Evolution's a strange thing. Whether of ideas, people, animals or systems, evolution doesn't care about aesthetics. It also doesn't care about last week. Evolution is about going forward. Winning. Crushing your enemies and taking their women.


It's no different in mass entertainment.

In 1946, the people of Earth took nearly 5 billion trips to the movies. This pinnacle - not in terms of quality or even box-office gross, but the sheer number of eyeballs on screens - has never been surpassed before or since. 5 billion people. Twice the actual population of the globe at the time. In 1946, movies were king. Who wouldn't want to be part of that?

Then television, which had been waiting in the wings until cheap mass-production resumed after World War II, moved in like a wasp-shaped buzz saw. Once you bought your set, TV was effectively free. You didn't have to leave your house or talk to strangers, just jack into the mainline and let the Milton Berle flow. It took less than 10 years for this entertainment/revenue model to rip the spine out of movies, and they've never really recovered.

Countless things have been said about TV's dominance of the last 50 years, about the low-quality, omnipresent buzz that the Tube mainlines into its addicts. One of my favourites is the speech on public good that Newton Minow, head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, gave to network bosses:

When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons ...

That speech was given in 1961, four months after John F. Kennedy took office. It could have been given yesterday. It could been given in 1991, when I was 12 and Roseanne, Cheers, Murphy Brown and Home Improvement were the top-rated non-news shows on U.S. television.

I might not have paid much attention, though. I wasn't watching much TV in 1991, mainly because some guy named Sid Meier had created a game called Civilization. Civilization was a full-on brain surge. I played a hundred hours the first year alone.

Complacent, half-assed Home Improvement on the one hand, buzz saw Civilization on the other. Somewhere, the ghost of 1946 was tasting blood and cackling with glee.


We started making Screenshot. The videogame/TV relationship became closer and more complicated.

The production crew were professional, efficient and fun. It was a job and they were good at it. They'd tell you great stories on the side like who's really gay (everyone) and which glamorous yet down-to-earth person likes loading up on NyQuil and seducing sheep. They didn't really care about videogames; videogames were just that month's production challenge.

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