Comedian Rob Florence opens the first episode of the new series of GamesMaster by warning the audience that they’re back “to destroy the nostalgic memories of middle-aged men” before he introduces his “much more E4 appropriate” co-stars, esports host Frankie Ward and Instagram comedian Ty Logan, in his first proper TV role.
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GamesMaster was first broadcast in 1992 and ran for seven series on Channel 4. The show was the first time gaming was given a dedicated, mainstream platform and during its run, it offered console challenges, game reviews and sneak peeks into future titles. The holographic head of astronomer Sir Patrick Moore took on the titular role, setting challenges for contestants with winners receiving a golden joystick. Like most things gaming in the 90s though, the show was very much aimed at teenage boys.
“What, are we going to destroy those nostalgic memories by putting a woman in to commentate on things?,” laughs Ward over Zoom. “Maybe I shielded myself, which I’ve got used to doing on social media, but it felt like the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.”
Described as a reboot and a reimagining by Ward, GamesMaster 2021 has kept the core foundations of the original run. There’s still a Golden Joystick to be won, Sir Trevor McDonald is now the face of the Games Master and losing contestants get dumped into the abyss, a retro-looking CGI pit of lava.
Ward was four years old when GamesMaster was first broadcast and despite the fact she grew up playing video games, her childminder would never have let her watch the show. “She wouldn’t even let me listen to Radio One in the afternoon because Chris Moyles used the word ‘crap’.” Logan wasn’t even born during the show’s original run but believes “there’s a big difference between the old one and the new one,” having been told all about it by excited family members.
“I did go back and watch some old episodes,” says Ward. “Obviously everyone knows the Dave Perry N64 drama (he walked off the show after losing a Super Mario 64 challenge, claiming it was a ‘set up’) and it was quite important to watch that back and see the tone of the show, especially because I’m essentially doing Perry’s role in this series, offering colour commentary during challenges. We talked about bringing back the iconic Union Jack bandana, it just didn’t work with my fringe. A lot of GamesMaster was laugh out loud funny and it was important to have that irreverent humour this time around as well.”
However, according to the hosts, the show isn’t interested in nostalgia. “The oldest game we have is Super Mario World 3D for the WiiU but for the most part, it’s a celebration of this current era of gaming,” says Ward. AAA games like Deathloop are given the same platform as indie titles like Cuphead or Can’t Drive This. “We want to show the breadth of games that are available.”
Early seasons of GamesMaster made gaming culture the butt of the joke while in recent years, shows like The Big Bang Theory have relied on every geek stereotype going. Ward is heavily involved in the world of esports and gaming but had “no fear” about getting involved in GamesMaster. “When I went for my casting day, I knew so many people there from the world of gaming. They were always looking to recruit from the gaming community and it’s very much a product by gamers, for gamers.”
“But it’s also for people who don’t necessarily call themselves gamers,” Ward continues. “Let’s face it, pretty much everyone plays even if it’s on a mobile phone. Everyone is a gamer, in some shape or form and you can get something out of this show, even if you don’t own a console. You’re watching people trying to achieve something. “
“The gaming industry has grown so much since the original series ended. People are fascinated by gaming and with this show, gamers are being celebrated,” adds Logan.
If GamesMaster 2021 isn’t an exercise in nostalgia, then what’s the point of the show? Back in the 90’s, it was one of the few ways gamers could feel connected to the wider community but with platforms like Discord, Twitch and Youtube, it’s never been easier to feel part of something. There’s specific content about every gaming niche.
“The GamesMaster format doesn’t exist anywhere else,” starts Ward. “It’s a full-on studio production (set in a working Victorian sewage station) and it’s so much about the people coming together and doing those challenges. With things like YouTube, the emphasis is on the individual. Whereas here, the emphasis is very much on the kind of relationship between the audience, contestants, and the games.” Ward will sit down and speak to every contestant before the challenge to get to know them while enthusiastic everyman Logan spends a majority of the show in amongst the audience. “Everyone there has the same passion and that translates,” he explains.
“But the important thing for me was bringing an emotional side to everything we do,” says Ward. One of her first roles at the BBC was covering a League Of Legends tournament. “I had no idea what was going on but the thing that really drew me into it was hearing how important these achievements were to individual players. We want to keep the audience emotionally invested in the challenges.”
“Plus, Trevor McDonald is not being sassy on Twitch, is he? I would love that. But the only way you’re gonna see that is if you watch GamesMaster,” she adds.
Rather than Florence’s cynical sense of humour, it’s the enthusiasm of Logan and Ward’s emotional connection to every contestant that makes GamesMaster 2021 a worthwhile watch.
Watch the first episode of GamesMaster right now! IMPOSSIBLE Gaming Challenges & An EPIC Battle For The Golden Joystick! https://t.co/5Vtb3Kp8D3
— GamesMaster (@GamesMaster) November 23, 2021
The show also provides an entry point for people who aren’t dedicated gamers. Phrases like ‘FPS’ and ‘speedrunning’ are quickly explained while there’s a whole segment where Florence teaches his non-gaming wrestler friend Grado about industry terms like ‘adaptive music’. It’s educational, but delivered with a wry smile.
“I can give you three main things I want people to get from the show,” says Logan. “I want people to get some great knowledge, I want them to enjoy it because there’s a lot of comical moments and I want them to see the greatness and the potential for the future, because we want this to be more than a three-episode thing.”
“We’re so conscious about new audiences coming in all the time. With the different types of challenges on GamesMaster, there’s something for everyone,” says Ward. “If you’re a teenager obsessed with Call Of Duty, you can watch it with your parents and they will find something to love in it as well.”
Which is why Ward thinks now is the perfect time for the GamesMaster revival. “So many of the challenges are multiplayer which is perfect for Christmas. For me, Christmas Day is Just Dance day, and even my mother and father-in-law get involved. It’s the most joyous thing. I love the idea that people are gonna watch Ty playing Beat Sabre and want to try it themselves. It’s genuinely what I hope people get from GamesMaster. I’m hoping that people are inspired to do their own challenges and have that social experience on their sofa.”