INTERVIEW – Charlie Brooker (Part 1)

For Part Two of our Charlie Brooker interview, click here.
For Part Three of our Charlie Brooker interview, click here.

In Part One of our three part interview, we discuss what Brooker makes of the criticism of the show and find out that gaming hasn’t always been seen as something for the kids…

MCV: First off, we really loved Gameswipe at MCV, though I’ll admit that there were some split opinions.

CB: Well, of course. It was a weird thing to do, partly because it was a one-off. You sort of realise early on that it was really aimed at people who don’t necessarily play games, but equally you think quite quickly that, you know, gamers are going to watch it as well. So it was a bit weird as you realise that if you don’t play games you really literally know nothing about them. I felt we almost had to explain what they were. It was a weird balancing act that we had to do.

MCV: Absolutely. Of the criticism that Gameswipe did receive most of it was from ardent gamers, with some saying that they didn’t need to be told what a game is. But I watched the show with my girlfriend who knows of games through me but doesn’t really have an interest – at the end of it she felt that she knew a lot more about it. Whereas I, of course, enjoyed it for other reasons. The way you hit both audiences was spot on.

CB: Oh good. There’s a bit where I say that lots of people don’t know what these genres are. And people like hearing things just being read out. Apart from anything else it was a novelty, being able to drop in shots of games like Skool Daze on the Spectrum. You literally just don’t often see stuff like that on the TV.

MCV: Agreed. Mentions of games like Flower were great.

CB: We were keen to get in some stuff like that. If we’d had a bit more time to put the show together I’d probably have replaced either the 50 Cent of Wolfenstein review with something else because there was quite a skew towards games that are quite funny. It’s what we do on Screenwipe, to focus on shows that are quite flabbergasting.

MCV: With regards to games TV up until this point, I’ll presume – hopefully correctly – that you think it’s as dire as I do?

CB: Pretty much. I liked Videogaiden and what I’ve seen of Consolevania. But the problem is that all games shows, basically, have been aimed at teenagers or children.

It’s interesting – when you look back at the BBC archives the first thing we found, was the Electric Revolution piece from 1973 where you had Raymond Baxter playing Pong. He doesn’t present it as a recreation for children.

Then we got in a load of Micro Lives , which was a show from the ‘80s where they didn’t really cover games very much – it was mainly about buying a BBC Micro so you could do a spreadsheet or something. It was all very responsible and very British and very BBC. It had this slightly disapproving air when it came to video games.

There was one thing we were going to use that we didn’t which was a clip from Micro Lives where they review some video games for Christmas and they have a journalist from Punch in a bow-tie. He sits there saying it’s all terribly silly, talking to Ian McNaughton. You don’t see clips from any of the games. They’re just discussing what a load of silly nonsense they are.

But they’re not discussing them as being aimed at children – they’re very much seen as for adults. So it’s interesting to see that when you go back the very first coverage we had of games wasn’t assuming they were for children. That belief was something that cam about in the late ‘80s.

MCV: When it became a bit more commercialised?

CB: Yes. That was when Sonic the Hedgehog arrived. I think really Sonic the Hedgehog is to blame in making people assume games are for children.

MCV: Another thing that struck me about the show was that there an obvious affection and interest in gaming from you but at the same time your style of humour and presentation is based in cynicism. Did you have difficulty combining the fact that you’re obviously sympathetic towards games but people at home are expecting you to rip the piss out of them?

CB: Well, yes and no really. With the reviews, which I felt I hit my stride with so it’s a shame it’s a one-off, it really was quite different from doing a Screenwipe review. Think about the logic – I’m in my flat and you’re watching me play a game. I’ve got to have a controller in my hand.

When I’m doing Screenwipe I’m passively watching footage and then glancing down the lens of the viewer. Obviously because of the way it’s constructed I’m not actually watching footage – it just looks like I am. It would be a nightmare to edit if I was. It would be impossible. It just needs to look like I’m watching it live in the room.

With Gameswipe it was a similar thing. I was playing a lot of those games whilst recording the footage of them but I wasn’t playing them live whilst I was talking about them. It sounds weird, but pretending I’m playing games live whilst talking about them – you can’t do both. Look at the footage of gamers playing games in old shows.

One of them says something like Games are realistic and not realistic so it’s good to kill people but not think about killing them the next day”. Often gamers came across as inarticulate because they were being interviewed as they were trying to play a game. You can’t concentrate on both at the same time.

Also, on Screenwipe often what I’m doing is undercutting the seriousness of a programme or mocking an individual who’s on a programme. In games you don’t really have characters so much. We used 50 Cent as it has got a very clear character in it. It’s a different consideration you have to do when you’re doing a review of a game.

If I was doing more of this what I’d like to do is get in more bits like in the Wolfenstein review when I’m bored during a cut scene so I start running around and jumping up and down. It’s the sort of observation that lots of people can relate to. I think we got there in the end.

MCV: Arguably my favourite part was Dara Briain talking about Gears of War and the content he couldn’t access as he couldn’t beat the Beserker.

CB: I saw that he’s come in for a lot of stick about that. That seemed to open up the biggest debate.

MCV: It was as if a lot of the core games audience had the feeling that he hadn’t earned his place on the show because he wasn’t hardcore enough.

CB: It’s weird – clearly Dara plays a lot of games. Anyone who saw him at the video games BAFTAs will have seen him open with a whole routine about video games. It was a good 10 or 15-minute routine. I had no idea he was such a committed games player but he absolutely is. He totally knows his stuff. Yet you saw people online saying that well if he’s shit at games he shouldn’t play them”. That’s totally the wrong attitude. I could completely understand where he’s coming from.

I’m a browser. I tend to buy anything good that comes out but very rarely will I complete things. Very rarely. There was something I wanted to get into the show that we didn’t have time to do which was to do with why games are now seen as something for younger people. And it’s partly because as you get older you have less spare time. If I’ve got a game that’s 40 hours long, that’s a commitment and a half.

MCV: Indeed. I’ve got a three year old and my gaming has really suffered since she arrived.

CB: Exactly. So wouldn’t you like it if there were

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