Gaming is a complicated industry. Video games, once considered a niche children’s form of entertainment, have become a massive, several hundred billion dollar industry — bigger than music or film. Gaming’s role in culture has evolved from the “World of Warcraft” parody on South Park to streamers like Ninja playing Fortnite with “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah. Games are an undeniably mainstream phenomenon making tons of cash. Yet at the same time, the industry faces constant controversy over toxic fanbases, abusive working conditions for employees, casino-esque monetization schemes and being a breeding ground for the alt-right. The new Apple TV+ comedy “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” attempts to tackle all of these aspects of gaming — both ugly and positive — and it does so better than any other show has. It might indeed be the “Silicon Valley” of gaming — after HBO’s similarly styled comedy takedown of tech.
Rob McElhenny and Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” wrote and produced “Mythic Quest,” which features a game studio full of oddballs developing a massively-multiplayer online fantasy game named in the show’s title. McElhenney stars as Ian McGrimm, the intensely narcissistic visionary behind “Mythic Quest.” The lead writer of the game’s lore C.W. Longbottom — played by F. Murray Abraham — is a misogynist drunkard whose claim to fame is a Hugo science-fiction award from decades ago. Poppy (Caitlin McGee) is the overstressed lead engineer of the project struggling to be heard in a cult of ego, and Brad (Danny Pudi) runs a gambling-like monetization scheme to keep the money flowing — which he describes as “the perfect fusion of art & commerce.” David (David Hornsby) is the studio’s indecisive, “beta cuck” CEO trying to keep both the creative and finance sides of the studio happy. On the outside, streaming personality and 14-year old Pootie Shoe (Elisha Hennig) — a parody of real-life video game influencers like PewdiePie — sways influence over the development team by providing his thoughts on “Mythic Quest” to an audience of millions.
If such characters seem absurd or larger-than-life, viewers should understand that “Mythic Quest” actually depicts the games industry and surrounding culture admirably well for a TV show — better than Law & Order at least. The ego-clashing, ugly business on the inside and sway of “influencers” and rabid fans beyond the studio mirror many situations in the real-life gaming landscape. Particularly noteworthy is the depiction of overworked, underappreciated quality-assurance testers Rachel (Ashly Burch, who is actually a voice actress for many real video-games) and Dana (Imani Hakim). Quality assurance testers and programmers in the games industry are notoriously overworked in “crunch” periods and rarely supported by any kinds of labor unions. “Mythic Quest” does an admirable job of calling attention to this issue while keeping things comedic and relatively light.
Overall, “Mythic Quest '' gets the often-at-war clash of cultures between busy, diverse, and passionate game developers and obsessive, frequently white-male and sometimes toxic fanbases. The show’s third episode for instance, reveals that a large portion of “Mythic Quest”’s audience are actual white supremacists. The situation is not a far cry from similar 4chan-esque communities that form around online games. Finance-man Brad cynically insists they are still “just paying customers,” while Poppy and other creatives are shocked and struggle to deal with the PR crisis. Video games may be a profitable and extremely successful industry that brings joy to many, but the culture and circumstances surrounding them range from absurd to horrific. “Mythic Quest '' is not exactly a “Frontline” investigation into these issues, but it does at least attempt to bring them to a more mainstream audience of viewers on Apple TV+.
While much of the show’s humor benefits from an understanding of video games and their culture going in, Day and McElhenney do a decent job of explaining lingo on-the-go. Certain references, like the name dropping of popular gaming news sites “Kotaku” and “Polygon” might fly by more casual viewers, but the show can still be appreciated for its oddball sense of humour and characters. Fans of Day and McElhenney may be disappointed in “Mythic Quest”’s failure to bring the cynical yet brilliantly funny potion of catharsis of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but it does manage to be a decent sitcom that tackles new and relevant subject matter for television in a genuine and sometimes even insightful way. Put plainly, “Mythic Quest” is going more for chuckles and smirks than riotous laughter. For audiences that want a low-key and accessible look at the games industry that is amusing and clever — “Mythic Quest” is more than worth a playthrough.