“RESET: The Unauthorized Guide to Video Games” is a fascinating, extensive and extremely relevant look at video games — the games themselves and the broader American culture that envelops the industry. In true Vice fashion, the show is less of a mundane history lesson from a bored professor and more of a candid discussion between the host Thomas Dexter (“Lost Child: Sayon’s Journey”) and the real people who have lived through experiences in this world. The show also doesn’t shy away from talking about the uglier side of the culture, whether it is misogyny, racism or both. For both video game fanatics and the average viewer, this show is just as entertaining as it is educational.
From the first episode on, Dexter introduces us to the colorful world of video games. The show starts with the prototypes of modern video games: arcade games. But instead of focusing on the game genre itself, we are introduced to a section of the Bronx, N.Y., where arcade culture was most pervasive at the height of its popularity. In multiple interviews with real arcade gamers, we see the importance of video games for building a sense of community and how the so-called “trash talk” can make the community seem less inclusive or more of a “boys’ club.”
Now that video games have emerged from dinky basements under laundromats and into million-dollar arenas, the show looks at how the male-dominated community is attempting to reform itself under scrutiny. Enter Jeannail Carter, AKA Cuddle_Core, one of the most famous American Tekken players.
In an emotional interview, she details the harrowing experience of being a Black woman at gaming conventions. Despite “just wanting to play the game,” the harassment and discrimination she faced as a Black woman in an overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white arena forced her to change her tone. “RESET” does an excellent job showing both sides of the culture: the rugged ’80s world of basement arcades full of hostility and the bright, flashy future of video games striving to be more welcoming of all people.
The show also makes it abundantly clear that old video games are slowly becoming extinct. As large corporations take more and more of a share of the market and as companies fight over intellectual property rights, classic video games are being phased out of existence. In addition, the old consoles and hardware that were able to host these games are deteriorating, and without people to restore them, eventually, no one will know they ever existed.
However, video game historians are working to prevent that. The show describes one group of computer engineers that recreates and reprograms old video game hardware to revive games thought to have been lost to time, including some that were never released to the general public. Despite their methods being dubiously legal, these historians go to great lengths to restore video games because they see video games as important cultural signposts worth preserving.
Video games have only recently been introduced into mainstream society, and many Americans fail to see the rich history and dynamic currents of the culture that surrounds them. And if by chance they do, they would only see the most visible, most palatable versions of that history.
What “RESET” does is introduce perspectives to the gaming history narrative that would otherwise be swept under the rug — whether it’s the crude origins of video game culture, the ongoing struggle of Black women in gaming or the unseen fight to keep its history alive. Like any good documentary, the show educates its audience about the complexities of a culture. Like a classic Vice documentary, “RESET” shows the audience the unseen side of video game history.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.