In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
As Misturu-senpai menacingly said more than a few times in Persona 3...Welcome Back!
Something I didn’t have time to mention in my grammatical nightmare of part 1 (I will clean some sentences up, I promise) is that GamesMaster was a big deal in the UK. It came out at the time when Sega were starting to press heavily on their ‘bad’ attitude campaign; one that was geared towards hormonal teens who thought flying an Apache into the White House was better than jumping on Goombas. The show’s successful formula was partially because it rode the zeitgeist at the right time. By integrating itself with this shift in gaming attitudes, GamesMaster wasn’t just some blasé excuse of a show that would always be on the outside looking in. It was hip, part of something you loved and you respected its honest opinions. The same journalists onscreen were the same in the magazines you read. So obviously, a deeper connection established between show and viewer. This is something I noticed reoccurring on Destructoid but in a deeper way, as the interaction between contributor and reader is heightened through multimedia means (articles, blogs, comments and podcasts).
This is something that went over the heads of ITV execs back in the day. After Bad Influence, they never really invested any money into videogame shows. Instead they went for the cheapest possible approach in the 90’s, by buying up faceless opinion shows that were more PR than actual content. Stuff like Movies, Movies, Movies, which eventually got renamed as Movies, Games and Videos. It was just an annoying faceless commentator talking about trailers, movie clips and videogames. None of his opinions were his own, so you couldn’t take the reviews at face value. It’s a horrible, alienating, formula that’s still being used today in Bravo’s Playr TV (sic). These are cheap ideas where the only real cost is in localising the voice over guy for whatever broadcasting country. All of these shows can be traced back to Movies, Games and Videos and to an extent, Cybernet; which is somehow still running in certain countries because it reuses the same goddamn robot animation for every cutaway.
With the internet starting to make waves and games magazines adding demos to their printed stills, videogame TV shows started to dry up before the end of the 90’s. It was nearly dead (hardly anyone was competing anymore) since the producers no longer understood their audience; they had moved on from being ‘radical’ and ‘awesome’ teens to getting jobs or finishing school. Sony knew who they had to market to with the Playstation, but the videogame TV shows like GamesMaster thought we probably liked swearing, tits and violent games lot more. You know, like when Kevin Smith naturally assumed that his fans grew up just like him and would lovingly understand Jersey Girl, when all they wanted in reality was Clerks 2: The New Batch.
Things went really quiet for a while since the TV networks didn’t see much of a point to freeing up their schedules for something that wouldn’t reward them. Hell, they were too busy worrying about the Y2K Bug being unleashed by the dreaded, audience stealing, internet! Just before the turn of the century, presumably in a bomb shelter somewhere below Channel 4’s offices, Aldo Palumbo pitched to execs two new show ideas that ended up being some of my favourite programming of all time. One was Vids, a cheaply made but inventive show where trashy rental movies were reviewed by a near-psychotic, yet highly articulate, Welshman (Nigel Buckland) and a slow speaking, yet highly articulate, Scotsman (Stef Gardiner). The other was BITS AKA The greatest videogame show ever made! Though I guess the name BITS was easier to sell to the execs.
God I loved this show, but this no time to be biased! Anyway, BITS was genius formula that could have easily been sneered at if it wasn’t for the inventiveness on display. It was games magazine show presented by three girls. That’s right, girls. Thankfully, Aleks Krotoski and Emily Newton Dunn really knew their stuff. The jury was always out on Claudia Trimde though. She was model/presenter who didn’t really gel with Aleks and Emily, so after one series she was replaced by the very popular Emily ‘Bouff’ Booth (another girl I found a bit ‘false’ but worked better with the other two). The girls didn’t have much of a budget to play with, but when you got no money in this industry, you get inventive...that and you dig your nails in, hoping people will remember who you are in ASDA or worse, Aldi.
There were no hangover ‘challenges’ from previous games shows. Just straight up features, previews and reviews. It was informative but at the same time it wasn’t boring because of the snappy interplay between the girls and their presentation. Reviews took an almost Gonzo-like approach in style; the gist was that they made related in-jokes on screen while one presented a review. I distinctly remember Emily Newton Dunn reviewing one of the Screamer games in racing outfit, with a tiny go kart made out of cardboard strapped to her. She did the majority of the review running around, pretending to drive this box. It was silly, but at the same time it kept the late night audience’s attention (where gaming TV had now found a new home on the graveyard shift). Other reviews had them in similar dress-ups and on-location slapstick, but none of it was ever really distracting.
The inventiveness in presentation is what really stood out for BITS, they could switch between genuinely funny sketches and be informative to the viewer. That kind of schizophrenia worked for the show and it felt very different to what had previously been achieved in the genre. The show proved so popular that it managed to be shown on T4 in the mornings. This version was a lot less risqué than its original 4 Later counterpart, but the format was so flexible that you wouldn’t have noticed the neutered innuendo. Even when geared to a younger audience (the late night version was aimed at post-pub viewing and geeks), the show never talked down to the viewer. Things were explained without the girls having to ‘get down with the kids’ or come up with Dominik Diamond style bullying.
Ubisoft tried a similar approach to their marketing with Fragdolls (resigned sigh); a bunch of hip, yet attractive, girl gamers in a male dominated industry. But nobody ever bought that. Magazines were quick to shoot down Ubisoft’s PR attempts and exposed the girl’s lack of achievement points. Nobody ever did that with the girls from BITS; a bit of genuine knowledge and hard earned likability goes a long way.
I once remarked in a review of the show, that if it wasn’t for the internet, BITS would still be going (or at least the format would). It’s probably just wishful thinking and nostalgia, but if you watch Angry Video Game Nerd or some of Noah Antwiler’s work on The Spoony Experiment, there’s a lot of similarities between their presentation and BITS. Now, I’m not saying they were influenced by a cult UK TV show, but it goes to prove that a successful idea was nailed earlier on in the 00’s.
Not the most subtle of recaps (it wasn't always that ADD), but you can find the odd episode online if you need a better idea.
After the show ended, Aleks presented a similar show called Thumb Bandits with the love-hate, shit comedian, Iain Lee. It was a lot more formal and yet somewhat disjointed, with Aleks trying hard to inject some BITS styled humour into the proceedings, while Iain just used the show as an excuse to take the piss out games industry types with his trademark ‘overlooked insulting remark’ humour. It didn’t work and was subsequently cancelled.
Aleks now writes for The Guardian newspaper as the resident tech-head. Emily Newton Dunn briefly presented links to a gaming show on Sci-Fi, but eventually moved on to PR work for EA. She was my favourite, by the way.
Note how she's plastered all over my old bass...how sad.
Emily Booth got her tits out in Cradle of Fear and not much else.
VIDEOGAIDEN (2005 to 2006-ish)
While the Bits girls flirted with the inventive cheapness of Gonzo TV journalism, the boys from videoGaiden were prepared to push things further into the Hunter S Thompson branded form of informative shenanigans.
videoGaiden cared less for the magazine template than any other videogames TV show ever invented. There was a genuine love for the subject, but Rab Florence and Ryan McCloud were more interested in creating Monty-Python-on-Glasgow-strength-Crack sketches that were vaguely about games. Quite obviously tired with sticking to a safe formula and reading out the same dirge most journalist types endorse, videoGaiden was made purely to be as confrontational to your expectations as humanly possible.
This must have proved a little too impenetrable judging by its short time on TV. It was a videogame show that had no interest in telling you about videogames at all, but at the same time didn’t insult your intelligence by pretending it was all some big in-joke to certain viewers. You either got the idea of two Scotsmen talking shit about games or you didn’t. Sadly, it never really made it beyond the regional BBC Scotland unless you had digital at the time, so I missed out on most of this until they stuck it on the website and moved on to their next project.
videoGaiden lived fast and died young, but Rab and Ryan decided to continue their deranged sketches and characters in the form of an online TV show called ConsoleVania (another show that hates spaces). The internet let them carry out some of their crazier ideas unhindered. It didn’t matter about the budget, because they never really had one in videoGaiden either. My favourite moment is probably this little sketch about them wanting to fight Codemasters. TEEEEEAM!!!
That's not to say it was all weird. Check out Rab's brilliant and deep review of Forbidden Siren. The bit where he makes a connection between the Shibito zombies and Hiroshima proves that he and Ryan weren't just crazy Scots taking the piss out of everything.
You have really respect what Rab and Ryan did with ConsoleVania. It’s the kind of approach we need in games journalism on a whole. Sure, what they did wasn’t journalism in the slightest (expect for their reviews), but they indirectly exposed what I believe to be an overlooked point in printed games journalism.
Where exactly are our gamer versions of Hunter S Thompson?
Where are the writers that can make witty displays of their consciousness with something real to say, without acting like forcibly pretentious idiots? It’s definitely something that needs to be discussed as games journalism sticks the same safe (yet necessary informative) template whenever it can. Yes, you can be witty and full of in-jokes directed at a devoted audience, but can you be brave enough to write the gaming equivalent of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas?
Well, that’s something I’ll look into at another time. In the concluding part, I’ll look at what tries to pass off as videogame TV nowadays, talk about how gamers are doing it for themselves on the internet and what’s in the future now that programming has moved on to stuff like Gametrailers (well, I’ll try and speculate at best).