Charlie Brooker: How Videogames Changed the World

How Videogames Changed the World was a two hour look through the history of computer games, presented by Charlie Brooker. We recorded it from Channel 4 on Saturday and it was very much made to be aired around the release dates of PS4 & Xbox One – and Sony had definitely bought a lot of the advertising spots in the breaks! I’d not actually had high hopes going into watching it – I mean, a mainstream programme about games might miss the mark. But it was clearly not just about games, but also by gamers – all the participants “got it”.

The format was a countdown of 25 significant games – although it was almost treated like it was supposed to be a chart it was really a chronological sequence. Most of the first hour of the show was a nostalgia filled trot through my childhood, and then the second half had a lot of games J or I have bought as adults. Very much the target audience for the programme 🙂 As well as Brooker there were lots of other contributors – some games industry figures (journalists or developers) and some relatively random celebrities (most of whom I didn’t know of). Well, they had a love of games & gaming, so not entirely random, but …

As someone who has spent a lot of her life playing computer games it was nice to find few things I’d quibble at. I think the biggest hole I’d pick in the list is that it’d be nice to’ve had something from the simulation/strategy/god game niche that wasn’t just The Sims. I mean, I can see they wanted to talk about The Sims (and had stuff to say specifically about it), but nothing about Civ or Populous or Sim City and not even name checking those felt like an oversight. In general tho I agreed with their choices – they were good or iconic, or in some cases neither but perfectly illustrated the point being made.

It wasn’t just a history of how games have changed, I thought the programme did a good job of showing how they fitted into the culture around them at the time and of illustrating how they’d affected the world. There are many positive ways that games have changed things – Minecraft was one major example used here, because it’s not just a game it can be used to teach things too. And just in general games are more interactive and less passive than, for instance, TV watching. I did have issues with the dismissal of books as less immersive than games, tho 😉

They also spent a bit of time on most of the big issues around gaming and gaming culture – not just the positive aspects of gaming. Obviously they covered the moral panic over video game violence, and equally obviously as a programme by gamers it was heavily on the side of how foolish this moral panic is. But even so space was given to examples that did cross lines – because the point is not that all games are OK for everyone, it’s that demonising all games because of a few is like saying every film ever made is pornographic because filmed porn exists. Another issue discussed was the way that gaming culture can be seen as a bit of a cesspit. The two strands of that that they discussed were again the obvious ones. The treatment of women gamers and particularly women gaming journalists can be abysmal, and CoD on Xbox Live in particular is notorious for foul mouthed teenagers. This is just a vocal minority, as they said on the programme, but it can seem relentless at times and probably more so from the outside.

The last “game” on the list was Twitter, which I felt was a bit of a cop-out and didn’t (to me) actually illustrate their point very well. The point Brooker & co were trying to make was that with the rise of social media and so on more of our day to day life has been gamified. I think there is a point there, but I’m not sure for most people Twitter is that thing. All the people speaking on the programme were in some ways celebrities – in the sense that people will follow them on Twitter because of what or who they are not because of a personal connection. So they were all discussing how things like follower counts are like game scores, and projecting a persona is like having a game avatar or playing an RPG, and you craft tweets for maximum impact. And, well, I’m not sure normal people do that? Maybe everyone else does, I do barely use Twitter myself, so I could be way off base here. What did strike me is how the public in that game of Twitter are the coupons that prove you’re winning (or not) – we’re like the gold coins that Mario collects. Which didn’t seem to be the point Brooker was making, but it’s an interesting one to me.

A good programme, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a look at a culture that’s one of my own 🙂

Other TV watched this week:

The Science of Doctor Who – a lecture by Brian Cox about the physics of space time, and the Fermi paradox.

Episode 1 of Tudor Monastery Farm – part re-enactment, part documentary about what life would be like living on and running a farm in 1500.

The last episode of David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy – which covered the 19th and 20th Century.