Earlier this year, Den Of Geek chatted to the three stars of E4’s gaming comedy Dead Pixels, Alexa Davies (The Detectorists, Raised By Wolves), Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat, Call The Midwife), and Will Merrick (Skins, Poldark).
In the Jon Brown-written, Al Campbell-directed comedy, Davies and Merrick play Meg and Nicky, seasoned online gamers whose every spare minute – and quite a few of the minutes they’re ostensibly at work – is spent in the fictional realm of massive multi-player online role-play game Kingdom Scrolls (a fictional amalgamation of real-life MMORPGs).
They’re joined by Charlotte Ritchie as Alison, the sole non-gamer of the group, but a character who isn’t necessarily as on top of things as she may seem.
We chatted about the cast’s personal gaming experience, hijacking cars in Grand Theft Auto, killing birds in Red Dead Redemption, gaming avatars, and collecting trophies, which brings us to…
Alexa, I gather congratulations are in order. Am I right that you’ve completed all 120 shrines on Zelda: Breath Of The Wild?
Alexa Davies: Yes I have! Thank you very much!
Charlotte Ritchie: [Laughs] Alexa is so chuffed right now.
AD: You have no idea! I have completed all of the shrines, all of them. I have only three side quests left, but I found out the other day I thought there were only 200 Korok seeds, but I found out that there can be up to 900, so I’m kind of devastated because I have 124 Korok seeds and thought I was really close to completing the game, but it turns out I’m not! I’ve got 700 and something Korok seeds to go. But thank you so much, I’m so excited about that.
Alexa and Will, you play serious gamers in Dead Pixels, but Charlotte, your character is a non-gamer. What, if any, is your personal experience of online gaming?
CR: I don’t have experience of online gaming because when I was gaming – very briefly and shallowly – I don’t think there was a way of connecting your PlayStation up to the internet so I don’t think it was an option. Is that right? About 1999, I don’t think it was possible. PS2. That opportunity passed me by.
Will Merrick: I played a little bit of online stuff. I played a bit of Warcraft before starting filming to get an idea of a big online roleplay game. I have spent my fair share of hours in games, more recently a lot of online FIFA, harassing probably much younger… actually, that probably sounds a bit weird, but er, harassing young boys. Scoring goals and sending direct messages like ‘Get in!’ [Laughs]
What was your Warcraft avatar, Will?
WM: It was a sort of shamanic bull. I can’t remember what that was called, his species. There was a staff. I chose him because I liked the staff, a sort of Gandalf-style staff. He was a bull and he wore clothes and talked… I really enjoyed my foray into Warcraft. Good game.
Will and Alexa, your characters each have a CG avatar in [Dead Pixels‘ fictional massive multi-player online role playing game] Kingdom Scrolls, Greta and Morrick. What went into their design?
AD: The avatars have our faces. They took pictures of our face for the series at the readthrough and kind of augmented them, so Greta’s face is mine but I think much more attractive [laughs] because they’ve made my eyes bigger and everything is cartoony and cute.
WM: Mine’s Morrick the Unwavering but I didn’t have a say in it. Morrick is what Nicky would like to be, quite a romanticised self-portrait really.
It feels as though Dead Pixels has been written for gamers, from the inside, not from the outside looking in just to make fun?
AD: Yes. Jon Brown, who writes it, is a massive gamer. It was the perfect team because Jon Brown is a massive gamer and Al Campbell, who directed the entire series, is also a massive gamer, so the men at the helm knew exactly what they were talking about, which did make it very exciting. There are so many references. I like gaming but I’ve never played online with outside people, so having them there, they were kind of like, you know when you have police officers on the set of a crime show? They were their own consultants. I think that’s why it comes across as so ‘pure gamer’, because Jon knows exactly what he’s talking about.
WM: Jon was the best authority, followed closely by Al, who also has spent a lot of time gaming.
CR: Jon said he’d worked out that he spent something like five days in total flying a helicopter from one place to another in a game, in real hours, over a year, just sitting in the cockpit of a helicopter doing a delivery somewhere. That shows extreme knowledge and understanding of how much work it takes to achieve.
There seems to be a lot of self-awareness in Dead Pixels, particularly from Will’s character, who, much as he spends all his time gaming, is also aware of the limitations of it as a lifestyle?
WM: Even someone who absolutely adores gaming, sometimes you have thet awareness. Like when you see the number clock up on the stat screen of ‘Days spent searching for this… egg’ or whatever. Everyone has that moment of going ‘aaah, fucking hell, there’s a lot of me in this right now!’ I think Nicky sometimes, he’s aware of that. It doesn’t mean that it takes any of his pleasure away from the game. He cares a lot what people think, probably more than Meg. Meg seems happier in her skin to an extent, whereas Nicky is quite scared of being judged.
He feels that people are going to read his lifestyle is pathetic and empty, whereas he doesn’t feel that at all, but he doesn’t trust people to see what he sees and so I think he prefers people to not see him, in that environment.
From an audience point of view, it feels like Nicky isn’t necessarily a good influence on Meg. Should we feel that Meg should be out playing badminton more and gaming less?
AD: She’s definitely torn, there’s definitely a frustration there, and I love the relationship she has with Alison because sometimes she can be really quite dreadful to her, but it comes from a real place of jealousy I think, of envy.
I think it’s a genuine fact that evolution favours more socially active people, and that’s really apparent in the show. Alison is living quite a healthy, nice lifestyle and I do think Meg wants a bit of that. That desire comes from a lot of Meg’s sexual frustration as well. Meg’s libido is definitely bigger than Nicky’s [laughs] That kind of drives her, in a way. I don’t think she craves the exact lifestyle that Alison has but she wouldn’t mind bits of it, including the dating. Meg’s really comfortable in her insecurities I think? She’s aware of why she’s a bit shit and why she doesn’t deal with things really well, but she’s sort of fine with it and carries on.
In episode one, Alison seems like the control group, she’s a non-gamer, the normal one in comparison?
CR: Yeah, she sort of represents, in a weird way ‘the Man’, by that I mean society as it wants you to be. I feel like Alison represents every article in Cosmopolitan or something that’s like ‘make sure you’re going out, make sure you’re playing badminton, make sure you’re dating a hot guy and have a good work/life balance and you’re healthy and your hair looks good and you wear nice shoes!’ she sort of is doing all the things that are absolutely right in life. She represents the outside world, she’s the embodiment of that. Maybe that’s just me projecting my own judgement on her! [Laughs]
I really like how much Meg and Nicky, despite it being maybe from their insecurities, shun a normal lifestyle and are happy to spend their time doing something that makes them feel really good without thinking too much about the future or how they appear. Also, to be fair to Alison, she genuinely cares about Meg and Nicky and just can’t comprehend how someone can spend their life indoors, basically.
Would it be a happy ending in the world of the series, if Meg became more like Alison? Say, she deleted her gaming profiles and instead chose the real world?
AD: I like that she has the space to express herself in games while she’s struggling to do so in the outside world. I think it would take a lot for her to adjust and be completely happy without the game. It’s like an addiction. It’s definitely a big part of her. Greta, her avatar, is a bit part of Meg’s identity. I can’t imagine it would be a smooth road for her to shun that side of her, though I’d definitely like to see her in the outside world a bit more.
CR: I’ve got this vision of her, ten years later in a pub, having chosen an outside life, and then looking over and seeing a kid on a console and wanting to be back in her room, thinking, what have I done?
Meg faced a moral dilemma in episode one and used the justification ‘the game lets you do it, so how horrible can it really be?’ When you play videogames, do you all behave morally?
AD: In Zelda I have a strong rule of ‘I won’t get in your way if you don’t get in mine’ With any kind of monster in Zelda that will come at me and try and kill me, I will do my best to avoid it, unless I actively have to go past them in some way to get what I want, then, very much like real life, I will avoid conflict at all costs. That’s a different thing because those creatures aren’t even real, but my boyfriend plays Red Dead Redemption 2 and whenever I see him kill a bird or something it always makes me feel a bit weird [laughs] even though it’s not real.
CR: When I was a kid playing Grand Theft Auto I had no problem running people over on the side of the road, not even a slight problem. It didn’t affect me a bit. I would happily drive over them. And when I started I wasn’t even good at steering, so I’d trample a whole load of people. I think there’s something about the way that they lie down and then get back up again, and walk around in that weird way.
WM: I always had this thing with GTA where you’d steal a car, which is obviously the big thing that you do, and sometimes the person who owns the car, rightfully, takes you back out of the car and that used to infuriate me! [laughs] I would happily have let them have their life, but when they took me back out of the car, that was game-time, I made sure that they rued the day that they selfishly took back their own car.
CR: There’s so much bravado in that world, that when you hear about bullying in gaming, you just know that if anyone was ever to be face to face they’d have zero guts. It’s so empty, it’s just hugely making up for the reality that in real life they probably wouldn’t hurt a fly, I hope!
With the character of Meg, Alexa, did you talk to Jon and Al in specific terms about depicting a female gamer?
AD: No, not really. Because I have my own experience with gaming anyway. It was funny because I think in Jon’s original script, Meg was a boy and then it was [executive producers and Peep Show creators] Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong that said that should be a girl, we should see it as a girl. But I kind of love that she’s been written without any gender-specific things about her. I think they just relied very much on me having my own gaming experience and understanding the frustration and joy that come in parts of gaming. We never really made anything gender-specific.
The only gender-specific thing would be the large number of synonyms Meg has for female genitalia!
WM: It’s nice to see that though, isn’t it? It feels like in comedy, guys are always going on about their junk! It’s nice to see it the other way.
AD: That’s fine! She hasn’t had sex in a while and she’s just vocal about it. She’s human.
What do you think is the crudest line you say as Meg in the show?
AD: There’s a scene where I have a physical action, there’s an episode where there’s a party and Meg is talking to Nicky in reference to a girl and I had to hump a chair, basically! [laughs] It was a first, definitely a first!
WM: Granny needs her porridge? Granny’s woken up and she wants her porridge! Granny! [All laugh]
I was pleased to learn the plural for scrotum in Will’s first scene. Scrota!
WM: I love Nicky’s prudishness in language. I just find that really funny, Nicky being on the other end of Meg constantly telling him how she’s hot to trot and he’s like, oh gosh!
Is a will-they-won’t-they going to develop between Nicky and Meg?
WM: There is, yeah.
AD: Their friendship is probably much more important to them than they realise and through the series there are a couple of moments where you think ‘will they won’t they?’ I know Jon and Al and Mat [producer Matthew Mulot] wanted to incorporate that.
Were you at all trepidatious about depicting the online gaming community in the show? In recent years, you could say it’s developed a reputation for being pretty unforgiving?
WM: That feeling is embodied within Nick and Meg. They’re always upset when something in the gaming community isn’t being represented appropriately, there’s a whole episode when that happens, so I think we’ve covered that base. I’m sure that the gaming community will react how they react to a lot of stuff, I don’t know if it would be any fun if there wasn’t a little bit of backlash because that’s what they do and that’s what I love about them!
Dead Pixels continues tonight, Thursday the 4th of April, at 9.30pm on E4.