Season 7, Episode 13
Director: Chris Carter
Writer: William Gibson, Tom Maddox
In Season Five, legendary sci-fi author William Gibson contributed “Kill Switch” to The X-Files canon. My chief complaint with that episode was that, despite some suspenseful sequences, exactly how thrilling was it for Mulder and Scully to face an effectively faceless villain? Sure, there were virtual stakes, but The X-Files excels when the bad guys are scary and tangible. With “First Person Shooter,” Gibson returns to the series but faces similar issues.
The episode opens with an elaborate virtual reality first person shooter game played by three men. The first wave of the game introduces a series of motorcyclists firing on them. After laying waste to the initial foe, the three move into a second level where faceless assailants shoot them from behind a series of glass panels. One of the three men breaks away from the pack and enters a subterranean cavern where a leather-clad dominatrix, Maitreya (Krista Allen), pulls an antique flintlock gun on him, killing him in the real world. Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate by the Lone Gunmen who have assisted with the creation of the virtual reality world in exchange for stock options in the parent company, First Person Shooter. Next, a legendary hacker attempts to defeat Maitreya, but she makes quick work of him as well, slicing off his hands and cutting his torso in half.
In an attempt to solve the problem, game operator Phoebe (Constance Zimmer) puts the Lone Gunmen into the game, effectively trapping them. Mulder enters the game to save them and follows Maitreya, nearly being killed in the process himself. In reality, Phoebe admits to creating Maitreya on her own time and computer as a respite in the male-dominated computer gaming world, but the program bed into the game and began to take on a life of her own. As Mulder continues to fight Maitreya in a wild west-themed level two, Scully joins the game, blowing away many of the recently generated Maitreya clones. While the Scully/Maitreya battle rages, Phoebe provides the kill command that destroys the entire game, saving Mulder and Scully. The episode closes with a series of monitors showing a version of Maitreya with Scully’s face.
So, Maitreya is an attractive looking villain, something of a homicidal Lara Croft. Yet, she has absolutely no personality being nothing but a computer generated person. As such, there is no sense of threat or endangerment within “First Person Shooter.” Sure, two people die, and Mulder, the Lone Gunmen, and eventually Scully are trapped in the game. But the bulk of the episode is spent with three or four people gaping at a monitor in horror and amazement at the activity on screen. Effectively, the feeling of watching the episode is akin to watching someone play a video game – you’re not an active participant, and you’re generally not engaged in the on-screen activities. Other episodes of The X-Files with more tangible, identifiable villains succeed by pulling you into the narrative. “First Person Shooter” works to keep you out of it. It’s not the actors fault. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have a ball with the material, effectively taking their standard personalities and playing them out in this virtual landscape.
But, in the end, “First Person Shooter” feels like one of those episodes that is designed to take advantage of the latest, hottest trends in computer animation. It might have been fine in 2000, but it’s badly dated and slightly boring in 2015. Even modern video games have evolved enough to give you more of an emotional investment. Perhaps that is the video game twist that The X-Files should have explored. It’s far more deadly and more terrifying to imagine emotional engagement with a video game where the outcome has higher stakes.