Comedian, broadcaster, creator of Black Mirror, Gameswipe, Nathan Barley and previous PC Zoner Charlie Brooker and I went to the pub and talked about videogames. If I had to review him I would give him 9/10 for hyperrealistic beard graphics, and 8/10 for volume/sound because he was a tad quiet on my recording due to the man next to us in the corner chaperoning us and being creepy. He gets 3/10 for pint handling but 10/10 for pint buying. Submit to Metacritic. Which should make clear that I don’t really know how Metacritic works.What follows is an hour and a half of chat about arcade machines, free to play games, The Last of Us, Syndicate Wars being the best game ever, Nathan Barley, Black Mirror, Portal 2 co-op, and games journalism as a whole. I also had a message to him from Martin Hollis, which went down better than expected.
Here is part one of the interview: Gaming Made Me: Charlie Brooker, Part 1 | Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
And part two.
The second part was edited to make it less lengthy, but only by a little bit. Here is some extra Twitter / Newswipe / Brass Eye discussion, uncut.
I say Black Mirror and Newswipe have something in common: the fear or distrust of media and technological advances. Does that reflect a world view he has? Is technology enhancing our lives, or removing things from us?
“I don’t think [technology] enhances the world any more than a pleasant taste sensation. I don’t know – this is something I am thinking about a lot for an upcoming thing: has technology made us any happier? Obviously in some ways it has in that, technology has saved more lives… but I don’t… I think the good generally levels out the bad. I’m mistrustful of things like Twitter because I think it encourages you… Twitter is the world’s most popular videogame basically, as far as I can see. It’s a videogame where you perform your personality or your opinion in a particular way … and it’s got a high score table where it lists how many followers you’ve got. Twitter Analytics – have you heard of Twitter Analytics?” I shake my head, slightly wide-eyed. “I got invited to this Twitter Analytics Twitter event a while back, and they sent me a thing ‘Oh you’ve got Twitter Analytics now’ and I thought they’d rolled this out for everyone… It’s a thing where you get a fucking breakdown… Here’s how many twitter followers you have in various parts of the globe, here’s how many of them are male, and here’s how many of them are female, and once you’ve seen that, you go mad, because you start thinking ‘so if I tweet something at 3am that’s geared towards an American audience…
“Now obviously as a columnist or as somebody who has got a profile in some way… I’m just doing something that everyone is encouraged to do on Twitter or Facebook which is to come up with a sort of caricatured form of yourself and perform it on a daily basis… I just think it’s encouraging people to lie and exaggerate.” I say if you think of Twitter as a game like that, then it sort of becomes one. “I don’t know how many opinions on there are people’s genuine opinions. I mean if I say something on there that’s strident, then I can withdraw it two seconds later, because I don’t really mean it… I think Twitter encourages people to pretend they care about things, that they don’t really – if it wasn’t easy to pretend that they did. There’s something weirdly insidious about that, that I mistrust. And it’s not like it’s anyone’s fault… But on the other hand I check it all the time because that’s where I’m exposed to a lot of news stories and what’s going on. It’s very seductive. That’s how I feel about technology in general. It’s very seductive. Valium is very seductive, you know…”
I say he’s sort of the only answer we have to Jon Stewart (“I’ll take that… they’re more ideological than I am”), and I wonder if the media misrepresenting serious issues is something that he’s really interested in bringing into focus. “The reason I ended up doing Weeklywipe (and it was supposed to be an amalgamation of Newswipe and Gameswipe but at the point where we were doing it there were no games released basically) -” I stop him: it wasn’t lack of popularity of Gameswipe that there wasn’t another one? “No, no,” he says, “We were going to do them every week. Tomb Raider was pencilled in but got pushed back. No but I was doing Screenwipe and I thought it was a bit meatier so I didn’t really understand it well, so I did Newswipe so it forced me to look at it and understand it a bit more. And then the sensibility was that I was gonna be reviewing the news like it’s just any other TV show. Then it became something more serious kind of by accident. It feels that way when you’re dealing with the kind of topics we were doing.”
I ask if the target of his satire is the media itself, or the people that consume the media. “I don’t know,” he says. “I think it’s more that we were trying to give an overview of the stories. Everything now is about the rolling news and… there are very few places that will just stop and go, ‘Well, what’s happened? What’s just happened? How do we feel about what just occurred? And when you do that, by default, what you notice is… The researchers compiled all the news stories into a file and you’d get to see all the news boiled down to its source… and what generally happens is you see is here’s is a news story: great. No one knows what’s going on for a bit, then they kind of understand it, then there’s probably a point here [he gestures] where they should probably shut up about it. Either start talking about something else, there’s nothing more to say, or it’s not very clear, and there’s usually a fork in the road that happens. Nine times out of ten, they’ll take the silly fork. There will be silly aspects that start coming… It starts going off by a number of degrees. I remember the description of the film Brazil by Terry Gilliam: it’s our world, but off by five degrees. By the time you get to the end of a rolling news story, the reality is way down here [he gestures again, has apologised for impossibility of transcription], it’s a heightened bizarre world. And so all we do is package that up and show that. Generally it’ll always be the same format. It’s just bullshit… or you’re reporting it because it’s a la fucking mode. …Just in summarising things, almost any news story becomes funny in about a week.”
I say in Brass Eye too, the lampooning was aimed at not the issue itself but the coverage of the issue of paedophilia. “Well I mean, the more serious the issue the more fucking panderingly self-important the coverage is generally,” he says, “and can be incredibly untrustworthy and can become … you’d have to ask Chris about his motivation for that… but you could see in the media a perverse titillation on that they were covering something that was pushing buttons in parents.” I remark it’s really weird that Simon Pegg turns up to play a paedophile very early in his career in that episode. “It’s one of those things is that you go oh my god I can’t believe that’s happening.”
What are you doing next? “I’m doing some more writing, I’m doing a 2013 Wipe, which I’ll definitely put The Last of Us in, if at least nothing else. Doing another Weeklywipe, and I may be doing another videogames thing. And I’m writing some more dramas as well.”
Thank you for your time, Mr Brooker.