GamesMaster was the first ever UK-produced television programme dedicated to video games, and ran from 1992 to 1998 on Channel 4. I used to love this programme during its original run, although watching this show today, roughly 20 years after it first aired, feels like being stuck at a friend’s house, watching them continuously play one-player games whilst they stubbornly ignore your desperate pleas for them to let you have a quick go.
Episode 1 of the series opens with a high-tech Tron-inspired opening sequence. The television channel Challenge said that GamesMaster was too dated to be rebroadcast, but the credit sequence alone looks so futuristic that I struggle to imagine a world in which this will ever seem anything less than cutting edge. There’s an insert floppy disc sign, some choral singing, some organ music, a couple of CG cranes, a 3D throne — this is practically Logan’s Run.
As the credits wind up, we cut to the GamesMaster studio. Here we’re introduced to a very young Dominik Diamond, aptly dressed like a character from a point and click adventure game. It’s difficult to tell if those are the clothes he turned up in or whether they’re an attempt to fit in with the castle/dungeon/sex warehouse setting that GamesMaster appears to be going for.
In all honestly, I’m totally confused about what this building is supposed to be. I keep half expecting it to be raided by a criminal syndicate searching for a place to store their crack and boxes of pirated VHS tapes. It also makes the show look like a less exciting version of the film Fight Club, in which a collective of over-excited geeks gather in an abandoned warehouse to compete against some of the toughest video games that the early ’90s had to offer.
Rule 1 of video game club: you do not talk about video game club.
Rule 2 of video game club: Up, Down, Left, Right, A, B, C and Start.
Dominik makes a few inappropriate euphemisms about viewers waggling their joysticks in their bedrooms — just to confirm what mums and dads up and down the country had already suspected their son’s ridiculously time consuming video game hobby to really be about — and the first contestant is brought out to play Super Mario Bros. 3.
Who better to get to grips with the fiendish gameplay of the deceptively cute game (not my words, but the words of Dominik Diamond) than Daniel Blake from Edgewell? Yeah, who better that Daniel Blake — from Edgewell? Seen here he is wearing a jumper with the word “Authentic” written on it, presumably because this guy’s the real deal. But despite his grandiose introduction, Daniel Blake from Edgewell does admit to being a “bit tense and nervous.”
Why is Daniel Blake from Edgewell a bit tense and nervous? Because he has to collect 50 coins in the first level of the game, which is no easy task, even for an authentic, experienced gamer like Daniel Blake from Edgewell. But despite making a few early school boy errors, Blake manages to collect over 50 coins, completing the stage with time to spare and clinching him the first ever GamesMaster golden phallus.
“You can take that back to Edgewell with you, you can put it in your hand and you can walk proud and erect through the high street,” Dominik suggests. That might seem like an inappropriate thing to say to a 13-year-old boy, but the glint in Blake’s eye implies that that’s exactly what he’s going to do when returns to Edgewell as a winner, a champion — a hero.
I can just picture Daniel Blake from Edgewell now, strutting down his local high street, proudly displaying his unfortunately shaped GamesMaster joystick, completely unaware of the inevitable ass kicking that awaits him further down the street.
Next up: a review of the Terminator game by an array of industry professionals and an abused, enchanted doll.
Ra Dion is his name; he writes for CVG magazine and one half of his head is shaved whilst the other side remains long, wild and unruly. Give it a few years and any self-respecting fan of middle-of-the-road indie will look like this.
After the review, it’s on to a section about Game Boy customisation, described by Dominik as “some sound advice on where to put your pennies.” And so sound is this advice that in most cases the customisation renders the Game Boy barely functional.
“I put skateboard grips on it because, uh, it makes holding it much more comfortable,” says one gamer, who happens to look, but definitely doesn’t sound like Lee Ronaldo from Sonic Youth. “Your hands don’t sweat as much and I’ve put the essential Stussy sticker on there.”
Time for another challenge and this time it’s a game of Manchester United Europe between Simon Reynolds from Bishops Stortford and football player John Fashanu, both of whom are showered with boos and jeers upon entering the GamesMaster auditorium, possibly because video game fans still considered sport and anything vaguely related to the meaningless physical competition as the devil’s work, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, since this episode was broadcast, the video game industry has pumped out a whole host of substandard sport titles, most of them purchased by the kind of meat-headed jocks who were responsible for shaving one half of Ra Dion’s head because he was a freak — a freak who liked video games.
Anyway, Simon Reynolds from Bishops Stortford’s tactic for the upcoming match: “good, close, clean passing plays tonight.”
“A lot of skill?” Dominik asks, apparently unaware that Simon and John are about to play a 2-dimensional Amiga game that primarily consists of dull, lifeless passing and players that move like they’ve just soiled their shorts.
“Oh yes,” replies Simon confidently. We’re about to be treated to a lot of skill, and by that he means an onslaught of digital ball control. Pixels are going to be flipping this way, flopping that way, weaving in and out of other pixels; it’s going to be quite a scene, man.
The game kicks off. Fashanu makes a great start, but starts to falter after one of his goals is disallowed by the machine, allowing Simon to score a winning goal.
“I’m not a bad loser,” Fashanu barks afterwards, clearly struggling to come to terms with the results.
Appearing to rub salt in Fashanu’s tender wounds, Dominik presents Simon with his GamesMaster joystick. “John’s got every reason to be unhappy,” Diamond gloats, “because he’s just missed out on a throbbing, golden GamesMaster joystick!”
Fashanu’s furious and takes this opportunity to exit the stage. “I can’t believe this fucking shit,” he mutters before kicking over a chair.
Sorry, that last bit doesn’t actually happen.
Next there’s a segment called “Consoltations”, in which Patrick Moore (The GamesMaster) attempts to solve the gaming dilemmas of a variety of slack-jawed adolescents. One of them can’t find the “secret world” in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, hidden in Act 3 of the Green Hill Zone, much to Moore’s astonishment.
Finally, the show’s third contestant, Tony Wright, takes to the stage for a round of the arcade shooting game Mad Dog McCree. As Dominik rightly points out, Tony is a mature gamer — he has a moustache and glasses.
Dominik asks him why he’s chosen to pursue a child’s pastime as a hobby.
“You know, it’s good after a hard day’s work to unwind,” Tony explains.
“I’ve had a hard day myself,” Dominik says, with a grin. “Let’s see if you can relieve my tension, Tony.”
There’s an awkward silence as Tony tries to figure out where this is going. Fortunately for Tony, however, Dominik is just having a bit of fun and the challenge begins.
Now when Tony said he likes to unwind by playing video games, what he really meant was that he finds that act of shooting people in the face therapeutic. As various cowboys appear on the screen, Tony shoots at them with his laser gun relentlessly, one after the other. After the first few kills, a smile appears on his face.
Tony’s objective: to get the sheriff out the jail; however, it soon becomes clear that Tony has other plans as he incessantly fires at anything that appears, regardless if it’s a threat or not. His smile begins to widen and he starts to chuckle and before long he’s fastening a makeshift shift bandana around his forehead using his belt and laughing hysterically as he virtually picks innocent people off.
“Now — now Tony, that was, uh, some pretty incredible shooting there,” Dominik says in amazement, as Tony’s game comes to a close. Tony is awarded the third golden phallus of the night before being quickly escorted out of the studio, marking the end of the show.
“Now it’s time for me to don my smoking jacket,” Dominik says, “so I’ll see you again in seven days.”
The futuristic closing credits roll and the episode grinds to a halt.
So, overall, a pretty good opening to the series, and just in case you’re wondering, yes, Dominik Diamond really does make those incredibly suggestive comments throughout this episode. Although, back then of course it was common place to make inappropriate jokes to children, especially jokes concerning cocks and masturbation. In those days I was always being asked to parade up and down my local high street with something erect in my hand; it was just how things were. One time I seem to recall being approached by somebody quite similar to Tony, who asked me how I’d feel if he removed my skin with his bare hands. That was just how the ’90s were, and the fact that those comments are now deemed as inappropriate is just a sign of the times, unfortunately.
Inappropriate comments aside, I have to admit that I really enjoyed this first episode of GamesMaster. Perhaps three challenges a show is a bit too much, but the reviews and the “Consoltations” segments were good fun. I also found the piece on Game Boy customisation particularly interesting, inspiring me to glue my own pair of devil horns to my laptop and, of course, complete the look with the essential Stussy sticker that has become so synonymous with my own unique style.
I’d post a picture of how my laptop looks, but I accidentally over-customised my camera, rendering it entirely useless.