One of the craziest stories of recent years (which is pretty amazing considering all that’s happened), is the GameStop (GME) stock story of 2021 – which saw retail investors fight cash-strapped financial institutions on Wall Street at their own game (CNET has a full explanation) — was only overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and a global civil rights revolution, but it contained many of the same themes: class disparity, corporate greed, disastrous attempts at public relations damage control. HBO Max Wall Street Video Games, a two-hour documentary in two parts, attempts to explain what happened and how it happened, and to give voice to those to whom it happened. That’s a lot of complex ideas to cover in such a short time – you could spend two hours explaining what a “short squeeze” is and newbie traders would still be confused – and as an exhaustive report of it all, Wall Street Video Games comes back short, but he tries.
The first thing you need to know about Wall Street Video Games is that the two episodes, which both hit HBO Max on Thursday, March 3, are wildly different. The first episode is for the monkeys to r/wallstreetbetsthe subreddit celebrating high-risk stock trading where the GameStop revolution was born, as it covers the retail investor boom, warts and all. Wall Street Video Games vividly covers different investors involved in the situation, from a divorced father who lost so much in the 2008 financial crisis and YOLO’s money in GME to a homeless couple who were discriminated against by wallstreetbets to be poor and bought on top of the rise of GME, to understand the psyche and culture that has become a meme-making, money-making machine. Everyone had the same idea; it was time to stick to Wall Street trying to go after hedge funds since hedge funds had abused them, and if they could make a few dollars at the same time, why not?
Wall Street Video Games
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It’s light-hearted and mostly entertaining, diving into the depths of one of the internet’s craziest places, populated by the smartest and dumbest (sometimes both at the same time) people on the internet, as well as how whose influence spilled over into the real world as investors tried to tip the scales. Wall Street veterans and financial experts are also interviewed, adding both hope that retail investors can level the playing field and desperation that it’s all futile because Wall Street has so much money that its Shady dealings are impenetrable.
It’s a weird intro for the second episode, ditching nearly all information about retail investor culture in favor of questions about investing app Robinhood’s decision to kill GameStop stock by graying out its button.” buy,” and how naked shorts (another financial topic that could be its own doc) are an epidemic of illegal activity on Wall Street. There’s nothing here that anyone who’s followed the story won’t know – it’s mostly a recap of events and an explanation of some terms peppered with people saying what might have happened behind the scenes – but it’ll still make you once shit how these financial institutions get away with everything while ordinary people pay the price. “There’s no conspiracy theory here. It all happened. They won,” hedge fund vet John Fichthorn said, putting the nail in the coffin. And while Wall Street Video Games concludes by saying that an educated investor is the best weapon against corruption on Wall Street, the general tone is one of defeat.
Access could have really done Wall Street Video Games better. The perspective is on one side – the retail investor side – creating a one-sided narrative. Clearly, the evildoers of this narrative, like Robinhood, Melvin Capital, and Citadel, said no to participation, which never gave director Tobias Deml a chance to catch them lying. More devastatingly, the absence of wallstreetbets folk hero Keith “I’m No Cat” Gill, better known as DeepF*ckingValue, is glaring. He’s still featured prominently via clips from his YouTube videos, but for not having his perspective on the whole debacle shakes the authority of the entire documentary. The best thing about Wall Street Video Games is who he got: Kieran Culkin, Roman Roy himself, narrates the docuseries, and he’s the perfect spokesperson. Culkin, spouting swear words and talking shit – like he’s recording the ADR for Succession Season 4, looks like the guy from wallstreetbets would sound like.
Wall Street Video Games may have been rushed to our screens – another documentary, GameStop: The Rise of Gamers, was released in January 2022, meaning the story wasn’t told the way it should have been. It’s rare to say that about anything on streaming these days, but it probably could have taken longer to delve into the myriad of topics involved. Or at least it should have been either a fun look at the culture of wallstreetbets, a fascinating mindset with a hint of everything from future activism to mob justice online, or a brutal exposition of the alleged crimes of the financial institutions. As it stands, the two episodes rub against each other, telling not one story but two very different ones. If the first episode is the loud and obnoxious kegger, the second episode is the neighbors calling the cops. It’s a story that deserves better.
Firsts: Thursday, March 3 on HBO Max
Who is behind: Tobias Deml (director)
For fans of: Rocket emojis, wallstreetbets
How many episodes we watched: 2 of 2