'The Controller' embraces tropes, fails to impress

"The Controller," a new video game Web show from GameSpot, embraces convention but fails to impress.

Dudes will play games, while other dudes coach them. Also, physical challenges. That's pretty much it, so far. GameSpot

"The Controller" takes six hard-core and/or professional gamers and makes them compete in a video game contest with Battlefield 3 as the game of choice. Instead of using their own hand dexterity to play, however, in an interesting, Shyamalan-like twist, each gamer must instead train one of six newbs to play the game well enough to beat the rest of the newbs and win $50,000.

It's the experts-training-newbs premise that immediately makes the concept of the show much more interesting than simply watching highly skilled gamers battling even more highly skilled gamers.

With the training aspect, I saw an opportunity to dive deeply into a hard-core video game and get insight and details concerning the concepts of higher-level play with the side benefit that the uninitiated would see just how cool and deep games that reward a high skill level can be.

However, for a show about a video game contest, there's not much actual video gaming going on. At least in the first episode. Unfortunately, the show spends less than a minute on strategy or tactics and the only gameplay footage is shown in 1- or 2-second flashes.

I understand that this is entertaining and it's supposed to appeal as much to nongamers as it does to the hard-core. Diving deeply into really advanced techniques is a great way to alienate most people.

Or is it? With the ridiculous popularity of first-person military shooters these days, is there not room for something other than a by-the-numbers show about video games that never deviates from the reality show formula?

Is it all that myopic to assume that there are enough of both gamers and nongamers out there who would find a deeper discussion of gameplay at least somewhat interesting and possibly even fascinating?

OK, I'm digressing now. "The Controller" is what it is. A reality show in the vein of "The Challenge" that even includes "Challenge" alum Jonny Moseley as the host.

The show also works in physical challenges, but so far, the most entertaining aspect is watching the newbs go from flailing about with game controllers to actually showing some kind of gaming competence.

The cast is filled with typical reality show personality archetypes, like the dude who compensates for his lack of ability by being overconfident. I mean, really, if you're on a reality show, you have a much better chance of winning if you remain humble than if you take the "No one can eff with me!" attitude, don't you? The guy who takes the overconfidence track somehow almost always ends up losing.

Also, it's disappointing that only 2 out of the 12 contestants are women. With the proliferation of hard-core female gamers these days, you'd expect to see a higher percentage represented.

If a bare-bones, formula-driven, quick-fix reality show is what you're looking for, this is it. While my wish for a show that takes games more seriously may seem naive when the realities of what it takes to make a show like this are taken into account, I contend that the show I'd want to see would bring more nongamers into video games than this one will.

"The Controller" isn't the video game reality show for me, and though I'm sure it'll have its fans, I'll likely not be among them. Here's hoping that subsequent episodes will feel less of a need to assault my eyes with quick flashes and rather engage my mind with something I and others out there can chew on.

Disclosure: "The Controller" is produced by Bunim/Murray Productions for CBS Interactive. Eric Franklin is an employee of CBS Interactive, which owns CNET.

 

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