Gaming in the spotlight

01 Dec 2013

One of the things you may already know about me, if you follow my Twitter or know me in real life, is that I'm a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to videogames.

I enjoy talking about them almost as much as I enjoy playing them, and most of the time I actually do a lot more of the former.

It was refreshing then, to see Channel 4 dedicate a significant chunk of time to videogames based programming on Saturday night.

First up was Charlie Brooker's 'How Videogames Changed The World' - It's on 4OD, and I'd recommend it. While it was structured in the infamous 'list' format usually relegated to unfunny comedians on BBC3, each of the numbered games was actually used as a jumping off point for exploring some facet of videogaming history and influence.

Brooker knows his subject material, and it shows. Likewise, the featured celebrities and personalities all seemed appropriate to me, all of them either offering a suitable insight or an amusing enough quip.

With any numbered list, there are bound to be those who think there are some gaps in the results. Where you might have expected games like Half Life and Counter Strike, Metal Gear Solid, Goldeneye, Portal, Bioshock and The Walking Dead to feature, they did not. And that's just to name a few.

Perhaps influenced by my own life more than anything, I was most surprised by the exclusion of Halo - Which despite not being everyone's favourite game, I would argue has been incredibly influential.

Halo ushered in the age of the 'videogame blockbuster' - A hype machine that inspired Hollywood's envy and launched a thousand LAN parties. The series made console first person shooters into the behemoth they are today, and forced the whole world (And their angry 12 year old sons) onto Xbox Live in a way that was previously reserved for the PC crowd.

To me at least, it is more worthy of the nod than say, Angry Birds (Who's only contribution was ubiqitous popularity and merchandise, something it shares with a great many other games) or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Which really, followed in Halo's footsteps and was much less important to the violence in videogames debate than say, Manhunt).

Still, despite this grievance, it was an enjoyable couple of hours that importantly did not treat videogames with contempt in the way so many of us have seen in other media growing up. Games were discussed for what they are, in all their forms, and not just the stereotypes.

Apparently on a roll, Channel 4 followed this enjoyable show withIndie Game: The Movie, which had it's moments. Much has been said online about the portrayal of Phil Fish in the film, with the film's creators leaving a lot unsaid with regards to the mysterious 'business partner' and his side of the story.

Ultimately, Fish comes off as someone unlikeable, and at times I felt like the film was asking for me to like him. His behaviour doesn't engender me to his cause. Similarly, the sections devoted to Braid fell flat for me... I saw someone describe the film as 'masturbatory', revelling in self indulgence, and I think that is largely true. Here is a film which appeals to those within the indie scene because it likes to pat them on the back, portraying off screen characters as 'the man', and ultimately ending in victory for the games featured.

Of course, not every indie game gets that happy ending. The film is in some ways too much of a celebration of the few successful indie games, and not enough of a look into the scene as a whole.

With that said, it's hard not to get swept up in the excitement of Team Meat on the launch of Super Meat Boy, and their entire process was interesting to me. Listening to them explain the simplicity with which the game teaches the player everything they need to know is a great insight into game design in general, not just independent development.

From there of course, we roll towards the conclusion of their massive sales, which are richly deserved. Seeing their stressed faces light up with joy as they watch GiantBomb's quick look, and smiles form in the corner of their mouth when they receive those review scores is a heartwarming feeling which makes you want to reach for your copy of Unity and make your own.

Overall, it was good to see gaming get this sort of coverage. Channel 4 have proven that they are willing to run good content based on this subject matter - Hopefully they stick with it and we can see more of this sort of thing in the future.

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