Patrick Moore used to be the saviour of 6:30pm. Just when I thought I had lost my television set to regional news programming and imported soap operas so hackneyed that even their countries of origin refused to watch them, Patrick would appear in a flash of white light and rescue my Tuesday evening. His face would flicker into frame amidst a scattering of ruined gothic arches and proceed to hold court beneath a sky of rolling fire. A cyber-monocle covering one eye, a crazed thousand-yard stare inhabiting the other; a metallic skullcap protecting the wealth of gaming knowledge that lay within. Rarely have I been so pleased to be confronted by a disembodied head (okay, there was that one time, but trying to argue the virtues of Lady Gaga’s latest auditory abortion while I’m chopping vegetables is not brave, just foolhardy).

GamesMaster was the first television program in the UK dedicated exclusively to video games. It launched on Channel Four in 1992 and ran for six years. Hosted by Dominik Diamond, the first season was recorded in an actual church filled with television sets, dry ice, and awestruck geeks who couldn’t quite believe that a major television network was taking their secret shame so seriously. The show comprised a series of three challenges, usually undertaken by an audience member and a celebrity, often a sportsperson, with some connection to the game being played.

GamesMaster HeadFor an untested format the calibre of the guests was surprisingly high: Wimbledon F.C.’s John Fashanu stepped up to play a bout of Man Utd Europe, World Champion darts player Eric Bristow lobbed hatchets at a maiden’s face on Heimdall, and Jimmy White commentated on a frame of his very own Whirlwind Snooker played by none other than Archer Maclean himself. The GamesMaster would lay down the ground rules via large screens dotted around the ‘arena’, acting as a sort-of omniscient virtual co-host. Despite occupying considerably less screen time than Diamond, he was unquestionably the star of the show, and kids would rock impatiently in their pews waiting for their beloved Master to materialise and shine his 16-bit countenance down upon them.

Book-ending the weekly trio of challenges were reviews and previews presented by writers and editors of gaming mags such as ACE and C&VG. These same writers would often join Diamond in the commentary box while the challenges were being played out. There was also the fondly remembered ‘Consoletation’ segment, in which a child would teleport into the GamesMaster’s virtual realm and beg his assistance with whatever gaming issue was troubling them. The GamesMaster would always oblige, although his haughty delivery often gave the impression that you had just woken him from a particularly arousing dream about soldering irons.

Golden JoystickFinally, the show gave us that most coveted of gaming trophies: The GamesMaster Golden Joystick. Inspired by the Quickshot joysticks of the time, it shone from within its perspex housing to dazzle the hearts and minds of gamers countrywide. In-between licking the screen whenever it was carried into shot, the 10-year old me genuinely wondered if it was made of real gold, and whether it could be plugged into my Amiga 500 and used to drive my friends into a jealous nerd-rage. Although I fear the answer to both questions was ‘no’, that knowledge has not dampened the affection I still feel for the Golden Joystick. There was something significant about the existence of an award for an activity that usually inspired disapproval and chastisement from authority figures. The GamesMaster not only said “good boy” when we excelled at our favourite pastime, he also gave us a shiny gold biscuit. Yum.

Good things never last though. Despite the show running for seven series, Dominik acted as host for only the first two, with cockney wide-boy Dexter Fletcher taking on hosting duties post-Diamond. Things were never the same after that. The hallowed, reverential tone of the early episodes was replaced by the kind of shrieking frenzy usually associated with an episode of Jeremy Kyle. Figures gradually declined, and after the seventh series the plug was pulled. The GamesMaster bowed his head for the final time, and Tuesday evenings were barren once more.

GamesMasterOn March 11th, Future, owner of GamesMaster, announced that it was going to “explore the appetite for bringing the show back to TV.” This coy revelation has certainly inspired a nostalgic flutter in the hearts of many 20-something gamers, but is this something we really want to see? With Diamond now residing in Canada and Sir Patrick enjoying his twilight years off-screen, it is unlikely that the original line-up would be re-assembled, and even more unlikely that a modern audience would care if it were. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Sir Patrick filling that illustrious head-space, but nothing is sacred when it comes to potentially profitable re-inventions of old concepts. The question is: is the appetite there? Twelve years on, are we still interested in GamesMaster’s brand of competitive gaming action? Or has the immediacy, accessibility and variety of online gaming resources rendered an archaic format like GamesMaster’s redundant?

We all know the power of the forum thread, and I’m in no doubt that Future will be scanning boards for the next few months to see whether an audience exists or not. So, if you are still hungry for GamesMaster after all these years, let your rumbles be heard. If you’re greedy enough, you might be making space for a Golden Joystick on your own shelf later this year.







6 responses to “Consoletation”

  1. Tony avatar

    I don’t remember the Golden Joystick being quite so, erm… phallic.

  2. Walter avatar

    I’m sure that joystick is also called the “Thrust master”

  3. John avatar

    I think that there’s always a place for edu-tainment and I’ve already come up with a few format ideas which we, yes WE could put forward to Future, after all who better to understand and format a show for the gaming community than the gaming community itself! Imagine seeing the Ready-Up logo sitting at the end of the credits… brilliant!
    We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the breadth of gameing coverage… we got skills!

  4. Rhyle avatar

    Walter – from what I remember all the ladies went crazy for a Quickshot Thrust Master.

  5. Martin avatar

    The Dominic years were great and his patter was the main reason to keep watching, I always remember him introducing Road Rash 2 as ” the game you’ve been rubbing your helmets in anticipation for!”. That said though, even when he returned for the latter series the show had lost its way a bit. There have been some good gaming shows since then, such as BITS (also channel 4) and of course VideoGaiden.
    I’m not sure the format of Gamesmaster would fit these days but I’m with John on a Ready-Up version of a games show, I’ll supply the enigmatic Scottish presenter with questionable humour.

  6. Simon avatar

    It continues to baffle me that none of the terrestrial channels are running a weekly games magazine program.

    The market is enormous.

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