I’ve not watched BBC Breakfast for a while, replacing the misery of watching Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams (aka Mail-tuttery-personified) with the endurance test that is Atlas Shrugged. Well, I say that, but I will admit to taking a break from that as well, so that I could binge on Ed Brubaker’s genius run on Captain America (surely the classic Cap run) and Ultimate Spider-Man by Bendis (on top form, thankfully) and Stuart Immonen. I know! I should end that frigging book, but I needed to see the new Captain America kick some right-wingers around, especially now that they’re feeling so down. Obama’s got a mandate, bitches! A mandate! Suck it up!
Anyway, this morning I paid more attention to BBC Breakfast than is healthy, primarily because today some evil corporate bastards have unleashed a new weapon against humanity, striking against our precious children by chaining them to an artificial reality in order to drain them of their resources, their souls, their potential. Such an apocalyptic event deserved full expression of their dismay, as they tried valiantly to prevent the theft of an entire generation. Yes, though it sickens me to say it, Blizzard released another WoW expansion pack. Those evil mind-controlling motherfuckers! Save the children from that thing we don’t quite understand but will distrust anyway just to be on the safe side!
As soon as I saw the two disapproving parent-archetypes sitting on their sofa with all of the moral authority of two angry bags of compost, announcing the imminent discussion with all of the severity their little brains could muster, my heart sank. As I have said before when railing against this most insultingly alarmist show, I understand that early morning TV is meant to be light, but surely the release of an MMORPG expansion pack for one of the most successful, popular, and beloved games in the world is not going to bring about the death of childhood, and so acting like it is is surely the antithesis of “light chatter”. I missed the start of the show, but Canyon informed me that even before their little snippy piece about the game began, they predictably brought up the death of a South Korean gamer from exhaustion which, in traditional BBC Breakfast style, was linked to World of Warcraft when, in fact, the guy died playing Starcraft. A small point, but indicative of the rigour with which the disapproving Luddites had researched the piece.
I almost didn’t watch. It’s been a while since I spent time watching Bill and Sian, simply because they make me so mad I can barely stand it. For all I know they have been railing against gaming with miserable regularity. “The release of a game called The Force Unleashed has raised concerns that children may turn to the Dark Side after playing it.” “This game, Spore, encourages children to cultivate and eat diseases!” “Your children are at threat from LittleBigPlanet, which might make your children sew themselves into sacks!” Of course, this morning they were particularly terrible, using their stern faces to register disgust over the thought of anyone daring to play computer games which corrupt minds and destroy lives and many other imaginary things.
Though they’ve done this before, and even though they were talking (down) to three WoW fans instead of having some typically ineffectual and token balanced debate (which is usually conducted with the inclusion of some non-gaming crazy person with a head full of suspicion and fear), their behaviour this morning was even more snotty and dismissive as usual, probably because they resented wasting their time discussing something as “silly” as a game when OMG! They had the thrill of introducing a previously filmed clip of a BBC journo on a press junket interviewing Angelina Jolie about Changeling! The glamour of presenting BBC Breakfast should never be sullied with something as decadent and corrupting as a mere game. Get off our sofa, worthless fools, I could imagine Sian saying, as Bill sits and devours numerous custard creams while humming the theme to Dixon of Dock Green.
I felt especially bad for one player, Marijke Jensen, who was still clad in the Night Elf costume she had been wearing to the special release event at HMV Oxford Circus last night. It was a cool costume, and — after Bill had expressed a somewhat unhealthy interest in it — she seemed to not expect his sneering “Whyyyyyyyyyyy?” because, you know, you don’t think a TV presenter would be openly rude and dismissive like that. Luckily she was friendly enough to defuse the moment with a genial acknowledgement that wearing something like that might seem extreme to, say, a trad-dad square from the McCarthy era magically transported to W1, 2008. The other guests — a hardcore player (Ben West) who had also attended the launch, and Tim Edwards from PC Gamer Magazine — then had to put up with Bill and Sian stumbling to understand what the game involves, not to mention returning to the same goddamn question, over and over again, about how long people play it. The poor guy who attended the launch, who had waited 36 hours in line, was mocked by Bill for waiting so long, but at least he tried to explain that he did it for the feeling of being a part of something, a community of like-minded people, that playing the game is a social thing and leads to real friendships (as regular Shades of Caruso visitor Jaredan can attest to). It’s something Bill can’t understand, as the only community he belongs to is Daily Mail Island, and they despise the BBC. It must be horribly depressing for him.
The piece continued for only a few minutes, but it felt like a million years, with both presenters tut-tutting at the amount of time devoted players spent on the game, and then reading out one viewer email from a Concerned Mother who complained at her 18-year old son’s daily WoW marathons (12 hours a day, which seems excessive and probably exaggerated for effect), stating that he has no friends. Of course, anyone who plays the game will know that it’s very easy to make friends online, and the game depends on social interaction and cooperation, but parents (and Bill and Sian, obviously) won’t accept that because internet friends can’t possibly exist or mean anything to their children, oblivious to the fact that they are probably grateful to meet people with the same hobby as them, who don’t judge them for doing something they enjoy. After that single negative email Sian deigned to read a positive one, prefaced with the dismissive and frustrated bleat, “I have to say, the majority have been positive because they do play the game,” which is the perfect example of how her mind remains closed against new information. Closed, because otherwise all of the Hypothetical Idiots she has invented will come spilling out, babbling hysterically, running into traffic, or eating quicklime, or maybe even playing a computer game for eight days without a break and then dying from dehydration.
As I said earlier, this anti-gaming suspicion is something I’ve gone on about before, and it’s a really silly thing to get annoyed about, but the Today Programme is also getting in on the technophobia with a depressingly one-sided report, and the BBC News homepage features this special report, which makes me suspect the corporation is secretly really pissed at the failure of Fightbox. (Night Elf Marijke is on the far left on the homepage picture.)
Still, despite the depressing blanket suspicion across the BBC’s coverage, I’m most incensed by Bill and Sian’s obnoxious behaviour, telling their guests off for playing WoW for any amount of time (Bill kept tutting, “That’s still a lot” no matter what the response), frowning constantly and belittling them for having an interest in something they don’t understand. With the only “professional” interviewed being a young journalist, they felt free to treat their guests like ill-behaved delinquents, sniping at them and their hobby with distasteful arrogance. Even Bill’s “jokes” about the Night Elf’s ears were framed as a nasty side-effect of playing too long.
Obviously there is an issue about compulsive playing there; I’d be crazy to deny it (probably driven crazy by obsessive gaming!). However, any pursuit can potentially create obsessive behaviour in those who follow it, and many of the complaints about WoW are coming from parents whose children, who have retreated into what they see as a pointless fantasy world, would probably retreat into some other world away from their parents if they weren’t gaming. It’s called adolescence, and is a fact of life. Nevertheless, that coverage is not what annoys me. It’s the distrustful attitude of much of the mainstream media, possibly resentful that young eyeballs are being stolen by gaming (or whatever the dehumanising term for viewing figure decline is this week), that gaming is always framed in terms of the harm it must do to children, that it is never seen as a positive thing or a potential source of much artistic value, that the fact that it brings people together is treated with much amusement by commentators stuck in their 20th Century world and unable to believe that social networking via any new form of technology can be enormously empowering and, at its most base level, a lot of fun. Families are being formed or brought together because of these developments. It’s not threatening our way of life, it’s enhancing it. Embrace our machine friends!
Most immediately, though, I’m furious about the rude attitude of Bill and Sian, who acted like stern parents to these total strangers, all of whom are over the age of 18 and surely deserving of some respect. It was bordering on bullying behaviour, to be honest, and I’m sick of seeing gamers treated like potentially unstable children. Even worse, I feel especially bad for gamers who have been up all night, filled with excitement about the release of a long-awaited expansion pack and happy to have been part of a joyful event populated by people who share the same interests as them, turning up to a BBC studio to enthuse about their hobby only to be treated like delusional freaks or criminals by the sub-moronic presenters of this appalling, amateurish, poorly researched piece of shit show.
Compare Bill and Sian’s awful treatment of the three gamers with their fawning interview of singer and sentient oil slick Jonathan Ansell, whose oleaginous insincerity was only matched by their boundless delight at his dreary anecdotes about how wonderful he is. A truly nauseating display. If I could I’d organise a boycott of the show by bombarding gamer and legendary literary leviathan Charlie Brooker with incensed all-caps emails, but that’s just the fatigue-induced temporary insanity talking, and has nothing to do with my recent Civilisation Revolution binges, which have lasted for up to five hours. Nothing to do with that at all.
Still, it was not all misery. They also had Dragon’s Den judge Duncan Bannatyne on. I’ve yet to express my immense frustration at these pompous, self-aggrandising sinkholes who have convinced the BBC — a publicly funded corporation — to air a show that allows them to interview inventors and cherry-pick the best ideas for investment, from which they then make a fat wad of cash. Truly imaginative entrepreneurial thinking, there. Of course, I take great pleasure every time I hear that one of their rejects — usually dismissed with derision and laughter — has become a huge success without their minimal investment (usually offered in exchange for almost punitive shares in the new businesses). If I came up with a solid idea, the last thing I would do is give these crooks a chance to absorb my profits with their rapacious plundering.
Anyway, Bannatyne was on, and looking grumpier than usual. I wonder why? (There was a copy of the Sun sitting around the studio earlier in the show, during the sports news, and I can imagine it was whisked away and hidden with a quickness once they were done with it. Poor Duncan.)
ETA: Good to see I’m not the only one annoyed by Sian and Bill’s arrogant embrace of technological ignorance, and worded with far more elegance than I can muster to boot.