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Old 03-03-2008, 07:48 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Celebrity Culture is DOOMed

Celebrity Culture is DOOMed
by Andrew Gonsalves www.tfproject.org www.andrewgonsalves.com

The casual television audience must have wondered what hit them when, 4 years ago, poker players started invading commercial breaks and primetime sports offerings. Today, they're still everywhere and as obscure as ever, but their waning popularity has audiences anxiously awaiting their exit. As confused viewers silently wonder who <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Negreanu" target="_blank>Daniel Negreanu</a> is, they watch him playing a game of pool while his voice waxes about the nuances of poker. They're also silently offended by <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Hellmuth" target="_blank>Phil Hellmuth's</a> annoyingly antagonistic personality. Who the hell is he and why does he have such an ego? With the poker bubble having finally burst, the splatters of its geeky semi-celebrities become more and more tacky against the glossy picture of fame that we're used to seeing. While poker as a headline event may be drying up, we're about to see a whole new trend in entertainment that will bring along an even more unfit batch of celebrity wannabes.<!--break-->

Video gaming has been hovering around for years, with tournaments growing in numbers and payoffs. Now that sports giant ESPN has <a href="http://www.mlgpro.com/?q=node/181255" target="_blank">committed to the coverage</a> of Major League Gaming competitions and CBS has <a href="http://www.irserious.com/2007/05/31/cbs-signs-world-series-of-video-games-for-second-year/" target="_blank">done the same</a> for its second year of World Series of Video Games, we might be in for a completely new definition of what a celebrity is. ESPN, with its stellar coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker, transformed a seedy backroom hobby into a worldwide phenomenon. The seasoned commentating, suspense-inducing editing and eclectic mix of bizarre personalities created a quality program that dozens of competing networks scrambled to match. The WSOP opened the world's eyes to a shrouded culture whose elders and prodigies quickly became household names. Now ESPN sees video games as the next entertainment trend. As a video gamer myself, I shudder at the vision this induces when I apply the fame-effect to my fellow players.

It is one thing to refer to a poker player by his hard-earned peer-bestowed nickname. If video games become the next big obsession, we will be referring to anti-hero teenagers by the handle they whimsied to tag themselves with before even one frag had been scored. That means the next friendly visage to be pitching you a brand new game console could go by the moniker of "TOXIC," "naymlis," or even "sh1ver." This wouldn't be so bad if they had cool costumes with armor and swords, but this is video gaming, not <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosplay" target="_blank">cosplay</a>. In fact, if even one of these cyber-gladiators were actually trained in martial arts, it will be noted at the bottom of his bio, next to the other unimportant factoids.

We gamers arenít the prettiest bunch, but neither are poker players. The poker audience understood this as they tuned in to watch overweight and curious-looking people try to intimidate each other in their quest for increasingly substantial amounts of money. How will the gaming audience handle more of the same, but younger and less mature? There is an age limit to gambling Ė not to video games. Are we ready to make little <a href="http://www.babynamesworld.com/korean-names.html" target="_blank">Chin Ho Yu</a> a celebrity?

Gaming wonít be an easy sell to the public. Poker may have turned out to be the ultimate dark horse in competition entertainment, but it is a rather simple game that can be edited to move at just the right pace. The color commentary and mental conflicts made it tick, and the personalities push it over the edge. Is professional gaming anywhere near as charismatic? In this authorís opinion, we have a long way to go until video gaming can entertain more than those intimately familiar with it. Currently televised gaming competitions on specialty channels like <a href="http://www.g4tv.com/" target="_blank">G4 TV</a> and <a href="http://www.gameplayhd.com/" target="_blank">Gameplay HD</a> have their rare moments; while CBSís past coverage of the World Series of Video Games was <a href="http://www.destructoid.com/wsvg-s-cbs-premiere-god-damn-we-miss-charles-in-charge-36780.phtml" target="_blank">downright catastrophic</a>. Video games are complex, frenetically-paced entertainment vehicles that require immersion to fully enjoy; merely observing them conveys very little to the viewer.

The subject matter is a little embarrassing, too. Iím sure the commentators sympathize with struggling actors who have to take jobs delivering <a href="http://www.ecommercepartners.net/blog/?p=155" target="_blank">singing telegrams dressed in pink monkey suits</a>. Destructive magic, proton cannons and healing potions are usually only mentioned in the context of intensely fortified lore and atmosphere. As a geek, it is embarrassing enough hearing Verne Troyer <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3En1M4SNn98" target="_blank">call himself a gnome mage</a>. Having some ďany job that paysĒ play-by-play announcer ramble off a few terms that usually get nerds teased for in school makes me want to shove a hermit crab in my ear. Sometimes it sounds like theyíre questioning the worth of their shiny new communications degree between every word they speak.

One telling projection of the appeal of professional gaming might come from the focus of your attention span as you read the next few paragraphs. Iím about to break down the types of games and what they have to offer to audiences. Please, try to stay with me!

There are four main categories of competitive games and they all have miles to go until they can be fluently translated for mass audience consumption. Professional gaming claimed its roots with first-person shooters (FPS), which do an excellent job of allowing skilled players and teams to separate themselves from the mediocre batch. Players maneuver their characters, aim weapons at each other in first-person point-of-view, and fire away. While racking up kills might be fun and challenging for the players, the audience usually only sees a few choice weapons being used ad nauseum, with individual firefights lasting no longer than 4 seconds. The nuances of precise aim and swift reaction times are lost in what looks more like a panicked flurry and the maps are often too dark to really tell whatís going on. While recently watching a Quake 4 deathmatch tournament, I could be heard muttering, ďI get it already, you are good with the lightning gun.Ē

The other veteran class of competitive game is real-time strategy (RTS), which was popularized by Warcraft 2 and Starcraft. Players create headquarters and armies, and then unleash them on their opponents who are undoubtedly doing the same. While displayed on an open field, the action usually doesnít get going until one side has the capacity to stage an attack. Audiences familiar with the game can usually appreciate the strategy involved and are entranced by the action, but casual observers might not appreciate the simplicity of fire/return fire combat.

Arcade games are simple to broadcast because all of the action can usually be summed up on one screen. Whether itís a fighting game, racing game or an activity simulation, the complexity is in the play, not the mechanics. However, as an observer, the simplicity of these games makes for an uninteresting show. Games like Dance Dance Revolution made headlines because of the creativity that players added to the mix AWAY from the screen. Other arcade games lack that potential, but remain fun and competitive to play.

Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) are new to the professional gaming arena and their lack of maturity as an observerís game clearly shows. Players control characters in an immensely complex system of mechanics and strategy. From characters that perform different core jobs, to the million different ways to customize said characters, the basics of MMORPG competition arenít basic at all. Sure, the object is to kill the opponent, but how is the audience supposed to understand what just happened when all they see is two characters approaching each other, a couple flashes of light, and one of the characters falling to the ground dead? In an MMORPG, each character has dozens of different abilities and they just canít be communicated like a quarterbackís fake or a pitcherís curve ball. Unless you know exactly what youíre looking at, good luck understanding it.

Video games as we know them today are just not suited for television broadcast. With the hundreds of games that a gamer can play, each one comes with its own rules, controls, terminology and culture. This reality puts video gaming at odds with integrating with mainstream media. If Americans canít be bothered to learn <a href="http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/westindies/content/player/51910.html" target="_blank">cricket</a>, you can be damn sure theyíre not interested in learning all 9 character classes in World of Warcraft, each with 3 different talent trees and 20 different spells and abilities. The most any viewer should need to know is what a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frag_(video_gaming)" target="_blank">frag</a> is.

Regardless of if the latest push to bring professional gaming to the foreground of mainstream culture is successful or not, it will be decisive and influential for the gaming industry. It is a tale of two industries with professional gaming preparing to take a huge jump forward and casual gaming currently wallowing in indecisiveness. There are currently too many games on the market today that try to accomplish the same gameplay dynamic and not enough gamers to fill the servers. While marketplace competition is good for quality, it makes it difficult for communities to form and stick around worthy games.

Putting the spotlight on skilled competition will spur the market in a more focused direction. Companies will soon see a future in games that translate well to broadcast media. Potential gamers will want to join the fray. With an industry-wide emphasis on games that convey excitement to both the players and the observers, gamers can look to the developers for a product that allows them to assert their skill, and to the publishers to create communities that stick together. Games will be made with broadcast competition in mind. We have a lot to look forward to if we can just endure the impending humiliation that comes with nationally televising our nerdy enthusiasm for rocket launchers, warlocks, and the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_(computer_and_video_games)" target="_blank">zergling rush</a>. Then, if we have any pride left after that, weíll still have to contend with the image of a 15 year old bespectacled Korean kid on a Wheaties box.


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Old 03-03-2008, 01:14 PM   #2 (permalink)
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woah. i had no idea the gaming industry was even shooting for this. i mean i remember shows such as arena on g4, when keven perrera was sporting that awkward stache, and the appeal was little (for watching gamers, not the stache.) There’s a small amount of entertainment at first, then it just becomes rather boring. On most of the games, for the most part, it was a 1 sided battle after the first few minutes.
Broadcast friendly games seems like one of those things that could go either way. I mean, it couldnt be to bad for someone like me that usually ends up watching 2 or 3 people kick the hell out of each other in halo, but refusing to play.

i dont know.
i guess ill just have to wait around, and see how this whole thing turns out.
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Old 03-03-2008, 01:57 PM   #3 (permalink)
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my 12yo boy will own yous guys!

I like the concept. It seems like a significant portion of the money spending demographics would relate well to such entertainment. For it to succeed, the advertisers will have to believe in it and spend the money to advertise their stuff in these shows.

Me? I'd watch for sure. Also, I'm glad this turned out to be other than my worst fear: when I saw "celebrity culture is DOOMed" all I could think of was "will my favorite cute traffic girl on AM TV be off the air soon?", so glad it's not that.

Last edited by BadNick; 03-03-2008 at 08:42 PM..
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Old 03-03-2008, 05:23 PM   #4 (permalink)
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You guys probably haven't seen this but in Australia the govt broadcaster (on their second digital channel) have a gaming show called "Good Game".

link

They have done a couple of articles where they (the staff of the show) play a (supposedely) well known Aussie group in a particular game and televise (with commentary) the game.

I've only seen two (Counterstrike and another FPS), and it was semi-OK TV.

When I played a fair bit of RTS I'd watch game recordings (Age of Kings had a really good ingame recorder) - you got to see the game as seen by the person recording. This was useful but would be pretty boring (I think) for anyone not interested in the particular game and also tended to be pretty jumpy (screen changes based on mini-map clicks and hot keys would confuse the shit out of the average viewer).

Fully agree on the RPG (or MMO) - there'd be a lot of 'wtf happened there?'
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