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From left: David Hornsby, Charlotte Nicdao, Jessie Ennis, Rob McElhenney and F. Murray Abraham in Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.
Before this week, I didn’t pay much attention to any It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia were making Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, a comedy about the video game industry, I perked up. Always Sunny is a crazy, broken comedy, extremely over the top. Mythic Quest is a workplace comedy about tech that feels a lot more grounded. As with Always Sunny, there’s cruelty, absurdity and a world that’s run out of control. Yet it also has moments of… kindness?launch content. But the moment I realized the creators of
It’s hard not to think of HBO’s Silicon Valley, which skewered tech culture for years. <a website Valley is over, but Mythic Quest could pick up where that show left off: looking at the gaming industry’s many problems, including a grind-heavy workplace culture, uneven gender representation and toxic online communities. But Mythic Quest is also, often sincerely, about the love of games.
The show lands in a familiar but welcome spot for me. I worked for a few years at a video game company that made online games (Sony Online Entertainment, during the launch of EverQuest II). Some things in Mythic Quest brought me back to those years.
Mythic Quest isn’t an outsider take on gaming: Ubisoft producing it means it’s a show about gaming made by a video game company. Still, it feels critical of the machines of mass entertainment, too.
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The nine-episode first season, available now, sucked me in and won me over. The show follows a years-old MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) studio run by a Montreal game publisher (Ubisoft is based in Montreal), trying to keep its aging game and creative team relevant in a changing world. Yes, it’s a comedy. But darker, more serious tones sneak in, including a midseason episode (spanning decades) that tells the story of another game that sold out years before Mythic Quest. That episode sideswiped me, and made me think about more than the quick satiric chaos of the gaming industry I thought Mythic Quest was.
“We wanted the characters to feel like real human beings,” co-creator Rob McElhenney, who played Mac in Always Sunny and plays Mythic Quest’s self-absorbed game designer Ian, told me at an event in New York before the show’s launch. “And even though we put them into comedic situations, you really believe that this could be a video game company that really exists, as opposed to Paddy’s Pub [in Always Sunny], which clearly, I hope, doesn’t actually exist in real life.”
I also spoke with co-creator and writer Megan Ganz. “I hope that they see that we are trying to lovingly reference gaming without being pandering to them,” Ganz (also a writer for Always Sunny and Community) said about gamers and how they might relate to Mythic Quest.
Though you might think the creators of Always Sunny would take a bleak approach to gaming, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“Certainly you read a lot of negativity about the toxicity, you read about it just being fun and diversionary,” McElhenney says of gaming. “But very rarely do you hear people talk about the real positivity from a social perspective, and there is a great amount of it … That’s important, because people all over the world who didn’t have a voice — they feel marginalized, they feel not connected to other people — all of a sudden you’re finding someone else who lives all the way across the world with the same interests that you have.”
To be clear, there are storylines in the first season about Nazi game players, hate-spewing commenters, women being disrespected by men and the power of 14-year-old celebrity game streamers. And a few disturbing references to suicide.
There’s also a womanizing veteran science fiction author and game-world lore creator, played by F. Murray Abraham, who carries his Nebula award from the ’70s around with him everywhere. In some ways, Abraham’s character is to Mythic Quest what Danny DeVito’s wildcard Frank Reynolds is to Always Sunny. But even this character feels warmer, more capable of learning and feeling.
“It’s not simply escapist,” Abraham says of gaming, and of the show. “It’s really a place to get away from this mess that we call the world right now. And I think it’s, in those terms, very important because the release that it allows. I really believe that it’s based on the same kind of catharsis that came out of the Greek tragedies. A Greek tragedy usually was about 55 or 60 minutes long, that’s all. And then it was over, they took their bows, and they went to the beach. So this half hour show, accomplishes, not quite catharsis, but it’s a great exercise of freedom and fun and adventure, and possibly the investigation of certain things that are very, very important in our culture.”
While most of the cast I spoke with hadn’t spent time in the gaming industry before this show, actor Ashly Burch (who plays game tester Rachel) has acted in games including Horizon Zero Dawn, Life Is Strange and Borderlands, and stars in the streaming gaming show Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?
Burch helped the cast catch up on the gaming industry and make sure everything felt right. “No one was interested in making something that was poking fun at gaming, or not treating it like a multimillion dollar industry that people have such passion and vested interest in. The thing I really love about our show is that we’re very authentic to gaming … but at the core, it is a show about people that are dysfunctional but fundamentally have a love and care for each other.”
I raced through the season pretty quickly, and I want to see more. There’s already a second season in the works, and maybe it will involve more of the game community beyond Mythic Quest’s production studio. “I would love to approach, like, what are the lives of the people that actually play Mythic Quest, because you have these devs that are affecting their lives,” says Ganz. “We hear the feedback from them, but we don’t see the effect that any little tweak they do to the game could have on somebody.”
Will there be a Mythic Quest video game? Maybe not the in-game MMORPG like the show depicts, McElhenney says, adding that the costs and quality level would be a ridiculous hurdle. But perhaps there could be a mobile indie game spinoff. “In the second season we’re exploring something like that, so potentially that could be something,” Ganz says. “It might not be Mythic Quest, but it might be some other mobile game,” McElhenney hints.
Sounds like something that would be pretty easy to land on Apple Arcade.