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"Marge Gamer" is the seventeenth episode of The Simpsons' eighteenth season, which was originally broadcast on April 22, 2007. It was written by J. Stewart Burns and featured a guest appearance from Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo. This episode was first broadcast three days after the twenty-year anniversary of the first ever appearance of The Simpsons on television, in The Tracey Ullman Show' short "Good Night".
Marge is embarrassed at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting because she does not have an e-mail address. She decides to buy her own computer and is quite taken by the Internet. Quickly becoming bored with her lack of email messages she repeatedly hits the refresh button causing new advertising banners to appear. A banner ad for a MMORPG called Earthland Realms catches her attention. Marge clicks on it and soon creates a character for the game. She begins exploring the local town and interacting with game personas, all of whom are Springfield residents including Apu the gem trader, Seymour Skinner the turkey, Moe who looks like a troll but is not, Mrs. Krabappel the enchantress, Snake the Cobra King, Chief Wiggum the pig man, Smithers the Barbarian, Comic Book Guy the fully armored crusader-like warrior, and Sideshow Mel as a creature who looks surprisingly like a Tauren. Suddenly, everyone hides as a knight named "The Shadow Knight" appears riding a menacing black horse. The Shadow Knight is the most powerful and deadly character in the game (as Moe remarks "He once beat me to death with my life bar!"). While offline Marge walks by Bart's bedroom door. She unintentionally hears Bart say "Another senseless killing by the Shadow Knight" and realises that Bart is the Shadow Knight.
Meanwhile, Homer referees Lisa's soccer game. His subpar skills frustrate Lisa. Stung by her criticism, Homer learns the rules of soccer and becomes a better referee, briefly impressing Lisa. Lisa twice pretends to be fouled hoping that Homer would grant her penalties. Initially he does. When soccer star Ronaldo points out that Lisa is a "flopper" Homer gives Lisa a yellow card. Angry, Lisa rips up the yellow card, causing Homer to give her a red card for unsportsmanlike conduct and to eject her from the game.
Back in the MMORPG, Marge goes to the Shadow Knight's castle and meets Milhouse who is cursed to look like a female servant as a result of an evil spell. Marge constantly frets about Bart and, to Bart's dismay, redecorates his "trophy room" with the Hello Kitty expansion pack. In a fit of rage Bart smashes many of the decorations with a mace. In the process he accidentally kills Marge's character which severely disappoints real world Marge.
Homer and Bart go to Moe's Tavern to escape the troubles that have occurred with Marge and Lisa. Moe gives them surprisingly good advice about their situations. Homer jokingly asks "What have you done with the real Moe?" and everyone laughs. A cutaway shot reveals that the real Moe is bound and gagged in the room next-door. Acting on fake Moe's advice, Bart makes up for killing his mother's character by reviving her with two-thirds of his life force. Revived, "Elf Marge" tends to the Shadow Knight, however other characters raid the castle to take advantage of his weakened state. The other characters brutally kill the Shadow Knight. In a rare breach of character Bart is blasé about his character's death. He decides to go outside and play.
In the real world Homer enters Lisa's room. He offers her a BBC documentary produced in cooperation with Canal+ about "floppers", hoping that she will forgive him. Watching the documentary Lisa realizes it was she that was at fault. Instead of forgiving Homer, Lisa apologizes for her injustice against him. Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie play a game of soccer in their back yard however Marge continues gaming inside. Feeling sorry for Bart, Marge dons the Shadow Knight armour and begins a revenge campaign for him starting with Moe's character. Marge juggles Moe's character head like a soccer ball. As he is being beat up Moe comments on why he pays $14.95 a month to play the game.
A selection of non-Simpson family Springfield residents appear in this episode. The non-Simpson family members who appear in the online game all retain their inherent personas and are remarkably true to character within the confines of the game. This includes characters who have unintentionally become part of the game. The writers of the episode have reinforced the way characters have been designed, but also allowed the characters to define themselves as in-game personas. As mentioned previously the characters remain true to form, with certain aspects of their personas brought to the fore in various symbolic and comical presentations.
Of the Simpson family, Maggie retains her vocally silent aspect. She preserves her highly intelligent aspect by refereeing a family soccer game. Her intelligence in a former episode was challenged in that Lisa appeared to be guiding Maggie's thought process, but this episode shows Maggie independently making advanced decisions. Although, it is not completely distinct that Lisa may or may not have assisted her thought process, it seems that Maggie acts independently.
Matriarchal aspects of Marge's character are certainly strong throughout the episode. Her obsession with the online game is reminiscent of Marge's previous gambling problems and lends to her having compulsive behavioural issues. Her roles as mother, online game character and the effect of her obsessive behaviour effectively portray Marge as more than just a housewife.
Homer is well known to have a selfish aspect to his character. This quality is often softened by his more endearing qualities such as his love for his family. Therefore Homer's learning how to correctly referee a soccer game hints that his decision may be more narcissistic than altruistic. Even if so, Homer faces internal struggles of right over wrong as his role as soccer referee and often makes the 'right' choice, perhaps more from him being self-conscious of his role rather than a commitment to ethics.
Lisa's character retains much of her standard mannerisms, though this episode brings out some of her personality flaws. Setting such a high standard for herself is common to her and her flaws are often hidden. Through the course of this episode, and with her father's help, Lisa re-assesses her own personality and comes through personal issues with the end result being that she becomes exactly what she was in the first place.
Bart faces challenges in retaining his real world bad-guy persona by having his mother interfere with his even-more-bad-guy video game character. Through the course of the episode Bart's goes through a variety of emotions including anger, fear, guilt, arrogance, joy, and sadness. When Bart is confronted with a major crisis (at least from a 10-year-old boy's perspective) of losing a much loved video game character that would have taken quite a lengthy time to achieve he displays a remarkably peaceful outlook. Rather than giving in to negative emotions he chooses to walk away from the issue and engage in physical activity (as opposed to virtual activity which requires little physical exertion). Whilst Marge herself begins a revenge campaign for Bart, an underlying thought remains that Bart once achieved greatness with his online character and so it is possible that he retains an inner-confidence that he again could retain what is lost if he so wished.
Adam Finley of TV Squad felt "the Homer/Lisa story might have worked better as the main plot, but even that segment of the episode was hindered by a terrible guest voice in soccer player Ronaldo". He went on to say: "I hate it when non-actors do guest voices on The Simpsons" and that "bad voice acting becomes much more of a distraction". In 2007, Simon Crerar of The Times listed Ronaldo's performance as one of the thirty-three funniest cameos in the history of the show.
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