Playing Games For Money, Playing Games For Fun
I remember a forum post, five or six years ago which appeared on the old Edge forums or, possibly, rllmuk.
In it the poster wanted to gauge interest in an idea for a homemade videogame show he and a friend were planning.
A few people commented that his vision for the show was the kind of thing they’d like to watch and offered up some ideas and suggestions for style and content.
A few weeks, or maybe months, later – who can remember the time line of these things? – a link was posted to the first episode of Consolevania I remember it vividly: the initial ident in which the show’s logo appeared on a scrap of paper underneath a kitten, and the first feature on Castlevania, the Konami series the show’s title plays upon.
The programme was homespun, irreverent and the kind of thing that could only have been made by that kind of deeply passionate British gamer who is departing his youth and looking for a way to articulate how much games meant and mean to him on the way out.
Rab and Ryan and the team were at ease on screen and, while the show was specifically aimed at core gamers, the sort who would get a joke about the financial significance of finding a copy of Radiant Silvergun down the back of the sofa, or who could giggle at the sight of a New Games Journalist naked in the wilderness, self-flagellating in search of an angle for a review, it was clear that the team had something worthy of a wider audience.
The show blossomed and culminated in a BBC Scotland commission to take the format to terrestrial television, in the form of VideoGaiden. The first series, broadcast in 2005, was so successful that the BBC commissioned another two, with the guys still producing Consolveania, their Internet published and promoted side-project, in the spaces between work.
No matter which way they took the jokes and set-pieces (and no matter what the audience thought of them), every episode of VideoGaiden and Consolevania was underpinned by a raw passion for computer games. Even when talking about those titles that fell short of their promise, there was a sense that the team were upset because of what could have been, rather than being thrilled at the chance to creatively lay into a substandard product.
So it’s with sadness that I watched the final episode of Consolevania, which just went up for download here.
In this Christmas Special, Rab speaks openly about how difficult he’s found the process of reviewing games for money (presumably for the BBC) over the past couple of years.
He says: “[We'd] turn up on a Monday or a Thursday and shoot a review and suddenly this incredible hobby of ours – that me and Ryan adore; that everybody here at Consolevania adores – became a job…work. And by the time VideoGaiden Series 3 finished we were scunnered, as we say here in Scotland, with computer games. We did’nae play anything for quite a long time. It was difficult to get our heads back into making Consolevania because we didn’t want to review games. And that was strange, it was strange to see your hobby being stripped away like that… it was hard thing to take. I never wanted that to happen.”
Rab’s comments here will resonate with any writer who’s turned their hobby into a profession. Playing games for money instead of just for fun changes the game entirely and, if you want to continue enjoying games as pastime as well as a job, you have to find ways to switch off the concentration of critical attention and just settle back into a game as a leisure pursuit.
Rab’s soliloquy is filled with some regret at having (in his estimation) attacked games as much as celebrated them (regret surely birthed from spending time with some developers in the last year or so. As soon as you see behind the curtain, hear the stories of the people who did everything they could to make a good product but ‘took a wrong turn along the way’, as Rab puts it, every sympathetic human thinks more carefully before piling on the cruel, mocking prose).
As he elaborates on that theme, he says arrives at this conclusion:
“Recommendations matter. It’s great when somebody expresses to you how passionate they feel about something; how much they love something: that always matters. It always matters when you love something. But how much you get pissed off at somebody who made something you did’nae like? ah. Cannae say I’ll be reflecting fondly on that one my deathbed.”
My take on this is that recommendations have to work both ways. Recommending that people stay away from poor games can be just as important and useful as recommending games that you think they will like. And, if you want to have the platform and voice to be able to recommend good titles to the widest possible audience, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Still, I very much understand why someone would want out of that cycle.
Anyway, I wish Rab and the rest of the team the very best and I hope it doesn’t sound too sentimental to thank them for their contribution to the community of gamers in which I’ve grown up: you’ll be missed but not forgotten.