Sunday, 5 February 2012

Meme Machine

A Grenade rolls down a hill, as the the Wizard serves Hot Scoops, while a Puffin cries Baboo and Jeff Goldblum backs into Samuel L Jackson's arm.....

By the time the Idle Thumbs podcast bowed out after two years of consistently entertaining shows, it had established a distinct vocabulary and culture of its own. Since then I haven't found any other show that has quite managed to be quite as smart while at the same time not taking itself too seriously.

Topics: General gaming, Video gaming Culture, and Game Design
Number of Episodes: 87
Ran: 10th October 2008 -10th March 2011
Average Episode length: 1hr 30mins
Format: Panel show, Interviews etc
Cast : Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Steve Gaynor, Nick Breckon and
Classic Episodes: The Wizard November 6, 2008
Perhaps the moment where the crew settled into their groove and any last scraps of self consciousness about how far down they could travel down the rabbit hole were well and truly left behind.
Episodes Available at:
A excellent compilation episode was produced by This Year, a great way of getting started

Listening to a Idle Thumbs episode for the first time was a bit strange, the conversation chattered and babbled flitting hyperactivity from subject to subject. Its a credit to the shows production values that despite this that the voices were clear and distinct even when people are talking over each other. That constant murmur helped it maintain a very informal atmosphere, closer to the feeling I get sitting in a pub and listening to friends talk than listening to a typical 'show'.

That's not to make light of just how smart these guys are. The entire thumbs crew can talk with a air familiarity and confidence about game design terminology which leads to phrases like 'ludo narrative dissonance' getting thrown about without a second thought, and a refreshing lack of preciousness. Game design terminology is full of such useful shorthand, but its drawback is that in some podcasts this sort of vocabulary can sound distinctly pretentious and not a little contrived.

Happily any tendencies towards pretension on Idle Thumbs are kept thoroughly under control by a shared irreverence and willingness to call bullshit whenever someone gets to wrapped up in themselves(and just as importantly a willingness to not resent this interruptions). Gaming anecdotes, industry news, and theoretical analysis are all discussed and treated equally.

Probably the best analogy I can think for the Idle Thumbs group dynamic is watching a band who have been together for years just relaxing and jamming together, and what seems to keeps the average episode of idle thumbs from getting into a mass of discordant noise is the presence of Chris Remo on lead guitar. He does a brilliant job helping shape the conversation and draws the best out of the others without really directing it towards any particular line of inquiry.

The whole thing has a sureness of touch that even extends to the musical numbers that are thrown into the mix occasionally, my personal favourite being the epic tale of one man and his hammer 'Space Asshole' (although The Ballad of John Riccitiello is a work of genius in its own way). The same willingness to follow a thought to its logical conclusion which lead to these songs, seems to permeate the podcast and lead to the huge amount of memes that have emerged from it. No idea is killed before it's time, regardless of how strange and misinformed it may have seemed at birth. From episode to episode the ideas mutate, slowly growing stronger and by the later end of the series it could sometimes felt I was listening to Professor X's podcast for gifted ideas, complete with a strange and convoluted continuity and back story.

In the end Idle Thumbs is worth listening to because in every episode can (and sometimes does) go anywhere. The genius of the Thumbs crew was to understand that if you created a ideal environment for intelligent conversation you don’t have to worry about what they will end up talking about.

In some ways you could even say it was emergent podcasting....

*The size of these letters accurately reflects just how badly I murdered the spelling originally

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