In a post-Gamergate media landscape, it’s ambitious to have a film confront the harsh reactions of women in gaming from a comedic lens. A formulaic underdog story, 1Up‘s plot revolves around the relatively new sport of competitive e-gaming. The 8-Bits, our underdogs, are an all-women e-sports team lead by V (Paris Berlec), a stressed, half-Asian college student determined to keep her e-sports scholarship without having to play for her school’s official team, the Betas. The rest of the new team is a diverse mash-up of female oddballs.
V’s best friend Sloane (Hari Nef) is a trans woman whose story thankfully does not revolve around being Tragically Trans, but her B-story friendship with V is about the most development any of the other 8-Bits receive. Diane (D.J. Mausner), the plus-sized comedic relief, has most of her humor based in being gross or being a LARPer. A true agent of chaos, Lilly (Madison Baines) is a quirky Black girl named by Sloane and V after she tries out for the 8-Bits. We never find out Lilly’s real name or much else about her beyond her love of destruction. Completing the crew is Jenna, a disabled Latina influencer with an odd, albeit realistic relationship to her followers, as she cares mostly about the money she can get from them. The 8-Bits are coached by former game developer Professor Parker, played by genderfluid Ruby Rose, whose own experience being harassed led her to quit development and take up teaching.
These women are a step above being a fill-in-the-blank character class, but a small step. Despite being vastly different from each other, the members of the 8-Bits function mostly as cardboard cut outs to V’s story. Even with various team-building montages, the focus remains entirely on V or, occasionally, her eroding friendship with Sloane. The driving force of the film, and the 8-Bits’ tournament run, is V’s major goal to keep her scholarship by solidifying funding for her team and to prove her parents wrong—that her long term goal to become a professional E-gamer is not frivolous. Although Sloane has the same scholarship and a similar risk, her own motivation, independent from V, is minimally explored. The rest of the team has no goals beyond, arguably, Jenna’s money raising milestones. Even Parker is more fueled by fulfilling V’s dreams or being a cryptic mentor than by any personal drive.
1Up presents high stakes for a shallow cast of characters we’re meant to root for based off identity alone, which isn’t awful but it’s not extremely compelling either. The most serious moment in the film occurs in the last 30 minutes when, the night before the championship final, the team is swatted. ‘Swatting’ refers to a harassment tactic wherein a harasser reports a serious but false act to emergency services in hopes of dispatching a large swarm of cops to the target’s address. An actively harmful “prank” and federal crime, swatting is an unfortunate reality for many streamers, especially women. The 8-Bits are harassed by their rival team as opposed to random internet audience members, but being on the receiving end of a harassment tactic so common it has a special name is a reflection of the heaps of mistreatment directed at women in the gaming community in general. We can see this negative reaction to women in gaming outside the film as well with the comically low score 1Up has received on IMDB from embittered men.
Is 1Up a good movie? Not really. It’s structurally not that interesting or unique, the main character is the only one with a goal, all other characters are working together for her dream alone, and there’s some odd, randomly timed CGI decisions that serve no purpose. There are also a few moments that dip into a very shallow pool of humor, namely either with Diane or the dean (Kevin Farley) who struggles to be “woke” that were more exhausting than funny. But the 2 out of 10 stars on IMDB is more than likely the result of review bombing than genuine disappointment with this rather flimsy film. Ultimately, 1Up is applying a new coat of paint to an admittedly old and worn out frame of storytelling. It’s not the greatest but it certainly isn’t the worst thing out. And honestly? Women deserve corny movies too.