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Pierce is summoned to a remote facility by Gilbert Lawson (Giancarlo Esposito), the executor of his father's estate. Instructed to bring seven of his closest friends, he brings the study group (LeVar Burtonwas a maybe), only to find a multiplayer gaming console set up waiting for them. It transpires that the last wish of Pierce's father was that he and his friends play a very special video game programmed specifically for Pierce... one which, if he and the group fail to win, could see him left with nothing. And Gilbert seems very intent on making sure he loses...Has a YMMV page.
Tropes appearing in this episode of Community include:
Abusive Parents: We receive yet more confirmation, if any was needed, that Cornelius Hawthorne was an utter bastard to his son. Both of them.
Jeff describes the lab as being 20 cat turds and a Pixies poster from being Britta's apartment. In the opening shot of Anthropology 101, a Pixies poster is on the wall of Britta's room.
Captain Obvious: Jeff's warning to the study group not to die. They immediately lampshade this by pointing out that they weren't really eager to die to begin with.
Check Point Starvation: Death causes the players to respawn in the study room at the beginning of the game and without equipment.
Chekhov's Gun: At the start, Pierce mentions that he was asked to bring seven of his closest friends to the warehouse, but only brought six (Levar Burton was a maybe). Gilbert uses the empty spot to enter the game himself.
Pierce fails to see the obvious racism and thinks the directions are alluding to his father taking crystal meth.
Abed, upon discovering Gilbert's note to Pierce:
Abed: "After you've squandered the last of your savings, I'll watch you writhe, penniless, in the gutter, through a telescope in the penthouse office of Hawthorne Tower." You can leave notes. This game is incredible.
Britta: Here's the thing about women, Jeff. We don't hack and slash our way through life, because we're one with life.
Annie: Help me hide the body!
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: About what you'd expect from a game that's been continuously developed with presumably very strong funding for over thirty years, to be played whenever the producer dies.
Cornelius:[gasp] I suppose you're wondering why I [gasp] recorded myself gasping for breath and dying? [gasp]
Egopolis: The village turns into this after Abed takes it over, including a giant fortress with a statue of his face on the roof. Kinda justified since the entire thing was built to his specifications by an army of his own babies.
Escort Mission: Turns into one of these as the other study group members have to protect Pierce and get him to Hawkthorne Castle.
Fan Remake: Whilst not in the episode itself, there's a fan-project to create a working version of "Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne" that goes so far as to include elements & characters from Community that weren't in the game seen in the episode.
Fire-Forged Friends: Of a sort; Pierce and Gilbert initially clearly cannot stand each other, but by the end — after learning that they're half-brothers who both had to suffer the abuse of their father — are clearly starting to bond with each other.
In the blacksmith's house, there's a picture of Hilda on the wall.
Pierce's conversation with Gilbert at the beginning of the episode. At one point Pierce refers to Gilbert as "soul brother". He doesn't suspect at the time, but this turns out to be more true than he realizes...
When the study group first arrives at the gaming centre, Gilbert initially appears by suddenly announcing himself and startling the study group. He keeps doing this in the video game, but is a lot more malevolent each time.
The "legally-binding agreement" that Cornelius attempts to get Gilbert to sign in order to claim the inheritance while simultaneously preventing him from ever making any claims of paternity on Cornelius' part appears to originate from the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise.
Pierce is surprised when the study group announce that they're going to cooperate with him to win the game. They point out that not only are they friends, it's kind of weird to be friends with someone for three years only to steal their family inheritance.
Britta attempts one of these when she convinces Pierce that the study group are fighting for a friend, not greed, "which means we can't lose!" Unfortunately, it's a bit undermined when she accidentally punches his character's avatar to death seconds afterwards:
After losing their clothes in the poker game, for 8-bit graphics the nude avatars of Troy and Pierce look to be remarkably detailed in certain places.
Gilligan Cut: Britta claims that women wouldn't use a violent approach to problem solving. The next building over the two other women of the study group are in the process of covering up their murder of a shopkeep.
When the group respawn, Jeff gives a Rousing Speech over how they've gotten better at the game and that they're heroes. They instantly die to the hippies right outside the respawn point.
Go Through Me: During the battle with Gilbert at the village, Annie yells for everyone to get behind her and Shirley, as they have all the armour and weapons; Gilbert just ends up shooting through them. Abed can also be seen acting as a human shield for Hilda.
Hard Work Hardly Works: While Pierce may have never been loved by his father, he did get to be the CEO of Hawthorne Wipes simply by being his true born son. Gilbert worked hard his entire life to gain recognition from his father, but never even got to inherit his name.
This occurs once again in the game, where he spent a long time building up his level to take on the study group. Despite being clearly stronger than them, he dies after being outwitted by Jeff. After that, the gloves come off and he resorts to the easy way, cheating.
Heel Realization: At the end, Gilbert apologises to the study group for being a dick and offers to take them out for margaritas in order to make it up to them.
Gilbert: I wasn't myself. Family can make a person do a lot of crazy things.
Hidden Depths: Lawson at first seems like a blind sycophant of Cornelius who's willing to cheat in order to get the inheritance. It's later revealed that he's just a son trying his best to impress his father, who alienated him even more than he did to Pierce.
Honor Before Reason: Pierce's father explanation for why he recorded a death scene for his avatar.
Jerkass: Even if there weren't already copious amounts of evidence for the theory in his omnipresent racism, homophobia and arrogance, the fact alone that Cornelius Hawthorne invested thirty years and God-knows how many millions of dollars into a video game purely for the purpose of forcing his son to play it upon his death and risk losing his entire inheritance, apparently merely because Pierce once requested some money to invest in video games, should be all the proof anyone needs that Cornelius was a spiteful bastard of epic-scale proportions.
It does lead to Fridge Logic, though; not having been allowed at Greendale for months, why were they in the study room to begin with?
It's possible that the tags don't follow a sequential order corresponding with the episodes; the tag didn't include any explicit references to the events of the video game. The incident with the baby might have been an old "side adventure" of Troy and Abed's, and merely shown with this episode because it went along thematically.
Running Gag: Gilbert keeps appearing out of nowhere and startling the study group.
Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Lawson cheats and almost steals the inheritance for himself, but refuses to agree to a degrading and racist non-disclosure contract that Cornelius wants him to sign first. Because of his Heel-Face Turn, the group agree that he deserves the money in return for putting up with Cornelius' treatment of him all his life.
Gilbert: You're not supposed to cooperate; you're supposed to compete. Jeff: Thanks for the advice, but I think we can choose how we want to play. Gilbert: I suppose we can. Pierce: Is he being ominous? Why are you being ominous?!
Ship Tease: Troy gets very jealous of Abed's 'relationship' with Hilda.
Abed: If you max out a character's trust and affection levels you gain access to a front-end scripting language. Watch. [Abed enters some commands, producing a Baby!Abed] She can make babies for me. Troy: Oh — and I can't?! [Despondent] I can't.
Also, Jeff rushing to protect Annie from the hippies. Even though he ends up accidentally killing her, it's a sweet gesture and in-character for a Ship Tease for Jeff/Annie since Jeff has long been protective of her and clearly, at this point, would probably take a bullet for her, as this moment suggests when he ends up getting killed a moment later.
Shock and Awe: Lawson acquires lightning powers early by Level Grinding. Annie gains the same powers later, but she shoots Britta accidentally.
Jumping-in spawning and the rising door in Castle Hawkthorne from Mega Man. Hilda's long list of information includes the Robot Masters' weapons from 2, and Jeff's jumping animation is identical to the Blue Bomber's.
There are some Freeze-Frame Bonus examples in Hilda's command menu, including "I will wear your skin", the words "Channelwood" "Mechanical" and "Stoneship" - all ages in the original Myst, and an outline of Pokémon's MissingNo. glitch ("Old man trainer", "Fly on a bird", "Cinnamon Island", "Seal along the shore").
More from the command menu: "impervious to lava," "underwater exploration," "hover puppy," and "giant ant dance club" are shout outs to Jet Force Gemini.
Special Edition Title: Introducing the cast's game avatars to the accompaniment of an 8-bit instrumental version of the theme song.
Strawman Political: Several areas in-game, including the Gay Island and the Free Ride Ferry.
Cornelius: I see you've chosen teamwork, a coward's strategy.
Strange Minds Think Alike: Both Jeff and Shirley express equal dissatisfaction with the "random body shapes" that their avatars have been produced to reflect, and equal alarm upon hearing that the multiplayer gaming console chairs have weight-sensors built into them.
Too Dumb to Live: Britta mixes a bunch of random ingredients, assuming that it would make a strength potion. Jeff uses this as an advantage and tricks Gilbert into drinking it instead. Turns out, it wasn't a strength potion.
Total Party Kill: Lawson does this to the group during his first attack on them.
The sheer level of detail that the NPCs have been programmed with seems to provide countless opportunities for this. They seem to feel pain and have a complex social system wherein, upon the death of her parents, Hilda will be forced to either be forcibly married to one of the male villagers or take her chances in the wilderness for survival:
Troy: ...What kind of game is this?
You can have children in the game. Fine. You can alsohave thousands and thousands of children and put them to backbreaking menial labor as soon as they can walk.
Virtual Ghost: Cornelius, despite being dead, interacts with the group through a program of himself.
Welcome to Corneria: The reason Abed likes Hilda is because her behaviour is entirely predictable, unlike real people.
Lawson turns out to be this. He puts up with all kinds of crap from Cornelius just so he could gain some recognition. He even turns down the inheritance at first when he finds out that Cornelius still refuses to see him as his son.