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Cards on the table: there are lot of people, myself included, who didn’t think it was possible to bring back GamesMaster.
Ever since I discovered that Channel 4 was wooing advertisers back in February for the show’s potential return, I was adamant that it was a bad move.
The original show was the perfect storm – a charismatic presenter, a brilliantly and deliberately ‘miscast’ serious TV host as the titular GamesMaster, a bunch of entertaining challenges – all during an era when video games received little to no mainstream media coverage.
GamesMaster was exactly what I needed as a kid. When it first aired in January 1992 I was 9 years old and already obsessed with video games, and being able to watch a show about it on TV with my dad (who probably enjoyed it for the innuendo I missed at that age) was the perfect affirmation that my hobby was legit.
That was 1992, though. It’s now nearly three decades later, and you can’t move for video game media. You only need to glance in the direction of YouTube or Twitch and you’ll get all the games content you could ever hope for.
What’s more, video games have very much entered mainstream acceptance. Take press coverage, for example: the likes of the BBC and the Guardian, who would previously have only touched video games if it was related to some sort of moral panic, now regularly cover the medium.
So with all that in mind, how could a new GamesMaster possibly work? And, more to the point, now that video games are all over the place, who really needs it?
That was my stance until Sunday night, when the first episode of the new reboot premiered on the E4 YouTube channel. Then it all changed. You can watch that episode here:
The secret to the new show’s success is that it replicates so much of what made the original so well-loved, especially those three key elements mentioned above.
First, the charismatic presenter. I will go to my grave saying that Dominik Diamond is Mr GamesMaster, and that nobody else could ever hope to fit into his gloriously unfashionable red suit, but in Rab Florence, Channel 4 absolutely nailed the casting.
Florence has been presenting video game content for more than a decade and a half. Before YouTube even existed, he was creating hilarious gaming videos online – his cult show Consolevania was unashamedly Scottish, including such delights as him calling out the likes of Codemasters and Rare for a fight on Glasgow Green.
That refusal to sanitise his Scottish lilt is perfect in a show that’s so synonymous with its previous Scottish presenter.
During the first challenge, a brilliantly tense Super Mario 3D World speedrun, he admits that he was distracted because he was “just looking at Mario’s nice wee arse” (so that’s the dad joke box ticked off too).
Florence is flanked by two similarly charismatic presenters. Frankie Ward provides co-commentary duties – replacing the line-up of socially awkward pundits from the original series – and does a fantastic job of explaining what’s going on to those who may not be familiar with the games chosen for each challenge.
Meanwhile, Ty Logan wanders the venue interviewing the audience (and breaking the microphone in a brilliant section), but really shines in his own section where he hosts a VR challenge in Beat Saber.
The second element is the casting of the GamesMaster himself. It was long rumoured that Patrick Stewart would be taking on the role (mainly because Channel 4 had been featuring him in very early images), but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that it was revealed that it would instead be TV news legend Trevor McDonald.
McDonald perfectly does what the late Patrick Moore did all those years ago – he provides an unexpected level of comedy to proceedings.
Like Moore, McDonald’s is traditionally one of the most serious TV faces you can think of, so having him as a big floating head saying “whaguan” to contestants and laughing as they fall to their death when they fail challenges is genuinely amusing. Another example of perfect casting.
So too is the third element – the challenges. The only negative moment I had while watching the show came not from the show itself but the live chat on YouTube, with people complaining that it was “ticking boxes” with its contestants.
These people seem to have forgotten that the original show bought in contestants of all ages, genders and races too, so the reboot is nothing new in that regard. That said, in an era where the gaming community is becoming increasingly more toxic, it was fantastic to see the diversity of the contestants included here.
The first challenger was a non-binary Twitch streamer and game QA tester, while the second was a lesbian couple who bond over Call of Duty sessions. Enough to have the worst corners of the internet snapping their pencils in pantomime outrage, sure, but a brilliant way of showing that video games are for everyone.
Even the obligatory ‘celebrity who doesn’t actually play many games’ bit was thoroughly entertaining thanks to some ridiculous old-school fan service with the introduction of legendary Big Boy Barry – who appeared as a contestant in the first series of GamesMaster before assuming his alter-ego in Sky One’s Games World knock-off.
But it wasn’t Barry who was taking part in the show – it was his (real-life) son, taking on the persona of Little Lad Larry, and the wee man was absolutely loving it. And in a way, it was this section that actually encapsulated what made this reboot so surprisingly brilliant for me.
I was nine years old when GamesMaster first aired, and I’m 38 now. I have a child of my own, and while she’s a bit too young to understand what’s going on at this stage, my situation isn’t rare.
Dotted around social media last night were tweets from adults who loved GamesMaster as children and were now watching it with their own kids, like my dad did with me. This show isn’t an attempt to recreate the magic for the kids of the ’90s, it’s an attempt to pass that magic down to their own kids.
More than anything else, the whole thing was just overwhelmingly positive, in an industry where negativity thrives. Even the final challenge, featuring cult favourite YouTube fighting game twins Ketchup and Mustard, had the two trash-talking each other but ultimately ending with a big, brotherly hug.
It was clear that my questions had been answered. How could a new GamesMaster possibly work? By sticking to what made it work in the first place – the hosts, the head and the heart.
As for the other question: now that video game coverage is all over the place, who really needs it? Well, if the positivity in that first episode is anything to go by, we all do.