3 ways that video game movie Free Guy parodies gaming culture

·6-min read

Your life is perfect. You go through your morning routine without a hitch, get your caffeinated brew from the barista who never forgets your order, and everyone knows your name. You arrive at your cushy bank teller job, except that it gets abruptly robbed in the middle of the day. And then you go home and everything repeats itself – every, single, day.

In gaming, this is the repetitive and dull life of a Non-Player Character, or NPC. Free Guy, now in theatres, is all about the #MeToo movement for the heavily bullied and abused NPCs in the virtual world of Free City, where Ryan Reynolds is an obliviously naïve NPC named Guy who has gained consciousness and sentience, accidentally triggered by a voluptuous female player character who somehow managed to catch his programming's eye. (Read a review of the movie here.)

The chaotic in-game world of Free City resembles a cross between Overwatch and Grand Theft Auto (GTA), where players don sunglasses and are tasked to do all sorts of criminal game activity like rob banks, steal from convenience stores and perform mundane errands for the beleaguered NPCs, all of whom could be accosted at any player's whim.

Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)
Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)

Free Guy seems to be Disney's perception of gaming and in this case Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games or MMORPGs in particular. Director Shawn Levy has opted for a very happy-go-lucky (if not unrealistic) take on gaming culture, which is usually rife with trolls, griefers, toxic swearing kids, and nerdy keyboard warriors who've shot to fame from their mother's basement.

The movie comes amid a swirling storm surrounding the darling of the gaming world, Activision Blizzard, whose reputation has been completely dragged through the mud from searing accusations in a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment of female employees from its upper echelons of executives, employees staging a walkout and the failing quality of their existing games.

In Free Guy, Soonami is the company that produces the game Free City, led by maverick mogul Antwan (Taika Waititi) who has bought the rights to the game's source code from founding programmers Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer) and Walter McKeys (Joe Keery), and is trying to push for sequels of the game without any regard for their quality. Doesn't this all sound so familiar?

Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)
Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)

Semblances to real life aside, Free Guy is a video game adaptation that has succeeded somewhat unlike many of its failed predecessors, and here are some ways that it has hilariously parodied gaming culture:

1. NPCs have the funniest ticks (but no one usually cares).

Free Guy tries its best and does actually achieve its goal of getting you to care about NPCs, as that's usually not really reflected at all in real games. But let's face it. If you've ever played an MMORPG, you'll realise that nobody gives a flying hoot about in-game NPCs. They've got mostly bland dialogue, they're always pathetic and begging for help and very few of them are memorable or even stand out at all. 

However, there have been NPC ticks that have been parodied once every so often, like Skyrim's ubiquitous NPC dialogue that goes, 'I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the knee.' which was turned into a viral meme. Or Haris Pilton, a socialite NPC in the World of Warcraft who sells bags to players and asks "is your 'sack' Gigantique?''

The NPCs in Free Guy do have some interesting ticks, like the cat lady who keeps asking if you've seen her cat, the bank employee who can't put down his hands because the bank is constantly robbed, and a police officer who only ever repeats the same phrase when greeting Ryan Reynold's character.

Like I said, no one really cares.

Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)
Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)

2. Kids and nerds are the coolest (and strongest) players in MMORPGs.

Unfortunately, most gaming communities are populated to a large extent by gamers that are annoying, toxic and sore losers. Even South Park previously parodied a toxic top player in World of Warcraft as a sedentary, potato chip-eating, unkempt middle-aged man. Real life is hard, and many of these players go online to rant, destroy and behave however they want, treating such open-world games as an outlet to wreak all sorts of havoc.

Free Guy does tap into that stereotype quite a bit, using Channing Tatum as a player model for one of the supposedly coolest and most powerful players in Free City, effortless and seamlessly destroying the virtual environment, achieving quests and possessing a cool bat cave, all while having an NPC chick who strokes his ego while he goes about wreaking havoc.

Yet behind this player is a whiney, 30-something nerd who eats twizzlers and yells at his mom when she tries to vacuum during his online stream. 

The robbers who charge into Guy's bank are depicted as children; a 12-year-old girl yells at the bank's NPCs to 'stick-em-up' during a raid but gets abruptly shut down by Guy, who after gaining sentience has levelled up with obscene gains in strength and power.

Are these stereotypes real? Only real gamers will know.

Ryan Reynolds and Lil Rel Howery in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)
Ryan Reynolds and Lil Rel Howery in Free Guy. (Still: Disney)

3. The grind is real.

If you've played MMORPGs and other related genres of games then you'll definitely relate; the grind is real.

Grinding or farming refers to the endless repetition of killing monsters, doing certain quests over and over again, and running dungeons to infinity just to get gear and loot just to get stronger and stay relevant in whatever meta the game is running at the moment, before the next patch comes and the grind repeats itself again, just with different quests, dungeons and raid bosses.

Think Maple Story and Diablo 3. In Free Guy, it's exactly the same. The bank Ryan Reynolds is in is held-up multiple times a day, every day, by players wearing outlandish clothing and brandishing all manner of guns. The convenience store nearby is robbed and the owner knocked over. The crazy cat lady never finds her cat because if she ever does, players will be bereft of the quest to complete their grinding circuit.

Guy does make a valiant effort to stop the quests from repeating by preventing players from robbing banks and the convenience store by levelling up his character. It would definitely be strange if you logged into World of Warcraft one day and some random NPC comes up to you in your endless grind of loot and takes you out. 

That would be irritating right? Well, maybe not as irritating as doing the same quests in WoW or running the same dungeons and massacring the same boss every week, every day, day after day with no end in sight.

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