Classic Game Room was the first YouTube channel to which I ever subscribed, and is part of a small handful of things that inspired me to create Classic Gaming Quarterly. When the show re-launched in 2008 I had never heard of it, finding it on YouTube by happenstance. 8 years later, Classic Game Room is still going strong, and I finally got around to watching the 2007 documentary that ostensibly kicked off the show’s rebirth.
2007’s Classic Game Room – The Rise and Fall of the Internet’s Greatest Video Game Review Show is a documentary, almost a self-mockumentary, chronicling the history of the original Classic Game Room. Originally simply called Game Room, the show is generally recognized as the first internet-based video game review series. Game Room launched in November of 1999 on the dot-com bubble-era video streaming site FromUSALive.com, which also featured shows based on board game reviews, dance instruction, mixology, and investment advice, all with the kind of production quality that you’d expect out of public access television.
Game Room was created by Mark Bussler and David Crosson, who became friends after meeting in film school. The show was low-budget to-the-extreme, but the cheesy special effects combined with the shenanigans and wry humor of the two hosts contributed to the show’s campy appeal, and while the show has an almost high-school film class feel to it now, at the time the equipment used to produce the show was state-of-the-art.
Originally only covering then-modern games on the Sony Playstation and Sega Dreamcast, Game Room branched out into “classic” systems, most-prominently the Atari 2600, NES, and Sega Genesis after receiving a deluge of positive feedback for their March 2000 review of the original Contra on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Unfortunately, Game Room was too ahead of its time for its own good. The vast majority of internet users were still on dial-up which was not conducive to video streaming, and the technology was not in place yet to allow for effective advertising on the web. While the show (and the FromUSALive website) lasted less than a year, over 80 episodes were produced. Many of these episodes were uploaded to YouTube in 2008 by Mark Bussler, and can be found buried in the catalog of the current Classic Game Room YouTube channel.
Classic Game Room – The Rise and Fall of the Internet’s Greatest Video Game Review Show markets itself as a documentary about the show, but the real purpose of the film seems to be to act as a “best-of” complication, featuring nine of the original 1999-2000 episodes, plus one never-before-seen episode that was only partially completed when the show was canceled. These episodes are connected together by a talking-head, VH1-style interview with Bussler along with scattered behind-the-scenes footage along with scenes that help set the storyline. This film was created as a side project by Bussler, at the time working as a documentary filmmaker, and in an age before the rise of YouTube was probably meant as a means of preserving the legacy of the original show.
Some have criticized the film as taking itself too seriously, but the tone is meant to be dryly humorous rather than self-indulgant, and to not understand that is to not understand Bussler’s sense of humor. As the movie begins to wind down, Bussler gets a bit serious, discussing what became of FromUSALive, what he was doing at the time, and the future of Game Room, but avoids losing the tone of the film by returning to his humorous form before introducing what he calls “one of his favorite episodes”. The credits then roll, cut with outtakes from both the original episodes and the film itself.
Bonus features included on the DVD release include director commentary, trailers for Bussler’s other documentaries, 2 expectedly tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes looks at the show’s production that nevertheless provide a fascinating look behind the curtain, and two other short features that are bizarre-enough so as to be better watched than described.
The film serves as a great history lesson for fans of the current show, and a trip down memory lane for back-in-the day fans of the original. As it can be rented on Amazon for a paltry $2.99, it’s a complete no-brainer for CGR fans both new and old, and is also a worthy purchase at $9.99 for those who think that they may want to revisit it from time to time.
Classic Game Room – The Rise and Fall of the Internet’s Greatest Video Game Review Show was followed-up in 2015 by The Best of Classic Game Room: 15th Anniversary Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray. Buy the DVD, a digital copy, or a digital rental of Classic Game Room – The Rise and Fall of the Internet’s Greatest Video Game Review Show on Amazon.
Dave Crosson no longer works in the film industry, but does maintain an occasionally-updated YouTube channel, Retro Gaming Rewind.