Interview: Murder, He Coded

The-Listener

Rainbow Sun Francks is best known to gamers as one of the leads at Console Creatures, but to television enthusiasts, he’s Corporal Dev Clark, one of the principals on CTV’s The Listener. Francks portrays the in-house hacker and tech expert on the crime procedural, and his two worlds collided when writer Ken Cuperus surprised him with a script in which the team investigates a murder at a video game studio.

“I didn’t even know until I got the script,” said Francks about the impending crossover. “Then I was super excited.”

The season 5 episode – titled “Game Over” – airs tonight at 9pm on CTV. As The Listener’s resident gamer, Francks wanted to ensure that the episode presented a more positive – and less monolithic – representation of gamers and game culture.

“I’ve been an avid gamer since the very beginning,” said Francks. “This episode was a natural pairing and it’s exciting for me because it’s two of the things that I love most in the world.”

Like many procedurals, “Game Over” revolves around a murder. A development prodigy is found dead in his office hours after his game’s successful launch, at which point the show’s core cast swoop in to solve the crime.

The episode shines thanks to its refreshingly accurate depiction of the game development lifestyle. The victim is a visionary yet abrasive studio head with frayed relations with his employees, while the fictional video game – dubbed Ogre Fury – represents the culmination of four years of development. In its search for motives, “Game Over” touches on the financial ramifications of licensed and proprietary code and even highlights motion capture and some of the problems with predatory contract work in the industry.

According to Francks, that attention to detail sets The Listener apart from other television shows that have entered the realm of game development. Mysteries are understandably more concerned with tension than accuracy, which often gets left by the wayside as a deadline approaches.

“In the mo-cap studio, they only had six cameras. Really it should have been 100,” said Francks, acknowledging that even The Listener took a few dramatic liberties. “The story has to move forward. You can’t dwell on getting everything right.”

Fortunately, shows like The Listener seldom have to, and if they do it’s just a bonus. Though Ogre Fury probably wouldn’t pass muster at E3, it’s an impressive accomplishment for an art team asked to hand over a demo in less than a month and it doesn’t have to sell the 100 million units projected in the episode. It’s an inciting incident in a fictional TV show, and in that regard it hits every milestone.

Who cares if the game is fake if the actors make the audience believe it’s real?

“We’re solving the crime,” said Francks, emphasizing the show’s primary appeal and suggesting that most viewers won’t notice the gaming jargon. “You and I smile while watching the episode, but it passes so quickly that for the average viewer you’re right back into the storyline. It’s whipped cream and cherries whenever you can get terminology right.”

With that in mind, the pressurized production cycle provides ample opportunity for those with more detailed knowledge. Francks already knows much of what the writers would have had to research, and his expertise helped bolster the authenticity of The Listener.

“In one scene I improvised and used ‘AFK’ [Away From Keyboard]. The writers called me in. They didn’t understand what I was saying,” said Francks. His authority came to the fore again during a scene in which his character articulates some of the positive outcomes – such as improved hand-eye coordination – that have been associated with gaming.

“That was all me,” said Francks, adding that the take was originally much longer. “I kind of went off on all the benefits of gaming. I’m still more of an advocate for going outside and playing in the park, but that was something that I felt was needed.”

“A lot of the people that watch the show are parents and they don’t understand the benefits,” said Francks. “So yeah, let your kids play video games. It’s good for them.”

Of course, procedurals need seedy characters to serve as plausible suspects, so an episode set in and around gaming studios will necessarily implicate gamers. The Listener offers a few characters – most notably the director of a motion capture studio with a fondness for broadswords and theatrics – that seem to trend towards more traditionally pejorative images of nerds.

The difference is that The Listener balances those recognizable tropes with a broader array of gamers. The cast features gamers ranging from slick businessmen to introverted geniuses, and unlike stock characters from the 80s, they’re all able to function socially with the outside world.

“A lot of stereotypes have some truth,” said Francks of the classic nerd. “I’ve met that guy at conventions, at gaming shows, so he does exist.”

The point is that he exists alongside a slew of other personalities, including Francks’ character. His Dev is intelligent but not nerdy, geeky but not awkward. Like Francks himself, he’s a typical human being who happens to have an interest in gaming and technology.

“If everyone had a sponge sword or a two-handed broadsword, then that would be one-sided and stereotypical. But they don’t do that,” said Francks of The Listener.

More importantly, Francks insists that the show’s suspects are presented without any qualitative judgment. On a procedural someone has to be the killer, but one’s taste in entertainment is a useless predictor of that distinction.

“They have to be diverse,” said Francks of the role players. “You merge into stereotypes, but there’s no negative. Could they be the killer? Yeah, but so could grandma. You just never know.”

“Game Over” captures the fact that being a gamer is not a reflection of inner character as much as it is a trait that could apply to countless individuals, and that’s what Francks would like to see more of on TV.

“It’s nice to see a show that can embrace the gamer community,” said Francks. “I don’t think there’s enough of it. People should be excited.”

“I know I’m biased, but I think it’s one of the best episodes we’ve done so far.”

“Game Over” airs tonight at 9pm on CTV.

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