Gaming Shows are Dead! Long Live Gaming Shows!

By: George Weidman

Last month, it was announced that ”Pure Pwnage” got turned into a movie while G4TV got kicked off the air.

This is the environment that birthed Super Bunnyhop. If we’re truly living in a time of digital media revolution, then there must be no better example than the rousing world of gaming television. G4’s decade-long struggle to broadcast video games on the flickering blue box on which they were born on was problematic from the start. Halfway through its life, the network gradually steamrolled into a self-destructive mess.

The early days of G4 were full of promise. Watching a midnight loop of “Cinamatech,” (which, come to think of it, was basically a screensaver of game advertisements) was far more exciting than it should’ve been. After sitting through a few interviews on “Pulse,” then a surprisingly flat-faced documentary about Mario on “Icons,” then a batty review on “X-Play,” I was hooked.

Perhaps it was sheer childish enthusiasm, but for any disillusioned millennial who grew up weaned more towards video games rather than television, it looked like a revolution. Finally, TV shows about something I like! And they were legit, made by people who knew and respected games. “I can actually watch this stuff!” I thought.

But there was always something a bit off about the network. Attempts at comedy were cringeworthy and occurred way too often. Product placement was rampant and the commercials were noticeably classless.

G4’s ratings were always low. A tragic soap opera of name changes, reboots and format switches failed to attract the young male demographic that never seemed to want to watch their shows. At some point in 2006, gaming’s own television channel decided to no longer be about gaming at all. Three of the original shows remained past 2006 in favor of “Star Trek” and “Cheaters”. The network now broadcasts war documentaries and reruns of “Cops.” Consequently, it’s all scheduled to finally phase out of existence next year.

Is anyone truly surprised that G4 failed? Video games and television have always felt incompatible with one-another. For an example just look at the subtle bashing behind the old Intellevision ad slogan. On the other hand, gaming is totally compatible with the Internet. Video games and the Internet practically grew up with each other, and the success of independently-produced gaming webshows feels almost natural compared to G4’s doomed struggle with old media.

Scarcely-animated novelties like Zero Punctuation and Extra Credits have gained sponsorship and grown up into respected critiques. Overnight, Pure Pwnage raised enough money to produce a movie. YouTube has turned hastily-produced playthroughs and commentaries into a viable career. Rooster Teeth arguably invented machinima by themselves, and garnered enough success from their own inclusive filming medium to film the kind of slickly-produced videos that made G4 feel so promising.

Why are these cheap, independent webshows so much better at appealing to gamers than the well-funded cable conglomerates behind G4?

For one, it’s because they’re cheap and independent. These shows are made by people who don’t have to constantly worry about appealing to the highest amount of viewers possible. They’re low-risk investments by nature, produced in bedrooms on consumer-grade equipment bought on a shoestring budget. They can love video games without worry of financial failure.

They also don’t waste your time. On the Internet, running time is short and advertising is light. Compare the hyper-compressed improv comedy of Continue? with the sad depths that Attack of the Show will stoop to in order to fill 22 minutes. As bright and interesting as Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb were on X-Play, there was always some unexplainable need for sketch comedy that was usually awful. On the other hand, YouTube has naturalized a 10-minute time limit for our patience on Internet videos (though this was increased to 15 minutes in 2009, and some people are getting away with anything these days.)

There’s also the strangely endearing quality that low production values bring. The questionably posh office behind JonTron is inherently more recognizable and easier on the eyes than the dark, glowing panopticons that network game shows are filmed in. A love for bizarrely licensed childhood schlock takes precedence over a constant need to promote whatever boring cutting-edge thing is coming out each month. Nostalgic bleeps, bloops and pixels replace the slick cgi intro animations that slid all over G4’s frames.

Independents have to prioritize your time and their budget to deliver something endearing at no cost to you or them. The stakes are high enough to weed out what’s unwatchable while keeping the bar for entry low and welcoming. They’re not intimidating to watch: the hosts aren’t always attractive and unrealistically witty. The effects are homemade, the sets are bedrooms and offices, and they’re over before you know it.

This is the environment that we’re launching Super Bunnyhop in. The accessibility and omnipotence of the Internet has created a market where competent content producers can thrive. It’s like the Wild West out here, and it feels great.

What can you expect out of Super Bunnyhop? For now, we promise to deliver new video content every week (tune in Thursdays at 8!) We’ll also be producing a weekly written feature along the likes of what you’re reading right now. Be sure to check out our daily blog as well.

To GameGrumps, Errant Signal, Matt and Patt, The Cynical Brit, Stan Burdman, James Rolfe, Spoony, Yahtzee  and the many others that simply cannot be listed here: this is for you. This dangerous experiment of a website began with you.

 

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