Saturday, 30 November 2013

TV & Gaming: How Videogames Changed The World

There is very little presence of gaming on television, and what little is covered tends to focus on either the worst aspects or merely the unusual novelty. The wider and ever-growing culture of gaming is largely ignored by the mainstream media, which is odd for an industry that is about 30 years old and financially so massive.
Charlie Brooker, one of the UK's foremost voices on gaming and games culture (picture from

Earlier this week saw Charlie Brooker demonstrating the new Playstation 4 to a bemused Jon Snow on Channel 4 news. It was exactly the sort of cringe-worthy television I have come to expect and yet I was still disappointed. No planning had gone into the piece, Charlie Brooker seemingly having been brought in as one of the most visible gaming voices in the UK to defend the medium as a whole.

While Charlie wasn't quite successful in convincing Jon Snow, he made some reasonable points in an otherwise messy segment which lacked any real substance to inform the viewer at home. If you already knew about games and gaming, you were far too informed for the piece, if you knew nothing then you'd leave not much better off. It would be a stretch to consider it journalism, and served as nothing but to highlight the generation gap between the two men. I'd recommend reading this Martin Robbins article in the New Statesman about this particular episode.

On Saturday Charlie returned to Channel 4 to present "How Videogames Changed The World", a countdown of his selection of 25 games that had shaped the cultural landscape. It was at times both an interesting and amusing programme, pitched very squarely at those who perhaps lacked the depth of knowledge about the history and variety of games available. In attempting to appeal to a wider audience it overlooked some rather pivotal moments from my perspective, but covered the general landmark games.

My biggest issue with it was the constrains of the running time. The history of videogames is something that requires more than a 98 minute top 25 programme, and so they were unable to cover much of the games in any particular depth, and left out vast swathes of important but less culturally significant games and events.

From a personal perspective, it failed to reflect my experience growing up as an avid gamer.Those early days on the PC were dominated by the likes of Sierra and Origin, and yet neither got a mention. The entire genre of RPGs was barely mentioned (World of Warcraft and Mass Effect made the list, but as examples of MMOs and gender/sexuality respectively), which comprises of a vast selection of games throughout the years from the likes of Ultima, Wizardry and Dragon Quest all the way through to Final Fantasy, Fallout and Skyrim.

The entire weight of the adventure game genre rested on the broad shoulders of The Secret of Monkey Island (and a minor mention of Zork and The Hobbit), and while that made for a very good choice for the list (especially since they were including only the one example), it appeared to suggest that Lucasfilm games were responsible for the innovation and popularisation of adventure games in general, while overlooking the large body of work that had come before.

Similarly overlooked was the entire survival horror genre, something which might have warranted a mention given how it is the one genre to have crossed over into big budget film in a way almost no other genre has managed successfully with film versions of Alone in the Dark (awful), Resident Evil (a few films, a bit mixed), and Silent Hill (Okay). Perhaps this could be understood from the perspective that this is a rather forgotten genre these days, as few are made and the Resident Evil games move closer to a third-person-shooter.

As I attempt to finish this rant without naming every single glaring omission (glaring in my eyes anyway!), I rue the missed opportunity that such a narrowly focused programme had. Most entries could have had so much more context, even if it were limited to mentioning things like Sim City during the section on The Sims, or pointing out the Kickstarter-funded sequel to Elite during that early part of the programme.

I suppose I feel like the reduction of the history of gaming to such common reference points risks people forgetting about ground-breaking and innovative games that didn't make that cultural crossover but set the foundations for those that did. A lot of those older games were popular but more niche at the time, but potentially have much to teach the upcoming developers of the future. Even the mistakes and failed projects can provide us with lessons to learn (and to be fair to the programme, it did include Night Trap & Mortal Kombat for this very purpose, in a section that briefly covered both interactive video, digitised actors and graphic violence).

The top three were partially expected and partially surprising, but they did at least cover gamification and that really is the biggest way that games culture has invaded the mainstream. Social networking contains so many reward structures that echo game mechanics it was a reasonable if awkward end.

So here we are, at the end of a rant, awkwardly finishing much like the TV show I came here to discuss. I feel like I haven't quite mentioned enough of the omitted games to truly indicate how much was missed, yet still doing them a disservice. They didn't even find time to mention Sonic, which I suppose highlights just how much Nintendo won that particular console war with SEGA.

Did any of you folks out there watch the show? What would you include in your highlight reel of the past 30 years of gaming history and culture? I'm interested to hear your comments!

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