I’ve been playing video games since I was around five or six years old, but it wasn’t until my very early teens, around 1997 to be more precise that I started to get serious about the hobby. Up to that point I was renting games on a very regular basis and picking up a magazine here or there, but it was in the early days of the first generation of 3-D consoles that I decided I wanted to learn more about video games: I wanted to be knowledgeable about the publishers and developers who were making my favorite games, to see what software was just over the horizon and find out just how good the games that were being released to store in the present time were. As my world at the time was limited to Nintendo systems, that led me to start out my industry education by picking up a monthly issue of Nintendo Power as back then, there was no such thing as YouTube content creators and even the internet was in its relative infancy with no reliable way to access it, especially in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland Canada.
1997 was also an important year for me as just as I started to really dive into the nuts and bolts of the video game industry, we started to get new television channels, one of which was called Space that was Canada’s answer to a channel like SyFy. It was on that channel that I was introduced to Electric Playground:
I had seen shows on TV featuring video games before Electric Playground like Nick Arcade and Video and Arcade Top 10 (not sure if non-Canadian readers will know what that second one is), but they were mostly game show style programs catered toward a younger audience; Electric Playground was like nothing I had seen before. Each week host Tommy Tallarcio along with Victor Lucas and other correspondents like Julie Stoffer, Zoe Flower, Jade Raymond, and even Geoff Keighley would interview the people behind the games that we were all playing or would come to play. Each thirty minute episode would culminate in a segment called Reviews on the Run where Tommy and Vic would talk about and score video games. The segment struck a great balance between a formal review, but also a casual conversation you would have with your friends: Sometimes they would argue, others times they would agree, but it was all in the spirit of fun. Over the years this segment became so popular that it was spun off into its own program, meaning I had not one, but now two video game themed shows to look forward to in a week.
Over the years Tommy Tallarico left, as did other correspondents like Jade Raymond who would go on to work in the video game industry, replaced with other brilliant hosts like Marisa Roberto, Ben Silverman, Jose “Fubar” Sanchez and Scott C. Jones among others, but the one thing that stayed consistent with the show was Victor Lucas and his vision. The show would eventually grow to cover other areas like TV, movies, and science, but at its heart and core EP was still about covering and respecting the video game industry and it did so on the air until late 2015 when Victor Lucas sadly had to announce that his televisions partnerships had ended. Despite this set back however, it didn’t stop Lucas. With a reduced staff he continued on with Electric Playground not on TV, but on the internet, spinning off the program into a YouTube channel still dedicated to doing the same thing it did back in the nineties: showing the world why video games matter.
Once upon a time if you wanted to see video content related to video games, you had to so on shows like Electric Playground or other similarly themed programs on the new defunct G4 network. That all changed in the early 2000’s with the advent of YouTube. Suddenly everyone with a camera, a computer and recording software could create video game related program online, leading to personalities like the Angry Video Game Nerd, Angry Joe, Pewdiepie, the Completionist and countless other content creators, each putting their own unique spin on video game coverage. Some would focus on riffing classic games, others talking over new ones. Because the amount of noise in the YouTube video space is deafening, most didn’t realize that Electric Playground was still going on. The question of why EP is no longer on the air is asked countless times to Lucas during live streams and on air podcasts, as is the happy revelation he’s still making videos online today.
Video game content is perhaps now larger than its ever been, but that doesn’t mean that the best of the best rises to the top. I’m not here to sling mud at modern gaming YouTubers, in fact I’ve watched more hours of Game Grumps than I would care to admit, but there’s an alarming trend in the YouTube gaming scene where it seems that the channels with subscribers in the six, seven, even eight digits are those that feature creators that are trying to be poor comedians above all else. It’s not just in the YouTube space, but also in the gaming press as well that coverage is suffering. Sites like IGN for example are a great source for up-to-date news and reviews, but rarely do you see think pieces that celebrate the game’s industry or even look back on games that are even a few months old. Other websites tend to focus on hot button issues, such as the recent controversies with YouTube personalities JonTron and Pewdiepie, or representation in games. While these topics are very important and should not be brushed aside, they should also not be the sole focus of an enthusiast site. We live in a very stressful world and now more than ever, we need video games to help us get away from the punishing 24 hour news cycle, not remind us of it.
To repeat, there’s certainly nothing wrong with these things if that’s what you like or look for, but is this really the type of content that’s going to be looked back upon nostalgically or evolve the video game industry? If you look back on the first two full seasons of EP, both of which are on the EPN Dot TV channel that will be linked below, you see interviews with industry icons like Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, Vince Zampella of Infinity Ward and Respawn fame and Doom co-creator John Romero. Each interview and segment is a time capsule that preserves the history of the history of the industry that’s fascinating to look back upon, especially when you see how far talents like the above mentioned have come. In the case of Vince Zampella for example, his first EP interview was before the first Call of Duty ever came out. My favorite part about revisiting these old episodes is seeing the old commercials that used to air for games like Need for Speed and Banjo-Kazooie as they’re preserved in all their weird glory. Content such as this is still being produced even today and you can help in a very simple way.
If you want to support the continuation of Victor Lucas’s work on Electric Playground, the only thing that he asks of you is that you go to the EPN YouTube channel, subscribe, comment and watch a ton of great content. Victor, along with partners like Johnny “Happy Console Gamer” Millennium and other EP alum, continue to do Reviews on the Run of the hottest video games and movies. As announced last Friday on an episode of the Vic’s Basement podcast series the Daily Rundown, a segment from EP that collects a full days news in a video, is returning, as is Buried Treasures, a favorite segment of mine from Reviews on the Run where older games are given a chance to once again step into the spotlight. You can watch these along with a pile of other great videos right now including full seasons of Electric Playground, and the best part is, the more subscribers the channel gets, the more season are added. There’s literally no reason not to subscribe and to tell your friends to do so as well.
Whether you realize it or not, Electric Playground pioneered video coverage of the video game industry and we wouldn’t have things like Easy Allies or Noclip without Victor Lucas showing the world that yes, video games deserved to be revered just as much as films, television and books. Twenty years ago Electric Playground was an important part of my developing education of the gaming industry, and now all that time later, it’s still something I look to for inspiration as to how I want to present myself in the work I do here even though I don’t work in video. All that you need to do to experience where video games used to be and where they’re going is to subscribe to a YouTube channel and enjoy enough well produced content to keep you busy for a very long time; Not a bad deal at all.