In Conversation with VideoGamer.com, the #HotPiss-Takers of the Gaming Press
The gaming site's reputation for irreverent ingenuity is growing. We peek behind the green screen.
A large, slightly intimidating, mostly hairless man is arguing with an eight year old, who apparently works for the Guardian, over whether or not Pokémon are real. She's adamant, at least for the camera, that they are. "One day I'll be older," she screams at said monolith of muscle as he turns his back on her, "but you'll still be a baldy bastard."
A man in a silly hat is previewing the massively anticipated post-apocalyptic role-playing game Fallout 4. His opening words cut to the heart of what's to come over the next four minutes: "Fallout 4 is officially on the way, and from what we've seen of it, it's a fucking mess." The comments below said clip's YouTube posting feature the inane offerings of internet users who wouldn't understand satire and sarcasm if the concepts were explained in a pop-up book: "lol.. u guys are only pissed cause u wer last to here about such amazing game get a grip and grow a pair of real balls instead of growing nuts on ur head"; "i think you should kill yourself :) the world doesnt need you, doesnt want you, just die."
These are just two of the recent uploads from the Croydon-based team of VideoGamer.com, whose video and podcast content has, in recent months, moved from being the sometimes-funny musings of men who understand full well that they're really just talking about toys, to something much more refined and focused, with appeal that has the potential to reach beyond the gaming audience. The site's staff has locked in a series of unique features, ranging from "7 Things..." list pieces, such as the Fallout 4 video, to The Miller Report, in which that tank of a man we described earlier, journalist Simon Miller, adopts a tongue-in-cheek tough-guy persona to play the sore thumb amongst developers, YouTubers and celebrity gamers, including a confused Rufus Hound.
"I think we all agree a lot of gaming media falls into a similar category, and we wanted to try and do something different," says Miller, who's officially head of video production at VideoGamer. (Check out the full team here.) "We're idiots, and keeping things light-hearted while working in what we think is funny just made more sense to us. Plus it does play off everyone's personalities. It's video games at the end of the day – they're supposed to be fun, so why not have some fun with them?"
And Miller's not the only one playing an exaggerated role beyond his rather-more-conventional (but certainly never dull) day job of actually getting this stuff out there: deputy editor Steve Burns acts like an enormous bastard to everyone, basically, depicted leaving the office in a helicopter in one Miller Report episode; and video producer Jamie Trinca has been known to show up as either dressing-gown-clad and wrestling-ready cop Tam McGleish or grubby-vested, short-tempered father figure Yir Auld Da. There's slapstick stuff, an evolving appreciation and execution of second-perfect comedy timing, a shitload of nods to (WWE) wrestling, and every now and then an actual insight into something to do with video games.
"We tap into stuff outside of games that we're fans of," says Miller, "be that Brass Eye, Curb Your Enthusiasm or Peep Show. In no way do I think we're on their level, but it's really satisfying to draw inspiration from other forms of entertainment. On top of that, WWE is awesome. So we just copied them."
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Beyond the attention-grabbing videos, the website itself is rather more straightforward, with the usual news, reviews and features you'd expect of such a place. "It's vitally important to retain some sense of reality," says Trinca. "If nothing else, we need to demonstrate some awareness of what's happening in the industry." Burns agrees: "Balance is important, mainly because despite its comic leanings a lot of our stuff is critical, or offers criticism. News is news, and editorialising it is a tricky business best left to professionals, columnists, and other low-rent humans. I do think our reviews are quite funny, though. Mine are, at least."
Anyone who remembers how games journalism shifted from dull tech talk to words of warm humour quite clearly written by humans, as was the case in publications like Your Sinclair and Amiga Power, will relate to how VideoGamer's offbeat approach to games coverage today stands at odds with the angle of so many other sites, more concerned with maintaining publisher-to-press relations than offering a potentially relationship-rocking review.
"Some degree of irreverence has always been part of the VideoGamer brand, if you like," says Trinca. "And it's the kind of stuff I grew up with. Steve and I talk with great fondness about the Amiga Power days – those guys gave no shits, everything they did was full of personality, a great fuck you attitude to silly ideas like professionalism and decorum. Our jobs revolve around playing with toys, so we might as well be tossing off about Fisher Price kitchens. We're certainly not the first publication to make a name for ourselves acting like dickheads, but I like to think that we're part of a dickhead family tree that includes the likes of Amiga Power and PC Zone. Also, it's no secret that we're all huge fans of Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci and the like. And Rik Mayall. And Ric Flair. And Viz. So it seems natural for echoes of that stuff to find their way into things we do."
"I don't think it was a conscious decision to go for an irreverent tone," Burns says. "There was no meeting where everyone sat down and went, 'Right guys, let's try to write some fucking jokes.' VideoGamer has always been a bit irreverent. Our former reviews ed, Martin Gaston, said that the source code for Duke Nukem Forever ought to be fired into the sun, which everyone who read it agreed was a) pretty true and b) pretty funny."
VideoGamer.com removes review scores forever (it didn't really – this was filmed in response to this Eurogamer news)
But does that humour come at the expense of keeping ties with the games industry knotted tightly? Any games outlet needs a supply of software to keep it ticking over, and not to slip onto any publisher's blacklist for coming back to them with too great a fuck you one time too many.
"It has definitely wound some people up in the past," Miller says. "I won't name names, but it's hit and miss in terms of who gets it and who doesn't. There are a few professional outlets who can't fathom that a video game website would dare use humour. Some take it personally, even though everything we say or do is meant to be tongue-in-cheek."
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"All the ire I get is from random dafties," says Trinca. "It can get me down when it's really unnecessarily vindictive, body-shaming or that kind of thing, and anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest to that. But mostly I just laugh at the idea that someone out there feels so strongly about some stupid comment I made in a podcast or whatever that they need to write a six-paragraph response on YouTube, as if that's a productive way to spend your short time on Earth. When they're getting angry over something that's clearly not intended to be taken seriously, it's even funnier. I should feel bad for causing them to waste minutes of their patently wretched lives.
"Some folk are just fannies. It could be video games, it could be cars, whatever that sort of person is into they're going to take it too seriously and get worked up over silly rubbish. I'll take a tenner bet that there are folk out there, right now, threatening to batter each other over whether or not the Dyson Airblade is a better hand dryer than an Armitage Shanks model. I said the Dyson Airblade is shite on Twitter once, and some guy on there called me a dick and said I wasn't using it properly. People have strong feelings about toilet appliances."
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A recent highlight for the VG team was a sold-out event in London, where they got together to record a new podcast in front of a live audience, and later met the attendees to talk like regular human beings. It's a sign that VideoGamer's community is growing, likewise the rising viewing figures for their video content.
"Our community is superb, in part because they get it," Burns says. "They understand we're taking the piss out of our own lives as much as everyone else's, they understand our frustration at some games – and the coverage of them – being so bland and formulaic, because it's also their frustration. I think that they also like that most of the time we just don't give a fuck about what publishers, PR or internet pissbabies think."
VG Live was Miller's baby though – he arranged the event, his band played at it, and he personally emailed tickets and details to everyone who'd signed up to come. "We're all surprised by the community," he says. "Not only did people turn up to VG Live, but two came from Italy. If I had known someone was making that much effort, I'd have let them in for free. It's really humbling, but also a nice confidence boost that what we're doing is working. Our community is really passionate, which is important."
VideoGamer.com was started in late 2004, albeit called Pro-G until 2007, and its three co-founders remain at the company: Tom Orry is editorial director, his brother James the site's games editor, and Adam McCann is managing director. "A large part of what we do is thanks to Tom, James and Adam, the people that brought you VideoGamer to begin with," Miller says. "There's very little red tape, which benefits us hugely. There's a lot of work to get done, but it never really feels like work. We essentially get to be morons every day and there's a lot to be said for that. Given we're a small team, there's a real sense of camaraderie, too. It is like working with a bunch of friends who are all perfectly happy to send themselves up."
Trinca joined the company in early 2014 from Gamewank. "It doesn't feel like a job," he says. "It feels like band of mates with a silly hobby. Before coming to VG I never knew what it was like to be excited about going to work to finish a project, or to just look forward to seeing your pals again the next morning. I suppose in that sense it's a bit like being back at school, except there's no PE and the only written exam is when the games editor from VICE sends you an email full of questions about what it's like being a professional bellend."
Yeah, sorry about that. As the site's popularity increases though, is there not a significant risk that the viewing, and reading, and listening public will begin to believe that these characters the VG team is playing are actually them? The Simon Miller of The Miller Report is not the same Simon Miller you'll run into when he's not wearing the relevant shirt, and is, in Burns' words, "actually very intelligent".
The deputy editor continues: "We're all quite different from our characters. I'm not as much of an asshole, and Jim is a pivotal part of the crew and not just the camera wonk. His writing, editing and acting work is uniformly superb, even if he keeps referencing Kubrick, the fucking wank. Most people start off by presuming our characters are our natural personalities, or somewhat close, but, as with everything, VideoGamer takes the wrestling approach: amp up your default personality to outlandish levels and fuck around with what happens. I don't even own a helicopter. I know, I know."
I know it's pretty unusual for one games website, section or whatever (hi) to recommend checking out another, but several times a week the team at VideoGamer makes me laugh like a child at their good-natured absurdity and self-mocking piss-taking. I like these guys, the cuts of their varying jibs, and the way they talk about video games, when they're not being entirely serious-face, tickles me a great deal. These are games, after all, playthings – if you can't have fun with them, at least most of the time, you might as well give up now.
Visit VideoGamer.com, if you like.
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