The Kolumn: Issue #08

Posted by reppy_reps on June 5th, 2004

Prime Time Gamers

Recently I read an article in the May 2004 issue of the Official U.S. Playstation Magazine about how prime-time television has suffered as much as a 20% loss in viewers in the male demographic ages 18-24. At first network execs blamed Nielson ratings for the discrepancy, saying that their numbers must be off, but Nielson stood by its word and further investigation into the matter revealed that this large chunk of viewers were playing video games during their prime time hours.

Now I have to admit, I fall into this category that would rather be gaming during prime-time than sitting through the same old sitcoms and lame ass reality shows. In fact, the only thing that I specifically go out of my way for anymore are Monster Garage, American Chopper, and even Monster House (I never thought I’d be into a home show), which all air back-to-back on Monday night on the Discovery Channel. After that, there’s nothing else throughout the rest of the week for me to look forward to. Time to fire up that game console and bust some heads!

Now, of course, networks want all us gamers to turn off our consoles and turn on their prime-time crap, so they’ve gone out of their way to cater to us with the creation of a few events and TV shows geared specifically for gamers.

In the article they brought up the Spike TV Video Game Awards (VGAs), which aired last year. An exec at Spike told the Official U.S. Playstation Mag that this years’ VGAs would be completely revamped from the ground up. Well thank-god for that, because their first attempt was a slap in the face to actual gamers. All told, there were about 10 solid minutes devoted to delivering the awards, which looked like “shit” according to one of the Raiders cheerleaders on the scene. David Spade, who hosted the show, corrected the cheerleader- it looked more like the mutated love child of Ms. PacMan and Mario according to him. Well yay. What better way to honor the developers of the best video games by giving them a shitty looking trophy?

And why exactly was David Spade hosting this thing? What does he have to do with the video-game industry? At least when Billy Crystal hosts the Oscars, you can be sure he knows what he’s talking about, because he works in the industry. It would’ve been better if they had gotten Snoop Dogg (who’s made several cameos in and lent his music to games), David Hayter (voice of Solid Snake and co-writer of both X-Men movies), Michael Ironside (voice of Sam Fisher and professional actor) or even our own Ed Boon, who is well-known as the co-creator of Mortal Kombat to host the show.

It’s all about credibility, and Spike never once established that they had any credibility where video-games are concerned. What makes Spike such a great authority on what the best video games of the year are? I saw Jenna Jameson, better known as a talent-less porn star, nominated for “best voice actor” for a 5 minute role she played in GTA: Vice City. Meanwhile, the entire cast for Final Fantasy X2, Jak 2, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, and a slew of others went without mention. Does that smell like credibility, because from where I’m standing it smells like bullshit.

The problem is that most professional voice actors for cartoons and video-games aren’t well-known (or known at all) outside of the voice acting industry. They have next to no celebrity status and you’ll likely never see their faces unless you’re looking for them. Spike geared this show for the mainstream audience instead of the niche gamer audience that it was intended for in the first place.

You could see this mentality throughout all the categories- sometimes a worthy game did win, but the nominees, which you could only see by going to their website, were highly suspect. Where was Final Fantasy X2 in the “best music” category? The Final Fantasy series, which has always been known for its simply amazing soundtrack- where was it?! Or maybe you noticed that Final Fantasy Online was nominated for “best online game” when it hadn’t even been released to the public yet.

Hey, how many rated E games did you see win? None? Wow, I guess the Spike network automatically disqualifies your game if it’s too cute no matter how innovative the gameplay is or how fun it is. Nope. This is the network for big, manly men! No cute, kiddy games here!

And best animation in a game went to DOA Volleyball. Now granted, yes, it does have great animation, but it was so obvious that Spike was considering only the super-gorgeous, CG cut-scenes and not the in-game animation. Do you smell credibility yet?

And then to top it all off, awards were handed out without acceptance speeches or anything. Who were those guys accepting the awards? For all we know, Konami and all the other video-game studios sent their janitors down to collect the awards, which would make sense since they apparently look like “shit”.

But you didn’t want to hear them prattle on about all the work they put into making their games anyway, did you? Of course not! It’s a video game award show- who wants to hear anything about video games! We want to see wrestlers instead! Yay, wrestling! *grumble grumble*

The wrestling match, along with musical perfomances and cameos by celebrities that have nothing to do with video-games and added nothing to the presentation, dominated the entire show. I didn’t turn this stupid awards show on to listen to Lil’ Kim or Funkmaster Flex or Jenna Jameson (I knew Spike would find a way to work her into the show).

Spike TV failed. Even worse than that, they put me off on ever sitting through another one of their VGAs again. And I’m not the only one. The Spike network was flooded with hate mail and that’s why the entire format of the ceremony is being revamped. I’m almost curious to see how they’ve revamped the show for this year in hopes that they get it right, but I detest the thought of being suckered in again by the crap they spew.

But enough about their fake award show. I could go on for another page on why Spike TV sucks, but UPN is deserving of some of my scorn too! A while back UPN dumped “Game Over” on us. This was their first ever completely computer-animated, prime-time show and it was aimed specifically at gamers as well. I read a few interviews with the creators of Game Over and they seemed to have a genuine interest in video-games and were really excited about the show they were creating.

However, UPN screwed this show over good. The week after it premiered, it got pre-empted for a 2-hour Enterprise marathon. The week after that it got juggled to a new time-slot on Friday night, so that anyone that was actually interested in the show would miss it if they weren’t keeping a sharp eye out. Game Over reportedly had lower ratings than Enterprise, though I still think it’s funny that Enterprise is used as the benchmark of failure. If you do worse than Enterprise, well then, damn that’s really bad!

From what little I did see of Game Over before it got pulled from the airwaves, I can honestly say that I was mildly entertained. It was a decent show. Not horrible, not super-hilarious, but still entertaining. It could’ve been hammered into something cool. I saw potential there, and considering that it took Enterprise 3 seasons to finally start coming up with decent episodes, I think it was foolish of UPN execs to cancel the show so early into its life (less than 6 episodes). They didn’t even give it a chance to find an audience!

So here we are- there’s still next-to-nothing good on prime-time and all the major attempts to lure gamers back have failed miserably. But I’m reminded of a little show that aired a while back… what was it called? Oh yes- Mortal Kombat: Conquest! It aired during prime-time on the TNT network and brought in excellent ratings. I even recall hearing that it was a “top-rated” show for the time that it was on the air. And it’s got Kristana Loken in it to boot, who’s now famous as the nasty T-X in Terminator 3 (she did red leather a great service). And guess what? Fans of the show keep pleading to have it returned to TV or on DVD. It seems like such an obvious thing to put it back on the air. So where is it? Xena and Hercules, which are in the same vein as MK Conquest, are still very successful in reruns. I’m sure MK Conquest would be as well.

MK Conquest is proof positive that prime-time shows can and have been created that lured in the gamer audience. The difference between MK Conquest and Spike’s VGAs is that Conquest treated its audience with respect. They catered to both the hardcore Mortal Kombat fan and the mainstream audience without sacrificing their integrity. And TNT showed Conquest the support it required to keep it at the top of the ratings for its entire run while UPN was more content to shun Game Over when it didn’t immediately pick up a huge audience.

But there you have it. From what I’ve seen so far, I feel more exploited and cheated as a gamer than anything. Spike TV obviously exploited the video-game industry with a mock awards show that, in the end, wound up being the single greatest display of meaningless recognition that I’ve ever seen. Networks like Spike and UPN want gamers back, but their offerings so far show a deep-seeded embarrassment and dislike of having to marry television with video-games. If this is the mentality they’re going to continue with, then there really is no reason for me to turn off my games and watch another episode of Raymond or Survivor. Screw sitcoms. I got a world to save.