Of all the different shades of geek in the world, the absolute pinnacle of insufferable may be found in the Hardcore Gamer. Of course there are plenty of thoughtful, sporting, considerate people who play video games, but you’d be hard pressed to play Xbox Live for more than a few hours before running into a bragging, bigoted, and screamingly obnoxious l33t speaker.
If you’ve been unlucky enough to meet one of these guys (or play against them), you’ll find a lot to laugh at in Arby & The Chief, an independently produced web series by Jon CJ Graham under the banner of Digital Ph33r and hosted by Machinima.com. When I say independently produced, I mean it – the entire series (over two hours of material and counting) is written, edited, and performed by Graham.
Oh, and don’t let the “machinima” part confuse you. The majority of Arby & The Chief isn’t computer generated imagery rendered using real-time, interactive, 3-D engines. It’s more like a live-action version of Toy Story where Woody and Buzz Lightyear are obsessed with first-person shooters.
The series is a sequel to the wildly successful Master Chief Sucks at Halo trilogy and structured as a classic Odd Couple, roommate comedy. Though in this case, the roommates are sentient Halo action figures who both play Halo (very meta, I know). Both are voiced by Microsoft voice programs, handily side-stepping the need for human performances that plague so many a web series (it also comes in handy for vocalizing statements such as “LOLOLOLOLOL”).
Arby is an Arbiter figurine, and is portrayed as a patient, polite gentleman, with strong and well-informed opinions on his favorite games, which is funny because an Arbiter looks like something that had a cameo in Alien. Chief is a diminutive Master Chief figure, and is everything you’ve ever hated about gamers all rolled into one.
Master Cheif is the comedic engine of the series: aggressive, foul mouthed, without an attention span, and for all his bravado, horrible at video games. He’s also sometimes disarmingly childlike, keeping him from becoming too annoying a screen presence. Just when his attempts at murder and repeated use of “FAGOT” start to try your patience, he’ll get knocked down a peg or two by his own incompetence, and he’ll once again have your (and Arby’s) sympathy.
The series is a real triumph of web content. Here is a silly concept with dirt cheap production values that would only have surface appeal for a relatively small group of people. But with humor so sharp it easily hooks anyone with even a passing interest in gaming culture.
I’m a casual gamer myself, and had never spent much time with Halo, but I knew this series was for me after a particularly inspired gag in which Chief destroys Arby’s Call of Duty CD and tries to replace it with a chocolate chip cookie with a hole in it. Throw in references to internet memes like “ROFLcopter” and Crawling In My Skin, and you’ve got a pitch-perfect series of web geeks who want to laugh at worst in themselves.
The series is also a great example of audience/artist interactivity. The episodes have such a quick production turnaround, the content can include input and reactions inspired by comments from the audience.
Jon Graham uses his series as a platform to rail against haters, critique current games, stick up for girl gamers, and have his characters beg the Halo developers for the coveted Recon Armor (do they get it? only one way to find out…). He even gives his audience the chance to boot off unpopular characters, a testament to net democracy (and perhaps a blow to the role of the artist, but it’s a brave new world).
Over 16 episodes of the series have been produced, each clocking in at around ten minutes, though once you get into the swing of things, they feel much shorter. If you make it to episode 11, you’ll get to watch a special half-hour long “movie“, featuring non-plastic actors, scenic locations, and gore-tastic special effects. And if you absolutly can’t get enough, there’s director’s commentary, and more episodes on the way.
You might think you can’t possibly need this much bickering action figures, but you’re wrong. You do need it. The internet needs it. Thank you, Jon CJ Graham. Arby & The Chief is a shining example of what one extremely talented person can do with a dream, a camera, loads and loads of time.