Group Play

Group Play
Game and Watch

Richard McCormick | 23 Sep 2008 08:05
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Televised gaming in the West, in its current form, is broken. Dressed up in the ill-fitting clothes of existing formats and shuffled nervously around schedule arrangements, shows about videogames are the unwanted orphan children of broadcast entertainment, easier to pity than support.


Of course, it doesn't have to be like this. As we all know, videogames are a fluid, visually exciting medium; given the right treatment, they could easily transfer to broadcast. Take the whirlwind success of Texas hold' em poker as a precedent. Many credit the advent of the televised tournament for deconstructing the stigma behind poker, updating its image and kick-starting a multi-million dollar industry around the game.

Televised gaming has traditionally been hamstrung by the inherent difficulties of the television production process. Adam Doree, Director of gaming site and commentator on Games Night, a biweekly broadcast on the U.K.'s, notes that "television is locked into a production process which just makes everything difficult - production standards and broadcast requirements, footage rights, location permissions and all sorts of bloated costs and hidden difficulties."

This issue is compounded by the lack of desire among many in the West to take a gamble on gaming, seeing it as a young medium with a similarly juvenile fan base. Doree says, "There is still a perception by many grey haired bosses that gaming is not yet mainstream, and only as they are replaced does the process of achieving anything remotely cohesive become smoother."

The most recent attempt to present videogames to a small-screen audience, the Championship Gaming Series, embodies a number of these issues. Despite the large financial injection (and doubtless excellent intentions) behind the televised version of the tournament, the format exists in a peculiar state of indecision, resulting in televised irony: a show about gaming that refuses to show all of the games it purports to cover. The show refers to the viscerally "slow" Forza Motorsport 2, for example, only in the past tense. This throws up another key problem with existing videogames broadcasting - that of spectacle.

Videogames are a notably open and porous medium. From forums where players praise and deride developers for their design decisions to the current wave of viral "beat the developer" achievements tucked away in a host of Xbox 360 games, gaming offers uncommon access between creator and audience. It's not enough for gamers to be spectators even in the development process - they want to actively participate

This ethos extends to the living room as well; why watch when you can play? Assuming he or she owned the right hardware, everyone can engage directly with the videogames shown on television. So what is there that makes these images uniquely captivating without the need for interactivity? What gives televised gaming the edge over actually playing the thing, the pull factor that would yank the wandering eyes of both gamer and non-gamer to the TV set? As of yet, nothing.

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