TV shows about Video Games tend to be magazine shows that appeal to a particular audience, and while they are informative and interesting to their niche audiences, they aren't necessarily entertaining for others. Dara O'Briain's Go 8 Bit is an attempt to change that and if the first episode is anything to go by it might just have worked.
The show takes its format from a live show that was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and mixes it with the celebrity panel show, a format that is proving ever popular here in the UK, to create a lively take on video games and remind us all that while they do have a competitive edge, video games are supposed to be fun.
Games these days are all about playing together as more and more MMOs hit the shelves and gamers don their headsets to play together in online matches. The irony of this situation is that even though we are playing together, we have never been more isolated, separated by hundreds, if not thousand of miles with only the voice on the end of an internet connection for company. Watching the first episode of Go 8 Bit I was immediately reminded of the days when Gaming was about sitting next to your friends on a sofa playing MarioKart on the N64 or Tekken on the PlayStation.
It's been a long time since there has been an entertainment show about games on our TV screens. Here in the UK the most famous of them all was probably GamesMaster, a show that was surprisingly successful (it ran for six years) but it was a show about games for gamers. Later seasons hinted at a desire for it to become a little more mature (the addition of bikini wearing female assistants for example), however it never broke free of it's niche label. If you weren't interested in games then you probably didn't watch the show. Similarly Sky TV's Games World was aimed squarely at a specific audience. The shows Videators were self proclaimed gaming geniuses with characters so over the top they wouldn't be out of place on the current Wrestling circuit. For all the energy it mustered with its one on one challenges against these prodigies, there was very little to interest anyone else.
Go 8 Bit on the other hand, succeeds where these shows failed. It takes the concept that made the Nintendo Wii so popular and translates it to the small screen. Although now relatively defunct, the Wii was something of a phenomenon in the gaming industry. It brought games to people of all ages, and encouraged group gaming sessions at a time when on line community play was beginning to gather pace. It wasn't so long ago that no social gathering was complete without an end of night session on Wii Sports or Just Dance. The addition of a little (or lots of) alcohol meant that the entertainment provided itself!
The live version of Go 8 Bit used members of the audience as the contestants. For TV we have celebrity faces in this role, because there's nothing better than seeing a celebrity fail miserably at something (see former England Football star David James playing Tekken in the first episode for an example). Add in some retro games for nostalgia (I don't think Chuckie Egg has been fun for anyone since 1984 but watching these guys play was hilarious!), some audience participation in the form of a vote to predict the winner of each round, and a rotating stage, and you're on to a winner.
It seems strange that it's taken so long for video games to find a format that works on TV given the competitive nature of the medium, but they key has been finding that mass appeal. Being so early in it's run it's difficult to say how successful Go 8 Bit will be but there is no denying the show's charm.
As a group, gamers have tried for some time now to convince the world that what they do is serious. It's something I have been guilty of myself and in doing so we have created a barrier to those on the outside looking in. Much like the Nintendo Wii, show's like Go 8 Bit go some way to breaking down that barrier and remind us that actually gaming can be fun for everyone.