Career: Balloon Animal Modelling

You might as well have said: “I model balloon animals for a living and I’m really bad at it.

“When I was writing video games reviews I was aware that I was in a bit of a ghetto, effectively. And I thought: “Well, how do I get out of this?” If I met someone at a barbecue and said I reviewed computer games for a living they would look at me like I’d said: [wobbles lips with fingers] “Blibablibablibablibblibliber.” You might as well have said: “I model balloon animals for a living and I’m really bad at it.” – Charlie Brooker.

When I started in games media in the early 2000s, we honestly were treated as social pariahs by everyone – but especially by the mainstream media, who were still in their ‘games kill babies’ phase. I don’t think any of my Oxford peers understood why I was doing what I was doing, and my mother endlessly asked me if I wanted to retrain as a barrister. And I think it unlikely that any of my dear friends of that generation have ever read anything I’ve written about games.

And now so much has changed. It’s a whole new world.

The Death of the Non-Gamer

To the tune of: Kate Bush – Pi

As a PR and journalist, I’ve been frustrated by the non-gamers and anti-gamers – the people who haven’t played or would never play games – and how they control the media. As the years have gone by, their hold on the mainstream has been eroded and the review sections of most national media are now games-friendly but the main news pages are still run with an ethos that is often anti-games. I’d argue this is because the people running these pages are either older people who’ve never seen the point in trying games or, more likely, they’re just part of the burgeoning crew who are neo-Luddites; the type of people who use mobile phones and computers through sufferance, and can’t believe that the majority loves tech.

Yet, as we saw with the obsolescence of the WWII generation by the late 1960s, perceptual and control shifts can happen, and happen rapidly. Take a look at the graphs below, which illustrate how the population of gamers at large is going to shift in the UK over the next 20 years. I’ve used two data sources here, detailed at the bottom  – as data isn’t currently available for anyone under 16, I’ve pushed the % of gamers in that group to 100% – as it’s likely to be near that anyway. You can have a look at my data sets and a better look at these graphs here.

Looking at the rough numbers, I’m guesstimating that the turning point’ll be around 2023. I think this as that’ll be the point at which the generations that comprise at least 50% gamers will be greater than 50% of the total population. Of course, that’s not the same as running the roost, as there is a much larger proportion of older people who don’t play games at all and people are living longer and longer – but I’m imagining that the progression of the proportion of young people who are gamers will continue to near 100%, which will balance the oldies, and that more older people will play as they get older, as games will be more ubiquitous.

Again, despite the demographic shift, the older generation will still be in charge of the media, and the oldest generations will be more likely to be reading Dead Tree media than the anyone under 60 in 2030, so there will still be incentives to produce anti-games content (especially amongst the right-wing press whose readership is older anyway, and who are more likely to indulge in scare-mongering). It’s just that this out-of-date commentary will be irrelevant to the vast majority of the population – as Mary Whitehouse was by the late 80s, when she was better known as a figure of fun.

Data Sources
ISFE data and
Govt Stats

Solving MMO review problems

To the tune of: Nina Nastasia – Our Discussion

As an MMO reviewer, I’ve felt both privileged (at occupying a niche few are equipped to explore) and also terrified (at a reviewer’s complete inability to perceive the whole game). As Quintin Smith found last week, and Ed Zitron found previously, reviewers, no matter how professional, can’t just hop back into an MMO when it’s been updated and hope to review it. Especially not, as those two found, when the audience they think they’re talking to isn’t the audience that actually reads and responds to the article. Here’s a putative structure for reviewing MMOs that deals with the problems caused by trying to employ time-poor professional reviewers.

Cpl Smith, M.I.A.


  1. Must experience enough of content in proper way to do review.
  2. Different experience types for player types – solo, casual, hardcore, obsessive.
  3. Need for humour, quality writing.
  4. Cost of review process must be kept down.
  5. Content alters substantially over game’s lifetime.

Many professional reviewers provide 3, can attempt 2 but usually fail, don’t keep playing so can’t do 5, and to provide 1 would be to disregard 4.


  1. Multiple reviewers
  2. Multiple reviewers
  3. Mediated by co-ordinator
  4. Co-ordinator is paid writer-editor – incentivised to find free reviewers and collate & polish their opinion.
  5. Reconvene with original panel at regular intervals.

It's all about getting a good team together.

This system as a narrative. Un-paid enthusiasts are given early access and review title in return for thought-access. Primary writer becomes interviewer, co-ordinating impressions from many different groups. Individual, subjective experience is not of primary relevance, but collation of views is. Common problems can be identified, and the game rated on these – whilst problems specific to groups acknowledged, represented. Panel reconvenes to alter score when game has altered substantially from previous score. (This also provides you with an evaluation structure for up-and-coming writers, as you can test their analysis, reliability and writing ability  through these panels.)

Here’s a question I don’t know the answer to – is this process applicable to reviews other than MMOs? Should all reviews be done this way?