Aleksandr Molchanov: Aleksandr Molchanov. I was born in Lithuania but at that time it was called the Soviet Union, that part. So I'm 26 years old, and most of my life I've lived in Sweden. I've played games since I was probably eight or something like that. We bought a Dendy console. That's the type of console you had when you live in Lithuania.
Since then I started playing PC games when I was 10 and then I bought an Xbox when I was probably, I don't know, 14, 17, something like that. Now I mostly play on PC because I don't own any consoles. I sometimes play mobile games, and I've been somewhat of a game developer. I painted the loading screens for Crusader Kings II and cover art for Europa Universalis 4 was designed by me.
In your emails you said it's been 16 years since the last time you were excited about a videogame?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Yeah. Not 16. Maybe 10, I guess. Over the time interest has gone down a lot and I've become more or less sober with how to expect games. What to expect from them, anyway. I can't say I've been let down, but you see trailers and you get things promised to you by advertisers but these promises, we've learned to see through those promises more or less.
"It's an MMORPG." Well, then it's gonna play a bit like all the other MMORPGs. Why get excited? So a lot of this has come from, well, that gaming fatigue that you've been talking about. It's a lot of the same stuff that doesn't really get me excited anymore. So, yeah. About 10 years maybe.
What was a decade ago?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I was pretty excited for Half-Life 2. It was a big title. I bought a new computer for Half-Life 2 as well. But I was more excited for Half-Life 2 because I wanted to play and make mods for it, because before that I made maps for Counter-Strike, I was part of small-mod teams. I made mods for Half-Life, and I knew they were gonna ship the same editing possibilities with Half-Life 2 and the mods actually exploded. There were great mods for it. The game itself wasn't really that much -- I haven't even played through Half-Life 2. And I don't care. It doesn't appeal to me. It's more or less the tools.
What excited you about modding it?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I wanted to play something different. Not just a game that was made by Valve. It's a great game. I can't say it's bad. It just doesn't interest me in so many ways. The possibilities of creating something on that great groundwork that they had laid down -- they bragged a lot about the new engine, Valve did, when they released Half-Life 2, and "Here's our new editor, here's how you can make new stuff. Here's the level editor. Here's the model viewer, and everything is built in and packaged and you will be able to make your own mods and publish them on Steam." As a hobbyist, it was great. I loved it. So naturally, that excited me a lot. I played a lot of very good mods as well. They delivered on their promises. They promised a great engine to make mods with, and people did great things with it. I was glad.
It's interesting that you bring it up, because I also feel that the whole mod scene -- you're in a different part of the world and are a little bit younger than me, but does it seem to be going away?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Yeah, but it's natural because games now make more time to make. If you want to make something that can be as presentable as a Half-Life mod, there were many Half-Life mods and you didn't have to have a huge team of developers. A level was ugly and boxy and it was just supposed to be fun to play without looking beautiful, and you could still ship it as a mod and people would love it. These days, it's a lot more complicated. You can't ship an ugly level and expect people to play it because you don't have a testing team of 100 guys who will play it and say, "Well, this is good and now you can dress it up."
As a mod team, you must make, like, everything from start to finish directly. You can't wait on blocking out levels. You can't wait on testing out stuff. It takes more people and more effort to make something presentable to the general public, so a lot of mods these days are, "Well, we've altered the AI" for example. A lot of AI mods exist for games like Stalker and ARMA 2, ARMA 3. Some new additions, but almost nobody makes total conversions anymore. That was the big thing at the time Half-Life 2 was released. People were making total conversions. And you could complete those. It was feasible.
You mentioned a wish for the game industry's fanbase to ask for more, to ask for something different. Can you tell me more about that? Do you feel like you don't see people asking for more or asking for different things?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I do see people speaking out. It's a lot more about people speaking out but then still buying the game they don't like. "Oh, I hate the new Dragon Age, they just broke everything. The new engine is horrible. The characters are stupid and there's DLC everywhere."
Industry malpractice. A gamer will say, "You're forced to pay for stuff you should be getting for free anyway." But still, these people go and buy those games. And I ask them, "Why would you do this? You hated this. You hated the idea." "Well, they have dragons," says my friend. "But are you this easy that you will buy into this just because this promise of dragons that might not even be delivered upon?" "Yes, I am this easy." This is the kind of low expectations I would really wish gamers as an audience or players of games, buyers of games could change. Because unless they start not buying games, nothing will change. Unless they stop preordering, nothing will change there either.
This is a problem that they are aware of but somehow -- I don't know, maybe it's the guilty pleasure stimulus gland that gets activated somehow, that you allow yourself to pay for it because it's just pleasure. But at the same time, it's not simple pleasure, you have it as your entertainment, when you're putting this much money into a sound system and a PlayStation and a huge TV, and then you're buying games for $100 apiece for a game. I know it's like $60 a game for a full-price game in America. 600 Swedish krona. You pay more for DLC packs and some kind of unlocks and stuff. You are putting a lot of money for something you're not super-comfortable with. I wish that gamers -- customers would be more comfortable, "Well, it doesn't fit all my needs, but I'm still gonna pay for it, and then I'm gonna pay more." What kind of logic is that? You don't use this logic when you buy a car.
What would the same logic as applied to cars sound like?
Aleksandr Molchanov: If you buy used cars, and I've only bought used cars because I'm very young and not that rich, you can buy stuff that you're not super-pleased with. But if you go to get a new car at a salon who sells new super-amazing, fresh-off-the-factory cars, you won't settle for something that is, "well, sort of" your style "and the last model was okay." You will spend your hard-earned cash on something that will be perfect instead of, "Well, I really want a car with a sunroof," and then the salesman says, "We have those with sunroofs, it's just next door. Come over there." "Well, I want a four-wheel drive." "Well, there is a four-wheel drive option." And yeah, you will pay more for it, but you will be getting the thing in the end. There are different types of models.
But for a game, like, you won't get the full experience. You might, need, like, even if it's entertainment -- now, cars aren't entertainment. For some people they are, so maybe I should make a comparison with cars that are entertainment. Like you're buying yourself a car just to race. To take to street races. You won't take a shitty car to a street race. You want to win, to be able to get good at it. You won't be like, "Well this is a Mazda, and it's pretty weak, but I'm gonna still street race and I'll have fun." Its outlook isn't too good. It's the same with games, unless you pay a lot and you just get things that weren't prepared for, like the online sucks and the matchmaking sucks and the support sucks and it won't run and it crashes. But you still bought it, and maybe even bought it online, which means refunds aren't that simple. You might get a refund? I've never tried getting a refund from Steam, but I know it's somewhat possible. So games aren't made to a public that is that much conscious to what kind of crap they're buying. I'm not saying most games are crap. I say that there are games that are crap, and you shouldn't be paying your money for it unless it's actually meeting all your needs and they aren't.
When you excuse this by saying, "Well, there's dragons," you obviously haven't given this thought. Okay, $100. What's the minimum wage in America?
Just over $7.
Aleksandr Molchanov: So. It's more than a day's work. But you're expecting to get maybe 20 hours of entertainment from it and you better not be buying something that frustrates you. You're gonna spend 20 to 40 hours with this and you don't want to be frustrated. You want to have fun. You want to enjoy yourself. And you still buy things that you know will piss you off? I don't understand why customers still do this.
Why do you think people who buy games are like that? Laziness?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Well, yeah, or otherwise they won't get their fix somehow. You will get your fix. It's like you like being in this little box when you push this button and you receive an achievement or something like that? And still it will frustrate you. Still it will disconnect. Still it won't run with your display drivers. It's like, are you that much of a junkie that you will fall for those easy, simple tricks? And a lot of people probably are.
Let's talk about stuff that isn't crap. When you were at your height of playing games, what types of games did you play?
Aleksandr Molchanov: All of them. Except maybe sports games and racing games. I'm real bad at racing games, or I was before. And sport games are just -- I don't even see them. They cater to a different demographic. They cater to the sports crowd.
What did you enjoy about the games that you played? What do you think they had in common?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I can't really decide on that. I know I played a lot with my brother before. We played a lot of co-op games on the Xbox, and that was great. We played some games together, like when we played PC games, one of us would talk and the other one would talk. Even when we were small kids, we could sit in one big chair together and play.
A lot of that was the social part. That we could play together. But I still played single-player games. On the other hand, I can't remember finishing many. I'm very bad with finishing single-player games. I get tired -- I lose interest before they're finished. So that's pretty much it. I think it's the social part, that I was able to hang out with my brother and do that. Now I play DOTA with friends and talk to them over Skype at the same time.
Do things like streaming or playing online -- does that give you that same feeling of connecting with others?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Yes. I don't stream myself as of now, but I've thought about it. But I do watch others and I do watch Let's Plays on YouTube. I've noticed that it brings me closer to the person who is doing the Let's Play. It is somehow like -- people read tabloids about celebrities, like the interest in their lives, and I watch livestreams by livestreamers that I know some stuff about their lives. I know that some of them are studying. I know that some of them have kids. That becomes part of the whole experience somehow. Not only watching games, but also hearing them talk about it and discuss stuff and at the same time, get an insight into someone else's life. I think that plays into why this is interesting. I don't want longplays, I think it means Let's Plays without commentary. Those exist as well, but I just don't find them interesting.
It's interesting that you've lost interest in games but you have an interest in watching other people play games. Why do you think that is?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Games really don't have interesting stories that much. They don't. The writers who are writing for games, they are the writers who were shunned by actual writers, then shunned by movie-script writers, then shunned by TV-script writers, and now they're writing games and at the same time they're probably half-designers because a lot of small game companies before -- you had the same guy writing the story as the guy who was writing the gameplay rules. So they aren't really that good writers. They do still a lot, but stories in games to me aren't that engaging. But to be honest, I haven't played anything past probably Baldur's Gate II, which has a story that people say was engaging. So I probably should, as well.
A lot of people say The Last of Us is good and The Walking Dead should be good, but the formats of them aren't interesting to me. I'd rather watch a Let's Play, actually, because The Last of Us is still a shooter and a boring shooter. And that other one, The Walking Dead is, I don't even know, a mash-up of quick-time events. So, no. Stories can't carry games alone, to me, at least. So I can't really waste time on them for that.
I am interested in mechanics more. I'll download maybe Thief. Yeah, Thief is a good example. It has interesting mechanics. I will try sneaking through a level. And I don't care that it's ugly and the story is crap, even if there is a story. It doesn't really matter. I'm just in it for the mechanics and the mood and the music.
You're talking about the original Thief or the remake?
Aleksandr Molchanov: The original Thief, of course.
Why do you say "of course?"
Aleksandr Molchanov: Because the new game is a new game. It's a modern game with all that comes with it.
What are you implying there?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Levels that are designed to make you feel like a thief. Levels in the old Thief were designed to make you feel like you didn't belong there. You are breaking and entering. In newer stealth games, a lot of entities, when you place them around a level editor, those are probably -- well, not probably, they are made to just cater to the stealth. "Here's a ledge you can climb. Here's a gargoyle you can fire your grappling hook onto and you can hang from it." That kind of stuff. It's all reused in so many ways that it becomes more like a paint-by-numbers stealth instead of, "Let's try to figure out how to make this." Thief was very much like that.
Sure, you could use water arrows on torches, but that wasn't in every place. It was in many places, but you still had to think, you still had to watch paths that guards were patrolling. You still had to learn a bunch of stuff. And within that system you had to interact. The system was -- it was more, I could say, organic. The rules weren't very clear. So that made the game feel a lot more realistic. Sure, you could still be, like, one inch in front of a guard and you'd be totally invisible and the guard wouldn't see you and that could kill your mood of course, but a lot of time that game carried stealth a lot more than anything that came after it because it was in first person, it was very organic. It didn't have pre-set paths of "this is how you should do the sneaking to feel like an awesome thief." Because when games do that, they take away my ability to enjoy them. You can't make me feel like a thief by showing me a movie of a guy being a thief. You're just leading me through this movie, it's like some roller coaster or haunted house type of thing where you go through the motions and then you're out and then you're done.
The feeling of being lost. I really like that in games. Thief had that. Dark Souls has this, and I like Dark Souls in the places where it makes me feel lost and scared. So it's not that I'm tired of all games, it's a lot of modern trends. At least single-player game design. I'm just not that interested in them. Especially the ones who've made games for a while, you know that this is how you make a single-player level sort of. It becomes very blatant, so I can't enjoy this for this reason and it seems very fake.
What else do you think is missing from older games in modern games?
Aleksandr Molchanov: You know how, like, bands starts out and they don't really know what kind of music that they play?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Yeah, a lot of old games started out that, too, I guess, and they didn't really know "is this a strategy game or is this a role-playing game or is this a shooter?" Because I remember my dad bought a DVD player for our computer and bundled with it came Baldur's Gate 1 on a DVD. I thought, "This is a weird RTS game. You can't even build anything!"
Aleksandr Molchanov: But I like it! It was interesting, but it still still pretty weird for an RTS game. Sure there's formations and stuff, but every unit is super-important and they have stories and portraits and stuff. So, I think games lost a lot of experimentation and they didn't know a lot back then. It wasn't that much time ago. They know more now. They think now if you're making an action game, you should have a cover system, and probably have unlocks into what kind of weapons you're getting later, and you'll probably have some kind of sneaking level. It's a lot more like, "We should have this because all games now all games now have this." A lot of games fall into these categories.
If you have an RPG game, you will surely have crafting of some sorts because, hell, you need crafting and you need quests, because this is how you do things in RPGs. When I say "quests" to you, you understand that it means a quest in a videogame, especially if you've been writing about games.
Yeah, I assume you're talking about you find a character and they talk to you very seriously about this thing that they need you to go do and there's probably going to be on the right side of the screen, text of what they're saying as well as a clear indication of what the benefits of this to you. And then you can say yes or no.
Aleksandr Molchanov: Yeah. Yeah.
Did I leave anything out there?
Aleksandr Molchanov: No. You're good. Everybody knows what a quest is. You have those in RPGs, and you have them in online games. And, like, human interaction has become systematized to such a point that it's not human interaction anymore. You click on the guy with the exclamation point over his head. Quest towards these, go there, do this. Okay. That'll take me 20 minutes.
And you'll do that. And it doesn't feel like questing to me. Come on. What's his name. Percival.
He went on one quest. The knights of the round table went on one quest. That was to get the holy grail. And I don't even know if they made, and they're still famous. The quest isn't interesting. You being on the quest isn't interesting. The interesting part is the loot and the experience, and you of course know what I mean when I say "loot" and "experience" because those have become words that are so much used that they can't have any other meaning within the context of videogames.
But roll back your clock, maybe 20 years and those could mean different things. Before we systemized experience into being, "Well, we slapped the system of Dungeons and Dragons onto every game" pretty much, and you gained XP -- before that, there was something else. Games were, like, unclear about what they wanted to do. That was kind of interesting. It was more like a living world created by someone else, but now the world has died and now you're stuck in it and you could explore a bit, because nobody said, "In an action game, you must have this, but you can't have that." That was interesting. You can't have it this way, these days.
Like, every control scheme is the same, by the way. It's not a bad thing. But it's a symptom [that] we've been stuck in the same generation of consoles ever since PlayStation 2. We've been making games the same.
There's no impetus for change or reason games should change if the natural progression is you get used to what games are and people such as yourself move on and you stop buying them. But you know what? There's another group of kids growing up just now discovering them for the first time and when they get to be your age or a little bit younger, they will have already gone through and maybe move on as well. There aren't enough people to cause a big enough stink.
Aleksandr Molchanov: And I think the trend will be broken by people saying, "Well, why should an action game always be like this?" And they'll make something else out of it and it will be interesting.
Who does it really hurt if these bigger games are less creative and it's harder to discover other, smaller, more interesting things?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I don't really care.
I'm picking that up from you, yeah.
Aleksandr Molchanov: I mean, there are people who are hurt by this, I guess people who are trying to make games. If you wanted to make a shooter, and you had a story to tell, and nobody buys your shooter because it's just like every other shooter but it's just not one of the bigger ones. Like Homefront. It was a shooter. But nobody bought it. And a lot of other shooters exist that nobody buys. You can get hurt by that.
Your story might not get told, but even so that's a videogame story so not much of value will be lost. I guess people who try to innovate are getting hurt by the millions because it seems to me like they're trying to break a brick wall with their heads. "Please like this. Try this. It's different. It's not the same thing as you're used to."
Some of their games get through. But a lot of them don't. Sure, those who don't, they feel bad about this but it's the same thing. If there's so much of something -- all indie games can't be good. All innovative games can't be good. There's a lot of innovation that never leads anywhere. That's the whole process of evolution, I think. "If this isn't copied or if this isn't liked, if this doesn't work, nobody will buy it." But there's also this trend right now -- not a trend, but you have a possibility as an amateur to make a game and put it on Steam and have it being sold. With things like Unity and Unreal Engine, you can make games that look sort of like the AAA titles. And a lot of people are doing that.
According to some of my friends, this hurts the industry. This hurts the gamers because there's too many games to look through to know what's good. You have to rely on reading. You have to look more at critics and curators and stuff. I disagree with that being a bad thing. I just think it's good because we're getting more games, we're getting more movies, we're getting more books. Everyone can write a book. And everyone can publish a book on the Internet.
This isn't a bad thing. Your book just won't be as recognized as the next Stephen King novel because he's established. Your game won't be as recognized as the next NHL 2015, whatever, because you aren't EA Games, but they have all the market. Your obscure imagination won't create a new sport or something that people might enjoy. It might. But you probably will be forgotten. That will hurt a bunch of people. Still. When you ask this question, "Who does this hurt most?"
Well, a lot of people. But come on, it's just the games industry. Who cares who it hurts. It's not really that bad. We have a lot more urgent problems. I'm sure you can write some kind of essay about how this hurts the economy, and that I won't comment really because I'm not an economist. But that might somehow tie into it, and you probably could tie this into what the norm is of societal trends: How does this impact who we are as a civilization, that we can create this much, but at the same time nobody cares about our creations. I mean, now everyone has a blog. Or everyone can have a blog. But you can't read everyone's blogs. So some blogs become more valued than others.
I mean, Minecraft is more interesting because not only is it a fun game but it also has that many players. A lot more people talk about it. It's more interesting than, say, anything else on TIGSource. TIGSource being the independent game development website.
So you're being hurt by entering the market, I guess. If you want to become a game developer, you are automatically in the gutter and you have to climb out of it by doing something really amazing.
If you say it doesn't matter, why talk about it with me?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I guess I want this -- I'm not hurt by this, but I'm sort of inconvenienced because I would like to play games. I'm kinda saddened that I don't enjoy games anymore because, well, it's a good pastime. It activates me and a lot of games have given me a lot of good experiences. I only learned English because I played a lot of games in English. The education system in Sweden doesn't really promote this much exercise in English. And further down the line, I was playing online games with people who spoke English to me. So I had to learn the language. I had to solve puzzles. It's a good thing.
I really want games to be better. That's the whole thing. You can tell your friends, like, "I watched this real interesting movie and it moved me and it was emotional and it was intelligent and I had to think a lot." But you can't really say that about games just yet, and if you can, those games are very different for a lot of people. There haven't been many games that are both intellectually stimulating and emotionally stimulating to a person that we can all agree upon. There still hasn't been Godfather where everything was right. Not only the game was beautiful, the story was great, the interactions, the design was great, and it was engaging. But next week I bought a sequel and I forgot about it.
To me, this is like we're still doing maybe not Michael Bay action movies but at least Luc Besson action movies. They're pretty dumb. And they're very systemized. You know, like, in movies there are certain conventions like in action movies. You will have a car chase and if a cop car crashes and burns in a car chase, this doesn't count as a bad thing. Because this is what you expect from a car chase. Cars turning over. Cars exploding. So it's one of those movies. Our games are like one of those movies where conventions are followed strictly and they don't really aspire to have you sit down and think about what you've done.
This is important to me. Games should make you think about what you do and not what you watch on the screen or listen to. You can have as many characters as you want to crying or killing themselves or enjoying life. But it's still watching a movie. Until we stop using movie storytelling techniques in games, we can't move forward. We will still be using crafting systems and cover systems and quests and stuff to drive the gameplay. I wish that that would stop. This I think hurts the most, that we're stuck in copying movies and don't evolve games. At the same time, having a person examine his own actions is very hard. It's something you never do unless someone tells you to stop and think about what you've done.
When you were into games, how did the games media impact what you were interested in? Magazines, blogs, podcasts, anything like that.
Aleksandr Molchanov: Never. I got games from demo discs and I thought, "This is interesting." Or friends. Piracy was great in Sweden in those days. Everyone copied every game that there was. The games that couldn't be copied we're like, "Wow, you copied it! That's amazing. Can I have Diablo II now?" "Yeah, sure." And then everyone still bought Diablo II because everyone played it.
The games media did have a say. I did subscribe to PC Gamer for a while, but I didn't really care for what they said. "This looks good in screenshots. This looks interesting. This looks like a game I'd like to try." But I can't remember me buying or not buying a game based on what a magazine said or a critic. This was before Web 2.0.
Never did games media influence me. It was more about my friends influencing me. Like, me trying Halo at a friend's house and saying, "Yeah, I want an Xbox." It was a lot more about that. Games media has even less influenced me after that because, well, I can't trust them anymore.
Why can't you trust them anymore?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Well, Metacritic scores that say that a lot of games get very good high scores from critics and then they get really low scores from gamers, from people who are interested in this. Of course gamers will hate a game for almost no reason at all. They will give it a zero out of 10 or a zero out of 100. You can't judge a product like, "Well, the graphics were good but the story was shit and it was buggy, but it looks good, and it's better than average, so it's a seven or something." You can't have that. You should judge the game by how engaging it is if you're doing these scores. You should tell the player, "Well, it was interesting for five minutes. Then it got old."
I was once asked to do a review for a site -- actually, who can tell what is still going these days and what is not. But let me see if they are still up. Uh, yeah. So a couple years ago I did a review for a site that's still up today. They asked me to do a review of a game. I forget what game it is. But they asked me. I said, "Sure. I'm a freelance writer. I need money and I'm happy to help my bosses out and I have the time and availability." And I wrote a review. I filed it. And this place, which is still up today, basically said, "Oh, actually, I think we're going to rewrite this in-house. We had a staffer who liked this game a lot more than you did."
Aleksandr Molchanov: This isn't how reviews are supposed to work. You're writing a customer review of a product. "This car was shit, but someone else at my club likes it a lot more, so I'll let him talk to you instead."
I don't want to tell you that this happens all the time, but this is a thing that has happened. That was the last time I ever wrote for this particular place, but my attitude is my responsibility as a critic is to give my opinion. I don't think criticism is the most important thing in the world, but that's sort of the point of doing that, so that people such as yourself have an informed opinion, at least, of what someone knowledge about games thinks about this specific game. I'm curious, though, like, what is your reaction as a former consumer of games that stuff like this happens at game outlets?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Well, game outlets have been notoriously known for being bought by game developers and publishers. Whether that's true or not and in how many cases it's true, I don't know. But you telling me this, it doesn't surprise me. This is why I no longer can be influenced by game reviewers, because reviewers don't act like reviewers. They act like used car salesmen. "There's a little rust here, but the engine runs fine on ATI drivers."
"If you don't like the game as it is right now, there's gonna be some DLC coming out and it'll make parts of it better."
Aleksandr Molchanov: "Yeah. But you'll have to pay more, because this shit will break down and require --"
[Laughs.] Well, when you did pay attention to the games media, what trends did you notice in the things that they cover or do not cover?
Aleksandr Molchanov: No idea. Next question.
You said in one of your emails that "Sarkeesian will say that depictions of women are stupid in games. I'll agree to that, but say that men are just as ridiculous." Tell me a little bit more about that?
Aleksandr Molchanov: Of course they're ridiculous, but this is because all writers are hacks. They're stupid. I don't know how, but -- I was aspiring to become a concept artist in the games industry but then someone told me it's like becoming a pro footballer. You just can't do it. I said, "Okay, fine. I'll do 3D art instead." But then I look at modern concept art and, sure, it is technically great and it's done by great artists but why do all male protagonists look the same?
Why can't we have ugly women in videogames? There aren't any ugly women. Sure, most of them slim. But there should be ugly women as well. It's like nobody wants to design that's outside the comfort zone sometimes. Nobody wants to design a female character that does look sort of butch because your focus group, or whatever, will say, "Well, it might be confused for a man and we can't have that." Somehow, we can't be dubious. We always must overdo what we do in games. Animations will be overdone. Cars will be overdone. That kind of stuff.
Even males get portrayed real stupid. Look at the Batman games. Those three, the four games now. All men look like Joe Rogan. This is what Joe Rogan looks like in different clothes. It's a bad thing. I acknowledge the fact that when you're rigging a 3D character, and you have a full game of 3D characters, you pretty much want to save as much animation time as you can, and all of them will be rigged to the same skeleton. Still have pretty much the same proportions. So they say. So they said about Assassin's Creed Unity not featuring female characters, and this is bullshit, and I know it. You can have different proportions. You can have different characters. You can have people looking the same. I'm not done yet.
But we're still designing them to look pretty much the same. I don't know why. Your art director will tell a designer, "Design a main character." It will be a dude in maybe his thirties to forties. He is buff, but not too buff. He has brownish hair. His hair can be either, I don't know, half-mullet or almost nothing. And that's your guy. He's antihero of some sort. Most game characters look like this and it's just so boring. Come on. When we get a guy like Altaïr and it's a dude in a white cloak in Assassin's Creed and he isn't just this normal dude who we always see and he's an Arab as well -- that's new. That was interesting. But then, "Fuck it. Let's go with Ezio for the next game, which basically looks the same but now we really show off that he is a white guy. Sure, he's Italian, but still a white guy. He has a stubble, he has brownish hair, and he is thirtysomething." He is just boring. And all of them look the same.
Then you have people who play Saint's Row who design all these crazy characters who carry around candy instead of weapons and they can be fat and they can slim or they can be glowing skeletons. But nobody wants to make games that look like this because we associate the brownish anti hero-type with "this is a serious game." At the same time, these characters don't behave seriously because writers are hacks.
Game stories usually have you do ridiculous things. And when a game acknowledges this, like Battlefield: Bad Company, it actually wants to be a Michael Bay movie, sort of like The A-Team. And I like that. It doesn't take itself seriously. And that's okay. But when games try being seriously and at the same time have shitty writing, where it can't happen in any world, this is incredible, this is bad, and they still look serious -- like you have a bunch of dudes looking like the cast of Schindler's List, and instead they're in a movie by Michael Bay and they're doing Michael Bay-ish stuff, it becomes, like, "Why am I even watching this? It's not normal."
All guys aren't soldiers. All male protagonists aren't soldiers or ex-soldiers. Imagine yourself playing Far Cry 3. You're playing a dude who was ended up in the Himalayans. I guess it's the Himalayas or something like that. Some kind of jungle. You're a tourist. And somehow you're this amazing mercenary. You know how to use all weapons right off the bat. You know how to treat your own wounds. You stalk and kill wildlife and then you craft shit out of this wildlife. This is the male norm: You can do everything, as long as you have the gear for it and the trigger for it or the scripted event for it. You can do this.
Nothing ever happens in a game like, "Yeah, you should take the vehicle" and the guy says, "I don't know how to drive." This doesn't happen ever. Just, "Yeah, I'm gonna drive." And then he hops in and you drive away. You crash the car? You restart the game until you learn how to drive. Never are you told to do this. Instead you're like -- guys are written that they can do everything and they have no emotions either. Like, they will use female characters to project emotions from, instead. Like Bioshock uses this a lot. Your guy characters are most of the time -- well, they don't care. If they look like the main character, the muscular, space-marine-type dudes, they won't ever show emotions other than rage.
And sometimes you get games that will actually show this and it becomes an unintentional critique of themselves. There's a video -- an in-game cinematic in Halo 4, I guess, where Cortana gets all emotional and sits down and talks about how "this is the end, we should do this." And then she turns to Master Chief, your main character. And he's already holding a gun, like, "This is our last run together. We die after this." And he's already holding a gun. And this became some moment to me, like, "This is what you are as a game protagonist. You are basically a dude with a gun most of the time." You aren't allowed to feel. You aren't allowed to think. You're just allowed to shoot, and are encouraged to do so. People who show emotions are Cortana or crazy aliens.
Until games allow us to -- I don't know, somehow feel emotions for what we are doing other than joy for killing stuff, we're stuck in that pretty stupid male role. Because most of the time, your protagonist is a male. You're stuck in this male role, and you're playing a guy who just shoots things, and you can't even talk to them -- the things that you're shooting at.
Talking to adversaries in the battlefield actually happens. If you look at the war in Ukraine now, these people speak the same language who fight each other. They can talk to each other. So screaming, "Moskali! Come over to your side, get into Europe!" Or yelling at the Ukranians to stop shelling? This happens. But never happens in games. Not even in cinematics does this happen. So this is -- I don't know. It's like the male role in games is also stupid. You're supposed to carry guns. You're supposed to drive everything. You're supposed to kill stuff. You don't show emotion.
The male role is destructive as well because most of the time you interact in stuff with games that are mainstream -- that aren't Bob the Builder or Minecraft -- is by killing them. It's pretty sad. Do you really want to -- if you have sons that grow up, sure you don't want your daughters to grow up to be whores. Strippers, maybe. I like strippers. Whores? No. I don't want my sons to become soldiers.
And I know "soldier" is a powerful word that people use a lot these days. They say -- well, it implies a lot of things. It implies a kind of courage. It implies some kind of force. It implies stability. That this is a person who marches to war, pretty much. This is what they do. I am a soldier. I am in the Swedish military right now. But at the same time, a soldier is expendable. It is someone who lays down his life so others may live. Or so we are being told. But the point here is that you are expendable. You are someone to carry the gun. You're someone to man the anti-air system. Isn't that a sad thing for you to project onto your children or, like, to create games where you can only be something expendable? This is supposed to be a fantasy of empowerment, and even in that, you're being expendable. You're being useless. Or you play an MMORPG where you playing as some kind of epic hero when everyone else is an epic hero as well and you're just as expendable against the horde.
It's stupid in games. It's not as fleshed out in movies because there are different types of movies than action movies. Mainstream games are still action games with men of action within them.
It's interesting. I was thinking about your comment on Thief and I do think something that's really missing is being in a world in games that wasn't meant for you to do whatever the task is that's set in front of you. Like, I find open-world games to be pretty hollow. I think that's because it's not a world that you're meant to exist in, it's just a series of tasks or NPCs to interact with, like you're saying about the new Thief.
I grew up, I played Doom, I played Quake, but I feel like those kinds of games never really progressed that and become something different. But, like, it would be interesting to play a first-person shooter where, for example, you're in a world where you're not supposed to be shooting and killing things. It's not necessarily what we should be doing to one another, but why not in a videogame explore what that is like? Why don't we see that? It might be boring, but it'd be interesting to explore, if we care about freedom and choices in games.
Aleksandr Molchanov: Like, you have the freedom to shoot and kill, but also have the freedom not to. That's interesting.
I was interested in making something this horrible, like an assault simulator. But you would simulate someone in armed robbery and you'd have to grab someone and you'd have to hammer some keys to actually hit the guy, and then you'll have to do a lot of stuff to just get through this whole process. I wanted to make something that would save what people were doing and if they actually went through the armed robbery or rape or murder, and then I'll look at the results and look at why people do this and if they played this differently. I wanted to explore this as well. More like a data-mining social experiment. Not as a game itself.
I would like to subject the player to the player's actions, actually. That you would see what you were doing instead of seeing this cool animation where you rip up orc heads in Shadow of Mordor, which looks amazing, but come on, this is violence. Have you ever seen a person's head being cut off?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I once downloaded a bunch of documentary movies and home footage, well, "home footage." Combat-camera footage from Chechnya, and I was just interested to see how the Russians were, well, fighting in the streets. What did it look like? What did the tactics look like? Did it look like Black Hawk Down, the movie? And it did for a while, and then it cut into -- a quick-cut put me into a scene with some kind of Chechen camp and a bunch of prisoners, and one of the guys got his head cut off. A lot of those videos are now on LiveLeak, and it's horrible because he wasn't getting his head cut off in slow motion by this huge axe or something like that. He was in shitty lighting. It was a dim day and he was kneeling and some guy was cutting through his head with a knife. It took him a while. I had to turn it off, it was horrible.
I never want to see that again.
This isn't what games are showing us. You never the result of your violence, and I don't ask for games to show us that you have orphaned someone's kids. I just want games to show us that killing isn't beautiful, as well. We are so obsessed with making beautiful violence in videogames where it shouldn't be. We should probably be making romance to appear beautiful, because violence is amazing in videogames. You can kill people in so many beautiful ways in so many games.
Hitman, for example, is sort of goes to that place where killing someone isn't that pretty. But a lot of other games, like every game where you can shoot someone's head off in one shot, and it explodes, that's amazing.
And then you look at games that have romance and not only is it badly written, like romance in almost every later BioWare game, it also is poorly executed when they show you the kissing scenes. It looks horrible. This is not what romance looks like. This isn't what romance feels like, even when I'm doing this in real life. This is stupid because this is an act that more humans do than shooting. More people have experience kissing than shooting. We should be able to get this right. We are interested in getting the shooting right, the blowing someone's foot off, the exploding part. Or you get to the relationship part. We have courtship in BioWare games, and courtship sums up to "give presents until someone will have sex with you." There, the courtship stops. There's no more relationship. You had sex. You've reached the goal. This isn't only guys writing the game, because there are female writers on the BioWare team. Apparently none of the BioWare writers have been in a relationship, because this isn't what a relationship looks like. This is stupid. I can't play Mass Effect when this happens.
I ask my friends, "Can you not romance anyone in this game?" "No, you pretty much have to romance someone." "Why? It looks stupid. I don't want to do this. Can I just have the shooty bits and the control-the-galaxy bits?" "No." "Then I won't play Mass Effect. It reeks of stupid."
Someone would design this huge part of human life and put focus on it and put that on the fucking box art and said, "You can have relationship with humans and aliens." But all of your relationships are the same: You meet someone, you give them presents, you say nice things, you bang, no more relationship, that's it. Achievement unlocked. You are no longer a virgin.
I don't disagree with you.
Aleksandr Molchanov: And why is that? Games have existed for a long time. Why can't we simulate some sort of -- I don't know, I had this idea for a dating simulator where you don't get laid. It's a simulation of my high school. Of me in high school. You don't get laid. You will try. You will flirt. You will give people presents. You might go into kissing, but you won't get laid. And people will complain, "How is this a dating sim? I didn't get laid. I didn't even get a kiss."
Well, this is what dating is a lot of the time. A lot of the time it's bad. But instead you have systems that allow us, "Well, can you romance someone in this game?" How is this even a word? Where are we as a hobby -- as a consumer group where we recognize quests as the same thing as romancing? This is a word, "romance" someone? Is this a word in the English language?
Aleksandr Molchanov: I surely hope so because it's crazy that you can have -- nobody is this machine that you give presents to until they have sex with you. Not a lot of people. And those who are, those are prostitutes. They don't belong in a spaceship.
I'm just tired of this approach that they have. It's not serious. We only put emphasis on shooting and alien babes? But all the other interactions say, "This game is about humans." No it's not. It's about digital, I don't know, heaps of polygons. I don't care for your quests in your game because you aren't a real character. You don't exist. You're just in my computer. Why should I care about this fake emotion that you're displaying because everything else here is fake? It's hard to put yourself in a world that is so much fake, yet tries so hard to tug at your heartstrings. I feel that is indecent from the creative's side. It's not nice that they do this. It's them saying, "You are this dumb that you will believe this shit."
A lot of us who grew up with videogames -- in our generation, you and me are pretty much the same, I guess. We grew up with Nintendos and Segas and now we're in our late twenties, early thirties, and videogames aren't that important to us anymore. We have other things in life that are important. When you come home from your busy job from wherever you work and you've got your kids back home from wherever they are and you've made dinner and then you have, like, your three hours of do whatever you want, and you'll play a videogame for three hours, you won't watch Schindler's List. You won't watch The Seventh Seal. You won't read an extremely heavy book. Because you won't have the time or the emotions to invest in this. You will, instead, watch your daily stuff on Netflix or you do your daily quests in an online game, because this is what you do to relax, to unwind. Those things don't require as much from your brain. They don't require you to feel much. You know, there are movies that will make you feel horrible things and you just can't do those hard things everyday. You won't read your horrible books everyday. But you will, I don't know, pick up some funnies in the newspaper or you will watch something easy just to relax.
And that's good. That's okay. I'm not saying those games are worth less, I'm just tired of hearing them being worth more.