Perfect World: A deadly game is a true crime documentary about a group of gamers who helped capture a killer via an MMO and Discord in 2019. The two-part show at Peacock Premium isn’t rife with clichés – there’s no fusion of video game violence with violence life or anyone else explaining what video games are – but there’s not much else going on either.
The miniseries focuses on a group of friends playing on a private server based on the Chinese MMO Perfect World. Like many niche gaming communities now, they all used Discord as a place to chat everyday outside of the game. One of the members, who goes by the nickname “Menhaz”, was a frequent troll that nobody took him seriously until he posted several photos of dead bodies and claimed they were his family members. The show counts the beautiful scary story of a group of players quickly realizing that one of their friends was a mass murderer and their race to try to identify him.
Like many true-crime documentaries, Perfect World: A Deadly Game is two hours straight. It’s all the talking heads telling the story, interspersed with multiple photos of Discord messages, MMO characters, motherboards, and cityscapes. There’s nothing here that makes a compelling case for this being a documentary rather than an article or podcast. It is not particularly interested in unraveling the flaws in the criminal justice system when it comes to the initial attempt to report crime, nor is it interested in a broader statement about the ways in which mental health often intersects with people who center their lives on harassment others. It’s simply about a group of people who witnessed something horrible and used online tools like reverse image and IP address lookups to locate a killer.
He doesn’t treat the game part as a novelty, but as a backdrop for the kind of online experience they had to employ in trying to identify the killer. In one part, after killing his second victim, Menhaz returned to the game and the group ran to try to get his IP address to call the local police. The show adds a literal clock to these events to try and add to the drama (along with several dramatic sound hits), but the story itself is gripping enough on its own. This is the ultimate in trying to gamify the very real and very disturbing murders that take place. Otherwise, the subject is treated with the level of respect you would expect from an already gender loaded of television.
There’s nothing here that screams ‘player’, and that’s probably for the best. If you’re like me and mostly have online friends that you chat with through Discord, the representation of social dynamics at work is pretty accurate. It would be really hard to believe that someone posting a photo of a dead body on a public server would actually be a murderer and not someone who leafs through 4Chan all day trying to piss people off. It’s spoiled when you think about it – which is as profound as Perfect World: A Deadly Game wants you to go.