Recently, I got the chance to talk with comedian Rob Beckett about his new video game comedy show “Playing for Time”, which is due to premier on Channel 4 at the end of March. Most of you will already know Rob from being a team captain on 8 Out of 10 Cats with Jimmy Carr and presenting BBC One’s “All Together Now”.
Here’s what he had to say…
So Rob, where did the idea come from to create a show centred around video games? Was it something Channel 4 came to you about, or was it an idea of your own?
Well, I started a Youtube channel a while ago because I had a kid and I wanted to play computer games, so I tried to convince my wife that it was work (laughs). So I did that, then I had a few things going on with EA and Fifa, and when the production company for ‘Playing For Time’ had an idea for a show, they came to me because they knew I was a gamer and they wanted a comedian.
Since then, we’ve worked together and built it up to what it is now.
How would you best describe the show? I think it’s a bit like GoggleBox mixed with a chat show, as you interview your guests etc.
Yeah, it’s like a chat show – a bit Goggleboxy – and a bit like Quantum Leap. It’s a weird mix where it includes enough computer game stuff to satisfy a gaming audience, but it’s not inaccessible to the average non-gaming telly watcher. There’s loads of nostalgia from over the years (as we dive into different decades) and it’s like a trip down memory lane, wherein computer games are the main component.
I also dress up in lots of funny costumes and there’s no audience – a bit like Youtube – so therefore the guests open up a lot because the pressure is off.
I’m surprised you haven’t dressed up as any gaming characters in the show; you could be Mario or, perhaps, Nathan Drake?
Exactly, I mean that is something we could do maybe for the future of the show, but I think the idea was it that can get a bit too video game heavy. So, instead, we focused on fashion from the different era’s we jump into (the 80s, 90s etc.) I don’t think I’d be a good Drake though, I don’t think I’ve got that in me! (laughs)
There’s a time travel premise to the show as you jump into different decades and play games from chosen time periods – with so many games to pick from, how did you decide what to play? I mean, you jump into the 90s and play Mario Kart on the SNES, however there’s also the N64 version…
We were trying to get it (pauses)…it’s a weird balance that. We tried to split it into sports and popular gaming icons so that it narrows things now a bit, but then you don’t want to lean too heavily on one particular brand of console.
On top of that, when the SNES version of Mario Kart came out we played it whilst wearing grunge clothing, however if we played the N64 version in the late 90s we’d have to dress up in brit pop which we did in another episode, when we were playing SEGA Bass Fishing. It’s a sorta mental rubix cube that the producers had to deal with. Of course there’s a million options to choose from and obviously loads of gamers will be shouting out titles we didn’t choose to play, but we can’t cater for everyone.
There was one moment we were playing Frogger and the original controller for the console didn’t work, so we had to use an alternative – no doubt gamers will pick up on that as well.
Games were hard in those days though and certainly didn’t look that great!
You know what, you look at them and think “this looks like teletext”, but they are so good and addictive and once you start playing them you forget that the graphics aren’t like ‘The Last of Us’ or the latest ‘Call of Duty’. It’s amazing to realise that the graphics of a video game play a small role in making the title actually fun.
You have a variety of people on the sofa in series 1 – Josh Widdicombe, Scarlette Moffatt, Rachel Riley – who was the most competitive?
Josh Widdicombe is very competitive, so is Scarlette – they all were to be fair. Josh is more secretively competitive, whereas Scarlette is a bit more vocal about it.
Now, to put you on the spot – what is your all-time favourite game?
I mean, ya see…look, it might seem like such a casual answer but Pro Evo and Fifa have been with me more than anything in my life – including my wife and my kid (laughs) – that’s been one constant since I was twelve, that football game that you can just slip back into. That said, many entries of the Grand Theft Auto series are utterly ground breaking pieces of work, amazing games.
I’m also playing Super Mario Odyssey at the moment and I’ve never been so obsessed with a game.
Touching a little bit on video game violence – which is a hot topic at the moment – you play games in the show such as The Last of Us (which is very violent), but would you be opposed to playing GTA on TV?
No, not at all. I think for Grand Theft Auto at least you’d try to pick missions that weren’t so, well, I wouldn’t take a prostitute round the corner or something (laughs) and I might need to give Manhunt a swerve that WAS horrendous (continues laughing), but violent video games is never an issue that has come up during production. I mean, you’d show Reservoir Dog’s on TV at 9pm, why should a violent video game be any different?
Is there anything you personally want to say to fans who might be on the fence about a show focused on video games?
I don’t think people should be as scared of it because it’s a ‘gaming show’, the same as 8 Out of 10 Cats does Countdown – just because it’s got maths and spelling in it. It’s just something different to try and I look forward to seeing people’s reactions to it.
Rob Beckett’s ‘Playing for Time’ will consist of 4 episodes and is due to launch on Channel 4 in late March / early April.