Hot Docs 2018: Our Review of ‘Playing Hard’

Hot Docs 2018: Our Review of ‘Playing Hard’

Playing Hard begins with the camera fixed on a man putting on enough rings and bracelets to make Sammy Davis Jr. say, “Hey man, that’s enough.” These pieces of jewelry aren’t just bling, they’re bits of armour adorning a man preparing for combat. And if this description sounds melodramatic, it won’t by the end of the film. His name is Jason Vandenberghe and Playing Hard shows us how his larger-than-life personality willed an unlikely passion project into existence.

Jason is the creative director for a successful video game property called For Honor. For Honor is what’s known as an AAA game – the video game equivalent to an Avengers-calibre Hollywood blockbuster. AAA games cost tens of millions of dollars to produce, take several years to develop, and need staffs of hundreds of employees. When it comes to creating original properties, major game studios are more conservative than Hollywood studios since one misstep may sink a company. And it’s this restrictive creative eco-system that makes Playing Hard a rare find.

Director Jean-Simon Chartier hit the lottery when he made Playing Hard. For every successful original game that hits store shelves, there exist a dozen carcasses of games that didn’t survive development. Somehow, Chartier got in on the ground floor of a new property, from one of the industry’s biggest studios (Ubisoft), and the game survived the development cycle. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen. And then there’s Jason, the long-haired, ring wearing, and charismatic visionary who butts heads with the programming egg-heads all along the way. Jason seems genetically bred to take centre stage in a documentary.

Playing Hard’s chronicle of an AAA game’s five-year development cycle is a remarkable achievement. It’s also a fun, absorbing, and insightful documentary sure to entertain gamers and non-gamers alike.

Playing Hard showtimes:

Wednesday, May 02, 9:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 02
Thursday, May 03, 2:45 PM, Scotiabank Theatre 13
Friday, May 04, 8:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre 03

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Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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