Return to Consolevania

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.]





14 responses to “Return to Consolevania (Part 1)”

  1. badgercommander Avatar

    Uh oh, someone noticed us again. We might have to start doing more writing.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      Crivens, no. I can't be having with any of this writing malarkey…

  2. Harbour Master Avatar
    Harbour Master

    I've never followed Consolevania – it always existed outside of my own space – but I think I found Rab's perspective (when I found it on RPS back when Consolevania shut its doors) on getting sucked into the "let's destroy games for fun" merry-go-round perhaps more influential than I first gave credit for.

    I've tried to avoid those sort word games, where we find fun ways of dismantling a bad game – or even an average one – and focus on the good stuff. Sometimes it's not possible just to put a brave face on it (Lost Planet) but I've even avoided talking about things simply because I have nothing good to say about them. If I have something interesting to say about a bad game (Cryostasis) I will open my heart.

    But I think Rab's denigration of denigration, even though I had no idea who he was at the time, buried itself somewhere deep and important in my writing neurocentres.

  3. Harbour Master Avatar
    Harbour Master

    i.e. Not everyone can bring the artistry to it that Charlie Brooker and Yahtzee can to destructive criticism, and so a lot of the also-rans can come off as hateful and crude, rather than intelligent and funny.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      I think that's hit the nail on the head, there: a lot of imitators who just don't have the understanding or talent to make the style work.

      That said it's worth noting that Brooker has dropped certain parts of his writing for not wholly dissimilar reasons to Rab: he was beginning to feel like a total arsehole for saying such unpleasant things. Admittedly that was partly driven by the increased rate at which he was meeting the people about whom he was writing…

      Regarding having interesting things to say about bad games: this is an aspect of why I find AJ's opinions so fascinating. Even when I disagree with him his thoughts are interesting and he's often made me look at a game in a whole new light after talking with him about it. I find that approach – this is a bad game but it does things that make it great – far more valuable than Yahtzee's style of identifying the most shoddy aspects of a game and then engineering a crude satiric framework with which to batter them. Hence why I repeatedly describe Zero Punctuation as entertainment and not criticism.

      1. Harbour Master Avatar
        Harbour Master

        I think doing too much of that negative stuff does get you down in the end. I've been tarred with the "most negative person in the room" in the past and I'm actively resisting cynicism these days.

        I like AJ because he's contrarian in his own way – he's the contrarian's contrarian, While you might think that means you would agree with him, it doesn't. It just puts him into Some Wayward Weird Shit territory.

        Don't tell him I said any of this though.

        1. ShaunCG Avatar

          He'll never know!

          I like to characterise myself as "easy to please, hard to impress", although that might just be one of my attempts to convince myself that I don't have terrible taste and it is okay to enjoy stuff like CoD so long as that's not all you play. ;)

        2. badgercommander Avatar

          I do not understand what that even means. Except for the SWWW territory bit.

          I don't know how I got there, but when I did the people who had brought me there pulled the ladder out of the hole and now I am stuck here playing Mindjack. It isn't that bad actually.

          To be honest, my opinions on games almost make me want to put scores on everything I review. As much as I will go on and on about how much I love it; I would never give Mindjack more than a 6/10. The same can be said for Lost Planet 2, one of my games of 2010, but it is a 7-8/10 if I was going to try and be objective about it (I am not so I won't).

          1. Simon_Walker Avatar

            I've recently come to the conclusion that 'objective' reviews are a waste of everyone's time; there's always the temptation to score based on (more or less) measurable components, mostly related to production values. Problem with this is that fun is not that easy to measure, and the only thing that really matters is whether the game is fun. Or, more broadly, whether it successfully conveys an experience it sets out to do. I came to this conclusion after my attempt to 'objectively' score some games lead to Mass Effect 2 rating much higher than Mount & Blade: War Band, despite the fact that I enjoy the latter roughly a hundred times better. Process that gives nonsensical results doesn't seem very useful.

            If I ever score games, I'll weight various components based on their impact on core experience, or just use my purely subjective rating system I already use for movies.

          2. ShaunCG Avatar

            I'm not keen on scores at all as most people reading this probably know; if the words are sufficient to pique my interest then that's all I need. Whether a game is good or bad is probably much less important than whether it's an interesting or in some way worthwhile experience.

          3. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

            Which brings me to think how you'd score Samurai Shodown Sen. Which then brought me to dare speculate that a score made ''at the time of purchase'' would be much different than, say, right now.

            For some reason, I can't help but think SSS is, among perhaps a few other games, the type of title that could get a 7/10 at first (for a fan) yet with ''seemingly unforgiving flaws'' and then, a year later as it is being played again and enjoyed even more than it originally was, a 9/10 with its ''forgotten/accepted flaws''.

            Whether that is how you feel about it or not, the fact that that's how I'd grade SSS then and now contributes to make me ignore – even more than I used to – scoring systems.

            Games won't ever be perfect; and whichever actually are probably won't feel that way eternally. I don't think Mario 64 aged well. Not in the sense of ''ha, those camera controls and graphics are OBSOLETE today''. I think it just aged and that, from the moment I started playing to the end of it. Or perhaps it's my desire to play it which aged and died as it lowered in proportion with another desire that rose up the more I played: the one to be through with it.

            The lesser-games may, as we mature as gamers, end up being enjoyed in a casual or serious manner that the original ''first impression'' might not have allowed us to, but perhaps faintly hinted. For that, I guess one must WANT to play a game despite its flaws, learn about its flaws (a poorly coded game with no appeal might not ''magically gain it'' over time, while one with a steep learning curve, before-its-time approach or dated look could) and – from the start – open up to a game without remaining closed to ''anything under a metacritic of 90+''.

          4. badgercommander Avatar

            There was an interesting article I read recently about how getting a review out a before release was beoming less and less relevant (more because day one purchases were going to be made regardless of score). So yeah a written review without a score first, then maybe a later re-review with a 'but now I might have changed my mind'. That said there are people who still seem to think Ocarina of Time is good so what do I know?

          5. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

            But see there are also people buying 4 times the same hand-held which happen to have nothing but a slight design change or random feature ''that should have been there in the first place''. I won't blame it on people or fanbois entirely. You have to admit whoever pulls strings on that level to get people to cave in and ''go with the flow'' of such over-consumerism must be quite skilled in the industry.