In 2034, computer programmer Ken Castle (Hall) invents self-replicating nanites that replace brain tissue and allow humans to control other humans' actions and see through their eyes. The first application of Castle's "Nanex" technology is a virtual community life simulation game, Society, which allows gamers to manipulate live actors as their avatars. Society becomes a worldwide sensation, making Castle the richest man in the world. He then creates Slayers, a first-person shooter where the "characters" are death-row prisoners using real weapons in specially created arenas. Unlike Society actors, Slayers participants are not paid; instead, they volunteer in exchange for the promise that any Slayer who survives 30 matches will earn his freedom (though no one ever has).
John "Kable" Tillman (Butler) is the crowd's favorite, having survived a record 27 matches. He is exclusively controlled by Simon (Lerman), a seventeen-year-old superstar gamer from a wealthy family.
An activist organization called the "Humanz" hacks a talk-show interview with Castle and claims that his technology will one day be used to control people against their will. The Humanz also disrupt Society play, but Castle sees both these actions as trivial. However, Castle feels threatened by Kable's winning streak, and introduces a new inmate into Slayers, Hackman (Crews), specifically to kill Kable. Unknown to anyone else, Hackman will not be controlled by a player, and thus not be handicapped by the "ping" that causes a small but dangerous delay between the player's command and the Slayer's action.
Kable/Tillman's wife, Angie (Valletta), works as a Society character, but in spite of her earnings, she is refused custody of their daughter Delia, who has been placed with a wealthy family.
The Humanz contact Kable and Simon separately, warning them that Castle has no intention of letting Kable survive, and offer to create a mod that will let him escape, but only if Simon relinquishes control during the game. The escape is successful, and news outlets report that Kable has been fragged, which puts Simon in a difficult position: he is labelled a "cheater", locked out of his bank account, and investigated by the FBI for helping Kable escape.
Tillman is brought to the Humanz' hideout; he refuses to help their fight against Castle, but learns of Angie's current location in Society. He rescues her, escaping from both Hackman and Castle's security forces. They are met by Gina (Sedgewick), the talk show host, secretly assisting the Humanz. The Humanz deactivate the nanites in Angie and Tillman's brains, and Tillman remembers that the original nanites were tested on him while he was still in the military. Under Castle's control, Tillman shot and killed his best friend, and was imprisoned.
Upon learning that Castle is the wealthy father who adopted Delia, Tillman infiltrates his mansion to get her back. He locates Castle, who reveals that his henchmen have already tracked down the Humanz' lair and killed all of them. He also reveals that 90% of his own brain has been replaced with nanites, but his allow him to control others, rather than be controlled. He plans to release air-borne nanites which will infect the entire United States within six months, giving him ultimate control. Hackman attacks Tillman, who easily kills him. Tillman then attacks Castle, but is frozen in place, as Castle explains that his men have reactivated his and Angie's nanites.
Unknown to Castle, Gina and Trace (Lohman) escaped the murder of the Humanz, and patch into the Nanex, revealing the confrontation to the world and exposing Castle's plans. It also unblocks Simon's account and restores his control of Tillman.
Castle tries to manipulate Tillman into killing his own daughter, but he resists, and then Simon's control allows him to attack Castle. He and Simon wrestle for control over Tillman, but Tillman tells Castle to imagine Tillman's knife stabbing him. Castle unconsciously does so, allowing Tillman to kill him and removing his control over everyone. With Castle dead, Tillman convinces his technicians to deactivate the Nanex, freeing all the "characters" in Society and Slayers.
The film closes with the Tillman family taking a trip down a country road, ending with the words "Game Over".
In May 2007, Lakeshore Entertainment re-teamed with Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the creators of Crank (2006), to produce a "high-concept futuristic thriller" called Game. Neveldine and Taylor wrote the script for Game and were slated to direct the film, while actor Gerard Butler was cast into the lead role.
Principal photography took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a 53-day shoot. Filming was at the Albuquerque Studios and on location around Albuquerque. Multistory sets were built on parking lots in downtown Albuquerque to depict buildings that were blown up in the film, and other sets were built on the back lots near the studios. The crew used special hand-held Red One digital cameras, which allowed the special effects team to begin work normally done in post-production after each day's shooting.
In March 2009, the film's working title was changed from Game to Citizen Game. In May 2009, another name change was announced, the new name being Gamer.
Gamer had an opening day gross of $3.3 million and ranked fourth at the box office. In total, the film earned $9.2 million in its opening weekend. Overall, the film grossed $21.5 in the United States and Canadian and $20.7 million in other territories for worldwide cumulative of $42 million, against its $50 million budget.
The film received negative reviews from critics. The film holds a 28% "Rotten" rating from 75 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes; the site's consensus being "with all of the hyperkinetic action and none of the flair of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's earlier work, Gamer has little replay value."
Critic Joe Neumaier of The New York Daily News, agreed, calling it a "Xerox of a Xerox" and citing a number of films it supposedly takes elements from, including The Matrix and Rollerball. RVA Magazine noted that Gamer's plot was overly similar to The Condemned and commented that Gamer "hates its primary audience" and "tries to criticize the commercialization of violence, even though it itself is commercialized violence".
Cultural critic Steven Shaviro authored a 10,000 word defense and analysis of the film that he posted online, and eventually re-worked into the penultimate chapter of his book, Post-Cinematic Affect (Zer0 Books, 2010).