‘Gameboys:’ The groundbreaking Pinoy BL series

Christian Jay B. Quilo
·3 min read

BOY’S love (BL) or “yaoi,” a media genre that originated in Japan focusing on gay love, recently made mainstream popularity in the Philippines over the quarantine thanks to the Thai series “2gether,” which became a global phenomenon. As of writing, there are probably too many Filipino BL series to count, but one remains a standout: “Gameboys.”

Executive produced by Perci Intalan and Jun Lana under their production outfit The IdeaFirst Company, “Gameboys” is credited as the first BL series in the country and stars Kokoy de Santos (“Fuccbois”) and Elijah Canlas (“Kalel, 15”), two brilliant young actors who are known for their work in independent films. It is directed by Ivan Andrew Payawal and written by Ash Malanum.

In this web series, de Santos is the forward and gutsy Gavreel, who gets into online gaming to pursue Cairo, played by Canlas, a live-stream gamer who is initially a little resistant and aloof toward his suitor. Filmed and set during the lockdown, majority of the interaction between the two leads happens on a computer screen — like a call on Zoom or FaceTime.

The idea of watching two people converse online seems impersonal at first, even a little intrusive. It’s like being in a video chat that you’re not supposed to be in — but I guess that’s the charm of the concept. Even when everything is just happening virtually, the actors’ undeniable chemistry — the cheeky flirting and adorable bouts of jealousy — is enough to draw you in. Trust me, after two episodes, there’s no turning back — you’re in it for the long haul.

Throughout the entire season (which aired from May to September 2020), the show takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions, oscillating between light and giddy to emotional and heartbreaking, as Gavreel and Cairo navigate their blossoming romance while dealing with personal issues brought by the pandemic. “Gameboys” is able to effectively put the relationship at the center, without uprooting the story from reality.

Aside from its charming leads, the series has equally great supporting characters like the vivacious Pearl (played by Adrianna So), Gavreel’s former lover turned best friend; Cairo’s mom, played by the amazing Sue Prado (slight spoiler: that one scene with her and Cairo in Episode 8 is a real tearjerker); and Terrence (played by Kyle Velino), Gav’s ex who tries to drive a wedge between the two.

Last Dec. 30, a re-cut called “Gameboys Level-Up Edition” premiered on Netflix, making it the first Filipino BL series to be on the streaming platform globally (yes, it’s available on the platform worldwide). “Level-Up Edition” features new scenes and additional footage, shedding more light into the perspectives of the characters.

With the overwhelming success of the series, the order for a second season wasn’t much of a surprise. On top of the follow-up season, a “Gameboys” movie is also in the pipeline. Adrianna So’s Pearl even earned her own spin-off titled “Pearl Next Door,” a girls’ love series focusing on her bisexuality while struggling to choose between two equally persistent and determined suitors.

The immense success of “Gameboys” — and the surge of the demand for BL content on the digital plane — is irrefutable proof that people around the world are becoming more open and accepting of different stories of love. With production for season two already underway, it’s only a matter of time before we get to see #CaiReel onscreen again. For now, re-watching the first season for the nth time will have to do.

All 14 episodes of “Gameboys” are available to watch on The IdeaFirst Company YouTube channel. “Gameboys Level-Up Edition” is now streaming on Netflix.