Return to Consolevania (Part 1)

Return to Consolevania

In January 2009 the final moments of Consolevania were uploaded: a Consolevania Christmas Carol, purportedly a best of 2008 miniseries. In reality it was a swan song, a coda to the series’ growth and history.

Rab Florence presented Consolevania’s eulogy on behalf of Ryan Macleod and the other supporting members of Consolevania – let’s call them TEAM for short – over footage of their ten top games of the year.

It is impossible to be negative about this amazing hobby of ours when you detach yourself from your perceived responsibility to entertain and just realise how lucky we are. Everything’s so fucking negative and in the past we were as guilty as anybody. People have given us a lot of credit over the years for how successfully we savagely attacked games. People applauding us for reviews kicking into other peoples work. People probably set out to do a great thing with a game and took a wrong turn and along comes the online games reviewer trying to build a reputation for himself by saying the nastiest thing he can think of about a computer game that simply isn’t much cop, which is hardly the greatest crime in the world.

I think what I’m trying to say is that, and you know I’m just doing all this off the cuff to try and be honest. I think what I’m trying to say is that when you look back at the history of Consolevania there are things we’re proud of and things we’re less proud of, and I would think that the things we’re less proud of are the reviews, because it’s fantastic and it’s funny as a review might be… it’s still just a review. It’s only a review. It doesn’t really mean anything. Doesn’t really matter. Recommendations matter, it’s great when somebody expresses how passionate they feel about something, or how much they love something – that always matters. That always matters when you love something. But how much you get pissed off at somebody that did something you didn’t like? Nah. Nah. Cannot say I’ll be reflecting fondly on that. On my death bed.

Throughout this extended farewell a lot of conflicting emotions are on display – the laying to rest of a beloved project, memories of moments and experiences both good and bad, the desire to return to the roots of what made a hobby into a passion – but at its heart is a genuine sense of love. Love for gaming and games alongside an unbridled enthusiasm about them and the possibilities they offer. This resonated deeply with me at the time and still does today; that desire to enthuse about, share and participate in something seems a far greater endeavour than to tear something apart in the name of five minutes of quickly-forgotten entertainment.

One could argue that times have changed little since then. Zero Punctuation is still going strong, and – for all that I think it’s great and occasionally funny as hell – it still represents the antithesis of the philosophy outlined above. It’s bread and circuses for baying hordes eager to see Christians torn apart by lions and for all that it makes you laugh, despite every moment of genuine insight between the acid witticisms, it’s an often discomforting experience. Although Yahtzee, ZP’s driving personality, writes a companion piece in which he expands on some of his serious criticisms and ideas, one wonders to what extend this is undermined by the more popular and humorous videos.

Of course, there are plenty of other places to look to scratch your gaming itch. In-depth YouTube reviewers like TotalBiscuit / The Cynical Brit, the PC gaming powerhouse that is RockPaperShotgun or the panoply of blogs that have bucked the mainstream perception of blogging as a transitory fad. There’s no shortage of nasty but, equally, there’s no shortage of nice: of respect, love, enthusiasm and inquisitory interest. You only have to click through Arcadian Rhythms’ blogroll to find examples of all this (and you should do just that, by the way). None are as regularly amusing as Consolevania could be, but then most venues lack a few good fat, balding Glaswegians who are willing and able to make and take a joke.

There’s no real conclusion to be drawn here. Rab’s eulogy to Consolevania was a personal opinion, one shared by his friends and so a respectable reason to put the show to bed. The core of the philosophy that drove him to that decision I find highly agreeable, and I’m glad that I was introduced to Consolevania all those years ago so that I could share its journey. Its sense of humour and humanity, its conversational tone and effortless displays of familiarity with gaming and gaming history, its disinterest in fads and getting bogged down with insider terminology – these are all parts of Consolevania that I loved.

But what I like most of all, the most important lesson that I took from it, is that a great review can be built from a few affectionate jokes and a few key points, a few hundred words and a few minutes of footage. That’s it: that’s all you need. You don’t need an essay. You don’t need to imply that the producers are the progeny of two insane troglodytes fighting over a piece of processed cheese. You don’t need to act like Barry Big Balls, like the game-reviewing alpha male. You just need love and focus.

[In Part 2 I’ll talk a little about my own introduction to the show, but more importantly I’ll run through some specifics of what made it and videoGaiden worth any gamer’s time. I’ve recently rewatched everything TEAM ever did – except for that blasted one-off VHS tape – so I’m in full-on nostalgia mode. To tide you over why not have a watch of the Consolevania Christmas Carol, embedded below.]