom? The people who choose to be geeks because they like the activity, or the ones who are there for some other reason; be it to be seen as trendy, or because its the only place that will tolerate them?

And ultimately, that's the one thing that was missing from the movie: there was no central figure who was a "real" RPG geek there (except maybe the two secondary characters in the gaming group, who we see too little of to tell for sure); main-guy was into RPGs as an escape from the world and because it was (before it started to change) the only social outlet where he could be as useless and ill-mannered as he was and still be accepted; while hipster-geek talked a big show about friendship and fun but he was clearly ultimately doing it because he saw it as part of the geek-hipster lifestyle.  Of course, having a guy who was pretty much normal (socially capable, well-balanced in life, relationships and career) and liked to game without being either a Lawncrapper or a Swine would probably have been boring. As it is, a movie about two problematic extremities of a changing hobby almost certainly made for better cinema, albeit incomplete commentary.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + Rattray's Marlin Flake


  1. To give it its due, I think Knights of the Dinner Table does a good job of turning a more incisive satirical spotlight on gaming; it does occasionally dissolve into a feelgood celebration of gaming (then again, it's been going on long enough that throwing in occasional feelgood moments helps stop it from getting monotonous), but the writers seem to be fairly consistently clear on the idea that not all geek behaviours are actually constructive or helpful when it comes to living a happy, balanced, full life. (For example, Bob is a perpetual manchild who is incapable of conceiving of any sort of ambition or accomplishment outside of the context of gaming, Brian is an emotionally stunted man who often has only the loosest conception of what this thing humans call "friendship" is, and so on.)

    But it sounds like this Zero Charisma thing has hit on the same idea, so I'd be interested to see it.

  2. Good review, and I'd probably pay to see "Revenge of the lawncrappers"

  3. I can't stand reading KotDT. Again, it reminds me of some Baptist Church Newsletter's house-comic making fun of how "crazy" baptists can get. Its pointless.