Gaming

Charlie Brooker reveals his favourite video games

He changed the columnist game with his unparalleled vitriol in The Guardian, mocked Shoreditch long before hipster hatred went mainstream, and in Black Mirror, he’s settled into an unexpected role as a kind of techno-prophet, issuing Jeremiads about everything from social media lynchings to blackmail-by-wank-tape.

But one thing often forgotten about Charlie Brooker: he was once a humble video game journalist for the now-defunct PC Zone. As we get ready to celebrate a colossal issue of premium console-friendly content in this week's gaming special, we got Brooker to chart us through the birth of the world of gaming.

The early days

"There were so many - I was born in 1971, which was the prime age to see the dawn of it all. One of the very first games I saw would have been Space Invaders. There was a game called Circus, that was in black and white. You're on a seesaw with two clowns - well, they're more stick men, as the visuals are fairly primitive. I remember seeing it at a local swimming pool that had a few game cabinets in this leisure area. I was fascinated just by the notion that this TV had a stick attached and you could control what happened on the screen. It was love at first sight - there was a demo mode where the game would just loop round even though nobody was playing it. Even if i didn't have any money on me, I would convince myself I was playing it."

The Spectrum years

"There were so many games I had on the Spectrum that I just loved. In those days they were all rock hard, and I was rubbish at them then. Even a game like Manic Miner was incredibly hard - I probably never got past the fifth level or something. There was one called Jet Set Willy you couldn't even complete it, it was impossible - there was a bug in the early versions. I loved the fact they existed, and I was endlessly fascinated by them. I was a Spectrum kid, and I loved it.

"There was a mind-blowing game called Skool Daze. At the start you got to name all the teachers and all the characters, and you could get naughtier and naughtier. It was like Grange Hill: The Game. I also remember playing Elite, this open-world space exploration game. That was probably the first time it felt like you were connected to some other dimension in some way - at the time it felt convincing. You weren't aware of the limits of the algorithm you were flying around in - there had been nothing like it before. Spectrum games laid the roots for everything."
 

The Nineties

"I remember when Doom came out back in 1993, it felt like a paradigm shift. It had a mood and a tone all of its own. The real game changer, if you will, was Super Mario 64. From start to finish, running around in that world was so flabbergasting. It was a real work of art, and the 3D world it created set a template for platform games that followed ever since. It's really not a huge leap from it to Grand Theft Auto in its 3D era, definitely compared to, say, the leap from the NES era to this."

The VR revolution

"What constitutes a game now is such a broad church. I've recently tried the Playstation VR headset. It makes me feel the same thing I felt when I saw Mario 64, or when I saw the very first PlayStation, or Doom - I got that same sense of a revolution in what you actually experience. The sense of presence is shocking. I was playing a driving game, and it was bizarre - you could turn round and see the headrest behind you.

"People say gamers will get so far into that they'll not want to go back to reality - I was sceptical, then you try it out and you think, 'Yeah, you might be onto something here'. I really did find it that immersive. There's an episode of Black Mirror based on survival horror games. They're so immersive now, it's terrifying - I often play games in the middle of the night as a reward when I'm writing, and there's just no way I can possibly do that at 3am on my own."

Black Mirror Season 3 is available now on Netflix