“So, pass… or play?”
Cairo Larzon, the 20-year-old video game streamer, is momentarily awestruck when beautiful Gavreel Alarcon flirtatiously asks this from Cairo. But something comes over Cairo, and the next moment, Gavreel (also playfully referred to as Gav) is the one who is left shocked when Cairo playfully replies, “Play”. This exchange marks the beginning of a beautiful love story between two people, who are daring to let themselves fall in love, in a time where romance, or even normal human interaction, seems like a distant fairytale.
“Gameboys” is the story of two boys, young and emotional, feeling increasingly alone in a world affected by the COVID-19 virus, where even the act of stepping out of your house could mean certain death. The series starts off with Cairo being beaten by another player by the username of “angel2000” during his live stream. Cairo, who dreams of being a pro-gamer is quite obviously annoyed by this. He gets a friend request from this “angel2000”, whose real name as Cairo would find out is Gavreel Alarcon. Soon they get to talking, and it becomes very obvious that Gavreel is flirting with Cairo (which gave me constant bouts of second-hand embarrassment, Gav acting perfectly like those random guys in your DM’s going “you’re pretty, do you have a boyfriend?”). Like any normal, functioning human being Cairo calls him a pervert and hangs up. However, (just like that persistent guy in your DM’s), Gav just keeps bombarding Cairo with messages until he gets Cairo to accept a rematch. Cairo, wanting to prove that Gav winning in the livestream was “just dumb luck”, agrees to the proposal. But there is a catch. If Cairo wins, Gav will leave him alone. If Gav wins, Cairo must go on a date with him.
At the beginning I expected this story to be all rainbows and unicorns and was pleasantly surprised by the thematic depths that the story explored. Sure, it’s a Rom-Com, but it encompasses real-world problems into the story. What is even more relatable is the way they articulate everyone’s struggle in this pandemic. When Cairo is worried about his hospitalized father, whom they are unable to visit, and when the two must resort to virtual dates, instead of meeting each other, we see our own very familiar lives and fears reflected in their narrative. There is too much death, sickness and responsibilities and not enough life, hope or freedom.
Right now, we are experiencing the worst wave of the COVID-19 virus in the country. The number of reported COVID cases are on the rise, and unfortunately, so are the deaths. There is an increasing number of videos making the rounds of lesser privileged people, dead on the pavements, hospitals overflowing with patients, and the pandemic that had seemed far from our reality last year, hitting our country harder than anything that came before it. After 18 months of this constant unrest, it seems that things would never go back to being ‘normal’, and it only seems to be getting worse. The constant Zoom meetings leave you feeling increasingly alienated, and it is beginning to feel a lot like we may never have a normal life. Now, in all honesty, maybe we won’t. Maybe we will spend our 3 to 4 years in the university learning entirely on a virtual platform. Or maybe it will end faster than it may seem. The fact is, we don’t really know. In our early twenties, we must deal with a bleak apocalyptic reality on a daily basis and there is a need to grow up before our time.
Watching this series, I realized that I hadn’t felt young for a while now. I couldn’t bring myself to be full of life and hope, because everywhere I looked reminded me of sorrow and disappointment. And that mindset is exactly what changed when I watched this series. And it is crazy! Because nobody watches the ‘Boy Love’ (BL) genre to gain insight into life changing views or opinions. People watch it because, it’s a genre that is usually fun and light-hearted. Now don’t get me wrong, this series is not dark realism and logical mature characters. It is a complete joyride! But this is not just a celebration of pretty boys. This series is a celebration of all the aspects of being human. The characters were awkward, cheesy, imperfect, emotional and selfish but also hopeful, beautiful, daring, compassionate, and just very much human. It was so genuine in representing the reality of the pandemic, that it never feels the need to make it seem more dark and depressing. At the end of the series, you rejoice in the story because it represents something that is so rare these days. It represents hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope that love is still around. Hope that even if the world may never really go back to the way it was, we will be fine. We will adjust and live and laugh and love again.
What ‘Gameboys’ captured in their story is especially hard to capture in a series that is set entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic. It captured how two people fell for each other despite all odds. It is not a series that aims to make you forget that there is a pandemic. It is not an escape. The series tells you the possibility of death is still very much in the air. That all of us do in fact feel isolated. That our social media accounts that used to be full of travel blogs and possibilities of the future are now filled with posts of condolences. But the series also tells you that you don’t need to stop living. That you could still find love, albeit a little differently. That you don’t have to grow up before your time. And that you are allowed to feel and be young and daring.
And this message goes beyond the story on screen. This is engraved even in the series’ production process. ‘Gameboys’ is a web series, shot entirely on iPhones, in the middle of a pandemic, actors pouring emotions into self-recorded video, with social distancing making it impossible for them to get the cast together for most of the episodes. It is the first BL web series to be released from the Philippines, a lower middle-income country, in an industry that is heavily based in Thailand and spreading across other higher income countries of Southeast Asia. But this went on to become one of the most successful BL series of 2020. Probably one of the best, if not the best one up to date. At first, you think it’s just a really good story. When you watch 4 episodes at a stretch, you realize that the pacing of the series is unbelievably smooth. When you get to the 10th episode you realize that up to that point no two characters had met physically. One by one, you see the hard work of each person from the director, the actors, the writers, and the editors coming together to form, what is in my opinion, a groundbreaking series. One that makes you see how storytelling can capture real life and at the same time inspires us to be better.
All in all, ‘Gameboys’ made me feel young again and willing to be in love. It urged me to be brave and happy even when it seems that the entire universe is conspiring against you. Because I feel like, that’s what it means to be alive. That’s what it means to be human.
So , next time the universe becomes cheeky like Gav and asks me if I want to “Pass or play?” I think I’m going give a snarky smile like Cairo and say, “Play” just to leave the cosmos a little awestruck!
– Rtr Yeshani Fernando
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