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Games

Television Needs Video Games, or Television Will Die

Years of rejection shows how ignorant TV commissioners are when it comes to the medium's future, and their own careers.
March 9, 2015, 4:35pm

'The Blurb' production team, with the author riding the rodeo bull, center

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

If there were a prize for the longest lamentation of television's barren wasteland of video game content. I reckon I would probably win it. The absence of games culture coverage on TV bothers me more than most, as I have spent the best part of three years trying to convince a fairly unreceptive crowd of TV execs that commissioning such programming isn't a colossal waste of their time. In fact, in truth it could herald a whole new age of fresh and democratically relevant mainstream content.

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After reading the recent VICE piece about the lack of video game shows on TV, I felt compelled to explain my own perspective on it all. I have sat across the table from the decision-makers on several occasions, and have witnessed their anti-video game logic first hand. I think much of this stems from a completely antiquated idea of who a "gamer" actually is. There is this ridiculous yet perpetual stereotype that gamers are still a bunch of closeted nerds, clearly incapable of having enough time in-between gaming and wanks to ever get around to watching any TV at all.

I suppose I should provide a little background on myself before launching into this, as I've hosted two UK-made video game TV shows in my time. The first was Gameface on Bravo TV, a simple auto-cued green-screen offering, where the only way to work out which episode you were watching was by what top I had on. After the UK arm of Bravo closed I hosted another show, The Blurb, for the only channel that currently broadcasts free-to-view video game content in the UK, Challenge TV.

The Blurb was an hour-long weekly show, with reviews, celebrity guests and somewhat deliciously juvenile video game based challenges. I mean, who wouldn't want to fire NERF guns with Randy Pitchford or get electrocuted by Skindred while playing out IRL scenes from L.A. Noire?

And since then, the number of gamers has grown exponentially.

Channel 4's 'GamesMaster' was a huge success on British TV in the 1990s—here, the five members of Take That play 'Bomberman' in series 2 ( via)

Let me hit you with some stats. Over 56 percent of the UK population plays video games. That amounts to 33.5 million people, with a gender split of 52 percent female and 48 percent male—interestingly, that's the reverse of the global trend. That is a scientifically proven fuckton of people, and I'm pretty sure it means there are more gamers in this country than committed cyclists. And yet ITV4 will still commission The Cycle Show, while gamers go without—although perhaps that's because Lycra fetishes are more prevalent these days (Google, sadly, doesn't provide me with any verifying figures). Basically, gamers aren't a minority anymore—they are the majority. So why the hell aren't they better represented in traditional media?

You might be wondering why we even need to have a video game TV show anymore, as for the hardcore gamer there is a near-infinite well of content online to consume. What we need is a video game show that showcases the amazing diversity of modern games culture, of the people who participate in it, that appeals to casual players as well as those who happily pop veins raging over the length of The Order: 1886 on Reddit.

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Here's an insight as to what I have been told time and time again. The people who watch appointment-to-view TV (as in the scheduled stuff) are largely over 50 years old. So commissioners won't risk, without a huge incentive at any rate, something that doesn't at cater to that demographic in some way. But that's a dangerous attitude to have in itself, as it's saying that over-50s can't possibly enjoy video games, let alone use iPlayer. Surely they just eat biscuits, play bingo, and get tech hard-ons for Stannah Stairlifts? Let's just forget that if you embraced gaming in your late teens or early 20s at the dawn of the 1980s you'd be… how old, now?

You see what I'm getting at here, right?

'Bits' was another Channel 4 production, airing in the late 1990s and early 00s to a slightly older crowd ( via)

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You say that over-50s exclusively watch ATV content, so you only make programs for them. Therefore, nobody under the age of 50 bothers to watch TV, as there is no programming that appeals to them. So then the commissioners are proven right: younger audiences shun the traditional (read: wholly out-dated) model and the circle of life—a.k.a. the never-ending episodes of Rip Off Britain—is complete. Fuck me, is Gloria Hunniford ever gonna be busy.

Surely this approach, this perspective on an ever-growing culture, is running the risk of leading the TV industry to its demise? At some stage, even the over-50s will stop watching TV—mainly because they're going to die. And the result of that will be a zombie-like horde of morose-looking TV execs wandering the streets of West London, their personal possessions in cardboard boxes, crying as they observe some kid self-shoot a documentary with his mobile phone and subsequently having a stroke when he wins a fucking BAFTA for it.

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We all know scheduled TV is dead, and broadcast barely even means that anymore as we consume so much content through smart, internet-enabled televisions—and we'll only watch more like this in the future. So obsessing about appointment-to-view TV is like spending months deciding exactly what type of bra Miley Cyrus should wear: a futile waste of everyone's time. All television content could soon be strictly on demand, bringing with it some (TV) game-changers such as the schedules-convenient 30-minute/one-hour show-length format becoming obsolete. Finding a sensible way to consume or create truly personalized content will take precedence.

You know: TV will have to start showing things that you actually want to watch, based on your real interests and desires. Not just because you once watched a movie with Jennifer Aniston wearing a hat, so every time you load up Netflix "movies with people in hats" is a viable viewing category.

Automated content selection will rule, and a breed of playlist-creator (or curator?) celebrities will emerge. In the same way you might follow a particular reviewer as your tastes are comparable, soon you'll follow peoples' viewing habits, as finding what to watch from a never-ending sea of on-demand content could otherwise be as upsetting and confusing as picking out jumper colors from a Hollister branch while a tanned employee judges you from a dark corner.

'Videogame Nation' is the only free-to-view show on gaming in the UK right now—which we covered here

This argument isn't just about gaming being disregarded by execs: it's about significant chunks of several generations being snubbed by TV. It's the same problem facing politics, in that young peoples' issues are being ignored because, based on several elections in the recent past, they simply don't vote. I am not suggesting that, for that greater good, our duty is to watch back-to-back episodes of Location, Location, Location (mainly as it sends anyone under 30 into a deep and relentless spiral of depression, as we all know we'll never be able to afford a fucking shoebox flat let alone a country retreat and a cute pied-à-terre in the city because of these baby boomer bastards). But I think we do need to make our voices heard about what we want, standing up and letting people know: we are gamers.

Not all is lost—the massive production company Endemol is just beginning to tap into the online world of YouTubers, video games, and e-sports. They see its true potential, and if anyone can convince commissioners that gaming is a worthwhile endeavor for television to pursue, it could be them.

In reality it's not just about creating video game content for TV—it's about the perceived equality of a mainstream media platform recognizing and respecting the medium, instead of treating it like the half-bastard deformed cousin of the "normal" entertainment world. (You know, you put up with it, but it has to sit on a separate table at weddings, away from anything sharp in case it hurts itself.) It's about realizing that gamers are as diverse as the human race is, because we are normal humans, not some Golem-like creatures sitting in our pants, covered in cookie crumbs and averting our eyes from any chink of daylight that manages to creep through our blackout curtains. (Although, full disclosure, I personally do enjoy eating cookies and sitting in my pants.)

Gaming can only continue to grow, leaving all other entertainment products choking on its dust—and if the mainstream media doesn't see how huge it will be, it'll be left in its wake. Ironically enough, TV needs to show a little more vision right now, before it shuts itself off completely to audiences of the imminent future.

Follow Julia on Twitter.