Last Updated on September 26, 2023
The idea of light entertainment has always been something a little unknown to me. I like things that are light, of course, we all do. Not light mayonnaise, or any of the other blue-label light dairy products that you sometimes buy mistakenly only to be disappointed with later.
I don’t like that.
I don’t mean light cars either. I like those to be galvanized with weight and have a massive cubic capacity up front, like the Steinway Pianos that I used to shuffle about when I worked for a concert hall. They were not light, not one bit of it, not even sat upon their ludicrously engineered casters. I ran one over a three-phase cable one night during a performance. That’s some chunky cable but it just flattened it.
Light was not the fallout from that either, although the light inside the concert hall did go out.
I do like the light touch of Jazz Fusion though, much to my wife’s lament and good taste, and I will generally take a zesty India Pale Ale over a deep Baltic Stout. And in a sense, it would be true that the simple to pick up, infinite depth of many a favourite Sega classic does come across with a whiff of light entertainment. Same for Nintendo.
That makes them sound dirty, doesn’t it? It needn’t though, as sometimes the light touch is the right touch. I have been regimentally going through GamesMaster recently on YouTube and can testify that light entertainment (even on television) can hit it right. Even in retrospect, which is where we are heading.
I will try to keep it light.
Gulf War, console war
GamesMaster first aired in the UK on January 7th, 1992. The first television programme of its type and one that stepped right into the burgeoning console war of the time. Sega vs. Nintendo. Good vs. Evil, presenter Dominik Diamond vs. his accent. It was all going on in 1992, and even if you had thought the Gulf War had been exciting, you weren’t ready for Mortal Kombat.
GamesMaster was though. They had timed it just right and found a presenter ready to spray innuendo all over it. A potty-brained front of house dressed in an increasing amount of floral flamboyance as the series ticked away. If the GamesMaster himself was the heart of the show then its presenter was located somewhere south of that.
But in 1992 I was too young to notice Dominik’s casually abusive questioning of contestants both proper and celebrity. I just wanted to see the latest game footage. Living on the Welsh border was not a boom time for video game appreciation in the early nineties. No local arcades and friends who were still mulching around on their Amiga’s. We got the regular games magazines but GamesMaster actually showed them in motion…!
And as the first few seasons passed by, and Dominik came, went for series three, and came again for four, the gaming technology available to power the challenges became considerably more exotic. In short, GamesMaster hit not only the wave of gaming popularity through the console war, it was there to display the polygon takeover of the mid-nineties and the impact of the Third Dimension. It was as if the show was itself going through puberty at the same time as myself.
I would delineate between the first four series as being somewhat tame when compared to what would follow in the remaining three. Like me, GamesMaster was old enough to be randy by series five, but unlike me, Dominik knew gangs of pop totty to invite around for some gaming and verbal sleights of hand.
Quite how this circumstance managed to end up on prime early-evening Channel Four I do not know, but the fact that it was now games plus was fine for me at fifteen. I got the joystick-waggling references now, and any footage of the latest Sega arcade game would have me counting the days until my folks drove across the country to see their old friends near Southend, where there were actual arcades. Real ones, just out in the open and free for you to play on providing you had a fistful of fifties.
In between the flowering post-modernism of the burgeoning nineties, its newfound irony still warm with possibility, a few shows pressed close to a general vulgarity that often showed up late of a Friday night on Channel Four. The obvious choice here is, of course, The Word. I didn’t really like that show though. The tone was just off to me.
Much better was TV Offal. Now that show was vulgar, but it rode that razor’s edge between sophisticated and stupid. Sophistupid. As I have said, I enjoy Jazz Fusion. And I really enjoyed TV Offal. It was coarse, and I barely mean that in any way close to a compliment, but it felt like something you would watch late at night, in the same way as you might indulge yourself to the entirety of John Martyn’s Solid Air after 11pm (or any time of day – Ed).
Some things live with being specific to the time of the day. Some things though have the cheek to want both the credibility and the glory,and then go about getting away with it. I would suggest that this was the second half of GamesMaster’s run.
I do not know if it was a bravo, but it certainly was a job well done. And it started with WipEout; the polygnomes, techno hip special guests The Shamen on hand to play the game in full on link up mode, and that sense that if the games console had not yet fully migrated from the bedroom to the living room, it did appear to be hooked up in the nightclub. It was a sudden turn of events and GamesMaster’s treatment of this prized European release title couldn’t have gone better if Sony had paid for it themselves.
Old cults and new
That cult of club cool which Sony had correctly hung their hat on, GamesMaster saw the world the same, and at the same time, filtered as it was through a lens of late-night which was delivered in the early evening.
If you saw that WipEout advertisement which pervaded the press at the PlayStation’s launch, all wide of eye and bloody of nose and wondered how were they getting away with it, well the same thing was going on over with Dominik and company. Now, as to whether you consider such behaviours reasonable in retrospect, I would suggest this; there was at least life in the show, an abundance of it fact. The games industry itself was like that. Lively.
These days, when you buy a new game you practically have to navigate mortgage levels of sub-menus and I owe yous just to get to pressing a start button. And if you go looking for new GamesMaster you are confronted with it. A fine effort from all those involved I am sure, but the games industry really might have to find some of its old liveliness way before a mainstream show can draw upon its juices again.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.