My Favourite Game
Peep Show writer Jon Brown pines for the golden age of arcades
BAFTA-winning writer Jon Brown’s CV includes Peep Show, Veep and the 2014 film Cuban Fury. He once worked as a game journo, and today he has two in-production comedies that he hopes will break new ground for games on TV. How has writing about games affected your relationship with them? I used to play loads growing up, but when I was doing it for a living I stopped enjoying it for a while because it was more like work than fun. It’s weird having not played anything for five or six years and then catching up on what’s going on and seeing nothing much has changed. I came back and my heart sank. It’s just like, oh, we’re still doing this thing, are we? There’s a big cutscene that I can basically ignore because I know at the end of it there will be an arrow telling me to go over there and fetch something. What would you prefer to see? As a concept, No Man’s Sky is really impressive, but instead of creating an entire galaxy of unique planets, just make one town that feels real. I’d prefer to play that. I feel like games need to think smaller – there are so many games that have huge stories about important things that I just do not give a shit about. I’ve played quite a lot of Assassin’s Creed, and I still couldn’t tell you what the Animus is. All I know is that every time I go back into the old bit, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is really good!’ Focus on smaller things – just make a game about two people or a family. When someone tells me that there’s 400 hours of gameplay I just think, ‘Oh, fuck that – I don’t have 400 hours!’ You should give Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and Firewatch a go. I will! I really like Mario Sunshine, too – that’s maybe the last game I finished. Those kind of games that are just really well constructed. Obviously the story is totally shit, but it’s not about that – it’s just a brilliantly put together piece of pure fun. I’d rather play that than try to commit to some enormous epic. You’re back to working with games, through your forthcoming series. I’ve got a couple of projects at the moment that involve gaming. There’s the Channel 4 show about a gaming startup, and then there’s another one with Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s production company – a half-hour comedy for E4 about people who play lots of games. So I’ve been meeting up with indies and people that are involved in the scene, and someone sent me a link to this thing called live coding. It completely blew my mind – just watching this guy at his desktop talking me through what he’s doing. I’m just like, “Where do we go from here?” For me, this whole Twitch thing and watching people play games, I don’t understand it. It’s fucking weird. Something I was watching had 300,000 subscribers – I’ve worked on TV shows that have had fewer viewers than that, and have taken six months to write and cost probably half-a-million pounds. And these people just sit there and have more viewers. I mean, that’s amazing. How did the Channel 4 show, Loaded, about the game startup come about? It’s an adaptation of an Israeli show about people who sell their fitness app startup. When it came to deciding what their company does, I just thought I’d rather write about an indie games company. I’ve always wanted to write something about games on TV that really feels authentic, and isn’t just knobs in their bedroom. Directors think that showing people play games needs to be really visual, so they make them sit there with their controller and they’re swinging it about, and someone scores a goal and everyone jumps up… It’s like, yeah, that isn’t really what it’s like. So it feels that there’s this big area that people haven’t written about properly yet.
“I’ve always wanted to write something about videogames on TV that really feels authentic”
How about your favourite game of all time? There was a time when I was young, when arcade games were so glamorous and so unobtainable, and OutRun in particular was the absolute definition of that. A red Ferrari, a dude and a blonde woman out on the road, and the sun was pretty much always out. Quite a reductive portrayal of women, I’d say, but I suppose when you reach the finish line you finally get to see that she has a face. So that’s quite good. I was thinking it would be quite a subversive twist if you get to the end and you see that she’s actually the one with the steering wheel. But, yeah, that golden age of arcade games – it’s kind of sad that you don’t really get that any more.