When we grow up, we tend to feel a void in our lives where our childlike imagination used to be. We outgrow it because it’s no longer appropriate for us to play “make-believe,” never realizing that reality can seem so empty without it. Nicholas Van Orton is an adult man, leading a very adult life. It was Jack Torrance from The Shining who famously said: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The same could be said about Nicholas, who has more money than he knows what to do with, and nobody to spend it on. Favoring career advancement and material possessions over meaningful relationships and life experience, Nicholas is only now starting to feel the emptiness that was always there. That is, until he played The Game.
When his deadbeat brother shows up out of the blue to celebrate Nicholas’ birthday over lunch, Nicholas is given an opportunity to play The Game. One character calls it “a vacation, but one that comes to you.” That’s putting it lightly. With no information other than a business card that reads “Consumer Recreation Services,” he gets thrusts into a life-changing experience. The Game (1997) really hits its stride when Nicholas starts to lose his grasp on reality. When does The Game end and real life begin? It’s a question that the audience will be asking themselves, and the film does well in blurring those lines as neatly as it does.
David Fincher (director of The Social Network, Fight Club, Se7en) sets the film primarily at night, highlighting the extremely dark nature of such an experience. When you take away a man’s distinction between real life and fantasy, it’s no longer just fun and games. Adults could stand to let some of their childhood imagination back into their lives, but it’s clear that there’s such a thing as too much. One doesn’t play The Game, so much as gets played by The Game. And that’s true of the film as well.