Last night, popular human and YouTuber, J.D. Witherspoon appeared on Jeopardy!, to ask the contestants questions about something called “video games”. Have you heard of them? They’re available to play on a device called a “PlayStation 5.”
I like to imagine a world in which an industry bigger than movies could ever be treated like something that exists outside of the smallest niche of specialist interests. Perhaps one day, but that world is not yet ours.
So it was that when brainiac quiz show Jeopardy! — famous for its intellectual demands across a vast range of subjects — broached this most esoteric of subjects, it needed not only John Witherspoon’s son to save temporary host George Stephanopoulos from having to sully his mouth with the topic, but also to dumb it down to Pac-Man levels. Oh, and make the whole thing a teeth-grindingly obvious PlayStation 5 commercial. (Fun fact: Jeopardy! is produced by Sony Pictures Television.)
J.D. explained his questions, categorised as “Gamer’s Delight”, would be “about the amazing world of gaming, past and present.” By which he meant, the PS5 and one game even your great uncle has heard of.
First up for $US200 ($267), with accompanying footage: “New PS5 owners get introduced to console components via a platform game starring this robot with the same name as ‘The Jetsons’ dog.” Which of course is to say, “What is the name of The Jetsons dog? P.S. Buy PS5s!”
For $US400 ($534) contestants were asked: “Toru Iwatani wanted to make a game about eating, and after seeing a pizza with a slice missing, he created this 1980 classic filled with fruit and ghosts.” Translation: “What’s that one game you’ve heard of with the ghosts?” Also, “See, this wasn’t just a PlayStation ad.”
At $US600 ($801) we were shown a game trailer along with: “Uh oh friends. It looks like Dr. Nefarious is back to his evil ways forcing Ratchet to once again strap this little robot buddy on his back and fight the good fight.” This was, I suppose, as close to a real “Gamer’s Delight” question as it got, even though it literally showed Clank in the footage. I was surprised the question didn’t finish with, “…who’s name starts with ‘C’ and rhymes with ‘Flank’.”
$US800 ($1,068) was on offer for the weirdest of all five questions. Please note that this question was asked over footage of the demolition derby-style video game: “Now entering the arena is Twinkle Riot, a hard-hitting star in Destruction All-Stars, a type of this alliterative competition in which vehicles are supposed to get smashed to pieces.” Clearly no one on the set had ever heard of Destruction All-Stars, but being sentient humans were aware of the concept of demolition derbies.
Then finally for $US1000 ($1,336), we’re back to just flat-out, eye-watering advertizing again. “The PlayStation 5 is kitted with an ultra high speed SSD. This kind of hyphenated drive that makes iconic characters like Sackboy really move.” Oh God, I’ve grimaced so hard all my skin fell off.
You’d hope that of all TV quiz shows, Jeopardy! would be the one to raise the bar ever so slightly. To have the expectation that adults in 2021 might be expected to know absolutely anything at all about games beyond Pac-Man. Or, at the very least, to be OK with the idea of asking questions it’s possible that any of the three contestants might not know the answer to! “Oh shit, this is about those games things! We’d better make it as dumb as possible, before we get back to asking about polynomial functions and 13th century Prussian kings.”
I’m sure J.D. Witherspoon is lovely, and I’m quite certain from the hostage-like reading of the questions, was told what to say and how to say it. But ho boy, we’ve still got a long way to go, people. Also, viewers hopped up and excited by all this PS5 plugging are sure going to be disappointed when they try to go buy one.
In far better news, Levar Burton is hosting Jeopardy! July 26-30.