Don't mock the geek: Why Dara O'Briain is proud to be the poster boy for video games

Julian Gavaghan

"On tour I look a bit like a giant villain from Mission Impossible," reveals comedian Dara O’Briain as he sips mineral water in a manner not unlike the sort of high-tech fictional criminal masterminds he is referring to.

"This is because, when travelling to gigs, I carry a large, futuristic-looking black suitcase with a TV screen on one side and what looks like something sinister inside."

The device he speaks of is not a missile launching apparatus – or even a slightly more mundane recording kit to help him practice his stand-up material.

In fact, the case, a gift from his best friend and fellow Irish comic, Ed Byrne, contains a games console that he can play wherever he wants.

The Mock The Week host is, unashamedly, a gaming fanatic.

Next month, for the fifth year running, he will present the Video Game BAFTAs, for which the nominations have been revealed this week.

"It’s very much an indie year," says Dara, whose eclectic brown jacket matches the oak table we are sitting at in luvvie central - the bar at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' headquarters on London’s Piccadilly.

Top contenders for the coveted Best Game gong are Journey and The Walking Dead, which are both made by small, independent firms.

Also highly lauded is Dear Esther. In each case, the three games focus on story and character development, with few decisions required of the player.

"It’s a sign of maturity in the industry that more narrative-style games made by individuals can get such high recognition," says the 41-year-old, who often refers to his love of gaming during performances and regularly plays for an hour before gigs.

[Guinness World Records names top videogame villains of all time]

Speaking of Journey, in which the player quietly wanders through a desert while listening to an eerie score, he says: "I didn’t realise at first that it was an online game and that the characters I met along the way were actually other players. But it’s strangely addictive. Despite the relatively small amount of interaction, it compels you to stay with it in a way that you wouldn’t if it was a 40-hour-long movie, which it sort of is.

"Also, if you take Dear Esther, if that was a movie and you spent hours just flying around the same Scottish island it would be unbearable, but somehow it works as a game."

His own personal preference among last year’s releases is Far Cry 3, a more traditional first-person shooter game that has been nominated for Best Game and a clutch of others.

The comic, who lives in west London with his surgeon wife and two children, has some reservations, though.

"I read a review and it revealed the twist, which ruined it for me a bit. Also, it takes far too long to load before I can play."

Dara, a life-long Arsenal fan, also can’t resist playing Fifa 13 – especially when he is waiting to go on stage.

However, no game can come close to his all-time favourite, 2011’s Batman: Arkham City.

"I bled that game dry I loved it so much,” admits Dara, who can barely contain his excitement as he reveals that he obtained 397 of the 400 collectables.

"It’s quite tragic, but I am actually pretty proud of my achievement there," beams the 6ft 2in-tall comedian, who studied maths and theoretical physics at university.

But the comic, who has also presented the TV BAFTAs (he prefers the game ones because they are “shorn of the unnecessary glamour”), is happy if some people think he’s an anorak.

"I did once say gamers would rather admit to watching hard-core porn than playing Xbox, but I think that’s changing.

"Thankfully, there are much cooler and younger people than me - rock stars and the like – who are into games and the interest is becoming more mainstream.

"But as long as they keep trotting me out as the poster boy for video games, there will still be a bit of a stigma attached I suppose, but who cares?"

Dara O’Briain will present the 2013 British Academy Games Awards on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. The Awards will be streamed live on Twitch and a highlights programme will air on Monday, March 11, at 10pm on Challenge (Sky: Ch 125, Freeview: Ch 46, Virgin: Ch 139).

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