Sunday, 4 October 2009

Review: Gameswipe (TV)

Charlie Brooker seems to be carving out TV shows like they're going out of fashion at the moment. Hot on the heels of You Have Been Watching (a show about which I have Opinions, and about which I wish I had written here when it was more topical) comes Gameswipe (available briefly on iPlayer here).

Gameswipe tries to do for (video) games what Screenwipe and Newswipe did for TV shows and news programs respectively, which is to say, analyse, mock and explain them from an insider's point of view. His previous two "-wipe" products were also influenced by topical issues, and generally analysed recent examples of the areas that they were focusing on, so it seems likely that newly released games will get some coverage too.

I have been waiting expectantly for a mainstream game-review programme to emerge, and one fronted by Charlie Brooker is more than I could have hoped for (since I've now followed him full circle since his days writing for gaming magazine PC Zone). Having watched the first episode, I'm pretty happy with the way things have started out, albeit with a few reservations.

The programme probably suffers from the fact that whereas television and the news are two things that have a mass appeal, and probably pretty equal interest from most age and gender groups, video gaming is only just becoming an area of widespread interest to many people, and even then in some areas far more than others. Hence a programme focused on mass-appeal casual games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, will risk being too basic for more hardcore gamers, while one with too much emphasis placed on more introverted genres such as MMORPGs and FPSes, would be likely to instantly alienate casual viewers.

The first episode treads this line fairly well, with introductions to basic gaming genres, and examples of how these genres have developed over the years, interposed with celebrity rants about aspects of the industry, but it will be interesting to see how this balance is maintained in future episodes, and whether both ends of the spectrum can be kept interested at once.

One real niggle with the program was that the coverage of violent or objectionable video games - certainly one of the biggest issues faced by the industry at the moment - seemed unfocused and haphazard. There was some mocking of the media coverage, but not enough, in my opinion, of a well-constructed counter-argument. The issue is one which deserves fuller coverage and analysis, and I would have hoped that it would have an episode devoted to it.

Another problem was with the discussion of storytelling in games (again something [from the point of view of a fairly experienced gamer] only touched on very briefly), in which Graham Linehan bemoans the fact that the story-telling in games is never given enough attention by the industry, where minutes before, Brooker had been describing his boredom at the plot-development aspects of a game. Both are different sides of an argument, but I felt the presentation was contradictory rather than balanced.

As a whole, though, it's good to see Charlie Brooker on TV, and it's good to see modern gaming-centric programmes, so despite any negatives, I will certainly be looking forward to the remaining episodes.

Blogathon hi-score: 4


Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

I believe that this was done as a one of, so your hope for more episodes could be a little delayed. He has mentioned that he may do a series, or possibly more one off shows for gameswipe (all gleaned from his Twitter -

I think that the main reason this was a bit wishy washy in some ways was that it was trying to cram a heck of a lot into one tiny space and also try to be accessible for a broad audience. I did enjoy Gameswipe, but being a bit more of a gamer I did feel it was less aimed at me.

I think that it's a difficult beast to do a gaming TV show as there is so much out there in the games industry, from MMORPGs to Casual with a billion shades in between that to cover it all would be difficult without annoying atleast half of your audience at any point in the show. So aside from having loads of shows that deal with each section the best thing is the internet, and that's where most of gaming news and reviews come from, it's the best medium for such a diverse and ever changing industry.

TheTelf said...

Ugh - really. Boo for only being a one-off...

I agree that it's a difficult thing to do, and so many aspects of the industry being still so niche makes it much harder than television to parody, but I could see a show on each genre being interesting, where he goes into enough detail to satisfy hardcore gamers, and with enough features/explanation to make it accessible to newbies.

Maybe it's just not possible, though - the public by-and-large probably aren't interested enough in gaming to make it prime-time fodder, and as such maybe shorter vignettes released more regularly, focusing on a particular issue, game or genre and restricted to online/vodcast viewing only (in a similar mode to David Mitchell's soapbox) would work.

Or maybe we'll have to suffer though more seasons of You have been watching. *shudder*