There is no such thing as a small film. There are only films about small worlds.
The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is a film set in a world of Dungeons & Dragons, sometimes literally. Sections where D&D is played are done in live action, with the imagined impact of rolling dice taking place onscreen. Yet when we move back to reality, that reality is still shaped by D&D. Dorkness Rising is set in a corner of the real world where RPGs are important, a world where the main source of conflict is whether you should play D&D to win the game, or to tell a story.
If roleplaying games have no place in your life, you won’t have experienced this conflict before. You might even wonder how a film could be made about it. Comparative to other films the stakes are non-existent. No-one’s going to lose their job, or their marriage, or their life depending on how a game is played. All that is at risk is a player’s good time.
Yet soon we feel that that is enough.
Dorkness Rising is a story with momentum. I don’t know how many times I’ve idly decided to watch the first five minutes of it, only to spend the next couple of hours glued to the screen. Every part of the narrative takes place at the right point, giving the story a steady pace that catches you up and doesn’t let go. The characters and their relationships are simple, but well-executed. Lodge (Nathan Rice) is pro-story, trying to steer his players towards roleplay, and use their stories to overcome his writer’s block. Cass (Brian Lewis) is pro-game and bridles against what he sees as Lodge restricting his ability to play. Joanna (Carol Roscoe) acts as the bridge between playstyles. Meanwhile Gary (Christian Doyle) and Leo (Scott C. Brown) are comic relief, conjuring fun to buff the drama. The result is a plain success: an entertaining story with a satisfying ending.
It helps that the actors own their roles. Dorkness Rising isn’t a film of grand emotion. It takes place in a small world, where emotions exist at normal levels. Normality onscreen is not particularly striking, but the actors’ behaviour is inclusive. I was not overawed by the performances, but as I watched I came to feel part of this fictional social circle. I was drawn into their world, and once there, what mattered to them, mattered to me.
This is why small worlds do not make for small films. A small world is an odd place, often discomfiting or incomprehensible, but film will overcome the oddness by filling that world with people. Not ‘normal’ people, but people you can understand, find entertaining, or even like: people who can be empathised with. Dorkness Rising takes place within a small world, but through cinematic skill it makes that world inclusive. There may be grander worlds, there may be more exciting worlds and there are certainly worlds built with better effects. But, like the TARDIS, this is a world that seems plenty big once you’re inside it, and there are few worlds that it is more of a wrench to leave.