INTERVIEW - Charlie Brooker (Part 3)

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW - Charlie Brooker (Part 3)

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

MCV: Name me some of your favourite games.

CB: Oh god, loads. One of my favourite games, that we had to lose from the show, is Fallout 3. It was brilliant. Brilliantly brilliantly done. We had a whole little bit in Gameswipe that we had to cut out where I talked about it. My favoured platform at the moment is the Xbox 360 just because most things are available for it and it’s convenient. I’m not a big fan of the Wii. I mean, it’s fun to start with and it’s great to get non-gamers playing.

MCV: It’s great for those rare occasions when you feel strangely compelled to play games with your mum and dad.

CB: It’s good for Christmas. One of my favourite series of all time is the Burnout series. Also brilliant. Very visceral, though I did find the last one a bit confusing. Getting lost in the middle of a race…

MCV: I couldn’t get used to the fact I had to study a map in the heat of a high-intensity race. It didn’t quite work for me.

CB: I wanted the routes that I couldn’t take blocked off. I don’t mind a bit of choice but I didn’t like having to memorise where all the shortcuts are. I’m not doing The Knowledge. I’m a big first person shooter fan. I probably came across as quite negative on Wolfenstein as it’s not a brilliant game but I enjoyed it. I really liked World at War and Modern Warfare. I can’t wait for the sequel. It’s about to be renaissance time again – it’s that time of year when loads of games come out.

MCV: What have you got your eyes on over the next few weeks?

CB: Scribblenauts – I like the idea of that. I play on the DS all of the time. Stuff like Professor Layton or Scrabble. Scrabble is not particularly well realised on the DS but because it’s Scrabble I love it. It’s fiddly and awkward and not set up correctly. As far as I understand you can’t even play two players on one bloody DS. It’s ridiculous. I might even buy the new FIFA game.

MCV: I tell you what – you should play FIFA 10. It’s amazing.

CB: I hate football and haven’t played a football game in years but I thought I might just dip my toe in to see how they’re doing.

MCV: If you haven’t played one in years it will be an absolute revolution for you compared to even just five years ago.

CB: I was looking at it thinking “oh hello there”, perhaps I do fancy a bit of that. I’ve heard lots of good things about Uncharted 2. I never played the first one. I’ve got a PS3 but it’s slightly unloved as I only have one HDMI socket on my TV and it’s a bit of pain having to swap them round.

MCV: How about something like Assassin’s Creed 2? I adored the first one. Did you play that?

CB: I did. I thought it was sort of OK. I didn’t get that far into it. Anything that comes out like that which is groundbreaking, or apparently groundbreaking, I have to buy it. I’m now getting to the point where I buy games and don’t end up playing them.

For instance, LittleBigPlanet and Resident Evil 5 – they’re both on my shelf and I haven’t touched them. LittleBigPlanet because I lost it and Resident Evil because I’ve heard it’s not good. The idea is too daunting. It’s like getting started on a DVD box set.

Assassin’s Creed I thought was alright, but there’s a lot of walking around and zooming in and out whilst someone babbles on at you about who he wants you to go and stab next. It’s also slightly stealthy – that’s another piece we had to cut out of the show, a piece about stealth. I find stealth games incredibly annoying. I just don’t have the patience. Stealth games make me feel guilty. The very nature of it means you’re lurking in the shadows and you don’t want to get caught. I just can’t help feeling guilty. They make me feel like a guilty man.

MCV: What have you played recently that you really disliked?

CB: Well, even with that 50 Cent game the mechanics themselves aren’t that bad. Most games have got a plus side. I don’t tend to buy things, well…

MCV: If they’re shit?

CB: Well, yes, if they’re shit. Sometimes I might buy a game that’s a bit shit but there’s some aspect of the content that I like. There was a game called Sniper on the original Xbox…

MCV: Sniper Elite?

CB: That’s it. I love sniping. I could snipe all day long. Sniper Elite wasn’t great but because of the content I really liked that. The last thing I would have been disappointed in would have been something I’d downloaded off Xbox Live. Now, there’s something that interests me – the indie gaming stuff. It reminds me of the old days of the Spectrum. Again, we were going to chuck a bit in Gameswipe about that. There was so much to cover.

MCV: There’s easily enough content for another episode of Gameswipe!

CB: Yeah. Well, I was thinking about whether we want to do a follow up. I mean, would I do stuff about games in Screenwipe’s Review of the Year? There probably isn’t room to be honest. We’re trying to cover every TV programme of the year in half an hour. But there’s a lot of stuff in games to cover.

MCV: How do you feel about Sony and Microsoft’s upcoming efforts to integrate motion control into their games?

CB: Project Natal? Flippin’ ‘eck, I tell you what – have you seen that other video with the family? The one where the kid picks up the skateboard? Fuck me, that looks like a hateful scenario. Fuck that. Sitting around saying “Hey dad, I’m driving a car. Now for the pit stop. In you get.” Just awful. We were going to do a little skit about the idea of doing something illegal in that context – you could accidentally end up molesting someone in-game.

It’s all very well that natal can recognise your skeleton and that it puts you in the game and so on and so fourth and I can absolutely understand how that’s brilliant for something like Wii Fit. But beyond that I think it’s a party game at best. It cannot surely be accurate enough? A lot of games require precision. A lot of Wii games, for me, border on Dragon’s Lair. I can’t see that everything’s going to go that way. It’s fine if it’s another thing that gets people into gaming.

I just immediately thought that the pornographic applications of this are positively frightening. Porn is always what drives these things. Imagine if there’s a game where someone comes home and they’re standing in their room with their dick out whilst they’re fellated on the screen by an entire youth orchestra. It’s going to be just horrible. It’s all very saccharine in that video but it’s opening the door. Most video game world are not really that nice, much the same as with books and movies.

MCV: Another criticism made of Gameswipe was that it focused a lot on violence, such as that disturbing YouTube video of that guy commentating on the slaughter in an FPS.

CB: I was looking through lots of news reports from the ‘90s where they were talking about violence in games. Anna Ford seemed to be popping up every ten minutes to tell you about some fresh horror. When GTA and Carmageddon and things like that came out it was a novelty that we suddenly had games that were deliberately giving themselves an 18 certificate. Oh, we have to deliver drugs. Oh, we have to kill people. We’re supposed to, rather than it being a naughty thing that you can do in the game.

Since then there’s been less fear and scaremongering than there could be. Look at the Fox news report on Mass Effect. It’s quite notorious. They claim that Mass Effect contains full-frontal nudity and sex and they’re jabbering on about it in totally uninformed terms. They think it’s a sex simulator. We had a bit taking the piss out of that but we dropped it.

Look at the bit in the Wolfenstein review where I’m chopping limbs off or something like World at War – to a non-gamer that is shocking. Very very shocking. When you put that on screen there is no getting around the fact. It’s shocking material. You would not get away with that in a film of TV programme, not that level of violence.

The Call of Duty games are fucking tasteless. I really like them, but there is something really uncomfortable in that when levels are loading in World at War it shows you real footage of people being shot. Real war footage. That’s like a snuff movie, man.

It purports to be, at some level, a realistic portrayal of war. You know, most soldiers in a war don’t kill anyone. Most people scarcely pull the trigger. But how many people do you kill in a Call of Duty game? About 10,000 people. Let’s not beat about the bush – it’s fucking tasteless. There’s a line where I say I enjoy it, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to let people watch me enjoying it.

The minute you put it on TV, if you’re saying there’s no problem with this then you’re lying. As a games player I initially thought that I wouldn’t have a problem with the violence. But when you’re sitting in the edit suite and you’re putting this footage in you realise that the BBC has to be informed about the amount of violence in the show. And it is incredibly gory and incredibly graphic. There’s that whole section in World of War where you’re burning people to death – it’s fucking intense. It’s meant to be and it’s an experience – and I enjoy it – but let’s not beat about the bush. It’s hardcore material.

Maybe we did focus too much on violent games – given more time we would have lost the Wolfenstein review and done something else. But let’s not get away from the fact that a lot of games are bloody violent.

I’m not saying they should be toned down or should be censored or whatever, but I’m not an ambassador for the games industry. My job is not to go on TV and say that “some people think video games are too violent, but no they’re not!” because, well, maybe they are. Certainly the level of violence depicted in them is way beyond what you would see in a film, but by gamers it is accepted. So I guess there is a wider question there – is that right?

Our producer felt physically sick at the footage from Madworld, and he’s in now any an uptight guy. He’s very relaxed, not a Daily Mail reader. He was like “My god, this cannot be good for you”. I believe that if you play an incredibly violent game it’s either going to depress you or you’re going to find it cathartic. I don’t think it’s going to make you go out and start blasting people to pieces, I really don’t.

The people who criticised the level of violence in the show should bare in mind that one of the reasons we did this is that it’s spectacular to show, and two it is a bit of an open goal for the media. Some people were commentating that “it wasn’t very helpful to show that” from the point of view of promoting the standing of games. Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not making an advert that says something like “you should move your company to Wales” and show pictures of the rolling hills but ignore things like the drug problem in Cardiff. That’s not what the show was doing.

I was hoping it would be entertaining first and foremost, and to explain what games are to people who don’t know them and interesting to those who do. But it’s not my job to say “Hey everyone, all games are brilliant and here’s why you should play them!” That’s not my job.

MCV: Were you pleased when you sat down and watched the final edit of the show?

CB: Yeah. I mean there’s bits and bobs I would change. We went over with the editing time. It took longer than we thought it would and we still didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to put it together. I came straight off the back of You’ve Been Watching and that was more demanding of my time than I thought it would be. Really I should have gone on holiday for a week. I’d been working seven days a week for ten weeks when I started on Gameswipe so I was, as you can imagine, a bit frazzled.

Given the chance I’d probably re-record 80 per cent of it but, you know, you put out what you put out. I don’t think it’s the funniest episode of anything I’ve ever done but as it’s the first time we’d done video games like that we were finding our feet the whole way and discovering how to do it. I’d be interested in having another crack in maybe a one-off show or a short series.

MCV: We’d certainly like to see another one.

CB: Like I say, I know the BBC did notice how well it went down and they got very good feedback. There’s clearly an audience for games stuff. But when that will be I don’t know.

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


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