PLAYAS: Alex Lizarbe, Andrew Rosenblum, and Dave Cohen have parlayed their painfully awkward video blog Gamelife into a gig on MTV.
Andrew Rosenblum is short and round, and his glasses seem, ever so slightly, to enlarge his eyeballs. He speaks haltingly in a nasal voice, and when he laughs especially hard he doubles over in small convulsions. David Cohen is tall and round, with sleepy eyes and big rubbery jowls. He has a sonorous voice, but talks with a slight speech impediment, not unlike the one that afflicted Edgar Stiles on 24. Alex Lizarbe is very thin and his skin is pale, almost translucent. He has a shy smile, and he speaks very softly.
These guys are not, by any conventional definition, leading-man material. But they get paid to be on MTV and you do not. What do they know that you don’t? They know how to beat The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and how to use Wi-Fi to play Tetris on Nintendo DS with strangers from across the globe. They know how to suss out the hidden corners of Super Mario Bros. 3, and how to blow guys away with a Callisto NTG in Perfect Dark.
They also know a little about Andrew’s “Sony-digital-handicam thingamajig.” And how to hack a workable version of video-editing software. And hell, why not? Back in April, they started their own online video-game-review show, GameLife (“Your Official Dose of Gaming Goodness!”). It is not a slick production. Far from it. But it has a certain something: an unabashed geekiness that’s real, engaging, and endearingly awkward.
Barely a month after its debut, Ziff Davis Media, publisher of Electronic Gaming Monthly and owner of GameVideos.com, hooked the three Needham friends up with press credentials and flew them west to Tinseltown, enlisting them to report from the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E³), the largest video game trade show in the world. Then, around the same time, an MTV suit caught wind of GameLife — and hired them to produce segments for the station’s broadband video outlet, Overdrive.
This is the Zeitgeist, after all. Much has been made in the past year about what a snap it’s suddenly become to produce video content and throw it up on sites like YouTube, iFilm, and GoogleVideo. Now, perhaps predictably, we’re starting to see traditional media outlets noticing this user-created content, scooping it up, repurposing it, and branding it as their own.
Just last month, 20-year-old Brooke “Brookers” Brodack, of Holden, inked a talent-development deal with Carson Daly Productions on the strength of the crazed lip-sync clips and bubbly video-blog entries she uploads every day on YouTube. Presumably, Brodack was snapped up by Daly thanks to her surfeit of personality, ready-made for the “Webisodes [and] mobile series” he hopes to market to screaming teens who used to deafen him on MTV’s TRL. But the GameLife guys appeal to a different demo: the smart, sorta awkward guys who, holed up in their bedrooms or dorm rooms, have helped make the video-game industry a $7 billion juggernaut. In both cases, it seems the big networks are realizing, slowly, that real young people might just be preferable to what some focus group says young people should be like.
Pong, ducks, and rage
We’re deep in the bowels of the “Gamer’s Lounge” — which is actually a sunny romper room in the basement of the Rosenblum homestead. Sitting in the corner, looming like the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a massive 51-inch TV. Arrayed below it is a panoply of just about every gaming system known to man, surrounded by the tangled wires of all their necessary controllers and peripherals — from the original Nintendo to the Microsoft Xbox.
"I just wanted to let them be themselves," says MTV's Porter. "They're such dorky, real guys."
Andrew and Alex, both 19, have known each other since preschool. They met Dave, 22, later, at Needham High. (“You were a freshman and I was a junior,” Dave admonishes, lording it over his younger friends with manifest glee.) From the beginning, there were video games: Duck Hunt, Super Mario 3, Streets of Rage. Dave, the geezer of the group, claims his first game experience was Pong.
At this point, it might be instructive to lay out the gaming bona fides of the author. For all intents and purposes, they do not exist. I haven’t played video games on a regular basis since roundabout 1991. My first cartridge (ca. 1983), for the paleolithic Atari 2600, was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial — which Snopes.com rightly calls “an unplayable game with a dull plot and crummy graphics in which frustrated players spent most of their time leading the E.T. character around in circles to prevent him from falling into pits.”
But despite the fact that I don’t particularly care for video games, I enjoy watching GameLife. I like how Andrew is shy and sort of nebbishy. How Dave is self-assured and brash. How Alex is quiet, a counterpoint to Dave’s bombast, but gets a little cocky when he has a controller in his hand.