Saturday, 9 October 2010

BBC Radio 1's Gaming Week: lazy, uninspired and embarrassing. Why bother?

We've just come to the end of Radio 1 Gaming Week. I know because the station's replaced its usual trails and promotional clips with whizzes and bangs gleaned from Sonic, Space Invaders, Mario and more, and the presenters seem intent on telling us that the station's suddenly gone games crazy.

I'm in two minds about it. After all, ten years ago a national station like Radio 1 wouldn't do something like this and, even now, it's arguably the only station that would attempt a week of coverage designed to appeal to gamers. Of course, there's always the potential for mainstream gaming coverage to go badly wrong, and that's if the industry is lucky enough to get any at all.

The trails make it sound great: early morning DJ, Dev, reels off a list of genres - they've mentioned turned-based strategy and FPS games! - and another voiceover hints at reviews and previews of the multitude of big games that'll be appearing over the horizon before Christmas.
In theory, then, it's an opportunity for gamers to enjoy, for once, decent coverage of their hobby from a mainstream media outlet.

In practise, my fears were confirmed. Radio 1's Gaming Week was embarrassing.

Take this quote from 1Xtra DJ Treble T, who is half of the Rampage team that presents most of the station's gaming coverage: "it's a role-playing game, similar to World of Warcraft, but not as fantastical. You have to survive and earn as many points as possible". What game is he talking about? EVE or Star Trek Online? An unreleased MMO such as Guild Wars 2?

No, it's legendary FPS Half-Life, which Treble T named in his top 10 games despite admitting that it's one he "hasn't played much".

That countdown also included Street Fighter, which apparently "first came out on the Sega Megadrive, and then the SNES", and Metal Gear Solid, which allegedly made its debut on PS2 and was "the first game that made it cinematic, [where] you had to follow the storyline and empathise with the main character". At least he identified Solid Snake correctly.

It's hardly worth bothering to pick holes in his clumsy comparison between World of Warcraft and Half-Life - or any of his other misinformed claims, for that matter - but further listening reveals that Treble T's constant inaccuracies are merely the tip of the iceberg.

A Mainstream Mess

Any Gaming Week coverage on The Chris Moyles Show, for instance, centres around promoting a Flash game called FTW2 - short for Fastest Time Wins, CAN YOU SEE WHAT THEY'VE DONE THERE HAHA - which is a sequel to a similar title made for last year's Gaming Week. It's a simple Mario Kart rip-off where you trundle around a track and try to beat the times scored by Radio 1 DJs, celebrities and the general public.

After launching Gaming Week on Monday, Moyles then spent Tuesday taking his team to task on a selection of Android phones loaded with SpeedForge 3D, a racing game in the same vein as PSX classic Wipeout. The challenge? Get a couple of non-gamers and make them tackle a SpeedForge circuit while answering questions. Although sportsreader Tina did seem to enjoy the game, the feature basically boiled down to listening to non-gamers playing a tricky racing game very badly.

Daytime DJ Greg James got in on the act, too, inviting Newsbeat technology reporter Dan Whitworth in on Tuesday to talk about the future of gaming. James got the piece off to a good start by declaring that it "sounds like a lecture" before asking if it was "going to be boring".

Credit to Whitworth, who explained Playstation Move and Microsoft Kinect reasonably well before James began interrupted, declaring that "old grannies like playing Wii" and that the likes of Move and Kinect wouldn't be "very good for fat, lazy gamers". He then ended the segment by admitting that "I don't think I'm a true gamer, really". For someone who spent plenty of time enthusing about Theme Hospital and Grand Theft Auto earlier in his show - and as someone who's meant to be promoting the station's Gaming Week - it's a disappointing statement.

Whitworth was back on Thursday, again with Greg James, to discuss 2010's biggest games, but he soon blotted his virtual copybook by declaring that Red Dead Redemption was a "great first person shooter". James continued his reign of error by claiming that Halo: Reach only sold so well because of "geeks queuing up" and then confessing that he'd never played Call of Duty. Even if that's true, mentioning it on air as you're discussing the next instalment in the series probably isn't a good move.

As for the rest of the daytime lineup, Scott Mills invited celebs to play a selection of console games against readers - which is, admittedly, quite a cool initiative - and Fearne Cotton posted her own time and confessed that she's rubbish at games. Thanks for that, Fearne.

Web two point oh dear

Radio 1's Gaming Week website is just as disappointing, with most of the page taken over by awful, old Flash games uploaded under the guise of nostalgia. It's actually pretty difficult to find any original content: there's a panel of old gaming videos from The 5:19 Show, and a link to a solitary photo gallery that highlights some of the ker-razy action that's been happening this week. Half of it's pictures of Radio 1 DJs playing FTW2, with the rest of the pictures made up of various celebrity guests playing a selection of console games.

To complement Gaming Week, Newsbeat's got in on the act and upped its level of coverage. Some stories don't really paint gaming in a positive light, though: one tackles the issue of gaming violence about fifteen years too late, and another bemoans the lack of women in the industry.

Much of the coverage earlier in the week centred around the age-old question of games addiction, although it's worth noting that the story Newsbeat posted is difficult to track down elsewhere, with some websites mocking it and others merely reproducing quotes. It's almost as if Newsbeat manufactured a story because Radio 1 needed some games-related coverage. By way of contrast, the previews of big titles are somewhat thin on the ground, with only a couple of stories and videos offering anything insightful.

I understand that Radio 1 has to appeal to the mainstream, and realise that there won't be any mentions of Minecraft or any other indie darlings, but the station's coverage of mainstream titles is still woeful, as Treble T's ham-fisted top 10, Greg James' lack of interest and Chris Moyles' mobile gaming feature all capably demonstrate. Other media firms can manage decent mainstream coverage, with the Guardian possibly the best example. The Telegraph does pretty well, too. In short, there's no excuse to not produce professional, mainstream coverage.

It doesn't help that much of Radio 1's mainstream gaming coverage takes place over on digital sister station 1Xtra - you know, the one that has 531,000 listeners compared to Radio 1's 10.7 million - on the weekday Rampage show. At least they've taken the time to talk about DJ Hero 2, Gran Turismo 5 and this year's FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer titles on their blog, even if other posts are clogged up by celebs picking up control pads and pretending to look interested.

Oh, and games journalists? Not allowed in the building, as is evidenced by the numerous spelling, grammatical and style errors littered through the gaming blog as well as Newsbeat's clich├ęd coverage. Johnny Minkley, Radio 1's regular gaming expert, seems to have been largely absent from the week, barring his usual Saturday slot on Jo Whiley's show, and it's not as if the UK is lacking in games journalists who could have given the radio and web coverage some extra credence with some genuinely interesting stories. Instead, it's Radio 1's regular hacks writing and broadcasting about subjects with telling unfamiliarity.

In short, it's a shambles. Attempts at genuine games coverage were hidden away on 1Xtra, which boasts an audience that's just 5% of its parent station's reach, and Radio 1's coverage veered between lazy, hackneyed attempts to tackle so-called "big issues" and pointless, celebrity-filled hawking of a sluggish and basic Flash game.

I said at the start of this post that it's commendable for Radio 1 to attempt its Gaming Week, and that the fact it's even happening reflects the esteem in which the gaming industry is now held. That's still true. Having listened, watched and read some of the station's coverage, though, I almost wish they hadn't bothered.

1 comment:

Marco said...

That Half Life quote is very, very cringe worthy. Why can't the mainsteam broadcast do it right?! At least the mainstream press is slowly getting there...