Do video games need to be covered by more conventional means?
At this year’s PAX East, I attended a Firefall presentation from the guys over at Red 5 Studios. It was your standard fare until company founder Mark Kern moved away from Firefall and started chatting about another Red 5 initiative: Stage 5 TV.
For the uninitiated, this is Red 5’s YouTube channel, which started as a way to highlight Firefall but is now bringing high-quality production values to YouTube, with shows like Game Changers—a cross between MythBusters and Top Gear that focuses on videogames tropes—and Project Cosplay, which highlights the unique problems involved with creating high-quality cosplay.
The idea of Stage 5 is all well and good, but I zeroed in on something Kern said during the presentation: “We’re trying to bring network-quality programming to the Web.” My first thought in response to that was: If it’s network-quality programming, why not put it on an actual network?!
However, after my initial scoffing faded away, I started thinking that with the recent “restructuring” of G4 into Esquire, the only game-related content we have on actual TV anymore is Geoff Keighley’s GTTV and the occasional Jimmy Fallon segment on Late Night. Then there’s radio, which is even more of a wasteland for gamers, with just a single, two-hour show on Sirius XM that focuses more on geek culture as a whole.
Could it be that videogames don’t need TV and radio to promote themselves beyond the handful of pre-order commercials we get for major franchises? Games have permeated every other aspect of popular culture rather successfully, and they’re now the largest entertainment industry in the world, with billions of dollars raked in annually.
I’d argue that until games are better represented in the mainstream media, however, they’ll never truly reach their full potential. As much as we in the gaming press are surrounded by the constant celebration of the industry from various conventions and events, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple truth that not everyone plays videogames.
I meet people all the time who still look down on me and my colleagues for what we do, or who tell me they’ve never played a game or don’t like games. And I’m not talking about my 81-year-old grandmother—I’m talking about people in my age group of 18-to-34-year old males, widely considered the key demographic always cherished by advertisers.
On the other hand, I’ve never met someone who hasn’t gone to a movie, watched TV, or listened to a CD or MP3. Sure, there’s the school of thought that those have a lower barrier of entry. Videogames require at least some semblance of skill, whereas those other activities fit perfectly into the American lifestyle of getting something for nothing.
And with TV becoming ever more saturated with talent/singing competitions and matchmaking shows that appeal to this lowest common denominator, it’s harder and harder to have something different. In today’s media world, Seinfeld—widely considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all time—would’ve been canceled after the first season, since it didn’t show signs of becoming a primetime powerhouse until season three.
Then there’s the argument that videogame shows can’t work on TV. Many would point to G4’s disastrous run the past few years. But G4’s failure wasn’t because of its game-oriented programming like Attack of the Show or X-Play; it was because the Comcast/NBC/Universal pinheads ran the channel into the ground. They lacked the foresight to actually properly promote a network instead of burying it as low as the 400s on some cable providers. Not to mention that they started caring more about their bottom line, and running COPS and Cheaters reruns was cheaper than investing in original programming.
Yes, ours is a young industry compared to those other mediums. There’s been a backlash against new mediums since the literal dawn of history, as people have difficulty adjusting to change. Even the great ancient Greek philosopher Socrates despised those newfangled contraptions called “books,” but once they became popular in the mainstream, they caught on pretty well.
The game industry has traditionally grown faster than other mediums, taking advantage of technology and innovating in order to accommodate its ravenous base of consumers. So, could the industry grow into the accepted culture gradually? Of course. But why wait? By similarly capitalizing on already popular fields like TV, radio, and movies, games could reach that same level of acceptance. We just need someone to utilize the tools and take a chance.