As part of my summer effort to expand my mind without actually altering it, I’ve been dabbling in geek culture in an attempt to both understand it better and add to my arsenal of geek insults. Right now, I’m exploring the three major subgenres of geek. I’m reading graphic novels and watching “Doctor Who,” to cover my comic-book and sci-fi geek bases. The one subgenre that eludes me most, however, is the gamer geek, who is the much less cool cousin of the comic-book geek. I’m not interested enough to actually play video games because, like, ick, but I did decide to watch the web series, “The Guild,” which is about a group of online role-playing gamers. I figured if there was one person who could successfully ease me into the gamer culture it’d be the Angelina Jolie of the nerd world: Felicia Day.
Day — familiar to most of you from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog — writes and stars in “The Guild,” a web series she created in an effort to put her own real-life online gaming addiction to good use. She’s also the embodiment of cute; bunnies, kittens, puppies, and laughing babies have nothing on this woman. She’s red-haired heartmelt wrapped in alabaster skin, a nose that buttons envy, and an unfathomably sexy approachability that makes her, essentially, the pin-up girl of Comic-con. Put her in a crowded room full of dorks, and you’d need Noah’s Ark to float out of the flop sweat. Apatow would be wise to borrow her from Joss Whedon for a couple of years, expose her to the Rogen masses, and send her back with enough visibility to launch an HBO version of “Sex and the City” about nerd girls. It’s still a largely untapped audience, but I think our site alone could get it to a second season.
I’m a little more mixed about the merits of “The Guild.” I appreciate what it’s aim is: To disabuse many of the basement dwelling, hairy-palmed stereotypes that a lot of us have about gamers, but it’s mostly replacing one stereotype with six, albeit slightly more sympathetic (or at least, funnier) ones. Day stars as Codex (that’s her online alter ego, anyway), an unemployed, slightly neurotic, incredibly insecure violinist who fritters away most of her day playing a World of Warcraft type of game, where she’s developed a close-knit set of Internet friends that belong to a guild called “The Knights of Good.” Her real and Internet worlds merge disastrously, however, when a fellow member of the guild, Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh) develops a stalker crush on her after reading too much into an accidental semi-colon wink left in an online chat. He shows up, unexpectedly, at her apartment, professes his love, and attempts to introduce his wizard staff to her geeky double entendre.
Codex, in turn, sets up a real-life meet at a restaurant between The Guild hoping to get some assistance in thwarting Zaboo’s advances, and the six of them end up reluctantly getting involved in each others’ real lives over the course of the web series. In addition to Codex and Zaboo, there’s also Vork (Jeff Lewis), a pathetic middle-aged CPA type loser living off his dead grandfather’s Social Security checks; he’s the show’s scene stealer, a close character relative to “Scrubs’” Ted (“Women! Can’t live with them…..they will not go out with me.”) There’s also Clara (Robin Thorson), an overweight housewife who neglects her husband and three children in order to obsessively play the online game; Bladezz (Vincent Caso), a high-school geek who is into older women; and Tinkerballa (Amy Okuda), an attractive Asian bitch-geek who tends to blow off dates in favor of playing the game.
There are two seasons — 24 episodes from three to seven minutes long — available of “The Guild,” so far, though production recently wrapped on a third season. Because I haven’t seen very many online web series, it’s hard to compare “The Guild” to others in the format (it’s no “Dr. Horrible,” but it did, in part, inspire it). I will say this, however: It’s diversionary. I ended up watching the entire series in one sitting. It’s not that it’s gripping, well-plotted, intense, or suspenseful. It’s engagingly frivolous, a soap opera for dorks. It’s also fairly cheesy (but then, so far so is “Doctor Who”), the production values are shoddy (Day had to collect donations to finish season one) and it’s littered a little too heavily in overly generic text-speak (“OMG” and “Owned,” in particular). Neither does it, unfortunately, dig particularly deep into the culture, although there was one sharp parody that occurs when Codex meets another girl gamer, Riley (Michele Boyd), who plays “Halo,” that suggests that FPS players may be the hot cheerleaders of the gamer world who look down on MMORPGs. I dig that there are social hierarchies even among geeks.
But for all its faults, “The Guild” is also endearing, in large part because the hors d’œuvre sized servings of Felicia Day are irresistible. She doesn’t exactly open up a new world to those unfamiliar with the gaming culture, but the world she does present — in all its daffiness — is amusing and, at times, funnier than what you’d expect from what is essentially a home-made project made on a shoestring flugelbinder budget. It’s dorky as hell, but then, that’s the point. It doesn’t exactly subvert gamer stereotypes, but it just might endear them to you.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.