There’s a distinct dearth of video game programming on television which seems to be down to televisions misunderstanding and fear of video games. Charlie Brooker released Games Wipe back in 2009. This had more viewers than his Screen Wipe or News Wipe but was not further commissioned for anything because television simply wasn’t interested despite its obvious popularity and audience.Hence it’s refreshing to see a show about games appear on Channel 4. Even if it is just a one off 90 minute special. Unfortunately the show misses the mark and becomes indicative of why shows about video games might not belong on television after all.
The title is a bold one and is an incredibly interesting idea to create a documentary or series on, however despite it’s length of 90 minutes the show ultimately fails because it fails to answer this question. Instead it’s just another ‘top 25’ show something which channel 4 seems to love doing as the format has proved incredibly popular with a slew of ‘top 100’ shows despite it feeling rather trite. To aid in this format numerous celebrity guests are brought on to chat about their experiences with games and while some of these are relevant such as games designers and journalists but people like Jonathan Ross seem to be their for star value alone . From Brookers commentary within the show it does seem he’s acutely aware of these issues, especially the need for friendly faces to make games more marketable but it doesn’t stop it not quite sitting right.
The games on show are picked chronologically within the history of gaming for their impact to the gaming world as well as the wider world. To those in the know many of these are predictable. Pong comes up as the first big game, Pacman as the first video game character and Doom as the most early influential first person shooter. Some more unique games like musical game Parappa The Rappa and epic space Sim Elite are at least also showcased which show the breadth and diversity games have managed over their short period of life.
Top ‘whatever the fuck’ lists feel like the bane of the internet and television. They’re a quick, easy and sloppy format that is easy to create and harvests viewers and page clicks who mainly just seem to want to argue the toss about how you’re mentally challenged because you don’t like the same thing they like. Sites like Buzzfeed , Gawker and Cracked seem to exist purely to showcase numerous pointless top lists over and over again. ‘Top 100 ways to headbutt your girlfriend’ , ‘Top 42.3 ways of jerking yourself off while watching Countdown’ , ‘Top quintillion ways to thrust spikes into your eyeballs.’ I can’t pretend there’s no blood on my hands in regards to creating such content in the past but I can damn well put a stop to it now.
It’s dull and has been done to death but it feels like trying to get anything slightly bolder about games other than some sort of ‘stable’ format is impossible in TV land. Not to say that I’m expecting an hour Starcraft tournament to be on BBC1 at prime time but something a bit more exciting than a list show would be nice. Brooker has proven with introspective shows such as ‘How TV ruined your life’ that he’s more than capable of tackling topics with a bit more meat in them but fails to do so here.
It only begins to touch on the title within the last 15 minutes or so with the concept of gamification of our society and the impact it’s having from social media to I-Phone games to how it’s influencing education and businesses. Gamification is essentially the implementation of the incremental rewards video games give us which are like mini orgasms for the brain that keep us playing into things in life other than video games as a way to boost productivity. Which is all a vastly interesting topic that somebody like Brooker seems very capable of tackling intelligently and humorously but it seems isn’t something that would be possible to pitch. So instead we get a taste of a good idea and then a bunch of generic schlock with grinning celebrities talking about how much they totally loved pong.
Although perhaps I am being too harsh and this is a good way to introduce a wider mainstream audience to the idea of video games being important in our society . For those who are interested in gaming watching ten minutes of extra punctuation videos would be more rewarding than 90 minutes of this but to the filthy casual audience it is a very good introduction to the history of video games and their relevance in society and for that purpose it does it’s job very well. It’s just a pity
And now you’re saying why don’t you go and make your own clever show about games and pitch it to the BBC? Well I did and they hated it too. But I’ll make it anyway. Watch this space.
You can still catch the show on 40D here.