Sure. My full name is Amy Clark. I am 32. I had to think about that 'cause I turn 33 this year and I was a little confused for a while. I was convinced I was 33. I don't know why.
[Laughs.] I'm 32, so I know what you're talking about.
I had to do some math. "Oh, wait, 33 isn't until October."
I currently live in Michigan, southeast Michigan. I've lived all over the place, but I live in Michigan now.
I -- oh. [Sighs.] I have such a weird history with games. [Laughs.]
I think probably when I really stopped being hardcore into gaming was mid-2011, but I do still -- and I'm so embarrassed to admit this 'cause it's such a guilty pleasure, but I do still play FarmVille. Mostly because it's completely mindless. [Laughs.] And I have a three-year-old and so when I need to just do something that I don't have to think about, it's a good little break.
Yeah, you had said in your email. [Laughs.] You put "(shameface)" about that. Why?
I think because there is -- and this may actually be part of games culture. The games that have become popular because they're Facebook games and I think especially games that Zynga produces -- I'm not entirely sure why. I don't know if maybe they have an ugly corporate culture, or what it is, but there's kinda this snootiness, looking down your nose at those types of games, that people don't actually play them if they have a life. [Laughs.] "The only people who play FarmVille are 60-year-old retired women."
I've heard it accused, too, allegedly, that Zynga straight-up just copies other people's games. But I've never heard of people being self-conscious about playing their games over that.
Are you talking about it's not a "pure" game or whatever?
No, it's more that in terms of just stuff that I've picked up -- and again, I don't know that much about it -- but what I've picked up from people that I know who are more into the games industry than I am, like my friend Michelle, that Zynga is kind of considered not high on the list of companies that produce games. I don't know how to put it.
But when you're looking at games that you play, and you look at other publishers, you kind of get a sense that they're producing more thoughtful games, more realized environments and stories, and then you have the games like FarmVille, where it's like "you click on this and this happens."
I don't know. Are "regular" videogames really that much deeper when you get right down to it at the very core? Does it matter if you're clicking on a mouse or clicking on a controller?
Yeah. I think for me, and again, this is just my own feeling, with other games that I've played it actually involved strategy and thought and to admit that I'm playing a game that's essentially just a mindless way to relax is kind of a little embarrassing. [Laughs.]
Relaxation has value.
Well, but, you and your husband have both lost interest, right?
Yes. David kinda lost interest before I did. We both got into World of Warcraft I wanna say in '07 because his brother and sister-in-law -- now my brother and sister-in-law, at the time we weren't married -- gave us WoW and a three-month subscription for Christmas because at the time they were also really into Warcraft and thought it would be cool if we joined their guild and played with them because they're in Minnesota, they're a fair distance away, we don't get to see them that often. So they just just thought it'd be fun to get us playing with them.
And yeah, we got really into it for a while, and I think my brother and sister-in-law started trailing off in interest earlier than we did. Probably because that's when they had their first child. David got to a point where he felt like there were so many other things that he wanted to be doing. He's got a ton of hobbies. He enjoys sketching and painting. He's an amateur paleontologist. We have a fossil-cleaning station in our basement.
Yeah. Other men have man caves. My husband has a fossil-cleaning room.
I think it's the same thing.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it pretty much is.
But he just decided he would rather be spending his time doing that than playing videogames, which is valid.
I stuck around for a little bit longer and after Cataclysm came out, which I think was in late 2010, I got that expansion and I kept playing and even with the new characters and the new realms, I felt like I was repeating stuff that I had done before. It didn't feel like there was really anything new that they had introduced. It was a slightly different storyline and, yeah, there were new quests and new areas, but it felt like it was just rehashing stuff that I'd done before, and so I just gradually lost interest.
I know you mentioned in our emails you had a Game Boy and a few games and a PlayStation 2 and a couple of games.
Did you ever get that feeling, maybe not necessarily from specific games but from those games in general that they were repeating themselves?
I think I never got to that point with those games because I had such a limited experience with them. I know folks that have essentially grown up playing the Final Fantasy series, each game -- there's certain things that remain the same because it's kind of a wink and a nod to the people that are fans, but I feel like they try really hard to with each incarnation of Final Fantasy to create a whole new environment and storyline and make it different and interesting.
With me, really, the only games I played were Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts. I really tried to get into Kingdom Hearts II, and I just got frustrated because I felt like it was making things more difficult than they had to be in terms of gameplay and so I got annoyed with it and I just kind of dropped it before I beat it.
Like what sort of things?
There were things where it was very unclear, like, you could tell that you had to progress in the game but it was very unclear how to do that. There was no clear path to: "Okay, you've done this, so now you have to go do this."
Which I don't necessarily need it spelled out for me, but I remember being at a point where I was flicking through all the different worlds you can go to, like, "I've done all of this. I don't know what to do now. Where do I go?"
I also -- you know, I'm a big Disney fan and I enjoyed the conjunction of the Final Fantasy world with the Disney world, but with Kingdom Hearts II I know they had continued on with a storyline that they had introduced in a kind of in-between game that was not on PS2. It was on one of the handheld consoles and I can't remember which one. But all of a sudden you had this completely different storyline that you were jumping into that you had to absorb and you had to get through that and you had this whole different cast of characters in addition to the regular cast of characters and they're all interacting in different ways. If you didn't know that storyline, it was frustrating to try and figure out what was going on.
It does feel like in a lot of videogames, there's not a lot of concessions made to, "Well, what if this is your first?" It can be a little stubborn in that regard. Is that how it feels for you?
Yeah. I mean, the way that I am, when something interests me I start researching it and trying to find out everything that I can about it.
So I ended up reading the synopses of all of the previous Final Fantasy games to get an idea of the characters and the storylines -- and particularly when I played Kingdom Hearts, there were characters from going all the way back to Final Fantasy VII, I think, that made an appearance. And so I started trying to piece together who these people were and why their characters acted the way they did in the game.
Just based on reading about the other games, it feels like they really made an effort in terms of world-building where each successive game -- I mean, ultimately, it's gonna be the same formula in terms of "you are playing as this character and you've got a group of other people surrounding you and you have to go and do X and Y and Z in order to beat the game."
You can't get around that formula. That's how games work.
But within that, they did a really excellent job of creating different worlds and different motivations and different characters. So, yeah, I would probably play Final Fantasy again if I had time and I didn't have a small person that wanted to press the buttons.
Why do you think this happens, though? What do you think is lacking from videogames where even if you have less time, you can still have them in your life?
I think it may be a -- I kind of feel that it's a cyclical thing because actually I've been seeing some of the stuff that Blizzard has put out about the new Warcraft expansion and it's kind of peaked my interest, and I've been thinking about maybe picking it up again. Not that I have any more time than I did, but I think it's something that you become immersed in that world, you find it really fascinating and fun and enjoyable and then you kind of get bored with it after a while. I think it's akin to -- let's say your favorite book or books is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They're amazingly written. They're incredibly detailed. But if the only thing you read is those three books, eventually you're gonna get bored with them.
Then if you just stop reading them and go back to them 10 years later, you'll probably fall in love with them all over again.
I don't know that it's more limited, I think partially it's a cultural thing of people looking at videogames as not as important as maybe music or books or TV shows. That there's some sort of mental block on, "Well, I can binge-watch a series on Netflix and waste 10 hours of my life, but doing the same thing with videogames is somehow much more a waste of time and you're spending your money and your time on something that isn't considered to be worthwhile."
Where do you think that comes from, that it isn't worthwhile? We've certainly seen it with all of the other forms you've mentioned. TV shows. Books.
There's always a time where these things are -- we're not very good at recognizing the pattern, but we seem to do it every generation.
So where do you think that comes from with games?
I think, as I mentioned earlier in the call, despite the fact that games have become much more mainstream and you have more adults playing them and being passionate about them, I think there is still a prejudice and a stereotype out there of games being childish or not worth the same consideration we give other forms of media.
Do you think there aspects of that perception that are deserved?
Well, as I said, I'm embarrassed to admit that I play FarmVille so obviously.
Well, but there's no single thing people point to that they're embarrassed about with videogames.
Personally I don't believe in any of those distinctions. I know a lot of people do, and that is all right.
So, but I just wonder if this is even a thing for games to overcome?
That's an interesting point.
I mean, I read a lot and there's certain series that I freely admit are guilty-pleasure series. I read every book that comes out in them and they're basically smut disguised as urban fantasy. And I totally admit that. It's just a guilty pleasure for me. It's just a fun thing to read.
But I also enjoy reading biographies and high fantasy and really intense science-fiction. I enjoy books that make me think, but I equally enjoy books that are entertainment.
I mean, when I was a teenager I lived just outside of New York. I spent most of my time in New York City because I was a theater kid. It's what I majored in in college. I went to see a ton of Broadway shows because it was a really good time for it because there were a lot of shows that were trying to bring in younger audiences, so there were a lot of discount-ticket programs. So I was able to see a ton of Broadway shows for, like, $20 or $30 a ticket.
That's really good. That's really, really cheap.
Yeah. It was really great. [Laughs.]
And a lot of them -- it started with Rent. Rent was the first show to do this, and then a lot of other shows joined the bandwagon where they had a lottery two hours before the show began, where you put name and they pulled X number of names out of the hat, and if your name was pulled you could get a ticket for $20 that was in the first two rows. So I did that a lot.
And I remember telling some friends of mine about -- they did a musical version of Footloose. I went to see it two or three times because it was $20. Because, you know, it was $20. [Laughs.] I told people, "You know, it's not gonna win a Pulitzer prize for drama. It's not the greatest show I've ever seen. But it's two hours of mindless entertainment, and sometimes that's just what you need." [Laughs.]
Just going and enjoying it. There definitely were parts that my friends and I would make fun of because they were terrible parts of the show, but that was part of the enjoyment. [Laughs.] Talking about how these particular songs or moments or whatever were just so awful that you couldn't believe this was actually a Broadway show.
Oh yeah, that's right. I'm remembering your Twitter handle now. You like theater a fair amount, then.
Yes. I'm actually trying to get back into doing some theater work, trying to do some freelance stuff. So I've been reaching out to some contacts that I have and seeing if they're interested in hiring me because I miss it and I want to be doing that again.
Do you think videogames do a good job of similarly reaching out to people and enticing people who otherwise may not be interested or think it's not for them?
I think there has been an effort in the past five years or so to do that. I think previously the videogame industry was kind of content with: "Our demographic is 18 to 25-year-old males and they're gonna buy it no matter what we put out, so we're not gonna bother advertising really. We're gonna sell these games and it's gonna be good."
I think -- and part of this is social media and the Internet becoming so intertwined with our lives, but I do think there is more of a push now from game producers to advertise their stuff in a way that tries to get people interested who might not necessarily think of themselves as, "I don't play videogames. That's stupid."
Particularly with more of what I think of as "adult games" -- which is silly because kids play them -- but with Call of Duty, where they put out these cinematic-quality trailers for the games as commercials and it's really emphasizing the storyline of it rather than "this new game where you can shoot people."
Similar to -- what's another one -- Assassin's Creed is another one where they've put out multiple iterations where they're getting into almost like historical fiction where they're setting it in different time periods and they're introducing all these real historical figures into the game.
I feel like there's an attempt to reach out to more adults. There's somewhat of an attempt to reach out more to female gamers. I don't think there's as much, but I do think there's a guy's club mentality around videogames. I remember -- and I think this is the first time I can remember seeing a commercial for a videogame that was obviously intended to appeal a mass audience, which is when World of Warcraft put out a series of TV commercials where they had various celebrities talking about how they like to play the game while they showed footage of them playing the game. They had, like, Mr. T and they had -- I'm blanking out. There were, I think, three different commercials.
I think there was Robin Williams also.
They were funny. And they were meant to be funny. They were meant to show that it was this fun, entertaining cool thing to do. That was the first time I could really remember seeing a commercial for a videogame that seemed like it was actively reaching out to new audiences. They were really trying to make it look cool and fun and get people into it.
What did the audience seem to be?
I think it was aimed more towards young adults, like, twenties, maybe thirties. That it was trying to get people who might consider themselves past videogames to look at it and say, "Hey, this is kinda cool. This is different. I want to try it."
Are there ways you don't feel included as a player of games with what's coming out or what you see or hear about coming out?
Well, from a standpoint of being female, there's very little that comes out that's actually catered to me.
How would you articulate that lack?
If you look at popular games out there, it is so rare to find that you're the main character -- the character that you are playing -- is female. It's almost equally rare to have secondary female characters. That was one of the things that I liked about Final Fantasy, was that it was a pretty even split between male and female characters.
I'm trying to think of how to phrase it. I think there just isn't an acknowledgment from the game industry that there are women who enjoy playing videogames and so they make no effort to market to them or to create games with strong female characters. And the games that do come out that are supposedly meant for girls are pandering to the point of insulting where it's like, "You're running a cake business!"
No. Actually, I want to go out and kill people. I just want to be a girl while I do it.
If you look at GTA, have they ever had a female character in the main story mode?
Not as far as I know.
All the female characters are either prostitutes or throwaway women or they're clearly playing to a young male audience with a fantasy of these beautiful women who are completely accessible and you can throw away when you're done with them.
And I don't necessarily have a problem with the GTA franchise. I know a lot of other feminists do because they find it insulting and I find it insulting, too, but at the same time I feel like there's more important things to worry about.
What's frustrating is when you have no games that have female characters that are actually integral to the story and push the story forward and even when you do, they're not the main character. They're the sidekick.
There was an interview I did with someone out in Sweden who about an hour in revealed that he's a soldier, who made the point that no one really comes out looking that good. Either gender. It's an interesting way to think about it.
No, I think I see what you're saying. These male lead characters, a lot of them are not particularly heroic -- no morals and they're basically just criminals.
Why do you think game production is not super-transparent?
I think part of it is a cultural thing. Particularly with the Japanese game producers, that there's very much a sense of mystery around the games and their production and they've been doing it for so long that they have this very fierce pride in their product and they don't want to open up the creative process to people because it could potentially allow competitors to see what they're doing and it means the games can lose their mystique.
I think there's also, in terms of "behind the scenes" kinda stuff, people are really interested in seeing behind the scenes of movies or TV shows of like, "This is how this was created." But you never see a behind the scenes of writing a book because it's just some guy sitting there writing.
I think games are similar where I'm sure the creative meetings are really interesting, but for the most part it's just a whole bunch of people coding. Which is not that exciting.
I don't know. There might not be a lot to show, but there's certainly a lot to talk about.
Like, if I was going to flip this to you: Who do you think makes creative decisions on games?
[Pause.] That's an excellent question. I was just -- I was thinking as you were talking that the "behind the scenes" things that I have been interested in seeing and that game companies have shared is almost always concept art. That's pretty much the only thing that they'll throw out there, and I think part of it is a proprietary thing. I think part of it is not letting the gaming public learn what the characters and storylines are before they actually play it.
But, yeah, in terms of how a game is created, I really don't know where the hierarchy is and where the confluence is of the creative forces and the artistic forces and the technical forces. I really have no idea.
I would ask you to hazard a guess, but it sounds like you wouldn't even know how.
No, I mean, I would assume that they've got a group of people that's essentially their creative team that come up with the ideas. They've got artists that they work with to try and then visualize it, and then it goes to whoever is actually creating the game itself, writing the code and making it into a product.
I have no idea. [Laughs.]
That seems like a logical progression to me, but I could be completely off.
The current interview I'm transcribing, I'm getting a little bit of a semblance of the day-to-day, and the people who work in that industry at that scale sign so many NDA's. But I either get the sense that I'm not asking the right questions or they literally cannot talk about anything.
They'll very often just say, "Oh, it's very boring." And I say, "Okay, well, bore me."
My work is the same as you said. It's me at a computer, sitting and thinking and then typing. [Laughs.] Sometimes I talk to people. I get that in and of itself may not be interesting, but it's not a state secret.
But do you think that lack of transparency or not knowing what goes into it has affected the culture of games? How do you think that's rippled out?
Honestly I don't really think that it has because you do want to have -- when you're talking about a creative product that you want people to become immersed in a different world essentially, there is something to be said for playing your cards close to the deck and not revealing too much and making people want to know more and not giving it to them because people want to buy the game just to see what the hell it's all about.
I don't know that there's a lack of transparency. See, when I think of lack of transparency, it's like not revealing things that are potentially embarrassing or illegal or -- that's what lack of transparency is. What the gaming industry does is they're putting out a product and they're creating buzz around it and they're trying to make it interesting to their target audience and one of the major ways that they do it is by teasing it without actually giving away that much information.
I think that when I mentioned behind the scenes stuff for TV and movies, if you look at the behind the scenes stuff that they have out there, it generally doesn't really give you any information on plots or characters. It's just showing the process of filming and make-up and multiple takes, which people find interesting because that industry is just glamorized and people find it interesting to see what goes into making the final product.
Whereas with games, I think people just aren't all that interested -- I mean, I know you are.
But people are not all that interested in how the games come to be, they just want to play them.
You bring up glamor and TV and movies, and it's often said by people in games that "videogames are bigger than Hollywood." If it's following that model, what do you think the game industry is trying to glamorize with the behind the scenes stuff it does permit?
Well, I think the fairly recent phenomenon of having videogame tournaments that are actually televised is part of what they're trying to do. They're trying to show what it looks like to play the games when you have people who are really skilled at those games. Basically, showing this is the pinnacle of what this game can be like.
In terms of the industry itself, I don't think that they feel the need to glamorize it, really.
Obviously, when you've got cons where they're introducing new games there's some glitter and flash around introducing them. But the game itself is never really given a reception like you would see for -- when a game premieres, it's not like a movie premieres. Like, they're such completely different animals.
So I don't know that the industry really feels that it needs to glamorize itself. I think it's more getting themselves out there to a different audience simply because they want more of a market share. They want to sell more games. [Laughs.] I mean, it's cynical, but that's why there's an effort now to reach out to older players. Not as much female players, but there's some effort being made. But it's -- I don't know that the industry really feels it needs to fix anything about itself. Which may or may not be true.
I think it depends who you talk to.
I mean, I would see stuff online. When I was playing World of Warcraft, I would go onto a World of Warcraft site and I was reading all of these backstories that went back to, like, the first Warcraft game and all the histories of all these characters and kingdoms and what-have-you.
But I'm a huge dork, so probably not everyone does that.
I know it's out there. I've seen the magazines. But it was never really something that particularly interested me. I was more interested in the story that it was creating rather than the product itself.
You mean, like, release dates and downloadable this or whatever?
Yeah. Like, that never really did much for me.
The interesting thing about the game was the story it created and the world it created. Like, with Warcraft, when they'd have a new expansion coming out, it would be interesting to see the trailers for -- oh, this is gonna be the new stuff! But I never really paid that much attention to when it was actually coming out because I figured when it did, there would be ads all over the place and I would figure out that I needed to go and buy it.
There was never an interest in the business aspect of it, I guess.
By me. Yeah.
They were -- I would notice with when they would be introducing new stuff, whoever produces the trailers for the videogames does a really excellent job because they're cinematic-quality in terms of giving you an idea and a hint of what's coming and making it exciting and sexy and glamorous without really telling you all that much. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] This is true.
It's the spectacle.
Yes. Exactly. So seeing stuff that was upcoming in games, they make it look really cool but they're not actually giving you that much information. And a lot of it is visual as opposed to an explanation of "this is how this is going to work."
And that may just be because we're a very visual culture and that's how we absorb things. An explanation that you have to read is not as cool as watching a character do the same thing in a clip from the game.
There's no easy way to segue into this, but how do you think there came to be so much toxicity around the intersection of the Internet and videogames?
I think there's -- because the Internet allows so much anonymity and the ability to be a contributor and an active member of a community without people ever actually knowing who you really are, I think that given the opportunity to be the worst parts of themselves if they know they can get away with it, people will take that opportunity.
I mean, but it was toxic before last year, right?
Honestly, I couldn't tell you because I was never really part of the gaming community online. I wasn't on the message boards or anything. I think there's -- and this is a broad stereotype, but I feel there's some merit in it because the majority of the gaming community still is boys between the age of 15 and 21, 22. I think that really opens up the opportunity for all of this toxicity to come out because you're dealing with people who are immature, who are given the opportunity to dissociate from reality when they're online.
By which I mean, they don't have to see the consequences of what they say and do.
And you've also got the broader cultural aspect of a society that in large part still caters to straight white young men.
And so I think all of those things kind of combine to allow communities online to form where they were -- I always looked at it like they were Internet gangs. They were just this group of hoodlums, but they were using words and in the case of 4chan, they were using computer skills and hacking skills basically to be asses.
They were taking advantage of the fact that they could do this without any reprisal.
I think in terms of the gaming community, when you have people who are not part of what's considered the mainstream, when you have female gamers and minority gamers, it's very easy to gang up on people on the Internet. I've found myself guilty of this, and I've always been really ashamed of myself when I realized I've done it.
But it's incredibly easy to get a mentality of torches and pitchforks and "let's all go after this person because they're stupid" or whatever. I think, again, that's part of human nature that is kind of an ugly part that we mostly hide away but with the accessibility and the anonymity of the Internet, it allows for that to come out.
I have a colleague who works at a game company. They've been around for a couple decades. He's a supporter of this project. He told me something he hopes starts to happen is that the vitriol will start to go where it belongs.
Where do you think those pitchforks and torches should be directed? "No one" is an acceptable answer.
I mean, I don't know that it's necessarily vitriol, but I think an acknowledgment of the gamer culture as needing to change itself and grow up, be more mature and inclusive, basically police themselves when you’ve got people being trolls, and I think that has to happen from the inside.
I think if you're looking at it from a "where should the vitriol be directed," a lot of it needs to be directed back at the people that are putting it out there. [Laughs.] They need to understand that they're creating a -- they're tolling the death knoll for what they supposedly love because they're turning it into this insulated, incestuous community where everyone thinks the same way and does the same things.
No industry can survive with that as their base.
What would you like to see more of out of videogames?
I think I'd like to see more interactivity in terms of the technology that's out there, and we're starting to get there with gloves and visors and whatnot.
But I think I'm part of the generation that grew up expecting that we'd all have flying cars by now and it's kinda disappointing that technology hasn't progressed in the way that we think it should have.
The Jetsons lied to us.
Yeah. Totally did. [Laughs.]
So, I'd like to see more done with the technology aspect of videogames where it creates even more of an immersive experience because I think that will bring in a lot of people because they want to experience that. I'm assuming you've read Ready Player One?
Okay. The idea of a completely virtual world that you can essentially plug yourself into for 12 hours a day -- that's not necessarily what I'm talking about.
But the ability to have that kind of interaction with the videogame world, I think, is a very appealing concept and I think it would bring a lot of people into gaming just for no other reason than the cool factor. That it's something that's new and different and futuristic.
You cut back. You play less. Was there a form of fulfillment from games that you just stopped getting?
That's a very good question. I don't think that there was. I mean, there was definitely -- as you play the game and you complete a quest or a task and if it was a particularly difficult one, you have this kind of sense of accomplishment. But it was never a fulfillment in terms of "this is making my life better in some way."
To me it all came down to the enjoyment and the fun of it.
When I started getting bored with it, it felt like, "Well, why am I bothering anymore? I'm just doing this for the sake of doing it. I have better things to do with my time."