“Mulder, why does this game have the effect of reducing grown men back to moony adolescence?” — Dana Scully
Mulder and Scully, would you like to play a game?
Max: Episodes of The X-Files keep me riveted, no matter how many times I’ve seen them, so it is telling that the first time I tried to rewatch “First Person Shooter” for this review I fell asleep in the middle of it. The fact that I was tired after a long day at work is besides the point, this is just an incredibly bad episode about what would happen if video games inflicted real life violence. Throw in some monumentally tone-deaf material about gender politics in gaming and the over-sexualization of women and you have all the ingredients for a real dud.
In the spirit of the subject matter at hand, I pay homage to the medium by allowing you the player (erm, the reader) to explore the episode through three different modes:
Choose “A” for PUZZLE:
A player for an ultra-realistic video game is bizarrely killed in real life, and our agents are called in by the Lone Gunmen to quietly investigate before the company that produced it goes public. Mulder gets a chance to relive his gaming youth (even though he was well into his teens when the first real video game systems dropped) while Scully is perturbed by all the fuss. What they uncover is that a female computer character created by a woman named Phoebe hacked its way into the company’s flagship game and caused all sorts of mayhem by somehow crossing the virtual divide. It is all very ham-fisted.
Choose “B” for BATTLE:
This includes the utterly cheesy and dated sojourns into the video game itself. Michael Bower, who played the rotund gamer in the cold open, was on the Nickelodeon show Salute Your Shorts. He and some fellow cast members went on a game show on the same network called Nick Arcade, whose main gimmick was that in the final round one team got to actually step into and play a video game using state of the art 1991 technology. It may be the nostalgia talking, but the gaming in that final round was more realistic than this (and that is saying something because those rounds were cringeworthy even as a kid). This sadly doesn’t stop Mulder and Scully, two seasoned and incisive investigators, from being dragged into this mess.
Choose “C” for MULTIPLAYER:
I think a lot of the blame has to be leveled towards the writers of the episode, William Gibson and Tom Maddox. Gibson is one of the luminaries of science fiction, and the duo turned out the solid “Kill Switch” two seasons ago. Here, they seem to have let the concept get away from them, and replaced any semblance of nuance or resonance with surface gimmicks. They turned Mulder and The Lone Gunmen into pubescent bumblers, and Scully suffers the lot of the eternally put-upon. I thought we were starting to move past this tired dynamic.
I’m just going to stop here, because I’ve wasted enough virtual ink on this disaster.
Radhika: I have to agree: This episode is terrible. Even though I’m not a devotee of William Gibson, I do expect better of him, especially considering “Kill Switch” had far more heart than this episode (even with the so original “nerds drooling over hot hacker chick” side plot). This episode does a disservice to everyone involved — The Lone Gunmen are downright idiots, Mulder is pretty much an idiot too (and I really doubt his interest in gaming), and Scully comes across as a buzzkill even though she has every right to be one.
First, addressing the sexism of this episode: It isn’t just the women that suffer; the aforementioned idiocy of the male characters really puts men in a bad light too. I know that some stereotypes about gamers are true (and gaming has had its share of bad press recently), but considering there are plenty of gamer men and women alike that aren’t complete doofuses, I can’t believe this is how science fiction authors chose to present everyone. And the scene where the cops are gawking over stripper Jade Blue Afterglow is incredibly embarrassing — it just goes on too long.
Then the women: We’ve got the hot video game chick, Jade Blue Afterglow (the model for her), and then we have Scully and Phoebe, the programmer. Phoebe apparently created the killer video game lady in response to the dreadful boy’s club she deals with, though her aggression is an unplanned side effect. This explanation seems to be offered to cancel out the rest of the episode’s terribleness, but it actually sounds worse when explained out loud. The episode seems to become some token fight against sexism, but none of it really makes sense somehow. The writing isn’t sophisticated enough to present a subversive theme; the writers just come across as sexist themselves. (And the transformation of Scully into a “hot” video game character at the end generally cancels out any kind of deep message the writers were trying to convey. So cringeworthy.)
And even though there’s a killer video game lady on the loose, the stakes don’t feel very high. The scene where we watch the legendary Musashi lose his hands and head feels weirdly anticlimactic and tensionless. (Mulder barely reacts, though to David Duchovny’s credit, he really tries to muster some enthusiasm in the rest of the episode.) When Mulder and Scully go into the game, they don’t look remotely badass either, just laughable.
I don’t mind the idea of a video game-themed episode. I’m not someone who’s perpetually dismayed by hot video game and comic female characters — I get that they’re supposed to be exaggerated representations though there is a point where some exaggerations are too much. But the episode here is so adolescent and insulting to everyone involved, I just can’t excuse the mess we see here.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Constance Zimmer – Playing Phoebe, Zimmer is perhaps best known for her stints on the shows Boston Legal, Good Morning Miami, and Entourage. She most recently has had a recurring role on Netflix’s House of Cards.
Krista Allen – It’s probably natural that the buxom Jade Blue Afterglow did a tour of duty on Baywatch. It is also probably natural that she played the titular Emmanuelle in a series of TV movies.
Michael Bower – The Salute Your Shorts dude has done guest stints on Dark Angel, Monk, Empty Nest, and Weird Science. He was also in Dude Where’s My Car?.
Billy Ray Gallion – One of the doomed gamers is known to Lost fans as John Locke’s insufferable supervisor Randy Nations.