The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: First Person Shooter
To paraphrase Jane Austen (this is off to a good start), it is a truth universally known that, when genre shows create stories based around technology, these episodes will start to look dated immediately.
The X-Files has a long tradition of tech-based episodes, none of which (except for the peerless Blood) are among the best monsters of the week. First Person Shooter is not the worst of this type of episode, at least in this respect. Its tech is the white whale that is proper virtual reality gaming, with real locations and characters to kill or bounce off of. VR is common now, but it’s still of the Simpsons virtual pool variety of helmet and handsets at the time of this episode’s release.
The main reason that First Person Shooter makes the cut as the worst monster of the week of season seven is simple: it’s so fucking lame!
The premise is pretty standard: a rogue video game character (who is just many flavours of the basic femme fatale) has rebelled against her software and is killing the human players in a bunch of gnarly ways. The script was co-written by William Gibson, the father of modern cyberpunk (his female characters are based more on sex appeal than, y’know, anything else, though Neuromancer is still a great book). Gibson also wrote season five’s Killswitch, a much more successful episode that cared more about character than First Person Shooter.
In fact, this might be the episodes biggest problem: there are no characters. This is particularly obvious in the portrayal of Mulder and Scully. Seven seasons in means the they are both comfortably two of the most iconic characters in TV history at this point, but First Person Shooter puts them at opposite ends of the argument about men’s love of sex and violence which is completely catered to in video games and leaves it at that.
Because of this, both characters are absolutely insufferable: Mulder regresses to the man-child level of everyone else in video game land, and Scully, who is a medical doctor and should be wondering how a bunch of ones and zeroes that look like a SYFY soft pornstar (don’t pretend you don’t recognise her, men who grew up without a computer) is managing to kill people, is instead telling Mulder and everyone else that they are acting like children. And for this to come right after the iconic X-Cops!
First Person Shooter is an episode about sexism in the gaming industry, or at least it would be if Gibson, Tom Maddox, and Chris Carter could stop ogling the cyber-murderer. It’s almost a treatise on the marginalisation of female creators in the creative industries – in a better episode (perhaps one written by a woman) this could have been an empowering story centred around Maitreya and her creator, Phoebe. The lack of this angle showed just how hard it was to get a female voice into The X-Files writer’s room at that time – this season’s flawed but interesting All Things is the first episode to be directed by a woman, and only because that woman was Gillian Anderson.
Instead, First Person Shooter is a celebration of everything that annoys you about gaming and gamers. In FPS, they are lame (whoever one of the mentioned three wrote the Lone Gunmen’s dialogue should be banished to some kind of abyss), sexist, and completely immature. This episode doesn’t just manipulate the female perspective for its own misogynistic aims, it treats men like they are fucking idiots to boot.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via The M0vie Blog)