Not a Genre but a Movement: The ‘Gameboys’ Triumph and the Dawn of a New Mainstream

“Your ideas about who you are don’t just come from inside you, they come from the culture. And in this culture, they come especially from the movies. So, we learn from the movies what it means to be a man or a woman. What it means to have sexuality.”

Richard Dryer, film historian

There is a lot to be said about the widely successful franchise that is Gameboys.

As a web series, it’s one of the very first productions to be filmed and showed amidst the pandemic and intense levels of quarantine, with actors doubling in as set directors and lighting experts while shooting independently at home. As a piece of storytelling content, it has kickstarted an era of new stories bravely advocating for not just Boy’s Love (BL), but all kinds of love across the spectrum, in an industry that has, until then, brushed it under the rug as mere spectacle.

It sure was not the first. Many have attempted to take on the Herculean task years before it landed on our digital screens. But only Gameboys did the unimaginable. It made the world see.

But more than that, as a meteor-like fragment of pop culture, the Gameboys narrative has brought forth a unique light to audiences around the world, at a time where its lack is profound, and oh so desperately needed. What with all the background noise of social media controversies and political news, and the foreground struggles of simply trying to make it through a time of so many questions and fears.

On Adrianna: Red, puffy tulle apron dress, HaMu. Velvet blazer, Edwin Tan.
On Kokoy: Suit, Maison Glarino. Form-fitting mesh top (worn underneath), Proudrace.
On Elijah: Hyper-pink water-proof faux leather long jacket, Kelvin Morales. Reworked wedding dress bodice cut-out top, Proudrace. Trousers, Maison Glarino.

Gameboys, and the romantic-comedy it served without over-sexualization, sensationalism, or brow-raising teleserye drama, was and is a welcome reprieve from daily worries. With a story that remained realistic, relevant, and wholeheartedly sincere, it entertained. And quietly operated its deeply-seated mission of what we have known all along. That love IS love.

Over a year since its May 2020 release, and these threads of influence have only grown more complex, creating a web of the series’ truly game-changing legacy in entertainment and society as a whole. Fresh from the release of the Gameboys film, and in eager anticipation for the upcoming second season, Rank magazine caught up with what the fandom has aptly called the “Power Trinity”, Elijah Canlas, Kokoy De Santos and Adrianna So on their show’s worldwide impact, and what it means to them as strong allies of the LGBTQ+ community to be part of the ride.

On Kokoy: T-shirt packaging tank hem vest and Patchwork Elephant Pants, Proudrace.
On Elijah: Patchwork suit, Maison Glarino. Velvet trousers, Edwin Tan.

For these three actors whose careers have taken new heights because of Gameboys, the film which just recently launched, set between the first and second season, is nothing short of a dream come true.

From relatively new names in the industry working in complete isolation at home, to now iconic personalities bringing the characters to life in physical (often social media trend-worthy) shoots, each of them—and the series’ whole ensemble—evidently radiate a deep sense of respect and care for their characters’ individual stories, and the show’s entire narrative.

In last year’s Takeover Issue, Rank Magazine editor Leo Balante delicately puts it:

In Gameboys, there is neither high-octane action, knee-slapping comedy, nor teleserye drama. Neither does it have fancy camera work, visual effects, nor A-listers as leads. All the viewers saw are two young men, in and out of video calls, portraying various levels of onscreen chase, before leading to a denouement that brought viewers to feel, think, and believe in a new order that is beautiful and possible.

What Gameboys built is a world that is both familiar and aspirational, tackling present state of things while using it to inconspicuously paint possibilities in a world rid of constricting social constructs and gender norms.

In, and of itself, hidden in its success, Gameboys stopped from being a BL series, not relying on sugary romance laden with cute interactions. Instead, it launched a quiet but powerful pop cultural blitzkrieg that indiscriminately toppled down old order of things to show us a world where nothing has to be explained—it just is. No questions asked. No othering.

On Elijah: Form-fitting mesh top, Proudrace. Custom round-collar top with official Rank Magazine insignia, Kelvin Morales. Black baby diaper pants, HaMu.

On Kokoy: Custom Rank Magazine Hot Damn! print tank top, Proudrace. Patchwork trousers, Maison Glarino.

Having triumphed this, Gameboys has transcended from a run-of-the-mill entertainment series, into an agent of this necessary cultural shift. One that continues to emanate to this day. And no small thanks to the record-breaking success the film has famously carved, and the global anticipation for the series to return on a sophomore season, it goes without saying that this legacy should, and will continue on.

As fans, themselves, who just so happen to breathe life to the characters that the world has come to love and root for, intricately woven by the genius of Ash Malanum and handled by the vision of Ivan Payawal, the three admit their excitement for the story to evolve, and the fans to witness Cairo, Gavreel, and Pearl’s growth through the film and the upcoming season.

Canlas, who plays Cairo, expressed his general excitement to just have the opportunity to continue the story and be part of the project:

“Ako, I’m just excited na makita ng audience yung quality nung work na ginawa. Sa buong team*, sobrang* you have no idea how hard they work to make this show, and this movie, what it is*. Ako personally excited makita siya. Nakakaproud* to be part of something like that.”

(For me, I’m just excited for the audience to see the quality of work put into this. From the whole team, you have no idea how hard they work to make this show, and this movie, what it is. I’m personally excited to see it. I’m proud to be part of something like that.”

Custom Packaging Print Deconstructed Wedding Dress with Rank insignia, Proudrace.

Black, deconstructed look from “Mama! Mama! There are Monsters under my Bed,” HaMu archive.

Custom Packaging Print Deconstructed Wedding Dress with Rank insignia, Proudrace.

So, who plays the ultimate #CaiReel cheerleader in the form of everyone’s beloved “mayora” Pearl, quipped in to tease that there’s a lot in store for fans of the series. “Madami kayo dapat abangan. We want to share different sides of the characters, and the struggles that they face and how they got over it together. And of course, [also look forward to] the visibility message that Gameboys have.”

And it’s definitely that—the visibility message of Gameboys—that has set off a cultural revolution in content within the Philippines and beyond. As the first official BL series in the country, it’s no wonder that Filipinos took notice of this ambitious project. It has opened up a new chapter in Filipino entertainment history that has never been touched so boldly and gracefully before, and the trio’s pride and sheer joy at its success is crystal clear every time they speak on the project.

In So’s words, it’s a work of bravery.

Sobrang tapang ng Gameboys sa lahat ng aspeto. Talagang binago niya yung buhay ko, buhay naming lahat,” De Santos, who portrays Gavreel on the show, expressed in contained disbelief and adoration. He opened up about how proud he feels whenever his own friends would congratulate him on the show, especially knowing how other people have different beliefs and perspectives.

He recalled, “Una kong naisip, nanuod ka? Ng ganitong klaseng show?” (The first thing I thought was, you watched? A show like this?)

May mga tao talagang iba yung pananaw, na napapanuod to. Iba yung atake nun sayo. Dapat lang mamulat yung mga tao,” he furthered. (There are people who have a different perspective, but they watched the show. That’s a different feeling. It’s only right that people’s eyes are opened.)

“Yung treatment kasi ng Gameboys, umpisa pa lang hindi naman sinabi na this is weird eh. Umpisa palang, two boys tapos this one boy likes this other guy, and they just go for it. Sobrang na normalize. Love is [just] love,” Canlas added. (Gameboys‘ treatment was, from the get-go, it was never labelled as weird. From the very beginning, there were two boys. This boy likes this other guy, and they just go for it. It was normalized. Love is [just] love.)

He went on and shared that it’s always the messages from fans that leave a mark in his heart whenever the show’s impact is discussed. The young actor opened up about fans coming out to their parents, feeling inspired to live freely, be themselves, and love themselves better, all because of what the show shed light on. “Parang nabibigyan ka talaga ng different level of purpose as a person, as an artist, and as an actor,” he remarked.

As the trio put it, the true legacy of the show resides within the audience. What it meant to them, and how it has transformed their lives and sense of identity through Cairo, Gavreel, Pearl, and the rest of the cast’s stories. What’s so joyous about it, as well, is that the story is only continuing to grow and branch out. It doesn’t seem like we’re seeing the last of the Gameboys cast any time soon, and thank the universe for that.

We still have a second season in the works, and a movie that’s currently out, following all the main and supporting characters’ individual arcs and love stories. And that’s another thing that’s commendable about the franchise: it fleshes out each role’s character, background, and stories. Giving us a rich collection of gay love that’s representative of a lot of individuals within the rainbow. We saw that with Pearl Next Door, Alt Gameboys, and the development of each storyline within each episode.

“I think BL in general is very revolutionary, and as it should. Stories like these should be normalized, dapat wala nang conventional or unconventional. Dapat normal na talaga yung mga ganitong klaseng kwento. Gameboys, that’s what it does to the material. Plus, it was brave na it was shot amidst the height of a pandemic, shot using phones. It really is a game changer in [our] life,” Canlas shared, which So and De Santos enthusiastically seconded.

It may have been over a year since the series first broke ground in Philippine entertainment, and all over the world. But its impact has well and truly exceeded what you would expect from a one-year old pandemic-made web series that started the split-screen video call-format that has characterized the past year’s era of content.

In fact, Gameboys has initiated an outburst of content dedicated to make up for lost time in LGBTQ+ stories in the past year and a half since its launch, proudly marking the hopeful end of gay characters pushed to the side, and same-sex narratives portrayed as something either incredibly sexual or outstandingly bland. It’s the perfect way to introduce, showcase, and celebrate a “different” kind of love, by showing just how un-different it is.

Capping off our quick chat, when asked the perpetual question, “What’s next?”, all three actors expressed just how much they want to continue this. Making people happy, inspiring them to live authentically, and being a part of a project that means something.

It just so happens that for a project as monumental and revolutionizing as Gameboys, that particular something, for a lot of people previously un- and mis- represented, could also mean everything.

We’re just waiting to see how else the franchise will change the game in the months and, surely, years to come. Just as the doors have been opened when the first episode of the series has been uploaded and snowballed into the cultural revolution that it has now become, the torch is once again up for grabs to the next gatekeeper in and out of the entertainment industry, with a ringing message that the change should now be made.

It’s about damn time.

With additional text by Leo Balante

Produced, creative direction, and styling by Leo Balante

Photography by Jerick Sanchez

Video direction and editing by Christina Zabat

Hair, Makeup & Grooming by Kim Roy Opog

Cover artwork by Bhernn Saenz

Featuring custom fashion by Proudrace and Kelvin Morales

Also featuring fashion by Ha.Mu Studios, Jaggy Glarino, Edwin D. Tan

Presented by Official Partner: Health1st Diagnostic and Medical Services

Official Location Partner: Shutterspace Studios

With acknowledgments to: The IdeaFirst Company