INTERVIEW - Charlie Brooker (Part 2)

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW - Charlie Brooker (Part 2)

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


MCV: As you’ve said on Twitter, the viewing numbers for Gameswipe were better than those enjoyed by either Screenwipe or Newswipe.


CB: Newswipe was on earlier in the year and at its peak I think it would get 320,000 viewers, something like that. I’m not sure of its normal numbers – I try not to pay too much attention to ratings, but anything under 250,000 they describe as ‘variable’. It’s frustrating that we can tell exactly how many people are watching but they’re not allowed to publish the figures.

MCV: So if the BBC could be cajoled into doing more Gameswipe it seems that you enjoyed it and you’d like to get involved?

CB: I doubt I would do a whole series. Because, well… never say never.  It’s an interesting one. Could I do a series? I suppose actually I could do a short series. This is all up for discussion. I can’t say too much, but I was taken back by the response. Since it went out I’ve spoken to a couple of other people who would be very good for appearing on the show.

MCV: That’s something I was going to come to. We had Dara and Graham on the show – are there lots of gaming celebs out there that we don’t know about?

CB: Jonathan Ross is a big one. He quite often talks about it. He used to collect obscure machines. I think he’s got a PC Engine and a Neo Geo.

MCV: A colleague of mine had a very enthused conversation with him about Japanese 2D shooters at the BAFTAs last year.

CB: Well there you go. He’s a well-known one. We wanted to get on some more ladies. I really enjoyed Rebecca Mayes’ song. We were going to have more women. At one point we had a plan to reunite the Bits girls. Of the three Aleks Grotowski is now a tech writer and Emily Newton-Dunn is a producer at Criterion.

MCV: You’re known in the games industry, or at least amongst games journalists, as the one who made it…

CB: [Laughs] The one who got through!

MCV: The one who escaped! Are you comfortable being seen as “that TV critic who also plays games”?

CB: I suppose it’s like a nerdy stink of shame that hangs around me! It’s a weird one. I recently found out that Simon Munnery used to write Spectrum games. But would I be comfortable being seen as the gaming man? I suppose I wouldn’t necessarily have an aversion to it.

It’s tricky – I know that if I were to do a Gameswipe series I know it would take up a lot of time. And I’ve got all sorts of other things I want to do – though maybe shouldn’t be doing. So it would maybe be a time thing for me more than anything. Though there’s also the question of whether any channel would be willing to put a games show on. I’d certainly be interested in helping to develop a show, though not necessarily with me in it. I know there are lots of talented people out there who could do a job, other comedians who could front something.

I’ll often write about games in my Guardian column. I’ve got a book that has just come out and at the back I’ve chucked in a load of game-related articles. It sounds like I’m promoting my book!

MCV: You’re entitled to.

CB: I’ve got a new collection out. I did Screenburn and Dawn of the Dumb and now I’ve got another one out and at the end of that I’ve got a gaming appendix. There are a couple of articles I wrote about games for the Guardian that I’ve collected in one place.

MCV: When it comes to games journalism – both the specialist stuff, online and the mainstream coverage in the papers – is there any stuff nowadays that you do keep an eye on? Any sites that you follow or mags you read?

CB: I don’t tend to read reviews in depth. Every so often I’ll get that itch when I’ll wonder what’s come out recently so I’ll check game rankings or something like that and do it quite democratically. I’ll then read the highest scoring review and the lowest one to work out if I’m going to buy it. I’m not that aware of the personalities behind them. Having said that, I like reading Kieron Gillen’s stuff and things like UK: Resistance and Yahtzee on The Escapist. I was about to say there aren’t many personalities around but clearly there are. But I don’t religiously turn to the same person each time.

With something like Zero Punctuation you watch it to be entertained, not so much for guiding buying decisions – which again is an interesting shift. I mean, people don't watch Screenwipe to find out what to watch.

Occasionally we’ll recommend stuff because it’s brilliant like The Wire or Mad Men but it’s not like a guide as to what to watch. The more I think about it, though, there should be games that are the cost of a DVD and the length of a DVD.

MCV: Well that sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. Just look at the iPhone and the new breed of digital content.


CB: Games don’t realise how off-putting the complexity of games is to people who don’t regularly play them. Every gamer has experienced this, and again this is something we were going to put in the show. You introduce someone to something like Grand Theft Auto and they haven’t played a game since Streets of Rage when they were a student.

You sit there with them and within minutes you’re going: “No, press that button. No, that one. No, you’ve gone into crouch. No, don’t do that. That’s the map. No, you can’t run in that door. Why not? Well, you just can’t. It’s part of the scenery. I know you could run in the other door, but you can’t go in that one. Why? Because you just can’t.”

You have to sit there biting your tongue as they point the camera at the ground and run into walls. You forget how difficult games are to the non-gamer. We were doing a thing for Newswipe with Adam Curtis, the documentary maker who made Power of Nightmares and is a very brainy man. He’d heard about BioShock and was interested in its political philosophy and things like that – objectivism and the like. He was interested in playing it to see what they’d done with that. I told him to get it – I wonder if he did. I should ask him.

MCV: I occasionally go through periods of trying to cajole my girlfriend into playing games with me. She loves football so I tried to get her into PES not long ago and it was the silly things that made her stumble – stuff like how the cursor changes in ways she can’t predict and in ways she sees as being outside of her control. It only lasted about two minutes before she was pulling her hair out and getting very grumpy.

CB: Do you find you sort of have an attitude where you say “stick with it, it’s good for you”?

MCV: It’s all you can do.

CB: You’ll pass through that wall of understanding, honest! It’s like learning a language. We’ve done it. We’ve played games for years. We know the shorthand. There was a bit of the show we had to lose where we talked about this. I know that if you’re running around and the camera’s in the wrong place I know that there will be an option to centre it behind me. A non-gamer isn’t going to now that unless they’ve poured over the manual. I don’t have to read the manual to know that.

MCV: I’m guessing by the fact that you chose to dedicate so much of Gameswipe to help people understand that means that this lack of understanding and these barriers is something that frustrates you?

CB: Yes. I don’t know the way round it, exactly. It’s a quandary and one for games developers as a whole. The closest analogy really is that it’s like we’ve learnt a language. Gamers are people who’ve learnt Esperanto. There are these brilliant films being released in Esperanto and to try and introduce a non-Esperanto speaker to them is frustrating because they’re going to give up. They don’t understand it. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid and it doesn’t mean they’re bad at games. They just haven’t put in the ground work.

Something like the Wii in that respect – you can see why that’s been a huge success, though not really with gamers, because it does remove that whole barrier. For me you can put an Xbox or PS3 controller in my hand and I don’t have to look at it, but for a non-gamer it’s daunting. If you imagine that you’d never seen a machine before and someone just passed it to you and said “there you go” you’d be like “What? How?” Imagine an alien controller you have to play with your face. Being given that – that’s what a non-gamer feels like when you put an Xbox 360 pad into their hands.

Not everyone involved in the production of Gameswipe was a games player. The producer, for instance, hasn’t really played any games before. Nick Hornsmith, who produced Newswipe, he’s not a regular gamer, though he got into the idea of it through doing the show. He was saying that the thing that put him off getting into games is that they were worried they’d end up “wasting” hours and hours and hours. Take GTA again – it’s one of the most successful and popular games that there is but that still is to the public, I would guess, utterly baffling.

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

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