The stereotype of gamers as lonely, co-dependent shut-ins persists in popular culture.
The industry is both massive and massively visible, considering the mainstreaming of titles like Minecraft, holiday sales numbers and the amount of gaming-related ads you see on TV, billboards, buses and literally everywhere else. Coupled with the increased popularity of multiplayer experiences like esports with a broader audience, it's surprising that gaming is still stigmatized.
But it is, as I find in responses from people when I tell them what I do or what I'm into — which makes non-gaming content that bucks the easy joke of the socially challenged, forever alone gamer so refreshing.
Nathan for You gets it right
Nathan for You, Comedy Central's brilliant, cringe-worthy series, stars Nathan Fielder as "Nathan Fielder," a business school grad whose Canadian politeness allows him to manipulate small business owners and others in need of a fix-me-up, getting their approval to test out his comically terrible promotional campaigns and ideas under the guise of "helping."
You may recall Dumb Starbucks, which was a Nathan for You-devised scheme to garner better sales for a small coffee shop by re-appropriating Starbucks iconography and products. It was covered internationally. This sort of stunt isn't just funny and potentially "viral;" it's helped developed Nathan into a character with depth. Each episode stands alone, but Nathan himself seems to learn and grow.
The season finale deviated from the usual set-up to focus on Nathan's death-defying efforts to transform the life of one ordinary guy into a "hero." After selecting his target through a lengthy screening process, Nathan announced, he would help them turn their life around for the better by adopting their identity and completing a public, challenging tightrope walk for charity — and adoration.
It sounds completely ridiculous, but such is the charm of Nathan for You.
The person he'd be turning into a "hero" was Corey, whose utter hopelessness was characterized by the fact that he lived at home, worked at an arcade and played a lot of video games and Magic the Gathering.
A shot of Corey playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl by himself was where I began to felt uneasy. Sure, I have been in that situation many a time, but it felt almost pointed to introduce the episode's target through his solitary play of a multiplayer title.
Corey gave Nathan a tour of his bedroom, in which you could see his sizable game collection just out of focus. It wasn't being called attention to, but his love for games wasn't ignored, either, and that he was called out for working at an arcade — part-time, mind you — felt pointed. Most shows would be readying themselves at this point for a laugh at the expense of someone whose hobby pop culture has often decided is an easy target.
Thankfully, Nathan for You made a hard left turn, as it always does. What might be most genius about the series is that the business owners or humble folk on the receiving end of Nathan's pranks aren't the ones actually being made fun of, for the most part. The easy jokes are set aside.
As Nathan literally embodies Corey in order to prepare for the tightrope stunt in his name, a training process that entails the following: a full bodysuit; 3D modeled mask based on Corey's face; a meeting with Corey's grandparents; adopting Corey's mannerisms and catchphrases; and even finding him a girlfriend for extra drama during the public event, it becomes increasingly apparent that Corey isn't the pathetic character.
It's Nathan; it's always Nathan.
A running gag is Nathan's social awkwardness and friendlessness. A prior episode saw him going to extreme, scientific lengths to prove that, contrary to popular believe, he is a fun person to be around. Other segments feature him going on disastrous dates or trying and failing to lock down hangout plans with his one-time business partners.
Nathan is always his own target
This time, as Nathan slipped deeper and deeper into the mind of Corey, he became attached to the life he was creating. Corey might play Smash Bros. on his own, but he has a family that deeply cared about him. He has a hobby he enjoys. Compared to the host, Corey has his life together.
Nathan arranged for Corey to swap back into place after he crossed the tightrope dressed up as him. Giving a rousing speech (written by Nathan), handing off the charity check asserting his new hero status, Corey then met up with his new girlfriend (who, by the way, he had never actually met before, as she was only dating the Corey-fied version of Nathan) and his grandparents, all of whom expressed their pride and affirmed his selflessness.
Where was Nathan during this? He was alone, watching from afar. He left the scene having done the job he set out to do, but he had no one to celebrate with. Positioned far away, the camera stood watching him go home alone.
The show ended with a celebration of someone who may have been mundane, but had a pretty good life, all things considered. Outside of the strange addition of the girlfriend, Corey knew who he was and what he enjoyed. He didn't need to be elevated to some sort of faux-hero status, although by taking on the life of a "normal" person Nathan was able to see how satisfying that sort of existence can be. The person who liked games wasn't a punchline, he was shown to be a person with a hobby. We should all, including Nathan, be so lucky.