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There is a formula for making a strong documentary: find a subculture, get some cameras, and shoot the hell out of their existence. It has to be a semi-obsessive sub-culture or it's all for nothing. It worked for Trekkies, Spellbound and Tribute, and it has worked for many short docs since. Gamers, by director Kiyash Monsef, takes a look at Counter-Strike players.

Counter-Strike started as a mod to the classic shoot 'em up game Half Life. It plays as a group of terrorists against a group of counter-terrorists trying to perform some objective, like capturing a bomb or some such. It's a great little game, which has thousands of players around the world playing over the net at any given time. (Fanboy Planet started out sharing server space with a Counter-Strike clan -- ed.)There are a huge number of regular players, some of whom form into clubs, groups which accept anyone, and clan, hard core, player units that compete in tourneys or in the CPL, the Counter-Strike Professional League, for cash and glory.

We start out meeting a bunch of players, mostly from the Bay Area, who are in many of the major clans. You sort of get the feeling that they are somewhat living in the game, another sign that it's a subculture doc, but then we are presented with a Dad, Carlito, and his son who plays as Carlito, Jr.

The examination of their relationship both in and out of the game is the strongest portion of the opening segments. Monsef has almost used a post-war documentarian's eye in the interviews, giving the game a feeling of reality, making it into a real war, which these players have pulled each other through. It felt like some of the classic post-Nam docs at times, which blurred the lines between the fantasy of the game and the reality of battle, which speaks very highly of the filmmakers ability to connect with his subjects.

The film works very smartly with text. Using definitions as a separation device, he gives us the terms that apply to the next section. While these definitions are seldom unknown, like server, but they give you a nice touchstone showing the direction the next portion will travel. Every time you are shown a new speaker, you get a graphic with their real name, their affiliation and their code name. The code name thing gives you the important clue about why the guys, almost all guys, play the game. They have a new persona that they are allowed to wallow in.

There are great hints at the power of the phenomenon. There is a great discussion of an anti-violence group that plays the game in a way that doesn't allow regular players, there to kill stuff, to have their cathartic good time. Then there is a great discussion of cheaters, complete with a leader shown entirely in shadow. It was a really nice touch.

There are a few moments which drag a bit. After a Los Gatos tournament, we are given a long segment with a player and his wife. This is a highly important piece, but it moves too slowly. It's a really long segment that isn't bad, but following the very good tourney scene, it grinds the film a bit.

They come back with more tournament footage from the bigger tourneys and they are really good. The finals of the World Championships are very compelling. Much like Spellbound, the things get good the closer we get to the finals. It starts strong, and it ends strong, though there is a lull in the center.

The video look of the doc works so well with the footage of the game blending very well with the documentary sections. The editing is superb, as the cuts between the reactions of the players and the games that they are playing seem flawless. While it's seldom flashy, the cinematography is clean and smooth, which with the video look makes it seemed like the type of polished doc you might see on Discovery Channel. I'd highly recommend visiting www.thegamingproject.com for more information so you can get a look at this very solid documentary.

Chris Garcia

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