After a very eventful and work-filled week (read: preparing for my vacation, and playing games), I finally had the time to re-watch The Raid and now feel somewhat able to give a review.
First of all: I think it has its shortcomings, but overall is a decent documentary. The film focuses on one specific raid group (Lore et al.’s “Double Dragon” 10-man group from their guild “Months Behind”), which I think is a good thing. More is not always better, especially if your budget is limited. It then tries to extend this very specific view by interviews with “experts” (I use this term loosely, I will come to that later). It also limits its time to about 45 minutes, which I guess is also fair enough. I personally wouldn’t have minded a longer film, let’s say 90 minutes, with more topics and/or details, but long documentaries generally aren’t considered very “hot”.
Second: What the fuck is up with all the beeping? I sure hope I will be able to watch one without this stupid beeping at some point. At times, it was hard to make out what people were saying.
Third: The film is cut very fast at times. That is especially noticeable in the beginning, when you get second-long one-sentence comments by a bunch of people you’ll see again later, but there isn’t even enough time to give them a caption. I would like to know who is talking at some point. If there isn’t enough time to show the caption, maybe the cuts are too fast for a documentary. But that’s just my opinion, I’m old-fashioned when it comes to cutting.
Alright, enough with the general comments. Let’s move to the film itself. One of the most important sentences that describes the scope of the film is said early on by Prof. Castronova:
[some] people seek out gaming to achieve. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, seeing how raiding, especially raiding in World of Warcraft, is an achiever’s game. I have yet to hear of socializer or explorer raids. It’s still something you should keep in mind while watching the film. Complaining that the view is too achiever-heavy is like watching an Ingmar Bergman movie and complaining that there’s no explosions.
After the short introduction (what is an MMO? How to describe an MMO to someone who has no idea what it is?), we’re treated to some scenes from Icecrown. The remaining 40 minutes will basically be interviews about certain topics, seperated from each other by short boss fight excerpts. I’ll talk about a couple of those topics in a separate post; I had them here originally, but it got too voluminous.
The problem with the fight excerpts is that they overemphasize success over failure. Yes, there’s a segment of the film talking about failure and frustration, complete with wipe scenes, but overall, a lot of the boss fights seemed short and easy. That doesn’t go well with what is said in the interview parts, where they talk about difficulty in raiding, and how boss fights (plus preparation etc) can take a long time every attempt. Maybe they should’ve tried to show a graphical tactic for at least one boss, with spawn points, move paths for different players, etc. Not an in-detail description, just as some sort of clipart to show that a lot of stuff can be going on at any point in time.
For the interview parts, I think overall, the choice of interview partners was pretty good. Prof. Castronova knows what he’s talking about, though I have the feeling that at times, the cutting wasn’t all in his favor. The only complaint I have is about Jesse Schell, who comes across as someone as a self-important idiot. (Again, it might have to do with what parts of the certainly much longer interviews made it into the film.) Raiding being based on prehistoric human behavior? Yeah right. The Guild members of “Double Dragon” were obviously set for interviews, though it seems they didn’t interview all of them, why ever that would be. The way they’re presented shows them in a light that neither glorifies nor condemns. Especially when it comes to questions such as media usage and addiction, some of them give insightful and non-stereotypical answers. I liked that.
They also stress the importance of friendship, or at least social bonds, in MMO’s, especially in raiding. Several times, you hear them say “I wouldn’t be playing any more if it wasn’t for the other people and for my commitment to this group.” They also talked about burnout and how groups can keep people interested, but ultimately, they might leave. Lore says,
The future of Double Dragon is uncertain. With the film being in post-production for a year, I would’ve liked to see a short “and then” for each member. Are they all still playing? Is Double Dragon still kicking? I could probably go and look it up on the armory, but that would’ve given the film nice closure.
Sadly, I think the film fails on its self-imposed goal of describing raiding to complete outsiders. It starts very low-level, even describing in short what an MMORPG is, but from there, it just goes too fast. Bonnie Nardi mentions how she started playing WoW, and originally didn’t understand anything people said because of the sheer amount of jargon. I’m afraid this will also happen to viewers of the film who have no prior knowledge in MMOs and raiding.
Ultimately, the film is a nice work of documentation. It is, to my knowledge, the first one to document raiding in detail (even outside of the focus of WoW), and will therefore, even for its shortcomings, be an interesting point of reference in the future.