Chatting to Gemma Driscoll, it’s difficult to believe that the bright and bubbly 20-year-old used to hide in her bedroom for days on end playing video games.
High school was tough and the Blackalls Park teen sought solace in the virtual world.
Fast forward a few years and Driscoll has turned the tables. She still loves gaming but is ready and raring to face the world as the newest presenter on ABC Television’s Good Game: Spawn Point, joining current hosts Angus “Goose” Ronald and Angharad “Rad” Yeo on the couch. She makes her on-screen debut on March 5.
Not bad for someone with no television experience.
“This job is pretty much the dream. This is me saying ‘Ha! I told you that I could get paid for playing video games,” she tells Weekender.
“The audition process took a month and a bit and then I got the phone call and they were like ‘You have the passion and you can talk so we’ll see how you go’.”
And talk she can. A fan of Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Star Wars from a young age, Driscoll is a natural storyteller. Gaming allowed her to no only write and dream about fantastical worlds, but to join those worlds and go on imaginative adventures of her own making.
Since then, video games have inspired her to create a YouTube channel to explore her thoughts on the medium and prompted her to become involved with the cosplay community. It is a medium which is constantly evolving and a far cry from Pong, the game that introduced this author to video games many moons ago.
“It’s crazy how real games look these days. Graphics don’t mean everything but we definitely do judge a book by its cover when it comes to that kind of stuff,” Driscoll says.
“I love open world kind of games – I love the stories and the complex characters, so role-playing games are my thing. But I’m kind of into anything as long as it has a good soundtrack.”
According to the 2018 IGEA Digital Australia Report, 97 per cent of Australian homes with children have video games and 60 per cent of parents actively play games with their children. But gaming has come under fire for many years, with people blaming it for everything from anti-social behaviour to violent crime. Driscoll says it is “a very easy scapegoat”.
“A lot of people don’t understand it and, like anything, if you don’t know much about it you’re normally afraid of it,” she explains.
“I think there are instances where gaming has earned the stigma but it’s like anything, too much can kill you. Without regulating how much you play, it can become an issue. You need time for the real world as well as the online world.
“I fully admit I’ve hissed many a time opening my curtains of a morning, and shied away from the sunlight for fear that it would burn my skin. It’s all about balance.”
In Driscoll’s experience, though, gaming has been a positive – even though it grew from a negative.
“As a kid I always enjoyed games but as I grew up I tried to be one of the girls and was like ‘Oh no, I don’t play games, that’s a boy thing’. When I got into high school I was a bit of a sad chicken, unfortunately. I had a bit of a rough time. To get away from it all I got back into games again,” she says.
“I went through a period with one of my favourite games where I was up for more than 24 hours, just playing. It was a dark time. The outside world had OK graphics but the storyline could have been better.
“I didn’t have the best peer support network as a kid and tended to internalise a lot of things. I would express myself through games and by communicating with people that I didn’t have to see face to face. They couldn’t judge me that way. A lot of friends that I have made through gaming have been overseas.”
And, of course, gaming landed her a “dream job”. Driscoll graduated from high school and took one gap year which turned into two. She was unsure what she wanted to do with her life but she was certain of two things: she loved gaming and she loved creating.
“I applied to go to university for game design. If I didn’t get this job I would be studying game design right now,” she says.
“I was daunted before I started, and the day before I had a massive panic attack – ‘They’re not going to like me, it’s going to be too much, I’m going to screw it up, people are going to write in about that red-headed chick and how she ruined the show’,” she says.
“But everyone in the studio is great. I literally walked in and got hugs from everyone. They made me feel like I belonged, and that’s really important when you’re kind of struggling with who you are.”
Driscoll commutes to Sydney each day from Newcastle by train. There are no airs and graces here. “That drive would murder my poor car,” she says, laughing.
As for the possibility of being recognised in public, she has this to say: “I look like a fire hydrant – I’m not hard to miss.”
Good Game: Spawn Point is being touted as a show for younger gamers, by gamers, and this year has an online-first focus. You can join “Gem, Rad and Goose” on the ABC ME app and on YouTube each weekday. Full episodes will continue to screen on ABC ME each Saturday at 9am.