Life & Culture

Are your children obsessed with gaming? Don't worry about it...

A new TV show for kids celebrates gaming- and there’s a Jewish character too.


Dan Berlinka is not your average parent. No stressing for him about his kids gaming for hours on end. In fact, not only does he encourage gaming, he positively celebrates it. When we speak, he is lapping up naches from his son’s recent graduation in computer animation and video design and goes on to reveal proudly that his boy was also a gaming consultant on Lagging, Berlinka’s latest offering for children’s TV.

For non-gaming buffs, “lagging” refers to the delay between a player pressing the buttons on his or her gamepad and the action happening on the screen. Technicalities aside, it is also the name of the writer’s delightful new comedy series about five children whose shared love of — or even obsession with — gaming brings them together to tackle the challenges of the “tweenage” years.

Few issues divide parental opinion as much as what constitutes a “healthy” amount of gaming, but Berlinka is clear about which side of the fence he is on. “Gaming is a wonderful uniting force. There’s a lot of creativity and teamwork involved.” To the naysayers who would prefer their children to pick up a book or learn a musical instrument, the Bafta award winner argues that gaming “taps into a rich tapestry of cultural connections. The best games have tremendous storytelling, acting and music. They are incredibly valuable art forms.”

More importantly, according to Berlinka, gaming can lead to lasting friendships.“My three sons are now in their 20s and their social life revolves around gaming. One of my son’s best friends moved to Australia and they still meet through gaming.”

It’s friendship, particularly among boys, that the 51-year-old set out to explore in Lagging. “We don’t tell enough stories about boys’ friendships or emotions. I read an article recently about how girls are allowed sleepovers for a lot longer than boys since parents get uncomfortable when boys are too close. I wanted to write about the love in boys’ friendships that can last a lifetime.”

The cultural differences among the characters make their bond particularly heartwarming. Sol is Jewish, Mo is Muslim, Ray is a church-going Lithuanian boy and Cedric and Leah (the only girl in Team SMoRCLe) are both of African-Caribbean heritage.

Berlinka attributes his interest in marginalised characters to his own peripatetic upbringing, which saw his family live in London, Germany and later, Suffolk. “I think my sense of community is more fractured from moving around. I don’t slot neatly into a traditional identity.”

Lagging is “the most personal thing” he has ever written, with the warmth between Sol and his divorced dad being based on his own relationship (as a divorced father) with one of his sons.

Later in the series, viewers will meet Sol’s grandfather, modelled on Berlinka’s own dad, who, although he wasn’t observant, took great pride in his Jewish heritage. “He would point out every Jewish actor who had changed their name from something Jewish-sounding and he loved Jewish humour and artistry.”

Including a Jewish family in the series was a way of filling a cultural gap in Berlinka’s own childhood. “I never saw a show with a regular, secular Jewish family like the household I grew up in. I hope that kids from different backgrounds watch Lagging and are able to see themselves in it.”

Portraying Sol is Yoni Bronks, who landed the part at his first ever audition. “I was very, very nervous, so I was delighted when I got through.”

Filmed during the pandemic, he says the process wasn’t straightforward. “Everyone had to wear a mask. We could only take them off when we were filming or rehearsing. We had a bag so we could hide our mask on set.”

On the plus side, a storyline around gaming, where players don’t need to share a physical space, was the perfect solution to the challenges of socially-distanced filming. “We couldn’t go near one another, but we still managed to build a relationship,” says Bronks. Berlinka adds that despite the constraints, the five actors managed to achieve “great chemistry”.

The significance of the characters’ diverse backgrounds wasn’t lost on Bronks, who talks about inclusivity with a maturity beyond his 11 years. “I think that having a Jewish and a Muslim character and also Leah, who has a medical condition, shows equality. It’s great that Dan and the other writers have taken things that are sometimes hated and turned them all into one big team.”

As for Sol, it’s not just his religion with which Bronks, who is Modern Orthodox, identifies. “I can also go off on rants and be very bossy,” he laughs.

Then there is the shared love of gaming, which was a lifesaver for Bronks during lockdown. “When I was stuck inside, [gaming] was somewhere to go. It was a virtual reality. Some games require loads of teamwork and can build bonds, so I was able to make new friends during lockdown.”

If ever he comes across “some not very nice people online” who swear, Bronks doesn’t shy away from asking them to stop. “If they carry on [swearing], I just leave immediately.” “He’s socially very aware,” pipes up his dad, Rick, who is sitting in on the interview.

It was a teacher at his local drama school who suggested to Bronks’ parents that their son got an agent. Also a talented street dancer, Bronks now hopes to pursue a career in performing — rather than in gaming. “I would love to be an actor, to do something I properly love doing and to wake up every day and go: ‘Yeah!’”

But he shouldn’t put down his gamepad quite yet. According to Berlinka, gaming is the perfect metaphor for exploring our identity and finding our place in the world. “When you game, you choose a character and a skill set and then you modify and develop that character. Similarly, as we get older, we try out different styles and beliefs. Gaming is a metaphor for how we grow and shape ourselves.”

Lagging launches on CBBC on Tuesday July 20

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