It’s a pretty trite observation that the news and video games don’t really mix too well; and that traditional media weirdly shoehorns a multi-billion dollar mass-market industry into a cultural no-man’s-land somewhere between This New Hashtag Thing and Internet Porn. It took several years for TV presenters to say the phrase ‘double-u double-u double-u dot’ without smirking, and a weekend with a cattle-prod in a locked dressing room to coax Dimbleby into uttering the term ‘hashtag’, but you’re more likely to see people take drugs on prime-time television than you are to see any serious discussion of a video game.
When Arthur C Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey was published, the author and futurologist predicted that it would be far easier for 20th century folk to understand the 30th century than it would be for those who lived in the Middle Ages to grasp today’s world. Clarke’s argument was comprehensively destroyed last night by Charlie Brooker on Channel 4 News, when, in a new nadir for gaming on the telly, he tried to introduce Jon Snow – a man who has never even played Pong – to the new PS4.
What followed was the most comprehensive failure of cross-cultural communication since the time Kanye West stumbled across ‘modesty’ in a dictionary. “What does [Twitter] have in common with the new PS4?” Snow asked as the pair played Call of Duty, leaving Brooker temporarily speechless. The incisive social commentary continued with the veteran broadcaster speculating that players wouldn’t marry very often because there “probably aren’t any women,” while Brooker tried to avoid eating his own hand.
“This is for kids”, Brooker explained as they switched to a friendlier game, LEGO MARVEL Super Heroes. “What is a kid?” Snow demanded in the manner of Paxman presenting a weather forecast. “I like practical LEGO, the real thing, I don’t want to see it on video I want to play with it.” A Lego version of the Helicarrier from the Avengers appeared on screen. “Do you think the Department of Defence get ideas on how to run their aircraft carriers from this?”
Inevitably, a LEGO man met his Danish maker. “I’ve seen somebody blown to pieces!” wailed a traumatized Snow. “What?! Where?!” “I did! In outer space!” “These are pieces of lego!” And so a grown man was forced to explain to another grown man the difference between fiction and reality; and that manipulating pixels on a screen wasn’t ‘going through the psychological experience of killing people’.
It continued in similar fashion for about 15 minutes, which you can watch here:
To be fair, Jon Snow was clearly on a bit of a mission to troll Brooker, but the fact that they could even have this kind of ‘wacky’ segment on a prime time news show speaks volumes; not just about gaming but the huge cultural disconnect that’s growing between the virtual world of traditional media and the real life Britain it claims to represent.
At 42 years old, Charlie Brooker is settling into his middle age, but in the world of current affairs, where few male presenters under 50 occupy top jobs, he’s basically a small angry child. At 66, Jon Snow is far closer to the likes of John Humphrys (70) and James Naughtie (62) at the Today programme, Jeremy Paxman (63) at Newsnight, Andrew Neil (64) at This Week and the Sunday Politics, or Question Time‘s 75-year old David Dimbleby. The few female presenters on these shows are allowed – compelled even – to be under 50, but current affairs output remains dominated by 50- to 70-something white men. This even extends to the pundits – a very small proportion of panelists on Question Time are under 40, and those under 30 are treated virtually as cultural curiosities to be gawked at or patronised. Owen Jones’s TV career seems – through no fault of his own – to be predicated on the idea that by giving him a say, broadcasters have somehow ticked the ‘under 30’ box, as if one guy can somehow be the ‘voice of a generation’.
The same trend is reflected in print journalism. Newspapers may not be dying, but many of their readers are only a sharp winter or two short of their final edition. Research in the US by Pew shows that the bulk of newspaper readers are in that same over-50s bracket. The average age of a Daily Mail print edition reader is creeping toward 60.
The effects of this massive bias in mainstream public discourse can be seen in items like Jon Snow’s absurd introduction to gaming – regardless whether or not Snow was hamming it up, can you really imagine a book critic being asked to explain to a bewildered anchorman that a novel is a ‘structured sequence of text read in a linear fashion’? Hardly. They reach far beyond topics like gaming though, affecting some of the key issues facing our country today.
We live in a society where asking people over 65 to wait a couple of years to receive their free money from the state is a major political issue, but a party can casually talk about stripping welfare from under 25s as though they’re somehow children – after all, you’d never see one on Question Time. Housing policy, including measures supposedly aimed at first time buyers, is almost entirely geared towards preserving or increasing the price of homes, pricing first time buyers out of the market and forcing them to pay exorbitant rents, effectively buying rich people’s houses for them.
Young people are regularly portrayed in the media as lazy, useless, selfish, unmotivated, unhealthy and degenerate, even as a recession caused by their parents’ generation means a million remain unable to find work. And if they dare to complain about unemployment they’re told by those in power that they should work for free and be grateful for the damned opportunity, as if more education or an internship is going to put food on the table.
Ultimately, technology may provide the answer. The pseudo-democratization of punditry and writing online isn’t as free or fair as many of us would like, but it has at least led an explosion of diversity. Writers from communities who would have been denied a voice ten years ago can now reach wide audiences, and some of that impact is trickling back into traditional media too – the internet played a huge part in enabling Paris Lees to appear on Question Time, for example. Eventually – hopefully – as the internet becomes the dominant source of news, the tide will turn.
But for the time being the ancient kings still rule. The old make the news for the old, and politicians watch and obsess as if the images flickering across their screens are somehow relevant to the hopes, dreams and fears of the population they so dismally fail to represent. With any luck they’ll dance together into the grave, and we can finally start to talk about the things that matter.