Play Per View

Kotaku has a post up on XLeague TV, a British TV channel dedicated to showing actual video game play. Even more than the announcement of the new channel, what I found interesting were commenters’ reactions: the original writer of the post was very disparaging of the idea, calling the entire concept “pointless” and “weak.” So far, the comments that follow offer some voices of agreement, but mostly suggestions that it might not be such a bad idea.

Valee says:
In Korea, they have dedicated tv programmes for their online games like Lineage2 & Starcraft, which shows top players fighting it out. Then again, these games are wildly popular in Korea.

cyhborg says:
hey, i wouldn’t mind (i have no life…)

Cell9song says:
I thought about something like this while watching a friend play Halo 1. As stupid as it sounds it just may get a viewership. Just a hunch.

… And so on. It certainly doesn’t end there. This is particularly interesting to me because I’ve been writing a lot lately about how current theories of game enjoyment rely a great deal on the concept of an appropriate level of challenge for the player. Those theories are seriously problematic when you consider how many people watch games without necessarily playing. This includes not only TV spectators, but friends watching each other play, like Cell9Song suggests above. I have one friend, for example, who once told me she made her boyfriend (now husband) buy each new Final Fantasy game so he can play it while she watches. Similarly, a lot of people spend more time watching others playing in arcades rather than playing. It’s unfortunate that this is kind of behavior is denigrated even worse than video game play is already, as suggested by cyhborg’s self-deprecating “i have no life” comment above.

I wonder why it is, then, that that distinction seems absent in other cultures. I’ve often heard people referring to things along the lines of Valee’s comment on video games being a spectator sport in Korea, but this post inspired me to look it up finally. If that clip is any indication, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Robert Summa at Destructoid says:

Oh the pageantry of two nerds sitting at a computer surrounded by adoring crowds, bright lights and the pressure of being the best … simply the best. Color me weird, but I always found the way professional gaming was handled and appreciated overseas to be fascinating and this video is a perfect example of why. Any chance we could ever see a spectacle like this in the U.S.? I doubt it.

An American version of this may not be so near on the horizon, but XLeague TV might turn out to be the experiment others in the TV industry are keep their eyes on.

One thought on “Play Per View

  1. I wonder if television is the right medium for this, though. I’ve seen a few attempts by G4 and ESPN2 to broadcast game tournaments, and despite the pageantry and fast pace they’ve uniformly been deadly, deadly boring.

    I think that’s because it takes a lot of experience with a game to understand what’s going on and appreciate what the players are doing. In the absence of that knowledge it’s not nearly as enjoyable — it’s like a football naif watching a high school and pro game back to back. They’ll see that one’s faster, but they won’t really be able to enjoy one more than another. I think videogames are the same way (except there aren’t any beer stands). I can watch video of fatal1ty playing an FPS all day long. When I see people playing DOA or Gran Turismo competitively, I’m bored to tears.

    I can imagine some games attracting a large enough audience to justify a TV broadcast — a Madden tournament during the Superbowl halftime, say — but with the quality of video on the net improving, that seems like a more natural home for these small audiences.

    Either way, demanding to watch someone play Final Fantasy is a sickness that should be pitied and treated (although I can completely understand it).

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