Gaming
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Charlie Brooker’s GamesWipe a Success

Serious games coverage on TV? “As rare as tartan clouds” was how Charlie Brooker put it the night his one off episode of GamesWipe was due to air. Whilst the backwaters of BBC 4 might seem a long way from primetime to some, it’s as far as any other TV programme attempting to discuss, not attack, games in a sensible fashion for a mature audience has managed to come so far. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can catch it yourself even if you’re outside the British Isles. Hit the jump for a link to the video, impressions and why gaming needs more of this kind of coverage.

Being a fan of Charlie Brooker following an introduction to the precursors ScreenWipe and NewsWipe, I have to admit to initially being a little bit disappointed in Gameswipe at first. On reflection however, this may have been more a product of high expectations. A keen gamer and past writer for British mag PC Zone, he starts with a lot more credibility than many of the attempts before him. The prospect of him bringing his trademark satrical scorn to a medium where it’s generally sorely lacking was a tantalizing prospect to an audience of enthusiast gamers. If only because we know he’s fully capable of pulling it off.

That we didn’t quite get that shouldn’t really have been a surprise. Producer Al Campbell suggested beforehand the show would be aimed at gamers and non-gamers alike and Brooker’s “tartan clouds” quip above is all too true, something doubly emphasized in the show itself. For many people, real controversy in video games began with Hot Coffee. Perhaps Manhunt if you’re from the UK or if you’re old enough, Carmageddon. Whilst many have questioned the focus on some of the negative aspects of games in the show, the sheer variety of archive footage of news of “concerns” about video games was surprising even to me. All of this was suitably lampooned in a subtle way of course and with the usual pop at Fox News presenter Glen Beck to boot.

That this would be a one-off requiring such a broad focus likely factored in to the show’s history of video game genre’s structure. Whilst this might have been less interesting to some, I found the trip down memory lane to be a very relevant one. From old programmes such as the Patrick Moore starring GamesMaster to classics like Battlezone interspersed with that however were some real gems. The first of which was a short segment from stand up comic Dara O’Brien that was both genuinely funny and valid point at the same time. No doubt, some gamers on forums might be mocking his inability to see Manhattan in GTA:IV or get past the Beserker in Gears of War but that doesn’t make his jibe at the somewhat arbitary challenges games often put in front of the player preventing them from accessing the content they’ve paid for any less worthwhile. The industry often waxes lyrical about wanting to “expand the gaming audience”. A noble endeavor for sure but not everybody wants their entry point to games to be some party game compilation on the Wii. In any event, for a stand up comedian to be poking fun at games without resorting to cliche he can arguably be cut a little slack.

Even better though was Graham Linehan’s lament and theory as to why the vast majority of video game stories are sub par. The main thrust of his criticism was a lack of book reading amongst game developers and for me there is at least some mileage in that. Without picking on them myself (and hey, I haven’t read a fiction book for years either so guilty as charged) it is quite obvious thinking about it how many of Rockstar’s games are so very much influenced by films. Certainly the GTA & Red Dead series though I might offer something like Bully that is arguably less so. Undeniably  vast swathes of the games industry display an inferiority complex in the face of the silver screen. Many games often falling over themselves to become “more cinematic” and this isn’t always a good thing. Linehan did reserve some well deserved praise for the likes of Left 4 Dead which of course has huge film influences within but managed to draw inspiration from other sources as well as combine them superbly into the game play itself, not cutscenes. Though I’d not heard of him before, he seemed an interesting guy. I’d like to hear his take on the likes of Bioshock and whilst stories in games aren’t simply going to improve if everybody starts reading more books the industry might do well to hire someone like him who seems to have a good grasp of things as opposed to the usual pop-novel authors when trying to improve the narrative in their games.

Whilst never truly letting go (perhaps somewhat compromised by being on our side and wanting to show the positive side of games) Brooker’s trademark cynicism still manifested throughout in small doses. Neither 50 Cent nor his latest game 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand were spared from piercing cynicism (though why he didn’t pick on the even more ridiculous first game is beyond me). The latest Wolfenstein got off a bit more lightly but as far as reviews go was just as spot on in my opinion as well. It probably hasn’t had a reviewer claim to imagine every Nazi soldier’s backstory before dispatching gruesomely either. Edgy perhaps, but Brooker at his best and whilst a strange choice of “reviews” in this show that didn’t sit 100% comfortably in the format they still worked and bodes well for a regular slot for new game releases in his other shows.

So was GamesWipe a success? A sizable audience of 361,000 on the BBC’s forth channel would suggest so. Apparently a bigger number than for his usual fair. For a good portion of Tuesday’s night GamesWipe was a trending topic on Twitter, much of the commentary positive and still flowing even now.

It’s fair to say of course that not everything came off. I found the song about MadWorld’s violence to be as self-indulgent as it was awful and surprised a two minute “arty” video of the female vocalist was something Brooker would tolerate. Not to mention, Madworld’s absurdly over-the-top violence has one tongue firmly in it’s cheek and knows it. The much lauded Rab and Ryan from BBC2’s ConsoleVania gave a predictable whine about “how games were better in the old days” which missed its mark with me also.

Minor gripes and metrics asides though, the Guardian’s Chris Moran sums it up nicely when he says that “GamesWipe made games on TV seem normal” which is fair to say almost nothing before it has achieved. With a nod to Zero Punctuation’s Ben Yahtzee (himself a big fan of Brooker and unfortunately unable to quite make a planned appearance happen this time) games coverage that is somewhere in between the gushing PR fueled previews and the overblown hysteria of the forums is important and needs to be encouraged. Not many are able to take something down a peg or two quite so savagely as Charlie Brooker and when we’re not getting over-defensive in the face of the traditional media attacks on our hobby it’s exactly the kind of critique gaming needs.

More please BBC. If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to echo that request here.

1 comments
GriftGFX
GriftGFX

This is interesting. The closest thing to game coverage we have in the US is G4. Well, and the Gametrailers stuff on G4. This looks much more compelling.