Archive for Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Will gamers watch games played on TV?

March 10, 2009

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We’re always being told that video games and social-network sites pose a grave threat to TV entertainment. They steal away younger viewers and occupy their time with interactive activities when they should be staring passively at the old box and unconsciously assimilating the diabolical messages of high-priced commercials. That said, it’s interesting how little these addictive pastimes are reflected on TV dramas and comedies or even reality fare. It’s as if TV creators believe that if you ignore these competitive mediums, they will go away.

This changes ever so slightly with “WCG: Ultimate Gamer” (9 p.m., Sci Fi), a reality show/competition series that pits 12 successful gamers against each other in challenges that unfold on both the console and in the real world.

The show is clearly intended to dispel the unfair, if popular, notion of the gamer as the overweight social outcast wearing a stained and greasy T-shirt and subsisting on stale pizza in the dank confines of his mother’s basement. It’s a young, and for the most part, an attractive group of men and women who populate “Ultimate Gamer.” Piercings and tattoos abound, and at least one player sports contact lenses that give his pupils an otherworldly glow. Hey, it’s the Sci Fi Channel.

The debut show is dedicated to a “Guitar Hero” competition. But before the stylish dozen play the actual (or is that the virtual?) game, they must form teams and play in a “real” rock band. The actual band The Donnas arrive to preside as judges.

It’s around this time that viewers will get the hint that for all of the gaming talked about here, “Ultimate” is a rather stale variation on the elimination/reality format. There’s a dormitory, idle chitchat around the kitchen, burgeoning crushes and even (gasp) talk of alliances. In short, nothing we haven’t seen on “Big Brother” many times before.

We don’t get to see anyone play an actual video game until 40 minutes or so have elapsed on an hourlong reality show that would be more entertaining as a half-hour game show. Once the gaming competition begins, it unfolds with a furious play-by-play commentary, raising the question: Why don’t we see video-game competitions broadcast as sporting events? Does it take less skill to play “Guitar Hero” than to bowl? Or throw darts? Or drive?

It should be interesting to see if “Ultimate Gamer” attracts an audience of gamers. Or if they’re all too busy gaming to notice or even care what’s on television.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The 13 finalists (Lil Rounds and 12 lesser talents) take a bow on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Jane stacks the deck during the investigation of a casino murder on “The Mentalist” (8 p.m., CBS).

• A spy’s son goes missing on “Without a Trace” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A predator doctor uses Civil Court to turn the tables on the police on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC).

• “Independent Lens” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presents “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story,” recalling the 1977 kidnapping of a Japanese schoolgirl by North Korean agents.

• Fruitcakes fly on “Wreckreation Nation” (9 p.m., Discovery).

Cult choice

A burglary of a family business takes on tragic dimensions in director Sidney Lumet’s excellent 2007 drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (9 p.m., TMC).

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