Home / Lounge / Features /  ‘Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ offers many levels of gameplay

"I would say I am kinda like the conductor of an orchestra," says David Brittlesbee, executive producer of one of the world’s most popular video games, when asked by a colleague in human resources about his management style. “I don’t know how to play an instrument and I don’t understand music, but it’s like when I wave my hands in the air, it just kinda all comes together."

She is rightly appalled at both his incompetence and his ignorance about the arts, but something about Brittlesbee’s description rings true: When it comes to the creation of video games, things do indeed come together in the least likely of ways.

On the new Apple TV+ sitcom Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, the feckless Brittlesbee is played by David Hornsby, best known for playing the priest-turned-vagrant Cricket on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. This new show is created by Always Sunny alumni Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Megan Ganz, and features McElhenney at the helm of a fictitious video game called “Mythic Quest"—a game we are told is “the number one online role playing game among white supremacists". As McElhenney’s character, Ian Grimm, states, video games make exponentially more money than Hollywood blockbusters, yet cultural touchstones come from film and television.

It’s a fair point, though it’s hard to take anything seriously from a guy so bedecked in tattoos and rings that he has to assure people he isn’t going for a Criss Angel look. Ian calls himself a visionary, saying things like “I have a game to run and a culture to impact" with a straight face, mushing words together to create the next big draw for his gamers. As if naming new variants of Axe deodorant, Ian grandly announces “fire rain" or “blood ocean", pointing in that direction so teams of programmers and designers can take aim.

Lead engineer Poppy Li turns Ian’s neologisms into playable reality. Played by Charlotte Nicdao, she is variously referred to—by Ian—as Ian’s “favourite paintbrush", or the Beatle who keeps the beat, while he writes the songs and makes the music. We meet Poppy when Mythic Quest is primed to launch its expansion pack, Raven’s Banquet, and she has but one ask: a “shovel" tool which can let players literally shape the world in their own way. Something she can call her own in this violent, Ian-filled game. Ian shoots it down for not being cool enough, then turns it into a decapitating weapon.

Like Silicon Valley and The Office, this is a show about how the sausage is made, yet its sharpest criticism is pointed not at the weird crew of misfits making the game, but those who play it. Brad Bakshi, head of monetization, faces an existential crisis because Saudi princes and Silicon Valley billionaires will buy any virtual item he puts up for sale at the store, at any price. Poppy’s shovel is measured in TTP (Time To Penis), the time it will take for players to start shaping the world into penis-shapes—always less time than one might think. And despite the many, many publications committed to covering gaming, all serious reviews are outweighed by a 14-year-old streamer who plays the game while yelling at his mom.

As these game creators strive to keep pace with their audience, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet provides an intriguing look at what creators have to account for. For all his self-celebrating bluster, Ian cuts off the game’s sizeable Nazi population by giving them their own server so they can come forth and spew hate amid themselves—creating a Nazi echo chamber and leaving the rest of the players alone—a decision I daresay Twitter could learn from. Bakshi makes an excellent point about our increasing need to hate-watch things. “Hate-watch, hate-follow, hate-like, hate-hate," he rattles off the eager ways people consume that which they actively dislike. “People really miss public executions."

There is many a quirky character—my favourite is head writer C.W. Longbottom, played by the great F. Murray Abraham, a fantasy writer who won a Nebula Award in the 1970s and now ponders his own obsolescence as he concocts a foul port wine and coffee drink called a “Rutger Hauer"—but the show also engages with the gaming industry’s notorious sexism, inhuman working hours, coding-crunches and lack of foresight. Two girls sit in a room and play Mythic Quest all day, and being professional game testers seems like the best job, until one of them tells the other to get back to playing: “They track our eyeballs."

It doesn’t feel coincidental that the one optimist in the series is mocked and kept in the basement. As if to contrast the vile heroes of McElhenney’s other show, things for her are… never sunny.

The cast is tremendous fun. Bakshi is played by Danny Pudi of Community, sociopathic and smooth and almost always unflappable. Abraham has an infectiously good time as he listens to Pink Floyd in his dusty office and pours ketchup on his omnipresent Nebula Award. Imani Hakim and Ashly Burch are superb as the impassioned game testers, one of them wishing her co-worker looked at her the way she looks at the game. Nobody does hapless like Hornsby, and his Brittlesbee is further handicapped by a murderous assistant, Jo, played by Jessie Ennis with the sadistic smile of Lucy pulling out the football from under Charlie Brown’s feet.

McElhenney is weirdly charismatic as this daft leader, a Quixote who has outsourced his windmill-chase to the entire world, and there is a sincerity to his silliness. You can’t not root for him. I haven’t picked up a PlayStation controller in years, but one training montage made me want to get hold of a two-person fighting game and call up a buddy. I probably will, this week. McElhenney also directs a touching and clever one-off episode—Episode 5, “Dark Quiet Death"—which is a romance about the life and demise of a video game dream.

The show’s heart is Nicdao, an Australian actor with a wildly expressive face, playing the most put-upon of characters. When she tries to make a point, dudebros cough over her till she leaves. Nevertheless, she persists. She’s powered by her passion, taking over from slacking programmers because she can do a better job, reluctantly forced to acknowledge Ian’s ideas because she gets that he gets it.

That “it" means different things to different people, of course. Bakshi, for instance, finds his motivation in realizing that rather than getting a wealthy player to spend a lot of money in one go, the true achievement lies in getting every player hooked, to bleed them dry through microscopically small transactions, gradually getting every last penny from the player. Game on.

Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.


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