From military recruiting to lockdown entertainment, it’s video gaming’s world – we just live in it.
By
Anthony Morris

24 Aug 2021 - 11:50 AM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2021 - 10:04 AM

Reset is a show about video games, which means it’s a show about the world we live in. It’s not just a case of video games dominating our culture; in 2021, video games are our culture. What’s social media but a way to turn human interaction into a video game where likes and shares are how you keep score? Reset promises – and delivers – a fun look at the quirky corners of video gaming, but by doing that it becomes essential viewing for understanding where we’ve come from, how we’ve arrived here, and exactly where it is we’re heading.

Across the ten half-hour episodes, host Dexter Thomas tackles a range of issues in the world of video games that have been largely ignored or overlooked. Through interviews with journalists, insiders and experts on culture-defining games, Reset shines a light on topics such as how gaming is developing a sense of its history (and exactly how to preserve it when so much of it relies on obsolete or forgotten technology), how government regulations have shaped the path gaming has taken, and how gaming has successfully moved into mainstream culture with the big-money world of e-sports.

Away from the corporate world, Reset maps out the ways marginalised groups are carving out their own spaces in the digital world. Online fighting game tournaments are the kind of thing people can easily set up for themselves, and as a growing market with a lot of people looking for growth – and with geographical boundaries no longer a factor so long as the wifi’s good enough – it doesn’t take much for a successful comp to leapfrog their way into the high-stakes section of the industry.

There’s a dark side to gaming culture too, and Reset doesn’t shy away from examining the toxic “gamer bro” culture that has sprung up over the past decade or so. But there’s been pushback against racism in gaming from gamers themselves: one episode features an up-close look at the BIPOC players who, sick of seeing themselves unrepresented in the games they play, have taken up modifying the games themselves.

By creating characters that better reflect the real world beyond the stereotypically white confines of the gaming industry, they’ve been able to reshape the world of games like The Sims (which may not get a lot of press, but remains huge to this day). They’ve helped create a place for themselves in the gaming world, and shown both other players and the companies that they’re a segment of the market that won’t be ignored.

Documentaries coming from inside gaming are often tempted to play into gamers’ image of themselves as rebels, independent actors reshaping the world. Reset doesn’t fall into that trap: gaming might be a huge pop culture industry, but in capitalism there’s always someone bigger out there looking for a way to exploit you – and in gaming’s case, it’s the US military.

As soon as video games became a thing, their recruitment and training potential became obvious. Back in 1984, the movie The Last Starfighter was built around the idea of a video game being used as a training and recruitment device (for a war in outer space between aliens, but still), while early 80s video game Battlezone was adapted by the US military to use as a training device for tank crews.

These days the military has cut out the middle man, using games (most notably the America’s Army series of first-person shooters) and e-sports as a recruitment tool. There’s an unsettling kind of logic to it: most FPS games are basically designed to simulate combat conditions of one kind or another, so if you’re enjoying the virtual version, why not sign up for the real thing? And when you come out the other side, increasingly the military is using virtual reality and other gaming tools to help soldiers with PTSD, enabling them to regain control of the situations that traumatised them.

Gaming’s as much about the people as it is the technology, and Thomas meets a wide range of colourful characters as he explores gaming’s more obscure corners. Talking to players (including actors such as Cobra Kai’s Xolo Maridueña and The Leftovers’ Jasmin Savoy Brown), coders, executives and experts reveals just how far and wide gaming has spread, especially as the spread of COVID-19 made home entertainment – and ways to relieve stress at home – increasingly essential.

Plus there’s a guide to the top ten games of the last decade, which obviously won’t be at all controversial. Let’s just say that if Animal Crossing doesn’t come in at number one, there’s going to be trouble.

Follow the author @morrbeat

Ten-part series Reset starts Friday 27 August and airs weekly at 10.30pm on SBS Viceland. The series is also streaming at SBS On Demand:

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