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The X-Files Magazine: Games Without Frontiers

The X-Files Magazine [US, #13, Spring 2000]
Games Without Frontiers
Gina McIntyre

A video game takes on a life of its own in the X-Files’ second round of cyber mayhem from sci-fi author William Gibson.

Say the name “William Gibson” to a group of science fiction fans, and they will immediately think of high-concept, high-tech narratives set in a complicated future with many possible realities. Mention the author to members of The X-Files crew, and you’re likely to be greeted with knowing winks and smiles. The department heads are all too familiar with Gibson’s cyber flair, and they know when his prose finds its way into a script for the series, they’re going to have their work cut out for them.

Such was the case with the author’s second script for the show – the cryptically titled “First Person Shooter” – which has already been described by locations manager Ilt Jones as “Westworld meets the Matrix.”

“That’s actually a pretty good way to put it,” Gibson says. “It’s set in the computer gaming industry. It’s about super violent video games, virtual reality and why boys like them. We created this huge one that gets out of control and needs Mulder and Scully to sort it out.”

Filmed almost entirely on location, “First Person Shooter” sees the agents enter a virtual reality with potentially lethal consequences. Its special effects-intensive storyline made it particularly challenging to bring to the screen – the right locations had to be secured, the proper look had to be developed and, of course, the visual trickery had to be as slick as possible in order for the concept to believably spring to life. “They’re running the final tests on a sort of environment game that will be installed in malls and theme parks all over the world,” Gibson says. “It’s like a building that you actually enter that is a sort of Matrix-like environment.”

On the heels of a successful television debut with Season Five’s “Kill Switch,” Gibson says Chris Carter approached him and his writing partner, fellow sci-fi author Tom Maddox, and invited them to pen an X-Files follow-up. But the hectic schedules of the three men conspired to keep the episode off the Season Six roster. “For some reason, when we do them, it’s a very, very long process,” Gibson explains. “I think that was about nine months ago. Not that we were actually writing it the whole time. I had a novel to finish and a two month book tour, and Chris is not the easiest guy in the world to get together with. We really like it when we can sit down with him and have some quality time and talk about it. We did, but it took months on and off to get it together.”

Feedback from Carter and X-Files executive producer Frank Spotnitz proved invaluable and ultimately sent the episode in an unexpected direction, he says. We’d go into Chris with half a dozen little fragments that might turn into stories, just sort of different things we bounced them off him and he’d bounce them back,” Gibson remembers.

“We kept bouncing until something stuck. I think we started by trying to develop a story in which Mulder and Scully go on the set of a really popular television show. We were trying to play with that television within a television show thing. It didn’t really go anywhere, but when we shifted it to computer game development it got very weird and interesting very quickly.”

Although the hard science fiction element that serves as the foundation for “First Person Shooter” does bear some similarities to the cyberpunk roots of “Kill Switch,” Gibson says he and Maddox made every effort not to repeat the same concepts. “We tried to do something very different but it does take for granted a kind of very, very high tech computer world that isn’t too far off reality,” Gibson says.

Just as on the earlier episode, however, Maddox served as go-to guy for technological accuracy. From computer lingo to the behavior patterns of those in the industry, Maddox’s techie knowledge provided the script with a sharper insight than it might have otherwise had. “He’s very good at keeping it on track with the actual culture of computer gaming,” Gibson says of his partner. “He was able to give us the language [of the industry] and also the language f the stock option deals and things that they have in that business that I don’t even understand and is so very important to the plot in this. The bad guys are motivated by a very contemporary kind of greed.”

And just as with “Kill Switch,” Gibson says he plans to visit the set of the series to see his vision realized – which should be quite a treat considering that “First Person Shooter” marks the first time X-Files guru Carter has stepped behind the camera to direct this season. “I’m going to take my daughter down and try to see some of it. She’s 17 and a huge X-Files fan,” Gibson reports. “Apparently – I have this second hand through Tom – Chris has found a really great building to use for the location. Tom said Chris was talking about using motorcycles indoors for a kind of Mad Max effect. Of course, I’d love to see that. I don’t know if [Tom will be there]. He’s got a day job now doing something around computer securities so I don’t know if they’ll let him get away. Since my day job is writing science fiction novels, I’m more flexible.”

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One Response to “The X-Files Magazine: Games Without Frontiers”

  1. […] As with Kill Switch, the script for First Person Shooter spent a long time in development. According to William Gibson, the episode was in the works for a while: […]