Frosty The Snowman: Charlie Brooker, Games And TV

By Adam Smith on November 29th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

With a few notable exceptions, games haven’t broken into the world of television. There’s Videogaiden, of course, and I rewatch that at least once a year, but games are more likely to be mentioned in a news report about the commerce value of consoles or a violent occurrence than for their artistic or cultural merit. Arch-satirist and clever clogs Charlie Brooker has previously enjoyed some success with Gameswipe, but a trailer for his new programme, with writing from RPS chum Cara Ellison, Jon Blyth and Matt Lees, suggests that it might be a very important piece of television. A shame then that Brooker’s segment with journalist/presenter Jon Snow about the Playstation 4′s launch showed the latter displaying the unimaginative approach of an old man in an old medium.

It’s odd that television shows don’t notice that games exist very often. Whenever an advert break interrupts a programme, there’s almost as much chance of an EA logo hitting me square between the eyes as there is of a perfume advert making me want to scratch my own eyes out. Occasionally a subplot in a soap opera might involve somebody losing their job, their family and their home because of an addiction to Angry Birds, and there’s that guy who bangs on about ‘EPIC DEALS’ on the GAME advert, but mostly a whole day can pass without regular programming noticing that most people know what a game is and have probably played one. That’s why Snow’s bewildered belligerence is so frustrating. He acts as if he’d resort to poking the machine with a stick if left on his own with it. The stubborn shield of a mind refusing to inquire.

Jon Snow is certainly capable of being both inquisitive – he’s a journalist after all – but here he’s more inquisitorial, looking for evidence that meets his assumptions. I’ll openly admit that I haven’t even finished watching it because I cringed so hard midway through that I nearly fell out of a nearby window.

There’s at least a degree of play-acting from Snow but the attitude is condescending. It’d be simplicity itself to assume that attitude is born of ignorance, a lack of exposure to games and Snow’s age (he’s 66, Brooker a sprightly 42). None of that is entirely fair and the latter point is balderdash. People of all ages play games and while it’s a more common hobby for certain demographics, assuming somebody 60+ doesn’t understand games is no more helpful than assuming a teenager doesn’t understand how to use a library. As for the ‘lack of exposure’ problem, let’s take a quick look at some of the things that Snow might have been exposed to in regards to the recent console launches.

There was Microsoft’s ‘knitting’ advert, in which a letter could be customised, madlibs style, and addressed to a significant other. The default options (it has since been removed) read “hi honey…I know you’d rather knit than watch me slay zombies”. No genders are mentioned but it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that this is a man addressing a woman, and so Microsoft help to confirm Snow’s belief that gamers don’t get married often because, in their culture, there “probably aren’t any women”. Sure, your ‘honey’ might be around but she’s got other things to do.

Then there’s the fact that playing a game is equated to ‘slaying zombies’. Sadly, that’s often true and I’m not sure how much leeway Microsoft had given the launch lineup for the Xbox One. I can’t find the rest of the options now – I think ‘working up a sweat’ was one, bizarrely – but sports figured largely as well. Sports and zombies. I don’t think they mentioned Zoo Tycoon.

Sony, meanwhile, bought Page 3 in today’s Sun (doesn’t link to The Sun), pushing ‘Rosie, 22, from Middlesex’ out of the picture. It’s not quite the God of War goat or Battlecruiser 3000 AD’s campaign (NSFW), but there’s a marketing guffaw, one sexy thing replaced with another. Of course, it’s also just a way to get lots of eyes glued to a picture of a newly released product, but it can also confirm pre-existing bias regarding links to lowbrow lad culture (for American readers – ‘lads’ are like ‘bros’ but with a stronger alcoholic content).

At RPS we quite clearly love games and spend a lot of our time thinking and writing about them, but we’re often irritated by the crappier side of the industry and the conversations around it. That’s as it should be. Mark Kermode and Roger Ebert were so dismayed when they watched Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen because they love films and don’t want heavily marketed piles of crap to represent what the medium can be.

Imagine if you’d never seen a movie before and somebody sat you in front of that, followed by Zombies vs Strippers. You’d think cinephiles were idiots and you’d probably never open your eyes again.

Fortunately, Brooker’s ‘How Videogames Changed the World’, airing on Channel 4, tomorrow at 9pm, looks like a perfect antidote to the Snow segment, and to a lot of the cynicism and rot that builds up over years of looking into the grungy corners of gaming. I’d expected something knowing, in-jokes and references, but judging by the trailer it’s a show for everyone. I found it quite moving.

And, yes, I love that the boundless inventiveness, logic and creativity of Minecraft is represented by a giant chicken. Perfect. And correct.

There are so many ways to consume media about games. You’re reading a website right now and you can probably still find a magazine if you look hard enough. There are books about games, podcasts, Let’s Plays, Twitch streams – there are more ways to consume information about games than ever before. That’s no surprise. We’re drowning in data. I don’t even get out of bed most mornings without checking the news on my phone first, mechanically swiping across to a browser in one motion as I turn off the alarm.

Games don’t need representation on television and by treating them with disdain or apprehension, its own representatives confirm that it is an old form of media. Inflexible and soon to be as perilously poised as printed news. In terms of content, I can’t remember a time when there was so much on TV that was so critically acclaimed, but how many people watch Breaking Bad in a boxset or through an internet service? How many people tuned in every week, at the designated time? As a timetable of broadcasts, television channels are less relevant than ever, and most are demonstrating an awareness of that and a willingness to change.

Brooker’s new programme looks like it might show that a major UK channel is willing to show a respectful and insightful approach to new media as well, crafted by an assortment of passionate and knowledgeable writers. Here’s hoping.

__________________

« | »

, , , , .

119 Comments »

  1. Gothnak says:

    I love Charlie Brooker, but that was terribly organised. He didn’t pick a good set of games, he didn’t know how to set up the PS4, he didn’t even have a save game at some gameplay, what a waste of a great opportunity.

    Also, the repeated questions from Jon Snow about ‘why would you play these games?’, well Jon, have you ever watched a TV show, read a book or even played a board game? They are forms of escapism entertainment, or do you go home at night and read a newspaper and then immediately go to bed.

    Also, the fact Mr Snow seems to think that no women play games? Sigh…

    ‘Have you ever been (gaming) with a woman before, Jon Snow?’

    • brat-sampson says:

      I think it’s pretty clear Brooker had basically no prep time for that piece. He’d practically never seen the PS4 before IRL and had no input into what games were left beside it when doing the talk. He probably just agreed to have a chat, went along and Jon started filming him almost immediately.

      • Snafoo says:

        He says as much at the end where he berates them for the poor setup and choosing CoD:Ghosts and a Lego game of all things to represent ‘modern gaming’.
        Snowy actually lets him get in a few meaningful words there, but I could have done without the 12 minutes pissin’ about prior to that.

        It’s like watching Statler (or is it Waldorf?) doing a piece on video gaming.

        • Makariel says:

          Indeed, the best are the last 1 1/2 minutes or so where he explains the wonderful Papers, Please. A perfect example for an experience you can’t get from a movie or book. But you can also blame Sony and Microsoft, who probably just sent the latest AAA-blockbuster offerings to the studio. Best stuff is on PC anyway, we all know that ;-)

    • rockman29 says:

      He should’ve showed Flower on the PS4 instead of Call of Duty Ghosts…

      At least put Killzone SF in the machine instead of Ghosts. Why Ghosts? Of all games?

      And he could’ve used Resogun and likened it to Space Invaders.

      Could’ve been much better, but at least BBC’s acknowledgement is better than nothing. I hope CBC does the same soon in the same sincerity!

  2. Gothnak says:

    Oh, and my pet hate, when will the BBC News website move all gaming news out of ‘Technology’ and into ‘Entertainment’… Grrr…

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Same here. I’m pretty sure that goes back all the way to the time when they considered games to be toys, and it was simply never changed. There’s a brilliant bit in Gameswipe where they show an old BBC program wrestling with trying to understand videogames in the early 1980s or something, and that attitude towards videogames that you see there in that program has basically only become more entrenched somehow, and even today they still largely tend to treat videogames as technological innovations rather than a creative medium.

      Mind you their coverage of games, from what I’ve seen/read, doesn’t actually venture beyond the “safe confines” of mainstream big budget videogames for some reason (almost eerily so), but still one might’ve expected someone somewhere at the beeb would’ve cared enough to change this at some point. They did have multiple articles on Minecraft (in the Technology section, yep) but these were mostly written from the point of view of parents trying to understand what it is and why it’s so popular (and you can almost detect some hint that the articles try to, for some reason, assuage fears that it could be harmful, because apparently that is what videogames are by default).

      It is funny so few in TV can recognize the irony that their medium was once too viewed as highly suspect, and they’re now doing the same to videogames.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      There’s such a disconnect here that it’s mind-numbing. The UK has such a fantastic history and tradition of making games. It’s something everybody should be proud of, yet traditional establishment and media would rather pretend it didn’t exist. Games aren’t even given equal footing as entertainment, never mind as an art form! Every opportunity I get to comment on a games article on the BBC website (and that isn’t often at all because they rarely open these articles for comments) I point out this oddity. Half of the time my comment is deleted by moderators.

  3. RedViv says:

    He knows nothing.

    • Lemming says:

      Of course he knows nothing, he’s Jon Snow. We learned that in season 2.

      • strangeloup says:

        He needs to stop moaning about videogames and get back on the bloody Wall.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      he sure knows how to eat pussy and also nothing

  4. Tams80 says:

    I like Channel 4 News and Jon Snow can be a good journalist. However I expect no less from the news channel that misappropriated the term ‘troll’ and made several huge fusses over it (and in my opinion increased apathy over a serious issue).

    Charlie Brooker is great, though I concur that his showing there was rather poor. I really wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t given time to prepare though; given Channel 4 News’ understanding of computer games and the internet (hell, technology as a whole).

    Finally, thanks for not linking to ‘that’ newspaper. It’s a good move by Sony.

    • Rizlar says:

      At least TV and radio presenters have stopped pronouncing it ‘trawling’. That was awkward…

      • Serenegoose says:

        Are you sure that’s not just their accent? ‘Tr-ALL’ (like in trolley) is quite a common pronounciation of troll in middle class TV presenter accented england, which would make it sound like ‘trawling’, even if that was certainly not what they were actually saying.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          I am a middle class twat with an English accent and I pronounce it to rhyme with “whole”

          • Serenegoose says:

            ‘quite a common’ thankfully not being synonymous with ‘universal’! What a relief!

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Erm.. Has the internet really got to this stage? Nothing about my comment was supposed to invalidate yours. It was an addendum.

            I’ve made the same observation you have, I find the pronunciation with the short ‘o’ really weird, that doesn’t stop people from using it.

            I’ve also noticed a new and even stranger phenomenon, which is that people don’t seem to understand the connection between trolls on the internet and fantasy/folklore trolls – hence they pronounce internet troll one way, and goblinesque troll another way.

          • mickygor says:

            I’m a middle class twat with an English accent and I pronounce it to rhyme with toll. Same with the fantasy creature.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Interesting indeed because I pronounce toll to rhyme with orange.

          • Serenegoose says:

            Apologies, James. The internet has made me cynical, hard and unkind.

      • Jumucjuc says:

        Oh the irony. At least it conveys the correct meaning.

    • Lemming says:

      I vividly remember Krishnan Guru-Murthy accusing a couple of well-meaning women who made an online kinds-game of creating a den of pedophile filth.

  5. Utsunomiya says:

    Well that was… terrible.

  6. Lambchops says:

    Funny that I, like Adam, found myself mentioning Videogaiden when posting about this documentary.

    I guess it’s an acknowledgement that when it comes to television there isn’t really a show out there for gamers. Perhaps in the age of Youtube this is a bit of a daft thing to be a little bit sad about (and indeed if Videogaiden was pitched now I’d imagine somebody at BBC Scotland asking why the show didn’t belong on Youtube); however I do kind of miss having gaming programmes for gamers on the telly box.

    Might give this a watch as I like Brooker and thought Gameswipe was well done but I’ll watch with awareness that it’s probably aimed more at the non/casual gaming audience than the already converted.

  7. Bull0 says:

    Rab’s going to be in the show, too, apparently, which I’m excited about. He was very funny in gameswipe.

    *edit* ooh, dual comment! That’s never happened to me before! It’s a worthy one to double up.

    • Guzzleguts says:

      Great! I’d prefer it if he was making more Burnistoun though.

  8. DiamondDog says:

    The whole thing was just silly. Jon Snow was clearly playing devil’s advocate in the same manner as most broadcasters seem to when interviewing someone. Trying to provoke argument and bluster rather than an actual conversation.

    Felt sorry for Charlie really, I’m surprised he agreed to it. He basically had to try and use a Lego game to justify the existence of an entire medium.

    • Network Crayon says:

      Obviously the case. Especially when you consider John Snow and th rest of Channel 4′s news team are constantly touting thier twitter feeds and blogs to the audience, all very modern in every other way. They know exactly what they’re doing, it’s just to hightlight Brookers show.

    • Jack Mack says:

      Imagine the equivalent in print media. You’re given the Harry Potter series and an old copy of Twilight and asked to justify the existence of books.

  9. Moraven says:

    I had the same problem trying to hunt down the slot opening and power button. Actually had to look at the manual to find the power button. I assume the eject is below it, blended into the chassis as a touch sensitive surface like the PS3.

  10. Cara Ellison says:

    If I was still living in London I’d have organised RPS drinks at my house so we could watch it together and you could tell me how rubbish my material is, but alas I am seconded to Brighton where the pina coladas are better.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      If you’re walking through the South Laines late at night please keep the volume down, I live there.

  11. Kolba says:

    Channel 4 are showing Indie Game: The Movie straight after this.

    • Tams80 says:

      Yay! Time to shout abuse at Phil Fish!

      • christmas duck says:

        Or roll your eyes at Jonathan Blow

        • The Random One says:

          Or try to get mad at Team Meat. You can’t stay mad with them though. They’re just so cuddly.

  12. Klaxon Overdrive says:

    I’m surprised Booker wasn’t better able to articulate the draw of video games and the positive aspects they possess.

    At the best of times they allow players to embody different people in different places undergoing unique experiences. They can enhance empathy. Bridge cultural understandings with a shared language. Some are puzzles which require the player to learn the rules of the world and adapt a winning strategy, promoting critical thinking. They help with social skills and hand/eye coordination. They can be expressive and collaborative gateways into new worlds.

    Why was Booker not able to discuss these aspects, regardless of his preparedness or specific knowledge of the user interface of the PS4? How was “they’re another form of entertainment’ his only comeback? He started to get a little better when he discussed Papers, Please, but come on. It took a long, painful time to get there.

    But that interviewer, man. This was like someone in 1902 asking why they’d want to sit in a dark room full of strangers and watch a simulacrum of real life projected onto a wall while someone plays a piano in the corner. What utter pointlessness. What good would it bring the world?

    • strangeloup says:

      He should have just brought the girl and wiped away the debt.

    • Grygus says:

      I thought it fairly rude; they probably wouldn’t bring Tiger Woods in and ask him what the point of golf was, even if they hadn’t played it themselves. The purpose appeared to be condescension.

    • Stupoider says:

      What? Did Snow do something wrong? It’s an interviewer’s job to ask questions, not to sit there and play ball (or in this case, Lego Marvel Superheroes). It was just a jokey video anyway, at least that’s the tone Brooker was going for.

  13. Jigowatt says:

    There’s an excellent (and very entertaining) article on New Statesman about this, which I highly recommend checking out! http://www.newstatesman.com/media/2013/11/how-jon-snow-dissing-playstation-4-explains-why-no-one-cares-you-cant-afford-house

    • Tams80 says:

      That’s a great blog post. Some parts made me laugh repeatedly.

      “To be fair, Jon Snow was clearly on a bit of a mission to troll Brooker” – Oh the irony.

    • The Random One says:

      It was excellent indeed. Thanks for the link.

    • IncredibleMosesLeroy says:

      Excellent article. Bang on the money.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Thanks, almost made me laugh as much as the video itself.

    • Dog Pants says:

      That’s a great article, thanks for linking it.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      Great link, thanks. It transcends borders and cultures, especially part about politicians and young people.

  14. Network Crayon says:

    Other than just cultural commentary I don’t see why games need to recognised by TV anyway? How is TV’s approval even important anymore? Still I suppose it’s nice to see a little coverage on mainstream TV.

    I find televisions complete denial of the games industry baffling, and kind of sad.

    • Gothnak says:

      I partly agree, i mean there aren’t exactly many shows on books, and apart from red carpet affairs (which are mainly there to show celebs in nice clothes) movies don’t get a lot of coverage anymore either.

      Music is the big winner at the moment, but that is becoming more about talent shows than the actual music.

      I think it might be nice to have some coverage on tv just to make it feel like it is at all relevant to me in some way, i think the only time i ever see games mentioned is on The Big Bang Theory and the IT Crowd really reinforcing that games are for male geeks.

      • Network Crayon says:

        True enough! And lets be honest now that most TV channels are piled with repeats or back to back episodes of the same innane TV show that looks unlikely to change. The lack of interest in other media in general on TV seems a wasted opportunity. Wasted on things like Bargain Hunt, Scrubs and Come Dine with Me to boot! I find it kind of stunning.

    • Buffer117 says:

      I kind of agree, I don’t think TV is the correct medium for games coverage. Its a generalisation but I’d imagine that most gamers are used to getting their information now, via the internet . If I want a review/preview I google and there are plenty to choose from including pretty slickly done videos from places like IGN through to Angryjoe. A TV programme focussed on gaming would be superfluous in this age as TV as a whole is becoming increasingly redundant in its current model. I hardly even watch TV now, i like to watch series on demand or boxsets.

  15. DanMan says:

    People who haven’t been raised on video games, who have literally never ever played more complex video games than Solitaire, need a bit of guidance. If you let them find out for themselves and they’re not too interested to begin with, they’ll pick the wrong game and that’s it – “games suck”.

    But just like with movies, you need to find a genre that interests you. Just like not every movie is enjoyable for everyone, not every game can be enjoyed by any person..

    Since video games as we know them are much more complex (esp. on the input side), you need to provide people with something they can wrap their head around – something not too daunting. CoD and Marvel Lego are not those kind of games. They probably use all the buttons on the pad sooner or later.

  16. lautalocos says:

    at the end of the video, when he showed the example of papers, please (which was an incredibly good example), i tought he might be able to make snow understand. unluckily, not at all.

  17. strangeloup says:

    I rather wish Charlie had gone further with his “why does everything have to have a purpose?” line of reasoning. Pretty much ever since games have been a thing, they’ve been (at the basis) something enjoyable and largely harmless, which seems ample justification. I can’t remember where I read it — might have been here, maybe Edge, I forget — but there was a rather good point made that the games industry seems to have this weird kind of insecurity about itself, perpetually clamouring to justify itself as artistic and meaningful and important. Which isn’t to say that games can’t be those things, just that they don’t necessarily need to be. Sometimes you just want to shoot some baddies or drive a car really fast, and that’s perfectly fine.

  18. Gap Gen says:

    The start and end are OK, but the middle is basically
    Jon Snow: WHY AM I SO OLD
    Charlie Brooker: Well, you see, I
    Jon Snow: WHY AM I SO OLD
    Charlie Brooker: Uh, well
    Jon Snow: WHY

    Also Charlie Brooker needs to lose a finger every time he says “literally”.

  19. Jimbo says:

    What the fuck is a library?

    • The Random One says:

      It’s how people pirated games before the internet. The only games that existed back then were linear text adventures called “books”. They were literally the only kind of entertainment available until TWINE games were invented in 1962 by Vladimir Nabokov.

      • mickygor says:

        I will confess to swapping out my unreadable copy Draken: The Ancients’ Gates for the copy that my local library had, back in the day. Is that piracy or is that theft?

    • Gap Gen says:

      It’s a chunk of code that can be used by other projects to make videogames. Things like OpenGL, Havok physics, the Oculus Rift SDK, etc.

  20. Vandelay says:

    I saw the last couple of minutes of an edited version of this last night and had been meaning to watch the rest of this car crash. All rather terrible, to the point of absurdity. Honestly, I didn’t feel that either Snow or Brooker came out of it particularly well, with Snow banging on about violence in games whilst he was playing a Lego game and Brooker becoming increasingly belligerent. Understandably so, as it was a rather shoddily put together segment that wasn’t helping him, but his irritation got in the way of him making valid arguments. At least the little bit about Papers Please was good, which even Snow sounded marginally interested in.

  21. Gap Gen says:

    “It’s odd that television shows don’t notice that games exist very often.”

    Wait, they don’t? Unsure I know much about TV because of how little videogames refer to that weird medium where you have to wait until a certain time to see your stuff, and then it’s gone forever.

  22. OLouv56 says:

    Im being thankful.. Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. On sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out http://Buzz95.com

  23. SuicideKing says:

    Cara Ellison and Matt Lees. Damn, that should be one heck of a show! Shame i can’t watch it here… :(

  24. SuicideKing says:

    Lol Brooker was getting so annoyed. It was mildly entertaining, though i guess if i wasn’t detached while watching it i’d be pretty pissed with the old man.

    • Wurstwaffel says:

      I agree. Turns out Jon Snow is complete dick. First he says he has never had any exposure to games and then goes on to describe the psychological implications of violence in games.

  25. Rikard Peterson says:

    Do watch it to the end – I think Brooker did as well as could be expected in the circumstances.

    It makes me wonder how it’d turn out if the roles were opposite. If Snow were to be invited to Brooker’s program to really be shown what games are and what they can be. Edit: I’ve now watched the second video clip, and realise that this show is not the place for it, but it’d be interesting to see a program hosted by (someone like) Brooker invite (someone like) Snow and try to open their mind.

  26. DickSocrates says:

    I didn’t for one second expect Jon Snow to get the appeal of videogames, why should he? (I can barely justify it myself and often can’t) but I did expect him to not be such a condescending snob about it. That’s just narrow mindedness.

    And his silly socks and ties are just silly.

  27. amberpsiefert says:

    m being thankful.. Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. On sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable
    but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out….. http://goo.gl/iITlPP

  28. TechnicalBen says:

    As to the age thing, I was amazed (in a good way) to see a retired customer of mine (in my cleaning days) boot up his PC (or Mac I forget) to play QuakeWars online (the free one I guess).

  29. jaguar skills says:

    We can’t demand respect just because this once-niche hobby went mainstream. Smiley Virus and movies by the Wayans are popular too, but I wouldn’t expect a 60+ year old man to bother investigating them very far either. Public acceptance will happen organically, we don’t need no stinkin’ crow.

  30. Contrafibularity says:

    I’d now love to see a Game of Thrones game where Jon Snow is a playable character just so Charlie Brooker can sit down with Jon Snow and explain he is playing a game called Game of Thrones which is based on the books which also inspired the TV series Game of Thrones and that he is in fact now playing a character called Jon Snow who bears no relation to Jon Snow the TV journalist, because fiction and reality are almost entirely separate realms. And Jon Snow would just be like “why do I keep running into this fence? what is the meaning of all this?” and Charlie Brooker would reply “Well videogames have this problem where they are actually interactive and, no you’re supposed to run around the fence, yeah that’s the left-joystick, no, yes, oh I give up”.

    • Kirjava says:

      This is the most beautiful thing I can imagine.

      (My imagination clearly being a little stunted but that’s my problem not yours.)

  31. sonson says:

    Nggh, Without wanting to sound…I dunno, Twee? Jon Snow is a very considerable human being who has done some truly impressive things. It seems rather reactionary and immature to not give him the benefit of the doubt on account of not getting something or devoting much time to something which was manifestly not and never made with him in mind.

    Do some 60+ year olds play videogames? Sure they do. Do many? No. Is it understandable that they don’t? Yes. Is it understandable that Snow believes that women and older people don’t really play video games? Yes. Is it understandable that he thinks most videogames are violent? Yes.

    He could have done some research to clarify these things, certainly. But the fact is most people take received wisdom as a given until confronted with a challenge to that, and all of the above is received wisdom for reasons very much broadcast here on RPS.

    We’ll probably never know but I imagine Snow will already moderate his views somewhat on account of last night if the topic ever comes up again, maybe even look into them. I have no reason to believe he has simply set himself against videogames as legitimate simply because of a short and badly arranged 15 minute interview when weighed up against however many decades of journalistic integrity.

    Context is everything, and I think the sort of reaction to it all from gamers et al has rather betrayed that core of exasperation and juvenile sense of entitlement and inability to see the wider picture which is still very present in gaming. That essential ability, basically, to stop and think before saying something.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Agreed. Not intending to diminish Mr Snow’s accomplishments. And I hope that came across – I think he was unnecessarily confrontational here but one of the reasons I ended up writing so much on what was supposed to be a short news post was a desire to get across that when we complain so much about the representation of games and the poor side of marketing, it’s daft to jump down someone’s throat for expressing some of those same views.

      Not twee at all and I really like reading comments like this. Cheers!

      edit: and then the next comment :)

      • sonson says:

        All that definitely came across Adam, no worries there. It was more just this was a place to say some related stuff if I’m honest.

        Likewise enjoyed reading your thoughts. Always do enjoy your writing, very much indicative of that stopping and thinking stuff through stuff : )

    • DiamondDog says:

      It’s not really a judgement on his abilities as a journalist or his reasoning to say he was just doing what broadcasters do in these situations. Create conflict. Paxman does it for a living. As do a lot of others.

      I think you can read a bit too much into something that is quite typical for a lot of news and current affairs programs, on TV or radio. It was interesting to see Graham Linehan call this out a while ago, when he was asked to be on the Today Programme, and about 5 minutes in realised he’d just been set up to have an argument with the other guest about the relative merits of his work. No actually discussion or insight, just a ruck on air.

      I don’t know whether or not Jon Snow really is that dismissive of games, but either way he was clearly on the wind up for the purposes of the show and it was all rather pathetic.

      Basically, I don’t think this was a specific problem with representing games, conflict is just something broadcasters feed on.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      It’s possible to discuss something you don’t really “get” with someone who does without
      a) coming across as being dismissive
      b) not allowing them to answer the questions you ask them.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        Yeah, not bothering to let the guest speak is astonishingly common.

        Cable news is the worst offender, but I’ve had to stop listening to podcasts where there are too many people and nobody’s allowed to finish more than a single sentence at a time. God forbid anyone completes a thought.

    • Tams80 says:

      Jon Snow has certainly done some great journalism. This is not example of some of that though; rather one of his more obtuse interviews, which he most certainly does.

      Being awkward like this is somewhat acceptable when the interviewee is avoiding questions, e.g. most MPs and Jon Snow, Paxman etc. are right to go on the offensive there. However, when the interviewee is trying to be straightforward, then it isn’t acceptable and is just bad journalism.

  32. plsgodontvisitheforums_ says:

    Jeebus someone punch the old fart in the mouth now… IF you want to know about videogames, and somebody starts explaining Minecraft, YOU bloody shut up

  33. Ergates_Antius says:

    Christ, that was almost exactly like speaking to my dad.

  34. Freud says:

    It doesn’t matter what the Eberts or Snows think of gaming in the same way it didn’t matter what their parents generation thought of pop/rock music.

  35. Jigowatt says:

    The Guardian has a really great interview with Charlie Brooker ahead of his documentary, in which he discusses – amongst many other things – how communicating the ‘language’ of games to an audience unfamiliar with the medium can be challenging. Definitely well worth a read! http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/29/charlie-brooker-video-game-television

  36. Caiman says:

    That documentary clip is literally the first piece of “mainstream” media I’ve ever seen about videogames that wasn’t a fucking embarrassment. Unlike Snow, who should know better.

  37. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    I found the segment funny.

    Jon and Brooker are ribbing each other the entire time and it’s a complete mess; Brooker really wants to convince Jon and do games justice, Jon is completely uninformed but is willing to hear Brooker out and the whole setup sabotages all of it.

    Oh the horror of someone who doesn’t get videogames who points out the same silly topics and fallacies surrounding games that we’re all used to; they’re really striking at the heart of people who give a damn about games, right?

    • Gap Gen says:

      It would have been better if Snow had waited for Brooker to actually talk for large parts of it, but yeah.

  38. Darth Gangrel says:

    “How many people tuned in every week, at the designated time?” I’m one of those people (28 years old FYI) who still watches TV series when they air on their designated spot. I don’t like watching long clips on youtube or films on the computer, but I (strangely?) have no problem gaming for hours. I think it’s because I don’t like to be passive in front of the computer. I’m not used to it, I’m always doing something rather than just passively sitting for two hours and watching the computer screen.

    There was a Swedish TV programme about gaming in 2004-2005 (33 episodes, 30 min) but it covered mostly console games what with it being called Controller (Kontroll, in Swedish). Editor-in-chief of Swedish PC Gamer, Joakim Bennet, was often a guest. There they talked about and reviewed games. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t miss it either, it didn’t really add anything. The Wikipedia page is only in Swedish, so search for “Kontroll (TV-program)” in the Swedish language section and use Google translate or whatever.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      There were a couple of fairly prime-time games programs on TV in the UK when I was growing up, Gamesmaster and Bad Influence, that were aimed at kids and teenagers. More importantly though, when I was younger there was a TV show called Knightmare that fused a gameshow with Dungeons and Dragons and was played rather like a video game with a real person as the character supplemented by a lot of graphics. There was also at least one childrens’ TV show where viewers could phone in and shout instructions at the presenters (jump, go left, shoot… etc) while they played a game on the Amiga (Xenon and Magic Pockets are two I remember being played)

      Much later on there were a few late night games related shows, Bits was extraordinarily good – sister program to a film/video review show called Vidz, movie and games fans, largely of the student persuasion, were briefly united late at night on Channel 4 in the late 90s and early 2000s in the timeslot after decent folk have gone to bed but before the really weird shit started to air.

      Yet somehow, that’s as far as games ever got on TV. Since then? Nothing at all. I remember TV segments on programming games for the BBC micro, and even on making games using tools like 3D construction kit and AMOS… Where are the equivalent features on Game Maker and Unity now that it’s easier than ever for people to get into making games?

      Well, I guess gamers have their fill of online content now and TV needs to focus on creating disposable celebrities through cheap reality TV so that those celebrities can later buy advertising space to try to flog their perfumes and handbags.

      In a lot of ways I feel lucky to have grown up in an age when games were a curiosity that nobody had figured out yet. Today everybody believes they have games sussed, whether that’s the BBC keeping them in the closet with the other “gadget” toys or Channel 4 attempting to dismiss them as something juvenile and culturally vacant.

      Let’s have a program with a funny man that we don’t have to take seriously so that we don’t have to take games seriously, and let’s have our senior presenters treat them and him as a meaningless cultural cul-de-sac. That way normal adults don’t have to feel there’s anything in gaming for them and can continue to look down on games, gamers and the games industry in whatever way they choose.

  39. Wulf says:

    I’m almost afraid to talk on this topic any more. That’s genuinely how I feel — afraid. Yet I am compelled to at least try.

    Snow brought up one point which even Brooker had to deftly dodge and try not to answer. The only reason that Snow showed him those games is because that’s what they were sent, they took the console out of the box and that’s what they got. Now, I’ll be the first to say that small developers and indies have done much to elevate gaming beyond just satisfying violent needs, but the mainstream?

    The mainstream has a fixation on violence. Violence against humans, animals, fictional creatures, robots, aliens, you name it. The key word is always violence, though. All the ire in the world can be aimed at Snow, but he was just noticing.

    He was sent a console and some games, they happened to have violent content.

    Now, he could have played Journey and flOwer, sure. I love those games, too. Though those games aren’t mainstream or by large developers, it just seems that marketing suggests that people just want violence and nothing else. The new Thief game, even, seems like it’s designed to allow talentless brawling because that’s all people are after.

    I’m not well, personally, I have anxieties and the over-abundance of violence doesn’t feel right to me. This has made me bitter, because in the past I’ve longed for games to have more non-violent options. Such as stun guns, like Deus Ex, to harmlessly knock people out. Or simple diplomacy. I still get anxiety pains just thinking of talking about this with you people because of all of the “talk to the monsters,” mockery.

    I know you guys tend to think of yourself as some ethical elite, but I don’t always see it from where I’m sitting. Or even often see it.

    The nasty thing about this is that for pointing out the obvious observation — that the mainstream has a fixation on violence, perhaps even a fetish for violence — Brooker tried to imply that Blow was obsessed. To be honest, that’s silly. And I’ll tell you why that’s really silly. It’s silly because violence doesn’t take up 95 per cent of television broadcasts, films, or books. Other mediums lack this laser focused fixation upon, this fetish with violence.

    I can sit down and watch TV and there won’t be a mountain of bodies. If I sit down and watch a Twitch.tv stream, there will be, and the bodies will likely be arranged in questionable positions (if they can be moved).

    Now, I’ll be the first to say that I have nothing against escapist fantasy, because games are great for that. It’s fun stepping outside of my own life. Yet the way I look at it is that because I have such a strong distaste for violence, my characters — which are an extension of myself — also have a strong distaste for violence. Yet my Shepard can’t choose to use stun weaponry in Mass Effect 3, so all of her preaching falls on deaf ears for me because I can’t stop seeing her as a serial killer. She’s not a cop, or a soldier with a conscience, she’s a bloodlusting merc who walks outside the lines of society.

    There are some points when gaming does surprise me, though.

    Like the Synthesis ending of Mass Effect. However, a lot was taken away from that by how many people wanted to see the Reapers dead just because. Or being able to make peace between the quarians or the geth, even though most fans would rather see one side or the other die for their crimes. New Vegas though stands out as an especially neat example, since I was able to talk an enemy General into retreating.

    My New Vegas experience was genuinely enjoyable as I coupled it with mods that added stun weaponry, and stuff that used the fatigue system to just knock people out rather than murder them. I also had mods that would allow me to turn people in as prisoners rather than killing them. Maybe I’m weird, but I’d prefer to round people up and have them serve their time rather than just killing them in cold blood.

    Yet a lot of the mainstream is about that and only that.

    You can’t do diplomacy, you can’t do non-lethal takedowns, you’re just this evil bloodletter. I can enjoy the LEGO games more than most because at least they’re a colourful, silly abstraction of violence, so I don’t have so much of a problem with them. However, they’re not really as common as games where you’re cast as a sociopath with a chip on their shoulder who just wants to kill all of the people, all of the time.

    GTA V generally made me feel ill when I was watching it. I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘and there are people who enjoy this?

    So, from my perspective, I’m sad but not surprised to see that Snow is being vilified here, that he’s receiving all of the bile and the ire. That happens whenever anyone points out that, yes, most mainstream games are about nothing but being a psychopathic serial killer. I don’t feel good about playing those games. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t.

    This is why I’m glad we have indies and small devs who can explore other fields. Gone Home, for example, was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long, long, long time. It reminded me of Shenmue, to a degree. Shenmue was a funny game, it was a game where you could fight, but I never did. Instead I collected little toys, played arcade games, and raced forklift trucks. I think the non-violent options are becoming ever more scarce as production prices soar.

    I think it locks development down into one, simple idea: Serial killing is sexy, we want the player to be killing all of the people, and that’s what our game is about. We’ll base the plot, the world, and everything else around that. But the focus is on brutal, violent murder.

    The problem isn’t that games have violence.

    The problem is that it says something about us when 95 per cent of the gaming mainstream wants to see us cast as a serial killer. The problem is that we, the gamers, have no problem with that; that we never question it; that we never get sick of it or want variety; that we’re so desensitised to violence that it never unnerves us.

    And it’s gotten to the point where we’re having our kids play games which set them as serial killers for the good of the future! That’s a really weird idea.

    Take Minecraft as an example.

    Minecraft is mentioned in Brooker’s show, and most of what they say about it is true. I agree with it, because I loved what Minecraft was. Then Notch felt the need to just throw violence into the game because I don’t think he knows, perhaps he felt it was just expected of him, perhaps it’s because gamers were demanding it? I don’t know the finer details, so I can’t say. But soon, we had swords, and zombies, and now there are videos about people killing all of the things, even the harmless little animals.

    Why was that necessary? Creative mode is perfect for kids, yeah, but why was it necessary to add a layer of needless violence to Minecraft? This is mine problem with gaming — that the gamers seem to be picking up the fixation with, the fetish for, violence that the mainstream publishers seem to have. It’s almost like behavioural modification. Violence is easy to develop, so you’ve all been programmed to like violence.

    And it’s true. Violence is easier to develop than any of the other options. Less violent games are often more intensive, because they involve more dialogue and more options, so it’s good that gamers have conditioned themselves to love violence because that makes it easier on companies like EA and Activision, who can just develop oversimplified experiences of nothing but violence.

    No one questions this.

    Worse than that, it’s not okay to question it. You get ridiculed or vilified. Like Snow.

    I see it as a problem, but that’s just me, looking in from the outside. I’ve learned to keep my trap shut on this topic, most of the time. I just don’t think gamers are nice people because of this by and by, when you consider the average. I’ll recall again that I was banned because I got really tired, bitter, and angry about console users being mocked as nothing more than a subspecies. Why? I don’t know.

    Are we all just nasty little sociopaths with a lust for violence, now?

    That’s up to you to decide. You can vilify and mock me, or you can actually take the time to ask yourself the questions I’ve put forth. Such as: Why are you so happily fixated upon what the big publishers want you to be fixated upon? Why aren’t you demanding different types of games and admonishing them for always casting the player as a serial killer? Why are you vilifying Snow for pointing out what is painfully obvious to any non-gamer?

    I’m sorry, but… are you that behaviourally conditioned?

    Well, you decide.

    • Wulfram says:

      I sympathise with a lot of what you say, but I’m not so keen on “non-lethal takedowns” and similar. They don’t reduce the violence in games, they sanitize it and make it an even easier answer.

      (Also, there were big problems with Synthesis that have nothing to do with a desire to destroy the Reapers.)

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yes, I can’t think of any non-lethal-option game which doesn’t lean heavily on the fantasy that you can safely and quietly render someone unconcious without causing them permanent harm. Maybe some of the avoid-not-engage types, like Thief, but even that has its blackjack.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          Sometimes it almost harks back to Tom and Jerry, or Roadrunner, doesn’t it? Just drop this anvil on him. He’ll be stunned for a while, then you can sneak past.

        • SouperMattie says:

          @LionsPhil yes, this is (just) one of the reasons why the Batman Arkham games are so ridiculous to me.

          Batman never kills anybody… but that’s only because the game insists those bad guys lying motionless on the floor are still alive. For all mechanical purposes, they’re as dead as the dead bad guys in other video games. Batman takes them out with some utterly brutal moves, and they never get up again. Considering the beatings being handed out, I’d have to assume that all these I’m-not-dead-yet bad guys will be quadriplegics for the rest of their unhappy lives. Batman – what a thoughtful hero!

          Note: I own, finished and generally loved the first two games but I still think the ‘non-lethal’ thing is a comically (heh) thin excuse to make the games almost-as-violent as any other.

  40. JamesTheNumberless says:

    @ Wulf (reply failed :( )

    Good stuff, lots of food for thought and not much that’s difficult to agree with. Now what I’d like to see is more people engaging with this subject on that sort of level and more people accepting that video games already do have a cultural place and a cultural significance which is often positive.

    I think you’re right that the majority of stuff being made at the moment is fixated on violence. Even as a games designer it’s very difficult to come up with a concept that doesn’t involve actual or implied murder or violence as a core gameplay mechanic. It’s been done so thoroughly and it is so well understood that certain demographics will play/buy violent games. The necessary formula for success with violent games is well known and you don’t have to look too far beyond it to devise something that people will play.

    Ok, I know, that’s just the “everyone’s making shooters because everyone knows they can make them sell” argument wearing its hat at a slightly different angle. But there’s a deeper problem here, which is that games are not seen as a serious and responsible art form either by the mainstream or by the industry itself.

    This first really happened in the movie business in the early 1930s with the Motion Picture Production Code – for all of its flaws (and there were many!) it was one factor in ushering in the golden age of Hollywood. It was a reaction to the state of cinema and the realization that actually filmmakers have a huge responsibility because movies are of cultural and not just financial significance.

    Have games had their golden age already? Is it still to come? Will it ever? Future historians will decide that but I’m not sure many people can disagree that we’re in a position right now where the responsibilities of the games industry are not taken seriously. People in the industry (and I know this is far from universal) often give the impression they couldn’t care less about the content in their games and people on the other side of the fence often give the impression that they can’t see any way in which games can be relevant to, or enrich our civilization.- they’re either insignificant or they’re a corrupting influence.

  41. grrrz says:

    anyway the Charlie Brooker Channel 4 program is pretty good. Accessible to mainstream audience, but tackling relevant subject and games, and certainly not dumbed down, with the right amount of silly.
    by the way I’m starting to think that british television as a whole is pretty decent, with a kind of freedom you rarely find in other countries (certainly not mine or the US from what I’ve seen).

  42. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I have to say that this was rather poor. Poorly prepared, with too much action to allow for calm discussion without distractions and provide an introduction to videogaming of sorts. I must say I don’t know this mr. Snow, but I do find that he asked a lot of understandable questions and had assumptions which probably aren’t uncommon.

    Brooker did his best, I’m certain, especially if he didn’t have the chance to prepare nor choose the setup of the show.