Fail Forward: How Television Fails At Discussing Games

Fail Forward is normally a series of videos all about the bits of games which don’t quite work and why. But in this special episode, Marsh Davies talks about how the mainstream media tends to discuss games only in terms of their threat or their use – with a particular look at the BBC’s recent Make It Digital season, including programmes like the docudrama The Gamechangers and the science show Horizon.

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This is the start of a second series of Fail Forward. The first five episodes ran earlier this year and were released fortnightly, whereas from now on they will be monthly and initially exclusive to the RPS Supporter program. These videos are only possible thanks to your funding, so thanks for that. This episode is now viewable to all.


  1. Dorga says:

    What a welcome comeback!

  2. Vandelay says:

    Just yesterday I was thinking that it would be good to have some more of these appear and there it is!

    Another great episode. I think it is fairly clear that most coverage of games, even ones that are not necessarily all doom and gloom, are tinged by an assumption of them being an alien experience. I recall seeing a brief news report on an e-sports tournament in which the reporter emphasised all of his statements in a way to make the whole thing seem strange and bizarre that a group of people would want to watch other people playing a game. To make the point that these people must have been odd in some way, every close up shot of a spectator picked out the few people that were dressed in cosplay outfits of their favourite gaming character.

    Than they went to the sports section to discuss the latest sporting events, where no doubt there were plenty of fans with their faces painted and wearing the kits of their favourite team, but preceded to discuss the whole thing very seriously and explained all of the latest business decisions the teams were making. It seemed strange that they would treat one thing as silly fluff, yet the other was given the same reverence they would give the days political news or the latest business merger.

    I do wonder if there is still truth in the idea that the TV media are simply scared of the games industry, viewing it as competition for their viewers attention.

    • Buggery says:

      Aye, the things is, e-sports genuinely are new and confusing to the vast majority of people – including a significant portion of gamers. I’ve been playing games since I was a child and I still have no idea why anyone would want to watch someone play a MOBA (no offense to those that do, it’s just not for me).

      I’m sure that coverage of any other niche sport, such as Rugby as presented to US audiences, or darts tournaments to people without subscription sports channels, or like, extreme tiddlywinks would most likely be presented in a similar way.

      For a good time, do a google image search for “cheese heads”. Sports fans are weird out of context everywhere.

      • geisler says:

        The thing is… the gaming industry is a threat to all other entertainment industries. Would you want it to become even more popular as a TV producer?

        • Horg says:

          I don’t think it is a threat, the logical dissonance between sport and esport coverage is mainly due to TV trying to appeal to its core demographic, which is generally older and less tech orientated than gamer audiences. TV shows have no interest in portraying esports in a positive light because it will gain no traction on TV even if they did, younger generations are increasingly abandoning TV in favor of streaming, and older generations simply will never convert in large numbers. So what they do is pander to their audience preconceptions and treat it as abnormal, while glossing over the fact that all competitive sports are a bit odd if you think about them too hard.

        • Buggery says:

          Because TV producers could buy the licensing rights and earn money from showing them on TV? New demographics aren’t exactly frightening and alien to media peeps — They’re just new sources of revenue.

          And I’m sorry: Pro-gaming tournaments are not a threat to traditional sports, and nor is gaming a threat to television anymore than television is a threat to cinema. It’s a niche interest that will displace other niche interests until the next niche interest comes along to replace it, at which point it will exist in it’s own bubble like everything else. Youtube shows all have large fanbases of dedicated fans but lol if you think the general public knows or cares about, say, Yogscast.

  3. amateurviking says:

    Can you do alt text on videos?

    And if not, why not?

    • SpiceTheCat says:

      I kept mouse-overing too, and wondering why a disquisition on the roll of brewing in bringing about agrarian civilisation, or existential angst as reflected in Huis Clos and L’Etranger, or a society’s fictional monsters as a reflection of that society’s obsessions and neuroses, wasn’t popping up.

  4. IaIaFhtagn says:

    Excellent article. My partner is a psychologist-in-training, and I fully intend to bully her into doing a decent study of the phenomenon at some point. I like the idea of a comparison to a more traditional sport….

  5. caff says:

    Hooray! I like Marsh.

  6. drewski says:

    I think all videogames on TV in the UK really needs is a producer who is determined to make it happen and has the power to do so. It’s amazing how much the treatment of culture depends essentially on the whims of one or two individuals – it seems so far the UK hasn’t found the individual who can make a quality videogame show happen.

    There’s no reason Channel 4 or one of the minor BBCs couldn’t have a regular videogame show, except that nobody has even managed to convince the execs that it’s worth doing. But someone will. Probably on BBC2.

    More Fail Forward’s please!

    • Nevard says:

      I think Bamzooki on CBBC was a good video games adjacent tv show, although nobody’s ever heard of it. It wasn’t any kind of documentary though. And it was on CBBC.

    • christmas duck says:

      Naomi Alderman talks interestingly about the reputation of games within the wider culture here: link to (and she mentions campaigning to R4 about getting a regular games programme up and running, although that doesn’t seem to have happened, and this was a broadcast from 2012).

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      it seems so far the UK hasn’t found the individual who can make a quality videogame show happen.

      RPS very own Rab Florence would like a word with you mate.

      Videogaiden is a thing which exists.

      • Shaun Green says:

        You’re quite right, but let’s be fair: the last series of videoGaiden was over seven years ago, and that was the series BBC Scotland shoved onto an obscure microsite where no one who didn’t already watch the show would find it. :(

        Hell, though, I’d pay the license fee if the Beeb would resurrect Consolevania and stick it on telly UK-wide.

  7. Premium User Badge

    kfix says:

    Excellent video Marsh. Also excellent cameos from Rich and the falcon.

    Rich and the Falcon. I’d play that.

  8. Captain Deadlock says:

    Could you please have a thought for accessibility by providing correct captions for deaf and hard of hearing viewers. The Google auto-translate is simply gibberish.

  9. flibbidy says:

    You’re really good at this Marsh. voiceover work as well as content. thanks!

  10. Boozebeard says:

    This is easily my favourite series on youTube or even video series in general.

  11. joyce27 says:


  12. christmas duck says:

    I feel like radio is faring a little better with this (perhaps the lack of visuals forces more discussion) BBC’s Front Row has covered games before, and not in a “look we’re covering video-games!” way, but rather by just having a game be one of the pieces of culture getting a critique. This is also true of a lot of newspapers, at least in terms of gradually having slid games reviews into their roster alongside film, theatre, television et al.
    Unfortunately this doesn’t seemed to have transferred out of reviewing and into much general coverage, partly I think this is down to the current lack of any general arts review shows on television (games have become much more culturally prominent in the years since Newsnight Review ended) but also the broad belief that games are technology products first, and cultural products second, which is why you’ll get a whole hour of Horizon about behaviour studies and neurological effects but no half-hour Artsnight edition looking at the work of a game developer.

    • christmas duck says:

      correction: It’s Saturday Review, that’s included games discussion, not Front Row.

      • Vandelay says:

        Actually, pretty certain Front Row has done games a couple of times too. Can’t say I have taken much in about what they are saying about them, but I would say they probably do veer closer to “Look, we are covering games” on the occasion they have done them.

        I think the problem whenever that happens though is that they only ever seem to do these sorts of things with big budget, big marketing type games. Those are never going to fair well and wouldn’t be any different to them reviewing a Michael Bay film. If they were to look at something a little more experimental, like Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture or even something mainstream but focused on narrative, like a The Walking Dead games, I think it would be received better and, even they didn’t enjoy them, would create more interesting discussions about the potential as a medium.

        • christmas duck says:

          The Naomi Alderman edition of Front Row I posted up thread is pretty good, and being fronted by someone from within the games industry isn’t self congratulatory about it (it’s partly about the lack of coverage). It actually covers a few of the things Marsh mentions as being absent from the Horizon episode (comparing the cultural treatment of games today with film at the start of the 20th century).
          Unfortunately, it’s also from 2012 and things haven’t really progressed since. :/

          • Marsh Davies says:

            Naomi’s a total hero. She’s been instrumental in getting Radio 4 to talk about games *at all*. Let’s hope they commission her to do more.

  13. GWOP says:

    “No mainstream media engages regularly in this sort of nuanced games criticism. Of course, to study such things you would have to admit that games are capable of meaning something at all. And bizarrely, it seems like neither their detractors nor supporters in the mainsrtream often do.”

    This hit home really hard. You have critics treating games like something created to trigger our basest instincts, completely void of any context. And then you have enthusiasts, screaming at video game writers to stop ‘injecting politics’ because, regardless of how much they might have screamed at Roger Ebert that games are art, what they want at the end of the day is a product review.

  14. Romeric says:

    Wow. Such an excellent video. I’ve not seen the BBC’s GTA video yet. Guess I should give it a watch!

  15. Buggery says:

    An interesting video, but I’d like to bring up a point you make: you complain that games are only shown in a positive light when shown to have a practical purpose – e.g. a game designed to help develop skills in keyhole surgery – while other forms of media are not. Your examples make light of someone saying literature is not good because it doesn’t teach one to perform surgery. In a general sense, other forms of media ARE judged on their relevance to practical transference of information or skills.

    Cheap, violent horror films and thriller novels are held to be empty forms of consumption at best, and negative in their social affect at worst. Films and literature that actually have something to say with an intended artistic bent tend to be held to a higher standard of expectation. That’s why the satire of Paul Verhoeven’s action films are more critically lauded than the misplaced sincerity of modern comic-book adaptations.

    Most games could be considered as tales, “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” by comparison. That there are tedious, pretentiously “artsy” games (i.e. anything that Tale of Tales farted out) does not counteract that most people want to play Mario or CoD. Which isn’t a bad thing, any more than wanting to watch a dumb film or read teenage apocalyptic fiction is a bad thing — but neither of those options are going to be considered as socially positive.

  16. Spacewalk says:

    On a positive note, I got the urge to reinstall Carmageddon because of that documentary.

  17. christmas duck says:

    Been spending the day drilling into the Radio 4 archives around games, and there’s some good stuff hidden in there (in the not phone-ins) but much of it is frustrating, people very eloquently making the case for the medium and against the way it’s often painted as if it doesn’t exist outside of a handful of titles. Heck, many of the very arguments Marsh makes in this video come up time and again (Here’s the creator of Redshirts in 2012: link to ) but it doesn’t seem to progress much further than that. It seems there is a great willingness to hear from creators about how interesting games and the future of games are, how diverse the medium is and how fast it’s growing in both economic value and creative ambition, and to nod along sagely to what they say and applaud at the end of them saying it.
    …and then to continue to never talk about games outside of tech and moral panic.

  18. Philopoemen says:

    Good Game in Australia which is run by the national broadcaster ABC (Australia’s BBC) started off as your typical AAA game spuriker, but over the years, has grown into the subject matter – for example during Mental Health Week, the the show only looked at games examining mental health.

    They diversified with Spawn Point for younger gamers, and whilst there’s a plenty of AAA stuff in there, they cover indies, and morevoer the themes of games, rather than just the razzle and dazzle.

  19. NephilimNexus says:

    One should consider the role of television itself in modern society, namely: To keep the masses in the dark through a combination of non-information & misinformation, whilst convincing them that they’re being informed about things.

    The internet has reduced television to it’s current & lowest state. It remains alive only to cuddle those whom, by circumstance (read: lack of connection) or design (read: mental laziness) cannot be bothered to use Google, and knowing it’s narrow market demographic all too well spends all it’s efforts on flashy imagery & cheap trickery to hypnotize the weak minds that make up whatever is left it’s once mighty empire.

    In other words, don’t expect TV to ever improve or get better. Yes, the internet is filled with idiots, too, but they are the merely a portion of the internet – a fractional value. Television, on the other hand, is entirely directed towards the stupid.

  20. tigershuffle says:

    my kids (7 & 13) love watching Ginx on VirginMedia (I assume its on Sky too?!)
    The First Hour section is quite entertaining too.

  21. Chillicothe says:

    The biggest hurdle video gaming has with other, older media is the the Language of Gaming and the Act of Play. These luditic drives are inscrutable to those who don’t get it and appear far more removed than the act of reading, listening, or watching. This is why there’s so often still beeps ‘n boops and totally badical 1337 gamers when depicted, it’s expected for this inscrutable medium.

    I do wonder if these call to Jesus pushes in examples like this are too little, too late with how much FORCE both the act of gaming and the act of watching others game have with those 30 and younger.

  22. jfml says:


  23. jgf1123 says:

    I’m reminded of the Radiolab episode on Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds. The 1938 broadcast is infamous for supposedly causing mass hysteria as people thought martians (or Germans) were actual invading. But polls that night and the next morning showed that there weren’t that many listeners, and only a small fraction of those were actually taken in. The people who were spreading the story about misinformation and panic were the newspapers, who did not look kindly upon this upstart new medium with which they were competing for audience and advertising and, because radio was newer, was less regulated.

    So if you’re wondering why television is critical and not very nuanced in its discussion of violence in video games while not asking the questions about violence in television or movies, self-interest could be one of those reasons.

  24. brutaldeluxe09 says:

    not entirely relevant but I regularly listen to The Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 and Nick Luscombe will occasionally play music from games, usually orchestral soundtracks announcing them confidently which pleases me a lot when it happens, probably more than it should to be honest but you know, video games.

  25. Unsheep says:

    What the non-gaming media is saying is not entirely wrong though, they might exaggerate for sure, but they are not actually wrong: a lot of gamers are stupid and violent. The anti-Sarkeesian crowd is a very good example of this, they behave exactly like a hate-group. Add to this the fact that you can hardly visit a forum these days or play online without encountering insults and threats of violence, no matter what platform you play on. I repeat myself, a lot of gamers are stupid and violent. They might be in the minority, who knows for sure, but these people still draw the full attention of non-gaming media. So don’t be angry at media, be angry at gamers behaving stupidly.