Admit it, you’ve always wanted to try it. I don’t care if you’re a Fortune 500 CEO, at some point in your life, you’ve wanted to see what all those nerds you made fun of in high school see in those bizarre dice. I’m talking about role-playing games, of course. They’ve evolved from the tabletop to computers and even to reality, becoming a cult phenomenon within our society.
Movies have both mocked and defended them, with varying levels of quality and success for each side. What you’ll find here is the best mix of self-deprecating humor and at other times the sobering reality that comes with the opportunity to immerse yourself in your wildest fantasies.
I couldn’t pick a favorite so the list is in chronological order from latest to earliest.
10. Unicorn City (2011)
This film answers the all-important question: How do you prove to a prospective employer that you’re capable of leading a team? The obvious solution is to create and be the king of a fictitious Live Action Role Playing society based on the rules and ideals of a medieval RPG. While lead character and financially challenged Voss played by (Devin McGinn) struggles to make his self-proclaimed “utopia for gamers” run smoothly, his real life arch nemesis (Jon Gries from Napoleon Dynamite fame) aims to misbehave and take over his creation. If you loved Uncle Rico, you’re going to love Gries as a delusional, jealous control freak. To add to his list of problems including his bullish older brother Jeff played by Kevin Weismanwho he lives with, Voss must keep all the denizens of Unicorn City happy. Not to mention his longtime fellow gamer and friend, Marsha played by (Jaclyn Hales) has a huge crush on him. Questing around is one thing, but this movie shows the everyday challenges of dealing with leading a team of people. Only in this situation, Voss rules his own realm with unique people and politics… and foam swords. In all seriousness, everyone can enjoy the universal humor in this one, gamer or not. Plus, there’s a centaur that uses a functioning cooler for drinks and snacks as a body. How awesome is that?
9. The Last Lovecraft: Relic of the Cthulhu (2009)
Stuck at a dead end job, the last descendent of H.P. Lovecraft, famed creator of the mythos of Cthulhu, must stop a rising evil to save the world. But who doesn’t have to do that on a daily basis, right? This quest takes Lovecraft Jr. and his unequally unheroic friends on a journey of epic proportions as they fight weird fish people and protect an ancient relic that would summon a dark evil should it fall in the wrong hands.
8. Role Models (2008)
While the focus of this movie is not necessarily about LARPing, it becomes a tool to show the growth of the child and adult protagonists alike. At first, you see the teenage social outcast who uses the hobby as an escape from his disapproving parents but then learns how to accept his differences from mainstream society. The climactic battle royale leads to his coronation as the new king of the realm and even getting the girl. And people said nothing good ever came from childish games.
7. Astropia (2008)
What happens when you take the money and glamor away from a national celebrity? That celebrity has to get a job working at a role-playing game shop. As the employed nerds learn about what a woman looks like, the socialite, Hildur, becomes immersed in the subculture of gaming and learns a few life lessons of her own. Somewhere along the line, “that guy from the Matrix” shows up in their fantastical quests and that’s when you know you have a good movie.
Side note: This was the highest grossing film in Iceland in 2007. America’s highest grossing film that same year: Spider-man 3. I think Iceland won that one.
6. The Gamers: Dorkness Rising (2008)
As sequel to “The Gamers,” (see below) this adventure takes everything up a notch. This feature length film boasts higher quality production values, cross-dressing, lightsabers, and more unruly adventurers defying the Game Master. As soon as they’re done setting peasants aflame, maybe they can go back to the campaign. All in the name of glory!
5. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
I broke the rules again. While not about RPGs specifically, this documentary examines the relationship between games and the behaviors of those who obsess over them. The escalating rivalry between a successful big shot and a frustrated high school science teacher serves as the backdrop for the epic battle for Donkey Kong global high score supremacy. It’s the modern tale of David versus Goliath, except it’s about jumping over barrels and defeating a giant monkey.
4. The Guild (2007-Present)
Ok, so this is running web series but this rag tag group of everyday people trying to run a successful online guild was too funny to pass up. While the central character, Cyd a.k.a. Codex, tries to keep her real life and game life in balance, the other five members of her guild use the full extent of their zany personalities to be masters of the game while remaining socially awkward outside it.
3. Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey (2006)
This HBO documentary follows 14 year old LARPer Colin Taylor. The film serves both as a coming of age story and a look into the lives of those who Live Action Role Play. As Colin gets ready to enter his first year of high school, he LARPs with his older brother in his spare time. Despite their tight bond, the brothers continue to struggle with the memory, or lack thereof, of their estranged father. The older brother wonders if their father still loves them while Colin would like nothing less than to punch him in the face should they ever meet. Without a father figure, Colin uses LARP to learn how to be a man and perhaps give him the strength to eventually find and regain contact with his dad.
2. Roleplayed (2006)
A short film about one man’s attempt to get his friends to take their tabletop campaign seriously. His tactics involve personal insults, professing the uselessness of reality, and even binding one of his companions. A twist in the middle makes things even stranger until the whole series of events turns into a commercial for a foundation to help the socially awkward. Disturbingly funny is the only way I can describe it.
1. The Gamers (2002)
A group of five friends show us what it’s like in their fantasy world living out the misadventures of their characters during their campaign. While the game master wants order and logic to prevail, the heroes continuously wage war against civility and practicality. The banter between the game master and the players over the rules makes for the funniest bits of this romp between fantasy and reality.
by Stefan Harris