“The Guild” is about video games the same way playing in the Super Bowl is about getting exercise.
Sure, very basically—at its very crux—“The Guild” is a bunch of people in a couple of rooms playing some online game together.
But it’s much more “Party Down” than it is “Mario Party;” more “Modern Family” than “Modern Warfare 2.” Video games are just the vehicle to tell some very funny stories that get you attached to these characters.
It’s a lot like what “The Big Bang Theory” would be if it didn’t have to appeal to your grandfather, too. And all four seasons are on Hulu starting today.
This is all Felicia Day’s baby. The former “Buffy” star writes and stars the whole thing. It’s spawned from a little web series to a South-by-Southwest Award-winning nerd juggernaut.
And why is it a nerd juggernaut? Because, as Day explains, mostly non-nerds are watching.
Hulu: I spent a lot of time watching your show yesterday. A lot of the trepidation for me is that it’s marketed as being about online gaming—and I’m not really an online gamer. But saying this show is about online gaming is a little bit like saying “The Office” is about selling paper.
Felicia Day: That’s a good analogy, actually. I think the first couple of episodes have some inside lingo about the gaming world. There are things that appeal mostly to the gaming audience. But what I really wanted the show to do is to get into people’s lives. It’s six pretty dysfunctional people and kind of their personal problems and how they deal with one another. I think hopefully people will get involved with those characters.
When I set out to do this, I really didn’t want to have to spell things out to everyone. You want to make it fifty percent accessible—to be able to target people who play this game. There’s a delicate balance. I try to be aware if I’m leaning toward a niche, and try to reach a balance when I write. You want to reach a happy medium.
Our audience has expanded so much. There are Reddit jokes, jokes about Internet culture—that’s where we started. We wanted to talk to our audience and build our audience. After a while, the focus shifted more toward relationships and things. We weren’t exclusively talking to those communities anymore, and it really carried us for five seasons.
What would be your pitch to someone who isn’t into online gaming to convince them to watch “The Guild?”
It’s a group of dysfunctional online gamers—and we have seasons of content now, which is basically five movies—and they have these interpersonal relationships and crises. I think we found out you can’t make a show about people staring at a computer and talking about games. There’s no way. In one season I give Codex a job because it gives her a story to tell.
Yeah, I was impressed by that: There are a lot of actors staring into a computer screen. But it’s totally believable and it doesn’t get boring. How did you make that work?
It’s very awkward. It’s awkward as an actor. You have to learn all your lines from one season in one day. Then someone is reading other people’s lines off-camera. You have to learn to react listening to other people who are not actually there. It’s funny because when we get scenes with other people in the room—you can tell—we get very excited.
From the outside, I think that’s kind of how I view online gaming. These relationships are great, but they don’t really match up to in-person relationships. But maybe I’m wrong.
Well, I think the underlying message is that these characters are not the same age, race or religion and they’re still able to have this relationship together. We live in a society that, a lot of the time, is based too much on looks. The people playing these games are all different ages, races, income levels. We’re not all a bunch of white people who sit around coffeeshops. In real life, you wouldn’t see a 40-year-old guy, being friends with a 15 year old. I mean, what would you think in your head when you see them?
It’s important to know that you can be friends with anybody who has something in common with you. That one commonality—that’s what’s cool with the Internet. They would never be friends on a normal basis. They’re from different streets, income levels.
There’s not a lot that can happen in five or six minutes that can both push a plot forward and, also, tell an individual story by itself. This show doesn’t really have that problem—it does a sort of masterful job of skirting it—and I want to know how that is.
I share your sentiment with some web video. I find it challenging to construct a show in that many minutes. I have to force myself to think like a viewer. I think we found a better way of doing it throughout the seasons. But there are two fundamental things I think when writing and making this show: Don’t be bored at the beginning and don’t be bored at the end.
Look at Adult Swim. Half-hour episodes are now 21 minutes. We’re definitely shrinking in time about what people want to watch. We’re catering to different screens, different societies. We don’t have to fit in the box. The hope is that eventually web series aren’t as short as they are because of the budget, basically. Once the transition happens, we’ll start seeing more content exclusively for the web.