I was pretty sick over the weekend and did what I usually do in these situations: Watched a marathon of a show I’ve never bothered to turn on before. I went through Airline that way, a reality show about the people who work for Southwest Airlines (surprisingly fascinating), and it’s how I started on the BBC version of Being Human (which I somewhat now regret, given where season 4 has gone). This time around, it was Fairly Legal, a fluffy show on USA about a lawyer who acts as a mediator in her late father’s law firm. It’s frothy entertainment filled with likeable, attractive people, and just engaging enough to keep you interested. One episode features a dispute between gamers, but spends more time mocking gaming culture than talking about the contested issues. That’s pretty typical for TV – check out this fun article by Sinan Kubba for a few more examples – and I’m not really upset because our people were getting mocked yet again. I’m disappointed because the show had the opportunity to tackle a genuinely interesting aspect of gaming and instead chose to fall back on lame jokes.
Kate, our pretty mediator, is asked to settle a dispute between two guild leaders who supposed to team up to lead a charge against a strong in-game character. They show up to the first meeting virtually, in character, speaking through their avatars. When Kate says she can only meet with them in person, they’re cautioned to “not wear bathrobes – common gamer mistake” and once they’re in the room, they’re unable or unwilling to talk via anything other than text or more in-character banter. The message: Gamers can’t function like normal human beings and can’t deal with the real world for long enough to have a simple conversation. What makes this even worse is that one of the show’s regulars – Kate’s super-capable assistant, Leo – plays World of Warcraft and draws art for graphic novels, yet he’s interacting with these guild leaders as though their behavior is completely gamer normal.
The storyline was the subplot of that episode, and maybe given 10 minutes’ total airtime, so it was never meant to be anything more than a lightearted chuckle, but it could’ve been something genuinely interesting. The appeal of mediation is that it can handle issues that wouldn’t work very well in court. The “value” of virtual goods is murky at best, legally speaking, and virtual ownership is not something many courts are willing to tackle yet because of the precedents it might set, but that doesn’t mean conflicts don’t happen. Remember the EVE scandal? (“Which one?” is the correct response to that.) People got bilked out of real-world money, but the game’s lack of strict rule system makes the issue rather more grey than it might’ve been. If you pay for a game, then the servers go offline, are you owed any money? Could you make the argument that you are? There are plenty of scenarios you could concoct that would make for interesting TV, especially when you don’t have to tie it to some hideous murder, a la Law & Order or CSI or NCIS or whatever. Fairly Legal’s disputes aren’t typically all that over-the-top high drama, because they’re about getting people to meet in the middle – it’s more about human nature than it is the law. It would’ve been so interesting to see them explore how attached we can become to things that don’t really exist, or how those imaginary places can brush up against our real world. But, hey, aren’t those gamers wackadoo freakos? HAR HAR!
I don’t really expect much from TV with regard to our culture, but I do wish writers would try just a wee bit harder than they currently are.