You don’t have to be a gaming freak to enjoy Play Value, ON Networks’ super-snazzy series about the history of the video game, which posted its twelfth episode last week. In fact, while hard-core gamers are sure to love Play Value, the show isn’t necessarily made for them, but rather for casual gamers, history buffs, or folks like me, who enjoy the trip down memory lane. (Truth be told, I haven’t purchased a gaming system since the early 90s, back when it was still cool to play “Super No-Friendo.”)

Each episode covers a unique topic–such as “The Fall of Atari ” or “Tetris: Splitting the Iron Curtain”– but the show’s creator and producer, Jeremiah Black, says that the best viewing experience is to watch the series from the beginning, as the narrative gradually moves from general topics to the more specific analysis of various gaming companies and certain key individuals.

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“The goal,” Black said of Play Value’s season one, “is to present the stories that only the hardcore fans know and bring the average Joe and Jill up to speed. Then we can get really in-depth. If you sit down and watch the shows in order, you’ll be totally caught up and by the end, feel as through you just watched a two-hour documentary.”

Don’t think, however, that just because Play Value aims to present a comprehensive history of the video game industry that it has the same allure (or snooze factor, as the case may be) as a PBS mini-series.  Play Value is more along the lines of “ infotainment,” with a breezy, VH1 style evocative of I Love the 80s or Best Week Ever.

But unlike those VH1 shows that tend to let a rotation of comedians riff on topics without giving you a whole heck of a lot of information, Play Value is hosted by very a knowledgeable team of experts who come from inside the world of gaming. The talent includes an “AOL Games” programming director, Libe Goad, a video game designer, T.J. Allard, and the editor of CNET, Dan Ackerman, along with game enthusiasts Jeff Rubin (Collegehumor.com’s managing editor), Josh Shabtai (New Media Specialist at Ketchum PR) and Shandi Sullivan, (America’s Next Top Model finalist and Guitar Hero whiz).

Perhaps the most dazzling aspect of Play Value is its own play value. Black, who got his entertainment start as an editor, deftly sews together the history of gaming with a professionalism and production value lost on so many other online shows. This is one of the few times I watched a show online and forgot that it wasn’t broadcasting through my cable box. It’s an exemplary case of online TV, and unlike other series that aspire to transition into traditional media, Play Value simultaneously raises the bar for the web while proving that viewer loyalty does exist in the world of new media.

“Video game people are very loyal. The same kind of people who are going to watch shows online are computer tech people, so they’re probably going to like Web TV more.” And a show on the history of video game is a homerun for the “computer tech” demographic.

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Still, Play Value is made for the every-person. Black explained his “litmus test” for tweaking many of the episodes for the first season. “I would make an episode and I would send it to my best friend’s wife, who had played when she was a kid but who isn’t into video games now…and if she liked the show, I knew it was good.”

Black also divulged some info on the episodes to come. “You can expect deeper episodes – more esoteric stories – now that you know all the players involved.” Heading down the pike is a piece on Shigeru Miyamoto, a Japanese game designer who is credited with creating fifteen of the twenty most popular video games of all time (including Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda), an episode on video game mascots (the good, the bad and the ugly), and a history of women and gaming.

“Women make up 42% of all game players,” Black reported. The episode will include bios on female game designers, a look at female characters in games and the big hits in female gaming markets.

I wonder if Ms. Pacman will make the list. She was always a hero of mine.
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