G4 Wasn't Great, But It Wasn't All Bad Either
A Mixed Legacy
G4 has been popping up on social media a bit lately, and unsurprisingly not in a good way. In light of recent controversy surrounding the term JRPG, some folks have been digging up old episodes of X-Play and Attack of the Show to showcase just how, well, terrible that network could be. Of course, gaming discourse in general was pretty different back then. Everyone was chasing the all important (and marketable) edginess factor. Stuff like The Man show and Jackass ruled the airwaves. Everything from Prince of Persia to Rygar was getting ill-advised “mature” makeovers as the industry tried way too hard to prove that it was in fact wearing its big boy pants and deserved to be taken seriously.
But all that stuff like BMX XXX and The Guy Game did was bolster the notion that video games were like junk food, and as such, their coverage was treated that way. Magazines got more and more trashy, and of course, the one TV network that was dedicated to the hobby did as well.
But it’s easy to look back at G4 and see all the racism and misogyny on display and say “yup! That was all terrible!” But it really wasn’t. I personally had a hard time liking G4 on the whole because its general attitude (especially the more they tried to emulate Spike TV) never really lined up with what I like about video games, but there were things about the network that I genuinely enjoyed.
A TV Network for Gamers?!?
First and foremost, it was a TV network dedicated to video games. It may be hard to fathom today for young people, but back in the 90s video games were looked down on by a lot of adults. Where gaming in the 70s and 80s was very much for everyone, by the time the 90s hit, games were marketed squarely at young boys, and the whole industry wound up with a reputation as being “just for kids” that it tried desperately to shake for decades. So when someone like me who grew up during a time when kids into games got bullied in school and politicians decided video games were to blame for the world’s problems, an honest to goodness TV station devoted to gaming was just about the coolest thing in the world.
The programming, while a bit of a mixed bag overall, started out really cool too. Yes, eventually the channel was little more than a vaguely video game themed vehicle for trashy talk shows and reruns of Cops, it really did start off life with some interesting video game content. Cheat! was a show that was basically a TV version of a strategy guide. If you think of how popular playthroughs of games on YouTube are today, it’s kind of wild to look back at how ahead of the game Cheat! was. Back at the time of its airing, you really couldn’t just go to YouTube and see how to beat every game in existence. Strategy guides still sold really well in stores whenever new games were released. Ahh, the good old days. Cheat! wasn’t a perfect show, but I always enjoyed watching it.
Cinematech was a weird one, but I thought it was a really cool concept. It’s just video game footage. I seem to remember it mostly focusing on cinematics in games, but there were occasional trailers and just straight up gameplay footage peppered in for good measure. There was no narrative to follow, it was just Video Games: The TV Show. There were several iterations over time, but the one I remember the most was where there was this scrolling list of game names, and it would just run down the list showing off commercials or gameplay footage from each one. It was magical.
Filter was another cool idea where viewers could vote (somehow, I never looked into how this actually worked) on various countdowns. Eventually the show would fall victim to G4’s “attitude” problem, with lots of jabs at nerds, overweight people, etc., but early on it was genuinely charming and treated the subject matter with respect. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty cool.
One of my favorite shows on the network was Icons. Icons was a documentary style show that focused on game creators, series, hardware, and the like. This is exactly the kind of stuff I wanted out of a TV channel built around video games, and these shows were pretty fascinating. Yes, they’re products of their time in terms of presentation, and I haven’t gone back to rewatch old episodes to see if they’re as factually accurate as they claimed to be back in the day, but it was still always cool to be able to turn on my TV and find a documentary about Nolan Bushnell or the history of Mario while flipping through channels.
Pulse was another winner in my book, at least in concept. This was a weekly news wrap up. These kinds of shows are all over YouTube now, but back in the old days, it was crazy cool to be able to get a breakdown of the latest and greatest news from the world of video games on TV instead of waiting a month for he next issue of Nintendo Power or EGM to show up in the mail. The concept of a traditional news broadcast show about video games was a wonderful thing to see.
And that brings me to X-Play. This is the show that gets the most flack these days, and deservedly so. There was a lot of awful stuff on X-Play, and I didn’t agree with a lot of their reviews. That said, sometimes I did agree with them, and most importantly Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb were great hosts. They had fun chemistry together, and they were a pleasure to watch. Sessler in particular has been under fire a LOT on social media from his former fans who grew up and learned that he’s not really the sexist, racist tech bro they thought he was, and that’s sometimes landed him in situations that are, let’s say less than flattering. Still, back when G4 was still a thing, X-Play was the show to watch, and even when it wasn’t doing the stuff I liked, I tuned in because again, it was people talking about video games on TV! How novel!
So yes, when it comes to G4 the bad stuff outweighed the good, but I think when looking back on all the damage the channel and video game journalism in general did during that time period, it’s important not to forget the good stuff that was in there too. The channel was no doubt run by people looking to make as much money as they could, but there were also certainly people involved who genuinely loved games and wanted to do their jobs well. That has to count for something, right?
With the world of television changing these days, G4 could never possibly work. Which is probably why the reboot failed as spectacularly as it did. Still, it’s a shame that they didn’t find a way to adapt with the times. Who knows what they could have become?
What do you think? Did you like G4 when it was around? Did you watch the reboot at all? Were there any shows on there that are worth going back to? Let us know! C