TV Video Game Shows – Where have they all gone? Part 1

Gaping Hole in TV Shedules

Once upon a time, in the mid 80′s to the mid 90′s videogames ruled. Schoolyards rang with arguments on which was better: The Commodore C64 or the Sinclair Spectrum and later: Nintendo or Sega. And as a result videogames were all over Free TV. It seemed that every Television station had their own videogame review show, from Channel 4′s Gamesmaster to ITV’s Bad Influence.

These pretty much followed a similar format: Late teens-early 20′s presenters, produced by people also in their mid twenties. “Wacky” camera angles and hyperactive editing were also de rigueur. The shows consisted of reviews by presenters (and often times by kids that were in the audience of the show), news about up and coming games and consoles and, invariably, a games guru who dispensed tips or cheats for various games (In the case of Gamesmaster the guru was astronomer Sir Patrick Moore with his face superimposed on an animated floating head).

As many games developers at the time (and still to this day) were based in the UK the shows had many interviews with publishers that went on to become huge in the gaming industry. In general the shows were accepted by their youthful target audience and were successful mainly because the people involved had a genuine interest in gaming. Many presenters and producers went on to work with gaming publishers or gaming magazines or even start up their own gaming companies. Gareth Jones, another youth TV presenter went on to work with (and marry) Bad Influences’ Violet Berlin and they produced a couple of games related TV shows. Gamesmaster’s Dominik Diamond still writes for gaming magazines and produced a couple of games shows on satellite TV.

The shows were cheap to produce: Normally the presenters and production teams were straight out of media college and this was their first job. Sets normally consisted of some cool lighting, a few sofas, a couple of each of the current gaming consoles/computers, a couple of TV screens and normally two or three handheld cameras. Games companies were more than willing to go on the show or release copies of their games for review as it was free publicity.

And then, almost overnight, they disappeared. There were a number of reasons for this in my opinion. The Sega Megadrive (Genesis in the US) and Nintendo SNES were the main consoles at the time. The C64 and the Spectrum had gone the way of the dinosaur, the Atari ST and Amiga and PC were just too expensive and the Playstation, N64 and Sega’s doomed Dreamcast were still a couple of years away. While initially the games coming out for the Megadrive and SNES were very new and innovative and the graphics and sound amazing compared to the C64/Speccy they soon fell into a bit of a rut. Streetfighter 2 came out and suddenly it seemed that most of the games coming out were fighters.

The graphics were beginning to look a bit dated at this stage and the games were getting more and more expensive and out of reach of the initial core market. The core market (12-14 yearold boys) soon grew up and moved on to cheaper forms of entertainment: sports, music and girls. When the playstation came out games were well and truly out of the price range of this original audience and the new gaming audience, mid teens, wasn’t interested in TV so the TV show audience left in droves and, within a couple of years all those insane, hyperactive, jolt-cola induced videogame shows were gone.

But I say it’s time they made a comeback. As they say on TV. Stay tuned for part two

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