Interview: Ben Gonyo, director of Gamers


On Saturday, I had the opportunity to chat with Ben Gonyo, filmmaker behind the documentary Gamers and the creater of, a website used both to promote his own movie and serve as a host for serious video game documentaries. We chatted about Gamers, the various gaming stereotypes that exist in video game films, and where this growing sub-genre may be going as gaming gains more and more legitimacy. Check it out below the jump for the full interview!

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to chat with Ben Gonyo, filmmaker behind the documentary Gamers and the creater of, a website used both to promote his own movie and serve as a host for serious video game documentaries. We chatted about Gamers, the various gaming stereotypes that exist in video game films, and where this growing sub-genre may be going as gaming gains more and more legitimacy. Check it out below the jump for the full interview!{{page_break}}

What made you choose MMOs as a subject for your documentary?

Well, I’d heard a great deal about MMO games, and especially World of Warcraft, because that seems to be king of the jungle in that genre, I guess. So I’d heard a lot about it. I’d played Warcraft 1 when it was an RTS, back when it was just a computer-only game, and I hadn’t played many MMO-style games, and it seemed like everything was shifting online. Everything was playing against people online, social interaction online, and those games really typify that; it’s a big characteristic in those types of games. I just kept hearing a lot about it, and I thought it was interesting, so I just chose that because of that interest level.

But you’re not a “gamer,” per se?

I played a lot of games growing up, you know? Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64 and whatnot. Then when I got into college and got deeper into studying film and stuff, and I moved to New York, I was working in television, and I just ran out of time for it. I was focusing on a career more. So I had a lot of gaming when I was younger, but it really slowed down when I started working professionally. So I had this interest in gaming, and, at that time, when I stopped gaming, it was all on console. So the whole shift online, I kind of missed that as a player, so that’s why I found it interesting, because I’d only heard about it and not participated in it’s growth.

It’s interesting because it puts you in a very interesting perspective on both video gaming in general and on MMOs because you see in a lot of the few gaming documentaries that exist, it all seems to be product from gamers, by gamers for gamers. And that leads into my next question; you spend a lot of time right off the bat refuting that “gamers are a bunch of socially-maladjusted weirdos in their parent’s basement” stereotype. You hit that subject pretty early on, and it’s a good thing because, again, in the smaller world of gaming documentaries, even unintentionally so, there’s a lot of stereotyping that goes on, even in the documentaries trying to put a positive spin on things. Have you seen the film, Get Lamp?

I haven’t, but I have heard of it. I’ve seen the trailer.

In that film, the filmmaker, probably unintentionally, paints a lot of the hardcore text-adventure gamers in that kind of stereotype. Do you see that sort of stigma as a problem in general for the gaming documentary, and what’s the sort of thing that you, as a documentary filmmaker, and filmmakers in general can do to look at that and see past it?

I think there’s an allure to that because people know about that, and filmmakers can take that idea, since people know it. It’s an easy character, since the general public is already familiar with it. And I think that that sort of stereotype, it does exist for a reason. I’m sure there’s a number of that have met that, experienced that sort of stereotype, but I didn’t find that to be personally the case with the general gaming population. Even the ones that do have a certain aspect of their lifestyle that would mimic that stereotype, it was sort of in good for. One guy that I had interviewed was actually trying to sell his characters on Craigslist, and he knew if he had the characters, he would continue to play. Him and his roommate, coincidentally, had set up their gaming in their basement, and they kind of just joked about it. They were going into their basement with very little light, but they were conscious of it. They weren’t doing it not knowingly.

My next question is more about the mission statement of your website, The video game documentary is a small niche within a subsection of the larger realm of documentary filmmaking, and even the big ones, like King of Kong, is more laid out like a sports movie rather than something about the games and their effect on people’s lives and such. So where do you see the place of the gaming documentary in the larger filmmaking universe?

Well, my goal with this particular film was to go in and discover everything there is to know about MMOs and Warcraft. For people, like I say, everybody knows somebody; if you told somebody about this while I was making the documentary, you’d hear, “Oh, my brother plays that,” or “My cousin can’t stop playing that.” So everybody knows somebody that’s into these games. So my goal with the project was to sort of do an informational, light-hearted journey into this world and kind of discover what it is for people who don’t know. Being a player, people sometimes take for granted that they and all their friends know exactly what this world is, but there’s a whole culture of people that knows these players but doesn’t know why they do it or how big of a business it is. Why do they want to play, what problems does it cause in their lives, what benefits do they get from it? So my goal was really to go into it and experience it for myself and show a cross-section of all these different gamers. We interviewed a hundred players, psychologists, critics, we went to conventions, a few celebrities, and we just wanted to get a cross-section of what this world is about and why people love it do much.

Getting back to you using your website as a host for more gaming documentaries and more things about gaming, would you say that that’s a similar sort of mission statement there?

I looked around, and I didn’t see any home for this sort of documentary about gaming. There’s quite a few of them out there, and I’ve watched a lot of them. There’s a lot of websites out there for game trailers or stuff released by the game companies, but I noticed that there’s a lot of films out there that are dedicated to actually studying games, whether it’s academically, socially, the effects they have on people. There was no place that had them all in one place, no one website that dedicated itself to that content, like a more serious look at gaming. That’s why I created this, instead of just creating a website for my film, which, that would be fine, but I wanted to make something that, over time, could grow and be a place where people could study gaming or look at other films, look at what’s been done by filmmakers, not just people just shooting short little videos. People that have actually studying gaming, gaming business, gaming trends and made a film about it. I wanted to make a place that had lots of different stuff. Not just my perspective, but lots of other filmmakers works in one place.

What would you say are some other important or, at the least, gaming documentaries?

King of Kong’s not on our site, but that’s a great movie, which you touched on. Like you said, that’s very character based, good guy versus bad guy, but I still like it. It’s an entertaining film. It’s not really educational; it’s about two characters, that kind of thing. But that’s a fun documentary. There’s one film on our site that’s…there’s actually a bunch of stuff that I’ve been blown away by that I’ve just discovered online that people don’t know about. There’s a story about computer games, more kind of theory, that we’ve got hosted on our site, and it goes back to Pong. You know, the computer that ran Pong was the size of this living room I’m sitting in right know, you know? It’s crazy! And nobody thought that games would be that big. They just made it as an exercise, you know, “Could we make a game on the computer?” And then, it was so popular that people were just lining up wanting to play it. So it takes gaming from its very infantile stages and takes it to now where it’s a $45 billion industry a year, and it kind of gives you a little bit of story line, and it talks about Tetris and how that was a huge game out of Russia. The story of computer games is a kind of interesting little documentary that’s on our site right now.

We talked a little bit about the stereotype of the gamer. As gaming has become more socially accepted and socially recognized pastime, you know, with the new Call of Duty game with billboards in Times Square and on every bus all over the country, gaming’s clearly not something just in the basement for under-sexed thirty-somethings. Where do you think, given that, the niche of video game documentaries is going through the future?

Anytime the scene grows, becoming more mainstream, the peripheral stuff like gaming documentaries, such as mine, are going to grow as well. I think it still, somewhat, will be relegated to the community, but as that community grows, it’ll be bigger, but what I’m finding is that, now that there’s a lot more schools that focus studies on games and game development, and you can learn to make games and whatnot, that puts an educational aspect to gaming documentaries. They’re getting taking a little more seriously. Games are and gaming documentaries. It’s a slow growth, though, and it’s a tough question to answer! But I think it’s growing, and as it permeates into other areas, and as anything gets bigger, I guess it becomes a little more serious, and it takes different avenues. If you’ve got ten kids doing one thing, you’ve got a certain little niche about it. As it gets bigger, and you’ve got hundreds of thousands, millions of people doing it, you still get these little circles in it. You’ve got the academic circle, and that’s a smaller version of the bigger thing. You’ve got the documentaries, that’s one thing. You’ve got the people that only play FPS or RTS or competitive gaming. As a thing grows, it becomes more and more segmented, and I think the films will also do that, so there’ll be films, and I already see that, that are more historical and academic, and there’s films just about competitive gaming. So I think that each niche or circle within these bigger populations will get focused, will have documentaries focused on them. offers clips from Gonyo’s film, several other documentaries about gaming, and various news clips about the history of gaming. Look for our review of Gamers soon.