Film Review: “GameStop: Rise of the Players”

Directed by: Jonah Tulis
Rated: NR
Running Time: 94 minutes

There’s a current trend happening with documentaries and I’m pointing the finger of blame directly at Youtube. This trend is to hop on a big moment in contemporary history immediately and then attempt to encompass and explain the entire scenario in a brief documentary film. I blame Youtube because Youtube content creators are doing this on a daily basis, sometimes foregoing things like facts and pertinent information that sometimes comes with the passage of time. It’s kind of like a “strike when the iron is hot” idea.

Since my full-time job is in news, I will admit that this wasn’t a structure created by Youtube, but I would say was created by TV news organizations that are wanting to quickly and briefly explain complex situations and condense lengthy interviews. Sometimes it works, but that requires a news room with a large staff with good ethics and knowledge of storytelling. So, when a documentary like “GameStop: Rise of the Players” comes out, I have to wonder if what I’m being told is the God honest truth because so many players in this story are still actively participating in what happened.

If you didn’t know, or had been doing a media break last year (and honestly, I wouldn’t blame you), a little brick-and-mortar store by the name of GameStop was, at least through public perception, dying. Stores were closing, the stock was starting to look like it was going to be worth less than a few mere dollars and the video game industry itself was evolving towards a digital market. But something odd happened, the stock began to double, then triple, then quadruple, in value, but it kept going. Not just over a period of months or week, but hours and then minutes. So, what was going on?

“GameStop: Rise of the Players” kind of explains all this with spliced footage of talking heads on 24-hour news networks, but that really isn’t the meat of the film. The best thing the documentary offers is one-on-one interviews with stock traders who benefited from GameStop’s meteoric stock. Some are simply down on their luck individuals looking to turn things around by, quite literally, gambling on the stock market. It’s these personal stories that make us root for these individuals, as well as GameStop’s stock, throughout the film. Some of the people benefiting were always going to be well off, so I can’t speak to my sympathy or rooting of them, but for the individuals who were having to move back in with their parents or who had received a devastating cancer diagnosis, I’m glad to see their David vs. Goliath story on-screen.

That being said, I wish the film had more context which wouldn’t be possible in the time frame the documentary was created. A quick Google search shows that the GameStop stock is still percolating with hot gossip, whether people are talking about the stock making another climb to infamy or media outlets looking at the aftermath as if the stock will now be left to die. The story of GameStop has yet to be fully told, yet here we are with a documentary claiming to do just that. While I knew most of what was being discussed, I couldn’t help but think that even someone who knew the basics of what happened would still be confused about what was happening. At times the documentary seems to forget that maybe you don’t know about certain things, like how these people were talking to each other over Discord or the phenomenon of people seeking financial advice on Youtube. “GameStop: Rise of the Players” attempts to tell a story, but just like GameStop’s old brick-and-mortar stores, it offers nothing new.

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