McGinnis: Wheaton’s Web show brings people togetherWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a lot of ways that my choice for “Best Thing, Period” of 2012 could go. The great writer Joss Whedon made a huge splash with the general public, with his sure-hand guiding “The Avengers” to the top of the box office heap. The website known as Kickstarter has made it easier than ever for artists to take their case directly to the public for funding, potentially changing pop culture forever. Shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” continue to help revolutionize modern television.
In the face of all these contenders, selecting a small web show about board games may seem odd at first glance. But when taking into account not only the quality and entertainment value of the production, but the impact it had on its audience and the industry it profiles, I believe that Wil Wheaton’s YouTube production “TableTop” is 2012′s “Best Thing, Period.”
When web darling Felicia Day of “The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible” fame first announced the launch of her Geek and Sundry channel on YouTube, the most promising title in the lineup was perhaps the simplest in concept. A group of four celebrities, sitting around and playing a game together. Hosted by child-star-turned-geek-icon Wil Wheaton, the show seemed like a fun, fly-on-the-wall idea, kind of “Celebrity Poker Showdown” meets Friday night with the “Dungeons and Dragons” crew.
But shortly after its debut, it became apparent that there was more going on here than face value. It turns out that even while the personalities of the players are a hook to get potential viewers in the door, the real stars of “TableTop” were the games being played.
From modern classics like “Settlers of Catan” and “Ticket to Ride” to more esoteric fare like “Last Night on Earth” and “Dixit,” the gamers on “TableTop” demonstrate an eclectic selection of fare, and the fun they have no matter what the goal of their play is infectious. Each half-hour becomes a reminder of how entertaining sitting with a group of friends and enjoying a friendly competition can be.
“TableTop” is a tremendously entertaining show on a production level, as well. It wears its charmingly low-budget status on its sleeve — each week the same trophy gets presented to the winner, then quickly taken back because they only had the money to buy one. Unsuccessful competitors lick their wounds on the “Loser’s Couch,” where they are presented with a drink to drown their sorrows — only to be informed it’s just weak tea, not actual liquor. There is little that earns a viewer’s fondness quicker than self-deprecation and Wheaton and his crew have it in spades.
The show’s excellent production also makes even the most complex games easy to follow. With quick cutaways and pop-up factoids clarifying rules, the structure of each contest is made crystal clear. In this way, the show also acts as an easy introduction to games for new players — just send your pal a link to the “TableTop” episode on the game you wanna play, and they’ll be up to speed for your next game night.
Inspiring fans to hold their own game nights, in fact, is the show’s most significant legacy. The impact that “TableTop” is having on the games industry cannot be overstated. Websites dedicated to games that have been featured now proudly pronounce how they’ve been “Played on ‘TableTop.’” On Amazon’s sales rankings, outside of the wildly successful “Cards Against Humanity” series, most every bestselling game has been featured on the show. A whole Tumblr page “As Seen on TableTop” is full of pictures of people playing games they never would have found if they hadn’t seen it on Wheaton’s show first.
In a world where people are getting ever more isolated, withdrawn into their own personal information bubble, the idea of embracing a social event such as board gaming seems charmingly old-fashioned. And yet, through “TableTop,” players around the country are being inspired to try new experiences that bring them closer to their family and friends.
Wil Wheaton wrote that through the show, he hoped to instill in people the same kind of love he has for gaming. In 2012, I organized the first true gaming nights I’ve had in years, directly inspired by his show. And I know I’m not the only one.
For being an incredibly entertaining production, for bolstering an industry, for helping an audience to find new experiences and for bringing a few people a little closer together — “TableTop” is 2012′s Best Thing, Period.