Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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A good time for the UK game show fandom

This weekend, xorsyst, Nick as mentioned in my birthday weekend write-up and Martin who I've known from board game cons for, ooh, a good fifteen years all came to join Meg, Sarah and me. Sitting in Stockton-on-Tees, we helped rhysara's team, Left As An Exercise For The Reader, in the MIT Mystery Hunt this weekend. I had been hoping to do this for years and the event in practice was everything I had hoped for. There were a couple of spectacular solo solves in the UK and some strong contributions to larger team efforts; everybody had a part to play. Thanks to everyone who came to visit and to rhysara for enabling our fun. I get the early impression that this hunt will be very favourably treated by history, not least for its really good attitude and cleanliness; many thanks to everyone who spent so long organsing, writing and running the hunt. I may have more to say on this at some point, but this is not that post.

What I'm thinking about right now is that I'm eagerly looking forward to the next episode of the Fifty50 show podcast, which will have the results of the 2013 UK Game Show Poll. This will be the ninth year of the poll so it's a relatively big deal, especially as this year's poll apparently has a record number of votes. (I guess that this may still be low triple digits, but, hey, moving in the right direction.) It's generally felt that 2013 was not a good year for UK game shows. People say this quite frequently, but 2008 comes out as a good year and 2009/2011 had their moments. That said, even if this has been a bad year for UK game shows, I would argue that the UK game show fandom has never been in as good health as it is now.

First off, it's a wonderful thing that there is a UK game show fandom podcast, which is a welcome innovation of the last year or two, and host Lewis plus a rotating cast of co-hosts (by which I'm sad not to mean that they all get chairs like in The Voice) reliably do an entertaining job at covering the news, along with groovy features and frequently fun interview guests. The UK game show fandom has never been larger, to the point where I suspect it may be a collection of small fandoms that often don't have all that much to do with each other. At one wing, UKGameshows is a remarkable reference work, with Weaver's Week as a practically scholarly journal of record; at another wing, the wonderful Bother's Bar is a tremendous community hub. (I know which I think of as the left wing and which I think of as the right wing, but I don't want to start fights.)

However, in the last year or two, there has been so much of an expansion; at least two of the ITV Chasers have dropped by to talk in the Bar, and the number of game show personalities who interact with fans on Twitter is remarkable. This year has also seen the start of Game Show Central, effectively a corporate take on UK game show fandom</a>. Several shows have their own fandoms within the greater game show fandom at large; to name one, Knightmare has had its most interesting year in the decades since it was decommissioned, with a worthy official one-off remake on YouTube and the Knightmare Live tribute stage show successful enough in its own right to make it past being an affectionate and well-received Edinburgh Fringe oddity. The UK game show fandom is also well-represented within the game show fandom at large; I don't tend to play there nearly as much as I did once, though I did poke my head in after what was by far the year in fandom's lowest point, the devastatingly early passing of Travis Penery.

So from the fandom's darkest hour to the near-consensus description of the fandom's subject material not having had a vintage year. (*checks*) The podcast still isn't up so I don't want to prejudge what might be felt to have been the high and low points; I will, instead, suggest what might make a year particularly good or bad. As a fandom, we thrive on novelty. There is nothing we like more than someone bringing a remarkable new game show idea to fruition that stands the test of time - and, to a large extent, the success or failure of the year depends on the success or failure of its new formats, and the best that the UK has had to offer in 2013 does not look like making it to 2014, let alone the rest of the teens and beyond. Second to that are those shows with exciting new material, and any year with as many new episodes as there actually were of Only Connect, where virtually every question has an exciting new idea behind it, does a service in trying to spare a year's blushes.

So the UK game show fandom may not have been very well served by new UK material in 2013, but 2013 was perhaps the year where the UK game show fandom took its biggest step towards being a UK section of global game show fandom at large, with the (relative) mass acceptance and consumption of material from outside the UK. I've only made the most passing of mentions of The Genius, a South Korean show, in its native language but very promptly translated with skill, kindness and care by the charmingly-named Twitter user Bumdidlyumptious. Imagine an elimination show in the style of Big Brother, but instead of the attraction of the show being "watch bad things happen to people", the contestants play proper, interesting, frequently puzzle-like games. Perhaps I love the show slightly more than I like it, as its ambition and bravery is not quite borne out by the quality of every single game they play, and both of the series have arguably been a little slow to get started. However, at its best, you can get to see really interesting games played really well, and that's just exciting in a way that we haven't seen for plenty of years. I want to shower the participants, the translator and the production team with gold, or at least with microscopic fractions of Bitcoins.

As well as this fan translation of The Genius, there is a similar fan translation of the fifteenth series of the Dutch version of The Mole. We were only fortunate enough to get two series in the UK, but apparently the fifteenth Dutch series started with the highest viewing figures that the show has ever received, so I take my hat off in a south-easterly direction. In a sense, translating game shows is nothing new, as the Takeshi's Castle / MXC translation of the Japanese original has shown to a general audience; similarly, the Ninja Warrior family of translations of Sasuke has made a smaller impact but nevertheless comparable, not least because there is a sense that the phenomenon has a future as well as a past. It's exciting that technology has moved on to the point where translations can be a fan phenomenon, with care and attention, rather than having to be a professional undertaking.

Taking the phenomenon a step further still, 2013 has seen the UK game show fandom enjoy non-English-language game shows even without translation through the medium of the live Schlag den Raab commentary. A rather makeshift combination of an illicit livestream of the German-language original and a soundtrack provided by (usually) four fandom commentators makes for a delightful viewing experience that has an appeal all its own. It helps that the original source material is a show well worth the investment. It's a show so spectacular that it takes place as a TV event six times a year (not quite every other month due to the presence of an extended summer break). The titular protagonist, Stefan Raab, might possibly be considered a German cultural equivalent of someone of the stature of, say, a Jonathon Ross or a David Letterman; the show sees contestants attempt to beat Raab at a series of up to fifteen games. The first game is worth one point, the second two and so on, so 61 of the 120 possible points are required for overall victory.

The most distinctive thing is the show's purist attitude that it will start in the early evening and broadcast live for just as long as it has to. If one player wins the first eleven games in a row, then we're all getting an early night; if all fifteen games are required - or even a sixteenth in case of a 60-60 tie-break - and this takes the show until, without exaggeration, the early hours, the channel will keep the cameras rolling as long as necessary. The games can often be spectacular in scale, too. Effectively the contest is "who's best at everything?" - some games are mental, others are physical, some are very serious, others are... unusual and whimsical, though as there's a major jackpot prize on the line, which might have rolled over from show to show if Raab has been defeated for a year, you might get people taking penalty kicks, or sudden death golf putts, with €3,000,000 on the line. (Or, on one memorable occasion, digging their way through a giant block of hard compressed foam with a trowel.)

The presence of the English language live coverage of Schlag den Raab has been one of the UK game show fandom highlights of the year. What we're all excited about, right now, is that one of the most usual English-language commentators has challenged two of his counterparts to compete against each other in a similar sequence of fifteen games, live on YouTube (technically, as a Google Hangout) this Saturday night. The most exciting part is that it's David J. Bodycombe who is devising the games, so the prospects are extremely promising. I have known contestant Nick Gates for probably not much less time than I've been on the Internet, the best part of twenty years; I've got to know his opponent Dan Peake in 2013 through DASH and Puzzled Pint. I like them both a lot and am just hoping that both games and tech work out to produce a great show. I don't have a link as to where to find the show but I'm sure the link will be posted to Bother's Bar once it becomes available.

I'm not going to predict who'll win, but will note that this is not the first attempt to play a game show through Google Hangouts; heck, it's not even the first with Dan as a contestant. Step forward Game Show Gauntlet, a portmanteau show made up of a succession of mini-games, being questions or rounds of different shows, quite frequently being bonus rounds. The sound, graphics and tech are phenomenal and you can tell there's been a lot of time, effort and love put into it. (I will say that in the past I have described the atmosphere of at least some of the episodes as being "bro-ish", and I stand by that slightly coy euphemism.)

These are just examples of some of the things going on at the moment; doubtless there are plenty of others which I've forgotten about, leading to facepalming just after I've posted. There's a lot going on and technology is making it easier to find content that we wouldn't have found a few years ago. If you'd asked me 10-15 years ago I'd have guessed that we'd all be watching English-language shows from the US and Australia pretty much on demand by now, modulo the ongoing arms race between those who want to protect their content and those who feel information should be free, but these things tend not to turn out quite the way you expect. Fingers crossed that this time next year, regardless of how UK game shows have turned out, I can write something at least as positive about the UK game show fandom.

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