Although video games have become a little more widely accepted and celebrated in the past half-decade, Australia misses out on many of the more mainstream public displays of this celebration. This is why Bonus Stage was very welcome and well-received when it had its first show last week in Redfern.
Although quite small and, admittedly, burdened by awkward laughs and in-jokes that are pretty typical of first-time events, Bonus Stage did a really awesome job of creating a panel talk with enough live games, competitions and sketches to keep an audience full of gamers entertained. Bonus Stage is hosted by Big Head Mode, a gaming podcast on 2RRR that covers news, reviews and general gaming stuff. This was their first live show under the Bonus Stage name, created “in the spirit of Conan or The Daily Show, as a live talk show just for gamers”.
Held at the smallish Giant Dwarf theatre in Redfern (a venue owned and run by The Chaser guys), old consoles are set up around the central stage, and the bar, which was enough for me to call it a good night. The talk show went for around an hour and half and was hosted by Carlo Ritchie and Ben O’Brien, both comedians and speakers on Big Head Mode. Their guests included Jordan Raskopoulos, another comedian and actor (perhaps most memorable for going on Today Tonight, saying he wanted to win a Logie to use as a doorstop). Also present was Rae Johnston, gamer and writer for Kotaku, Gizmodo and Business Insider (who made news immediately after the release of Bioshock Infinite, with the tweet: “Snarky guy in coffee queue eyes off my Bioshock Infinite t-shirt, suggests I “probably haven’t even played it”. So I told him the ending”. )
The live show consisted of gaming banter between some of the guests, a fake news-section by Johnston, and some really awesome game-inspired songs played by Benny Davis and the Triforce. It was pretty great seeing a live show where about ten minutes was spent discussing the ethical considerations of the Pokémon universe where, as O’Brien pointed out, there are no human hospitals or schools, and “pre-schoolers roam the land stealing each other’s pets”.
One highlight was a pre-made “documentary” of different journalists, Triple J presenters and the some of The Chaser team talking about their favourite games. The best, however, was definitely Bob Carr admitting his addiction to old-school text adventure games.
In between speaker interviews, the other guests on stage would take turns playing StreetFighter 2, projected on stage. All of them sucked so much that O’Brien received applause when he finally won a round. Nearing the end, there were game-inspired competitions including one where Johnston had to guess the game references from a haiku format read aloud by Seaton Kay-Smith from The Roast (I love you my friend/We adventure together/Now get in the ball). The most original was a GTA take on ‘celebrity heads’, where Raskopoulos and Johnston had to guess the celebrity O’Brien was attempting to create with the plastic surgery mechanics of GTA. Raskopoulos, amazingly, managed to guess Tony Abbott after O’Brien increased the character’s ear lobe size and zoomed in on his ass.
Although Bonus Stage definitely had a few silent and jarring points, it can easily be put down to the fact that it was the first of its kind. And after the talk, the audience was invited to keep drinking and play some of the consoles set up around the theatre and hang out, which is always a welcome end to gaming-themed nights.
The next Bonus Stage is set for the end of April and will again be hosted by Ritchie and O’Brien. The full line-up of guests is still yet to be announced but so far Johnston has been invited back, as well as comedian Daniel Townes. Big Head Mode promises that the second instalment of the show will be “like Mario Party, except you won’t hate everyone at the end”.