TV - Dead Pixels

Dead Pixels is a new E4 comedy series which is part-live action and part-computer animation that takes "an affectionate, humorous look at the world of online gaming". Find out more about the show and read an interview with one of the stars Will Merrick...

Dead Pixels is based on a 2016 Channel 4 Blap and is an unusual mix of live action and animation, where the action is split between real life and Kingdom Scrolls, the online game.
Dead Pixels is about three friends, Meg (Alexa Davies), Nicky (Will Merrick) and Usman (Sargon Yelda) who play Kingdom Scrolls, the popular online role playing fantasy game, set in a magical world of wizards, orcs and wyverns. They are committed to the game. Because in the end, what’s more important – playing badminton with your flatmate Alison (Charlotte Ritchie), or defending Castle Blackfinger from marauding orcs? For Meg, Nicky and Usman it’s no contest, the castle comes first.

In real life Meg and Nicky work in an office. They are not sure what Usman does for a living – but Usman has got his priorities right, if Castle Blackfinger needs defending, then grabbing a decent night’s sleep would not only be selfish, it would be irresponsible. There’s also gaming n00b Russell (David Mumeni), the new guy at Meg’s office. It’s not that Russell is a bit annoying – he just doesn’t understand the etiquette of online gaming – which makes him incredibly annoying.

Meg doesn’t fancy Nicky. Nicky definitely doesn’t fancy Meg. Nothing will ever happen between them, not in this world or in Kingdom Scrolls.

Here's the interview with Will Merrick, who plays Nicky.

Tell us what Dead Pixels is all about.

Dead Pixels is about a group of friends who have fallen in love with this game Kingdom Scrolls. It’s a roleplay game in terms of its fantasy element, it’s a sandbox game with a massive world. It allows a player to really have a complete second life. There’s so much to do. It’s almost like the character is living; you have to make sure they’re eating. They forage and go on missions. In my experience the most similar thing as a reference point is World of Warcraft. If you’ve ever played it you know the size of that game. But I think Dead Pixels is really about friends connecting over a shared absolute love affair with this beautiful fantasy world. They feel much happier and more content in that world than in the world they live in. They spend time on there, having a fucking great time and get up to lots of adventures and scrapes and very funny experiences through that.

You play Nicky – tell us a little bit about him.

Nicky is quite a reclusive guy. Nicky finds the real world, really intense and intimidating and very confusing. He is the absolute master of magic and quest and folklore within Kingdom Scrolls and he has no problem taking down giant spiders and foraging for gold. But in the real world, even mundane office conversations with his co-workers or the idea of talking to a girl he sort of fancies is so outside of his comfort zone. Nicky is a king in Kingdom Scrolls really and he likes it that way. It’s where he feels safe. So, he invests all his time in Kingdom Scrolls. Nicky also has a very deep, very complicated and very weird relationship with Meg. Kingdom Scrolls is their ‘thing’ together; they made a pact to complete it together and it’s the thing that binds them. In a lot of ways, it’s an opportunity to spend time together which is something they probably wouldn’t understand how to do ordinarily because there are some very complicated and weird feelings between the two of them. They’re very unconventional as people. I think they’re attracted to each other and they just want to spend all their time together but they wouldn’t really know how to do that. This game gives them that time. Nicky’s sarcastic, judgemental. He’s a cynic. He’s completely terrified of death and he thinks about it all the time. He’s very aware of his own mortality. He doesn’t really trust anything or anyone outside of his clan in Kingdom Scrolls.

What did you do, if anything, by way of research for this? Was it an excuse to spend months on end gaming in your bedroom?

Do you know what, I gamed a lot between fourteen and twenty one. I was a big gamer. Well, in my head I was a big gamer. I was exclusively playing Playstation, roleplay games, sandbox games. I probably represented more of the Meg side of the gamer than Nicky because Nicky is all about building his stats and levelling up. He needs the absolute best sword and every letter or every magic egg. He’s all about one hundred percent completion and Meg is all about the story and the immersion. Me and my mates would text each other being like, “IAF” which was ‘immersed as fuck’, which is where you’d shut out the world and get into a really big sesh and your mum would walk through the door with a cup of tea and you’d be like, “Fuck! You fucked it! I’m out!” I remember that with The Last of Us. I would play at night because I felt the full impact of the game. It felt really scary and I got wrapped up in the story at night. I couldn’t really game a lot between twenty one and shooting Dead Pixels but when I was shooting I downloaded Warcraft. I’d always watched friends play it but I was never a computer guy. But I played for about a month before Dead Pixels and I loved it.

So the best research ever, really?

Yeah, it was great. Everyone’s aware of the time-lapse that happens when you play and you’re like, “My God, half a days’ gone by.” I don’t think I’ve ever felt that like I’ve felt in Warcraft. I didn’t expect to get hooked because it was out of my comfort zone. I wanted a joystick and a controller, I didn’t want a keyboard. I think I did six hours in my first sitting and it was like three o’clock in the morning! The beauty of those games is there’s never a moment where there isn’t something around the corner. A tiny interaction has this butterfly affect that sends you on these rolling quests. That’s what I love about it.

Is it now cool to be a geek?

Crudely put, yeah it is. The word ‘geek’ is interesting. We’re not laughing at gaming. Yeah, this show explores their reclusiveness and their isolation, but if anything, it totally celebrates it. The main thing that attracted to me was Dead Pixels with the director Al Campbell. He said, “This is a show for everyone who has ever enjoyed any platform of any kind. Whether you’re a Pacman fan, whether you like Candy Crush, whether you play solitaire on your break.” I mean my mum plays Candy Crush. She should be able to connect to Dead Pixels. It’s about the beauty of that engagement, that connection you have with a platform and the joy you get from it. Maybe you take ten minutes a day to just be with yourself and try and achieve something or win something or put your mind and your hands to good use. I think geeks are cool. The line is way blurred now. The word ‘geek’ is more of a 1990s thing. Gaming seems bigger than ever because there are so many different directions you can go with within gaming.

There’s a certain disdain amongst hardcore gamers for non-gamers, or people they think don’t take it seriously enough. That’s really nicely captured by Jon’s script, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is. Jon’s script is so brilliantly detailed and idiosyncratic. He’s got so much lovely gaming banter, gaming jargon, gaming vocabulary that I think especially people who would call themselves as Meg does ‘slave to the game’ will love it. These moments you come across, in episode one, Meg meets a guy at work, she fancies him and gets him into the game and I call him a “clacksman”, a “filthy noobie clacksman!”. I think that’s so lovely. Those references are so nice. And of course we’ve got the amazing character of Alison who is the lowest of the low as she’s bilingual, she goes out all the time, she has a boyfriend and she wouldn’t know how to start a game. She wouldn’t know how to turn on a Playstation. She’s a really nice reference point, experiencing what we experience. We don’t get it at all; we look down on her and spit on her from on high for ‘doing nothing’ with her life.

How did you find working with Alexa and Charlotte?

It was amazing. I think my favourite scenes were shot with Alexa and Charlotte. They were basically in the flat and Alison, who Charlotte plays, is telling us what she’s been up to that day and we’re just like, “That’s fucking weird. Going out and doing ‘normal things’,” because in our minds they’re so not normal. She’s pretending that these are things you should do and we know they’re absolutely pointless and all part of The System. Really, we’d be much happier in a big sesh. Those are my favourite scenes. She plays it so brilliantly and she’s so good to bounce off. The best thing about Alison is she never really calls us out. She lets us treat her like shit! They’re great fun.

So much of the action takes place on screen, in the virtual world of the game. What do you think of the animation?

I think it’s amazing. I was blown away by it. I’ve seen it a bit through development. I thought it was great at the start, but I’ve seen episode one and I can’t believe how it’s so detailed. It’s beautiful. It’s really colourful and it flows to well. The avatars of me and Meg and Russell, they’re a great way to learn about the characters. When you see how we all represent ourselves in the game, I think as people they make a lot more sense.

That says a lot about Russell, doesn’t it?

That’s he’s a giant Amazonian woman, yeah. Russell’s this amazing character because you meet him episode one, it’s a classic comedy scenario where a good-looking guy enters the office, and you very soon realise he’s a total goof. Maybe Nicky and Meg are far more uncool though they are very cool in some ways but Russell is so uncool. There’s no bullshit with him, he’s not trying to be anything he isn’t and he likes this giant green woman in a bikini and that’s who he wants to be because he thinks that’s awesome. Meg’s got this very strong character of a hunchback and Nicky’s imagined himself as this extremely smooth Zelda-esque wanderer, adventurer, with a cape and a bionic arm.

Some of the costumes and situations and lines you have to deliver are just beyond ridiculous? Was corpsing a problem?

Yeah. A lot. I was talking about those scenes with Alison and Meg before. We corpsed a lot but we got through it in the end. If there’s three of us in a scene one of us is biting a lip or looking down at some point and they’re cutting around that. We got told off at one point. We were still on scene two hours later and the director was like, “Guys, I’m so glad we find this funny but we’re gonna lose the day.” I think that’s awesome. As someone said to me on set, “If you find it funny, that’s what we want.” Lot of fun.

Here's what's coming up (possible spoilers!):

Episode 1: Bears

Meg meets a new guy at work and invites him on a date - to play her favourite online game Kingdom Scrolls.

Episode 2: Tanadaal

A movie version of Kingdom Scrolls has been announced and Meg and Nicky are not happy with the casting.

Episode 3: Betrothal

Meg and Nicky decide to get married in the game and things quickly get complicated.

Episode 4: Big Nose

Meg starts live streaming from Kingdom Scrolls but flatmate Alison worries she won’t make a living from it.

Episode 5: Patricide

Nicky’s dad tries to bond with him by playing Kingdom Scrolls but things get complicated when Nicky gets a taste for killing his Father.

Episode 6: Hive-Mother

Meg, Nicky, Usman and Russell are set to complete Kingdom Scrolls and decide to make a weekend of it by cosplaying the final level.

Images - E4
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