Gamer is a 2009 American science fiction action thriller film written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. The film stars Gerard Butler as a participant in an online game in which participants can control human beings as players, and Logan Lerman as the player who controls him. Gamer was released in North America on September 4, 2009, and the United Kingdom on September 16, 2009.
In 2020 New York, inventor and professional computer programmer, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), has revolutionized the gaming industry with his self-replicating nanites that replace brain cells and allow full control of all motor functions by a third party. Castle’s first application of this technology is a game called Society, which allows gamers to control a real person in a pseudo community (much like The Sims or Second Life). This allows players to engage in all manner of debauchery, such as deliberately injuring their “characters” and engaging in rough sex with random people. As a result, those who work as “characters” in Society are paid very well.
With Society’s success and huge profits, Castle (now richer than Bill Gates), creates a second multiplayer game, Slayers. The “characters” in this third-person shooter game are death-row or life imprisoned inmates used in lethal battles with real weapons on specially created battlefields. Any inmate who survives 30 matches earns his freedom, while minor offenders only need one match while being limited to a pre-programmed path that they cannot deviate from. The game is known for a lag problem in the game and no communication between the inmates and players, so there is a dangerous delay between the players’ control and inmates’ responses.
In Slayers, John “Kable” Tillman (Gerard Butler) is the most recognizable face and the best soldier due to having survived 27 matches, far more than any other participant (no other inmate than Kable has survived more than 10 matches). This marks him as one of the harder targets and also as the crowd’s favorite. Simon (Logan Lerman), a seventeen-year old superstar gamer, is the player who exclusively controls him, also gaining fame for playing Kable.
While Castle is being interviewed by popular TV host Gina Parker Smith (Kyra Sedgwick), an activist organization called “Humanz” hijacks the broadcast and claims that Castle can use the nanite technology to control people against their will. A faceless female visits Tillman, as he sits in his prison cell, giving him a picture of his family and taking some of his blood (he is told the purpose is to validate the authenticy of the autograph he gives her). Another inmate, Hackman (Terry Crews), taunts Tillman in the prison, threatening his family. Hackman comments that he has “no strings”, meaning he is not controlled by an outside player, and thus has no dangerous lag, allowing him to fully control his movements and gain an advantage.
A file appears on Simon’s computer screen (walkietalkie.exe), a mod created by the Humanz that will allow Simon to illegally speak with Tillman within the Slayers arena. After Hackman nearly kills Tillman, Tillman asks Simon to relinquish control during the next match, their 30th. The Humanz intervene again, providing this ability. The stranger visits Tillman in his cell again, warning him that Castle has no intention of letting him live, and that escape is the only option. Tillman asks for alcohol, which she provides. Tillman uses his free will in the 30th match to escape by successfully driving out of the deathmatch arena; the vehicle is fueled by the vomit and urine containing the alcohol he has chugged before the match. After his escape, news outlets report that he has been officially listed as fragged, which saves Tillman but puts Simon in a difficult position: he loses his reputation, is humiliated as he is now labelled a “cheater”, his bank accounts are frozen, and he is under police investigation for helping Tillman escape. Tillman is found outside his wife Angie’s (Amber Valletta) apartment by the female stranger, Trace (Alison Lohman), whose voice he recognizes as the girl who visited him in prison. She takes him to the Humanz leader named Brother (Ludacris) and Dude (Aaron Yoo) who explains that the mind control technology can potentially be unwillingly used on anyone, leading to the “extinction of independent thought”. The Humanz have created a cure, but it must be individualized, hence the need to take Tillman’s blood in prison. Tillman searches for Angie, who has been working as an avatar (known as Nika) for a heinous and obese Society player. After a violent confrontation with security he manages to enter the Society world to break her out. He returns to the Humanz who are able to deactivate the nanite cells in Angie’s brain.
When the Dude and Brother examine Tillman’s memories, Tillman reveals that he was part of the original experiment to use nanites in the brain. The first person to successfully be implanted with nanites was Tillman’s close friend Scotch (Johnny Whitworth). In an experimental session, Tillman (controlled by Castle through the nanites) shot Scotch in the head, which landed Tillman on death row. When he heard about the Slayers game, Tillman volunteered so he would have a chance to be set free.
When Tillman discovers Castle adopted his young daughter, Delia (Brighid Fleming), Tillman infiltrates Castle’s mansion to get her back. He locates Castle who performs a song-and-dance number using mind-controlled Slayers as backup dancers, while a screen above plays footage of Castle’s men murdering Trace, Brother and Dude. The “dancers” then attack Tillman, who kills all of them one by one. Castle then leads Tillmann to a room with a basketball court where Castle reveals that, whereas the nanites implanted in other people’s brains are designed to receive commands, his nanites are designed for sending commands. Tillman fights Hackman on the court, this time defeating him easily by breaking his neck, since Hackman is under Castle’s control and unable to fight for himself.
To demonstrate his control, Castle beats Tillman savagely while stopping him from fighting back. Angie and Delia are brought onto the court after Castle reveals that the Humanz have been found and killed. Castle then makes Tillman crawl to his family, trying to force him to kill his own daughter, though Tillman is able to resist. However, Trace and Gina Parker Smith have escaped Castle’s slaughter, and broadcast the confrontation on every video screen across the country, exposing Castle and his plans for control. Seeing the broadcast, Simon is able to use his previous link with Tillman to aid him in resisting Castle’s control. The interference distracts Castle, and the pair wrestle for control of Tillman’s mind. Tillman outwits Castle by suggesting that he imagines Tillman plunging the knife into his stomach, allowing him to do so (since Castle’s thoughts create actions). After Castle dies, Tillman turns to Castle’s technicians, who release everyone from nanite control upon Tillman’s request. They walk away, after one states, “Well played, Kable”. The film closes with the Tillman family taking a trip down a country road, ending with the words “Game Over”.
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