Twitter Was A Bad Choice - Some Thoughts On ‘Charlie Brooker: How Video Games Changed The World’
If you have an interest in computer games then no doubt Charlie Brooker’s Channel 4 documentary would have peaked your interest. If you haven’t seen it, go and watch it. It is very, very good.
Brooker’s wit is as sharp as his knowledge on the subject, deftly taking us from the roots of computer games as a curious novelty of bleeping cabinets and cult homemade classics to the modern mega budget blockbusters and minority report body motion moments of today.
I don’t envy anyone trying to cram the entire world spanning history of games into a 97 minute show but if anyone can, and make it funny, it’s him. As you’d expect from a writer who’s been covering games for longer than most abuse spouting headset child soldiers have been alive.
So here we go, 25 games representing how the world has been changed by games. Everything from Pong, Monkey Island, Minecraft and The Last of Us have changed the ways we have played games as well as how wider society has accepted them. I’m not going to spoil the show for you but it isn’t about a personal opinion list of the best games, it’s about the true turning points.
The last on the list ties into this categorising in a more derivative way and I imagine this was the most polarising entry for many viewers. The number one ranked game, representative of our current lifestyle, is Twitter.
Now, I’m really not trying to winge on about something I saw on the telly that I didn’t agree with, even though that’s almost exactly what it looks like already. That would be like sending a letter of complaint to MTV or Radio 1 because I wanted that song about Chinese food to get to Christmas number one instead of One Direction or something. No, that would be mental.
I’m chiming in because I’ve already talked a lot about Twitter and games before and the links between the two continue to fascinate me. Brooker and his contributors’ reasons for Twitter being categorised as a game are convincing and stand up very well to a point and this is why I feel so compelled to respond. However, I cannot accept Twitter is a computer game, conventional or otherwise, and I’d like to explain why I don’t agree.
According to the show, Twitter is a game in the sense that it has the same hooks as a computer game. Because racking up followers is like collecting points and responses to tweets creates a reward sensation. I agree that in this sense that, yes Twitter is totally a game. But it is a game for an exclusive set of people with a remarkably active Twitter account, because these frameworks are far more diluted (and near non existent) for most users that don’t have a follower count that looks like an overseas phone number.
While we’re shopping on the social media aisle I’d argue that Facebook is probably a stronger case for being branded a game. Keeping up with parties and events while reviewing tagged photos stealthily creates a perpetual gameplay challenge for Facebookers, sometimes manifested as a rather unhealthy fixation more tuned into our vanity and paranoia than a need for social interaction. It is certainly a game to the notoriously divisive ‘catfish’ players who perpetrate fake accounts for spurious reasons. Also, Facebook actually has games on it, so there’s that.
The points made by Rab Florence about us slowly becoming the Sims using Facebook and photo tagging were inspired and probably closest to the mark, because how we choose to convey and customise ourselves is also something that happens in games. But in terms of Twitter’s ‘points’ framework this is really where the links end.
Because then, in this sense, too many other things are a game. Most of which are far more longstanding and relevant than Twitter. If Twitter is a game then clearly so is YouTube or Tumblr or the Internet in general. I’d also rank the cash machine as an online, worldwide computer game that rewards, defines and enables your social standing and interactions.
Maybe the stock exchange is the best example of something that evolved into a computer game that changed the world in this sense. Numerous apps and Sat Navs also build upon rewards and achievement frameworks commonly felt in games, but aren’t defined as games. For the record, I don’t think any of those things are computer games either.
Topping up the credit on an Oyster card and monitoring its point score on a computer as it depletes between stops while trying to get home to the ‘goal’ is a game, why not? I realise it’s the world changing element as well as Twitter’s encompassing social structure that puts it on the list in a way that my Oyster card doesn’t, but here’s the thing with Twitter; Unlike most games, the experience varies wildly depending on who you are.
The reason I was most excited for this show is down to those involved. I follow contributing games writers such as Matt Lees, Cara Ellison, Ellie Gibson, Keza MacDonald and Keith Stuart on Twitter as well as celebrities like Peter Serafinowicz, Rob Florence, Jonathan Ross, Graham Linehan and Dara O Brian among others. It’s a ridiculously great list of interesting and invested games aficionados whose credentials smash mine into the dirt.
But being on Twitter as a high profile and widely celebrated writer, games producer, comedian or celebrity is a completely different experience than one the average person experiences. This is where the case for Twitter falls flat for me. Earlier I mentioned that, yes I found the description of Twitter’s gameplay element convincing. That’s because I’m trying to relate to the talking heads perspective of being a Twitter handle with thousands of followers. No doubt It is changing their world on a daily basis, maybe even every moment they look at Twitter. It must be phenomenal.
I use Twitter and naturally my friends and colleagues are also fairly active on it. I have 174 followers (lol) and tweet a fair amount. I’ll usually respond to people, sporadically tweet a dumb joke I thought was funny at the time or to fav/RT someone’s tweet I thought was good. Twitter is virtual post-it notes to me. I don’t care about followers. I don’t know who most of those people following me are or how many are even real people so I can’t care when that number goes up or down. It has no real bearing on how I feel I’m doing for points or whatever.
Basically, If Twitter never existed my life wouldn’t have been any different. It hasn’t changed my world and no doubt hasn’t significantly changed the world of many millions of people around the world that use it. Yes, it’s amazing that world changing events like the Arab Spring or virtually any celebrity death becomes widely circulated on Twitter before anywhere else but I don’t see how that falls into being a game. I don’t see a way that a news wire that everyone’s invited to is a game. If a bunch of people read the newspaper together is that a game?
But I understand that it must be a pretty important game to these people. I don’t disagree that it is a game to them, it just seems like a game to a few and a tool to many. If you’re a comedian or a writer or a TV personality you want to see the response to your online content, and Twitter is going to plug you into that rewarding point scoring game in a very intense way. If you’re working in retail or in an office and just casually sharing a funny link with mates it doesn’t carry the same gravity. It just isn’t the same. It’s MSN messenger with better jokes.
To experience the hyper-active reactions game these people are experiencing when they go on Twitter and that @ tab is constantly bleeping like blue christmas lights must be like playing Dance Dance Revolution in 140 characters.
I completely get why all these people got together and all the production team and channel personnel reached this conclusion. After all, the media has had any way of networking pumped through its highly caffeinated veins since dinosaurs invented the wheel, so they are also playing a game. But I feel it was one quite insular and introspective of the programme makers.
I got how it felt to live in some rural town in the middle of nowhere hearing ambivalent Londonites bang on about how great it is to live in a booming metropolis down the TV. It was very alien and almost unknowingly elitist. A game shouldn’t rely on stature, influence or opinion for it to be that game, and I think that’s what Twitter relies on in this definition.
The Last of Us, World of Warcraft, Space Invaders and Minecraft are games because they are the same computer game to everyone. We play in these worlds and all have that same experience, we will perceive that experience differently but it is still the same game. Twitter is fundamentally not the same for everyone and so it is not a game to everyone (ooh that sounds so serious).
Case in point when you sign up to Twitter it prompts you to follow certain well known advocates. Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and Bret Easton Ellis for example, but Perter Serafinowicz, Graham Linehan and Jonathan Ross are also on that list, in their world they are somewhere around the top of the leader board in that ‘game’ sense but to me it’s just some famous guys on Twitter that ‘social media app’ Twitter is pointing at.
I don’t know if they are actually aware of that introduction feature. I feel like the show’s Twitter elites can’t be the people to deign how the experience is like for the average person or the greater audience, it just doesn’t sit well for me. I bargain Twitter’s difficulty setting (if it has one) feels more engaging depending on how much influence and how many followers you have because when I hear them talking about Twitter I believe they believe that that is what Twitter is.
As I mentioned, I follow these people on Twitter because I like their tweets, or maybe the projected Sims persona that comes with it. Maybe it is a game and I’m just an NPC in their game along with the rest of their passive followers, fuzzily loaded in the background. In fact I wouldn’t have known about Matt Lees or Cara Ellison were it not for their impressive Twitter presence, it’s their game.
I might disagree but I really do see where they’re coming from, I’m sure I’m just a silly person that “didn’t get it” and that isn’t ‘good’ at Twitter to some.
Maybe school kids being bullied on Twitter to the point of suicide (who I’m certain aren’t having much fun or playing) are just not good at the Twitter game, I honestly don’t know. And it’s because I don’t know why Twitter is so defiantly supposed to be such an encompassing computer game that I can’t agree with this categorisation. I get that you like your popularity counter and your social club, I just don’t think that makes it an experience that universally encompasses playing or fun, like a game should be by definition.
I’m just adding my opinion as I feel Twitter making the list of games that changed the world is also just an opinion and not a fact. That’s all. I’m glad the show challenged me to think about games rather than just look at them and that’s where I think including Twitter (to a point and for people in a certain bubble) works. I really hope Charlie follows up the special with more work on games as there’s nothing I like to see him focus on more.
There’s few better informed or as insightfully critical on the subject working at his level in british media and if we ever needed a spokesman for this medium it’s him. He’s special because he’s almost always right, except about Twitter, and about the recession being felt in 2007, not mid 2008… and Wreck it Ralph wasn’t made by Pixar.