In these solitary times, podcasts are mana from heaven.
Done well, they are engaging and informative entertainment for the long commute, a quiet walk, or as all of those things are currently somewhat restricted, when you’re stuck at home longing for good company. The right podcast is like having some friends over or being at a good dinner party.
And This Game Changed My Life is podcasting done well.
With its two effervescent hosts, Julia Hardy and Aoife Wilson, bringing wit and empathy in equal measure, TGCML tackles some challenging, emotive and amazing subject matter.
So far, BBC Sounds has released five episodes of producer Nathan Jones’s debut project and it’s been an astounding, powerful journey into some breathtaking life stories all of which have been influenced in some way by video games.
Episode 1 – Arsenio: Rocketships and Wiimotes
Arsenio’s journey from Kerbal Space Program player to NASA engineer was a inspiring, optimistic opening to the series. It compelled me to download the game and try to get my daughters to play it in the hope it might have the same effect.
Check back in twenty years for an update.
Episode 2 – Abdullah: Escape in an Oil Barrel
The second tale, Abdullah Karam’s account of his terrifying odyssey from war-torn Syria as a refugee was a sobering change of tone. His story is one of triumph over adversity as well as evidence of some of the best that humanity has to offer, and he went on to tell it through a video game called Path Out.
Episode 3 – Charlie Brooker: My Life in Video Games
It seems like a logical inevitability that the dark scion of video game commentary, Charlie Brooker, would get involved in the TGCML project at some stage, and he very much takes ownership of episode three in characteristically scattershot and mildly offensive ways. As a fan of his bonkers column at the rear end of gaming mag PC Zone back in the day, I got what I expected and was happily bemused by the experience.
Episode 4 – Fatima Al Qadiri: Gulf War Vampires
Fatima Al Qadiri, the Kuwaiti musician inspired by video game music’s impact on her Gulf War experience is an impressive, beguiling person to listen to. Her story about is powerful and compellingly told, highlighting how emotive even early games like Castlevania and Desert Strike could be. If she chose to take up politics instead of music, I’d vote for her.
Episode 5 – Ryan Hart: Champion of the World
The story of Ryan Hart, homeless Londoner who takes on the world and wins is a movie waiting to happen. Somewhere between Ready Player One and Karate Kid 1 & 2 (he even goes to Japan and… well listen to it). A great episode for those with fond memories of crowding around arcade cabinets to play classic beat ’em ups like Street Fighter and Tekken.
Episode 6: The Pilot
The reason I’m so unapologetically effusive about This Game Changed My Life, aside from the fact it is a fascinating rollercoaster of entertainment and journalism, is that I am proud to have played a part in its inception.
I was approached by BBC producer Nathan Jones last year after he’d read my article in the Guardian and felt that the story of my 15-year-old nephew and I playing video games together as he died would make a touching pilot episode for a podcast he was planning. And so, a short chat and a subsequent trip to the BBC studio in London last Autumn and the pilot of This Game Changed My Life was born.
It was a was a bittersweet experience that I plan to write more about tomorrow, and I hope that it has resulted in a podcast episode that will give some solace and closure to members of the video game community who invested much when they didn’t need to.
For the record, the game that changed my life was Elite, because it helped me as a troubled teenager in the 80s, and its successor Elite: Dangerous helped my 15-year-old nephew face death.
It’ll be out at 5am UK time (in about 5 hours at time of writing).
I hope you’ll listen to it.
Mat Westhorpe (@Freebooted)