Dane MacMahon

All right. My name is Dane MacMahon, the Irish spelling of MacMahon, M-A-C. I am 35 and I live in the Philadelphia 'burbs and how did I come to stop playing videogames?

I mean, I wrote a bunch of notes but the main crux of it is I just kind of didn't feel like I belonged in that community anymore and I realized I was more playing them out of sense of duty than actual enjoyment.

[Laughs.] Out of a "call of duty," if you will?

[Laughs.] Yeah. I didn't really play that, but -- it was like, when you're in -- I don't know if "clique"'s the right right word but when you're in a community, you feel like, "Oh, I have to be excited that the next thing is coming out" and then you start playing it and one day I just realized, "I'm not really enjoying this, I'm just playing this because I'm supposed to."

Where were you picking up these cues that you were "supposed to?"

Well, like you were talking about mainstream or geek media and it's funny because I remember most of the time I was very casual about playing videogames. I would learn things by seeing them on the cover of EGM or something, and then at some point in my late twenties, I did a real deep dive. I got, like, so into videogames that it kinda took over my free time.

I would devote myself to reading forums or checking Eurogamer everyday. Kotaku everyday. I just did a real deep dive on it and got, not obsessive, but just, like, it was all I was doing when I wasn't working or hanging out with the girlfriend or whatever. That's when it became that sense of duty, like it was a job. I had to check out Kotaku everyday and see what the new news was. I had to check the feed everyday to see what new releases were, that kind of thing.

It felt like I was doing it to belong or because people on the forums were doing it, and I wanted to be like them, or whatever. Just one day a few years ago, I was like, "Why am I doing this?" [Laughs.]

When you say a few years ago, were you still in your twenties?

No, it would've been early thirties. It probably coincided with -- I did some work overseas for a while and I didn't really have my gaming computer, so I just took a laptop and I really couldn't play much. Then I got more serious with my girlfriend and we decided to buy a condo, things like that. And then, like, the whole -- gamer culture and how it's not all that great stuff started happening and I was like, "I'm done, I'm not really into this anymore." It was a combination of all that.


You had said in your emails that -- and I'll quote here: "Xbox was taking over with its terrible marketing slogans --"


"--and teen male focus."

Yes! The commercials for Xbox drove me nuts. And they still do. I actually wrote a note for the interview about this Dead Space ad. And I remember the Dead Space ad was one of the first things that turned me off of being a gamer because it had all these moms that were shocked by how violent Dead Space was. "Oh, I can't believe my kids play this."

I just remember watching that ad and just thinking, "This is not for me. I don't want to be a person this is marketed to." I think it was the sequel. I'm not entirely sure. There were other ones, too, like, the Call of Duty ads every year. Like, "Oh, Megan Fox is so hot, but she plays Call of Duty? I want play Call of Duty, too." That kind of thing. You know what I mean?

I do. And my mind is flashing on videogames' approach of getting people to care about games by hiring celebrities. It's so interesting and weird and random. Who else comes to mind?

Nobody. [Laughs.] I mean, way back in the days, in the '80s and the early '90s, when I was playing Super Nintendo and stuff, I remember it was all about how, "We're cooler than Sega." And then Sega was saying, "I'm cooler than Nintendo." And it was like playgrounds fights.

I remember having a playground fight with a kid in late middle school because he played Phantasy Star and I play Final Fantasy, and were, like, arguing over which Japanese role-playing game franchise was the coolest franchise, you know. He had Phantasy Star because all he had was the Genesis, and I had to play Final Fantasy because I have the Super Nintendo. And we were, like, arguing over which was cooler.

And I feel like that playground mentality has escalated to the point where, as an adult, I can't stomach it.

Well, it's almost like it's childish or something.

Yeah, like. [Laughs.] I actually wrote this in my notes: "Gamers aren't known as adults, in a weird way." And I think that's true. Like, every girlfriend I've ever had, every conversation I've ever had with my mother -- it was treated as a juvenile hobby. And at the time, I remember thinking, "You guys just don't understand games."

I think that's still kind of true, but at the same time, society perpetuates that childlike view of it through the marketing, through the journalism, until recently, and all that other stuff. You know what I'm saying?

Yeah, and I read a thing -- do you know who Tom Bissell is?

It rings a bell, but no.

Yeah, he's a writer. Someone emailed me a thing he wrote recently. Tom was a games critic and now he writes for games. But there was this piece in Grantland where he talks about GTA V and Tom was messaging with a friend of his who works in games that he really, really respects messaged him back saying, "I guess I’m mourning the admittance that I’m no longer the target audience of my own work."

It's this weird thing where people outside of games feel that way, and yet, also, people inside of games who have made games for a long time, for some reason are also not able to do something with that information that they also don't like those kinds of games, too.

Certainly those games are popular and they have audiences and they don't have to go anywhere. But for these people on the inside, it seems like all they can do is keep it to themselves.

Or get super-defensive. The players get super-defensive, I think, when you call into question the maturity level of things, or the --

I mean, what's the mark of maturity for, like, Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty or GTA? Because none of those really feel that mature.

Yeah, no. That's kind of what I'm saying.

I remember -- I played Super Nintendo when I was kid, but then I got really big into PC games. That is what I mostly played. I remember Fallout 2 or the first Baldur's Gate or whatever had all these mature themes and it was, like, about, "What is a God? What is a society? What is a president?" I remember Fallout 2 going deep into political stuff, like, "When is socialism good? When is it not? When is a president overbearing and when is he doing what he has to do?" All this stuff.

Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto is more just, like, satirical. But it's over the top, I think. It doesn't have a sense of maturity because it's just trying to be funny or, like in Assassin's Creed's case, just trying to be cool, and there's no actual depth to it.

Something you had said in your emails was you just felt "gross" playing games.


You said, too, that you maybe feel a little bit embarrassed and maybe you check in on game news and tweets but you still consider it "a problem." Why is it gross? Why is it a problem?

Honestly, I don't even check in that often anymore. [Laughs.] I think I did more last year because I was looking forward to Dragon Age, which disappointed me, but that's something we can talk about later.

Like, my other hobby would be movies, I guess. Sometimes, you're embarrassed by a movie because it's a little too cheesy, '80s style or there's a little bit too much gratuitous violence or nudity, but overall they usually try to make a point. There was a movie I just watched recently called Society, which is crazy over the top with violence and sex, but at the same time it's making very good, mature points about what society is and what it isn't. But games, everything just felt purely -- I don't know how to put this.

I never felt like it was worth the surface-level embarrassment. I never felt like it got deeper than me just, like, sitting on the couch playing with my joysticks and my girlfriend thinking I was being a little kid even though I'm 30 and I couldn't really justify it beyond that. I couldn't really say, "No, wait! There's more to it" like I can when she's making fun of me for watching Terminator.

It just felt like I was -- like I should have grown out of it. And I don't think that's fair to videogames because you can definitely play a videogame at 35 and feel justified and feel good about it, but I think videogame culture itself isn't allowing you to do it. Like, the marketing is embarrassing, the culture is embarrassing, the people I would play with on Xbox Live were embarrassing. It's too much.

Does that make any sense?

Yeah. It does. And I think you articulated a thing that maybe I have not been saying with my conversations with this, which is: Saying you should outgrow it is not fair to videogames. But I think the thing to me that's frustrating about is it isn't fair to videogames, but, where most of the money in the industry is doesn't seem to care. Like, I think the way that they acknowledge that people are growing up or older is, like, "Here's a couple of fitness games."


And that's about it.

Or, like, "Here's a bowling game your grandma can play." Which, I appreciate, and my grandma had fun with it, but it's not solving the problem. [Laughs.]

Yeah, that's very true. I never thought about that, but go out and look at shelves at videogames and there's stuff where: You're A Kid, You're A Little Bit Older Kid, You're In College, and then there's like, well, You Want to Keep Your Brain Sharp in Your Winter Years.

There's nothing in between.

Yeah, there doesn't seem to be anything in between for your thirties 'til 70. [Laughs.]


I had never really thought about it.

Yeah, no, I think that's right on. There's a middle ground that isn't being reached. It's either Xbox Live, bro-tastic marketing, or it's for your grandpa. There's no, "I have kids, I don't want to feel embarrassed being part of this community" sort of middle ground. You're either inside the community playing Wii Bowling, or you're inside the community and going all the way in on the worst aspects of it.

When you hear people talk about what it means to be a person who plays games, and what people don't talk about, I guess being in your thirties is one of them. But what else comes to mind?

A person who plays games, I think, is defined by what society sees it as. I got my degree in sociology, so I talk a lot about society and stuff. But I'm a social constructionist, actually, and that could play into the question. And what that basically means is that you believe society kind of defines behavior. And, I believe society has defined videogames as something that a lot of people don't feel like they can fit into.

The sexist issue is part of that because videogames have defined themselves over 30 years in a way that is very hard for women to get into, very male-focused. I think it's a similar thing with teenagers and twentysomethings. Like, it's defined itself in marketing, in journalism, in cultural identity as a thing for those people. And when you're not in those groups anymore, you feel alienated or you feel embarrassed or you feel gross about it.

I guess, if you have a sociological view on it, which is the correct one for this: Where does this come from? Wanting to narrowly define what it means to not fit in -- to be a misfit, to be a gamer -- and then further marginalizing others who don't not fit in in the correct way. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Well, not to sound cynical about capitalism, but I really think it's a business-marketing issue. You find the group that you want to market to, that you're effectively marketing to, and then you just hype that up to 11. And before you know it, you've kind of defined the parameters of what the hobby itself is.

This might be interesting: I remember I had an aunt who talked a lot about playing Pong, and a lot about playing Atari when she was an adult. She was 20, thirtysomething. She's a lot older now. And when I was playing Nintendo as a little kid I said, "Well, why don't you have a Nintendo? Why aren't you still playing games?" And I remember her just saying, "Well, Nintendo's not for me." You might want to talk to her instead of me.

Twenty years later, how do I define that conversation? Something about the culture or the marketing around Nintendo turned her off and made her not continue on. And that's how I feel with the post-Xbox era. I was super into, you know, PC games and stuff until roughly when Xbox came out and then I started getting turned off because it just didn't feel for me anymore. I'm not even saying that's me being above it necessarily because when I was into it, it was all computer-nerd guys. [Laughs.] All the forum usenet groups and the forums I was on back then was nerdy twentysomething males talking about spin shots in Quake or talking about the next fat loot we could get for Diablo 2 or, you know, how to solve that annoying puzzle in the new Monkey Island game or whatever.


When the Xbox game out, I sort of suddenly was in the position where I thought, "Hey, this is for the guys who picked on me in high school." Or, "This is for the guys who give each other high fives when they pick up girls at the bar or whatever. This isn't for me anymore." And I felt alienated. I think women feel that about the whole thing since it started. Why does my girlfriend play Candy Crush on her phone but refuses to even think about playing a puzzle game on Steam? It's because society has told her it's okay or she feels accepted playing Candy Crush on her phone, and she doesn't feel accepted logging onto Steam, and why is that?

When do you think was the first moment that you ran into that expectation that you should have moved on from games already?

Man. I would say, probably, the marketing around when the Xbox 360 launched. When games like Quake 4 came out, Oblivion came out. Oblivion is probably a big one because I played Morrowind endlessly because it was a PC game that came out right in my hardcore-gaming period, where I was really into it. And then Oblivion came out and it just felt like it was designed for someone else. Like, all the shooters started switching to analog controllers, and I felt like it wasn't the same thing as I had before.

But probably more important than any of that mechanical stuff is just, you know, Xbox 360 gamers -- Xbox gamers in general kinda took over the forums I was on, took over the conversation, took over the television marketing. I can't remember one specific television commercial or forum conversation or anything, but just that right around that time, like, 2005 or whenever that was, I just started feeling like I don't belong here anymore.

I just found over the years that the main people who would want to talk about games -- both inside and outside the industry -- would just be like, "Hey, isn't it awesome in Contra when you put in the Konami code?" Or, "Isn't it awesome in Mario where you do that one jump?" These would be actual icebreakers.

Schoolyard-style conversation.

Yeah, but into your twenties, even, where it's almost like if you're in a position of you still want to like games and games on a mass level not growing with you, you just start feeling silly for seeing this thing in them that other people don't.

Exactly. Exactly. That pretty much sums me up.

But, like, sociologically speaking, in the history of mediums or in societies themselves, who has dealt before with a thing like this where it either solved itself or smoothed itself out?

Man, throughout history?

Well, like, I have a colleague who says the history of the novel -- games are in a similar spot as novels were a couple centuries ago. Because novels used to be hotly contested over, like, what is their societal worth? They're an incredibly solitary thing, how can that be valuable to other people as well? That's where novels really stepped it up, to prove their worth.

You know what's funny, though? They still have trashy pulp novels. They still have trashy romance novels. It's a very eclectic -- it's kinda like British accents. A lot of people have this grandiose view of novels, like, "Oh, novels!" But when you go shopping at Waldenbooks, half of them are cheap, trashy, pulp stuff that really isn't all that high-brow at all.

So, I mean, games getting more eclectic might be a sign of maturity, actually, as a medium.

Yeah, and I think, too, we use the word "mature" in games, and I don't know if that's necessarily the right word or label. I understand you mean it here as the greater whole, the medium itself. But that's a word we hear a lot, as something to strive for. But it may just be a distraction.

Though you're right. The trashy stuff never went away. But, like, what are the ways you feel games are limited?

You know what's interesting? There is no one on this planet who would probably be embarrassed reading a novel unless you're talking about high school kids getting picked on by the jocks or something. There is no race, there is no gender, there is no age, there is no sexuality, there is no anything that would be embarrassed reading a novel at a park. But how many people would be embarrassed playing a videogame at a park? You know?

Today, very few.

Yeah, and it depends on what you're playing. I just find that interesting that you're talking about -- the comparison to novels, the first thing that stands out to me is I would never feel like I outgrew reading novels. I would never feel embarrassed to read novels. My girlfriend would never give me a hard time over reading novels. Why is it different? I really think the social conception of it hasn't evolved to the point where it's reached that level of being accessible for everyone. I don't know necessarily what the barriers are. But I definitely felt alienated. I definitely felt like games weren't for me, or I wasn't important to games. Everyone feels like there's a novel out there for them, but I got to a point where there was no new videogames out there for me. Where were they? They didn't exist. They weren't being made for me anymore.

Do you feel like games media had any impact on that?


How so?

I remember reading EGM and one of the coolest things in the magazine when I was a young kid or early teen was that they had a guy in a mask who pretended to be a ninja. [Laughs.] And I don't remember his name but he, like, reviewed all the fighting games.


Sushi-X! Yes! There you go! Like, that stood out to me as a 13-year-old: "Yeah! Sushi-X is gonna tell me about the new Mortal Kombat," like, that was cool. And I feel like, to some extent, it never grew out of that. When you're 28, trying to find out about the new role-playing game you're interested in you don't care about Sushi-X anymore. But I feel like that's improved lately, but I just haven't been paying enough attention to notice. I feel like you guys are improving on that lately, but I only check in, like, once a month so it's hard to tell. But, when I quit, it was very much still in that vain, and I was -- I felt like it wasn't directed at me anymore. Like, the marketing, but also the journalism just wasn't written for me anymore. I wanted more out of it than it was giving me, or I wanted better information.

I actually just had a thing go up about that over at Unwinnable about this. What is typically called "games journalism" is just marketing that's allowed at certain points beyond the PR gatekeepers.

Regurgitating press releases.

Well, but where do you go when you're 28 and you want to hear about RPGs and you don't care what Sushi-X has to say anymore? What do you do now when you have that itch?

If I wanted to find out today if Witcher 3 was worth dragging my computer out of the closet and putting a new video card in it to play, where would I go to do that? I honestly don't have an answer. It's either all going to be twisted marketing or surface-level conversation or -- but then if I go to a forum like RPG Codex or whatever, which is a horrible, horrible den of sin that no one should go to -- but if I go there to find out, it's going to be all people I don't identify with anymore nitpicking it apart. So, where do you go to have a real discussion about that kind of videogame? I don't know. You tell me.

People talk about YouTubers and I had someone tell me, "If you wanna know whether a game's worth playing now, what you do is go on YouTube and you watch somebody play it for an hour." But they don't really inspect the game or evaluate it in anyway or talk about it with any depth. You just literally watch them play it, which doesn't tell me anything really other than, "This is what it looks like."

So what trends do you notice in streamers or magazines or blogs or whatever? What trends do you notice in games media in terms of what they'll cover or what they will never cover?

They cover what gets clicks, right? I mean, something that turned me off is that everything is written to justify a headline that makes you click on it, but that's just Internet journalism in general.

Which is an interesting oxymoron in and of itself.

[Laughs.] Yeah. Right.

Or can be.

[Laughs.] You know, I've read 10,000-word articles talking about what the symbolism in what 2001: A Space Odyssey means. I have never read anything even approaching that kind of real evaluation of videogames in years, ever. I can't even think of one. Maybe Deus Ex way back in the day. I read a lot about Deus Ex social commentary, but, you know, that kind of journalism for games doesn't exist. Where do you find it? I don't know. I check in -- I like Eurogamer because they have a very simplistic, "Here's the news. Take it or leave it" style. That's what all of those sites are, anyway, so you might as well go to the one that lays it out plain. And, you know, it's just click after click of press-release information, which is fine if you're looking to find what new games are coming out.

But there's nothing with any depth to it that I have found recently. But I don't look as much, so, I was hoping you'd point me towards some, but you seem to have the same pessimism I do. [Laughs.]

Eh, there's some stuff. I can send you a couple links. But that's kind of the flip: Even if you were to find that stuff, I hate dealing in hypotheticals, but to what degree would that interest you? Would it be a thing where you'd read a thing here and there and enjoy games vicariously? Or do you know yourself well enough to know that that could be a path to buying stuff again?

That's something that's actually pretty interesting that we should talk about given what the point of this conversation is. I feel like I'm already lost. And I've seen clips of things like Pillars of Eternity that are basically made for me. I have seen things. I know the guy -- what's his name, who did Duke Nukem. I don't remember his name, but 3D Realms guy.

George Broussard.

Yeah. He's doing a new shooter, I read, somewhere. Somebody actually sent me a link to this, actually. Somebody I used to talk to on forums a long time ago. And that guy's doing a new shooter that's supposed to be like the old shooters. So, that and Pillars of Eternity and Wasteland 2 and all these things are, like, made for me, but I still haven't gotten my computer out of the closet. Why haven't I done that? I feel like I'm already lost. Like, you can send me 10 articles that might interest me, but they would've interested me seven years ago. It doesn't interest me now because I feel like I'm already gone.

I think of things in life to be less binary. I try to be less binary. I think of them as seasons. More fluid.

If you need a 10-year respite, then you need a 10-year respite. Even if nothing has interests you in what has come out in those 10 years away, maybe there will be one thing where you're like, "Oh, huh. That's interesting." And then maybe another five years will pass.


And in those five years, you will realize -- like, I think the thing, and one of the reasons I'm doing this is that people who have loved, past tense, games have been plenty patient and the signal online I pick up is an industry that largely just wants to please who's there now, not noticing or ignoring the fact that there's this tradition of people moving on or feeling shamed to moving on or just leaving in a huff. Whether it's stuff that happened last year or they just reach a point where it's like, "You know what? I'm just done."


They're very focused on the now, aren't they? Game preservation barely exists. I feel like there's no -- like, they're gonna make a new Alien, right? A new movie. It's supposed to be like Alien and Aliens. It's gonna be the third one, now, and ignoring everything else. Why are they doing that? They're trying to get people who grew up loving Aliens to be excited again to come back to Alien. Like, I feel like games don't really do that. They just focus on the new market. The new people.

When Xbox came out, all of a sudden it was about Xbox gamers. It wasn't about me anymore. They were okay leaving me behind. I'm just like -- okay, if that's what you want. [Laughs.]

I just ran an interview yesterday where this guy Aaron says, "You know, I may be old, but I still have a wallet."

[Laughs.] Yeah.

What's your opinion on smaller, independent teams making games. We haven't really talked about them yet. Have they done much to move the needle or hold your interest?

Yeah, no, I love it actually. But it just hasn't gotten me back yet. I actually put in my notes, "Indies are a big step toward tempting me back." Because stuff like Pillars of Eternity and -- that's like the big one I remember, I don't know why. But there's other ones, too. I see role-playing games that seem like they're made for me. "Like, hey, if you grew up playing Baldur's Gate, you should come back to videogames and play Pillars of Eternity." That's exactly what they're doing and I'm exactly who they're talking to, but for some reason -- I guess it's been too long or something, I'm tempted, but I'm not jumping over the cliff.

Part of that is probably it would cost money. My computer in the closet is like seven years old, so it would probably need upgrades, and then you have to buy a $60 game, too, so it's like, $1,000. So part of that's money, but just greater than that, I feel like I've moved on. It feels like an old relationship or something. You know, that old girlfriend might look great and I remember the good times, but that doesn't mean I'm going to call her. It's similar to that.

It's kind of an emotional thing. I feel like they wrote me off, and I wasn't important to them anymore, and now they're trying to bring me back, but I've moved on. [Laughs.]

Yeah. You had a good thing, but let's be honest.

Yeah, which gets into the nostalgia thing. How much of it is nostalgia and how much of it is, "Ooh, I want to play Mario tomorrow?"

As we age, what do you think changes about what we're looking for out of games? Certainly fun is still there, but what is that extra thing we're looking for?

A sense of culture. A sense of community. A sense of art appreciation. A sense that it's important to me.

I think when you're young it's just fun. When you get older, you want a little more out of it. You have less free time. You want to get more out of your free time. I want to feel like I'm important to it and it's important to me.

Like, you can make a Super Mario copy and make it exactly like Super Mario, but just different enough and arts and aesthetics and stuff to not be sued, but it wouldn't necessarily be the same to me at 35 as it would at 15. I don't know -- 'cause I have seen stuff like that. Like I said, Pillars of Eternity, 22-year-old me would have flipped out over that. But, 35-year-old me, it's like, "Oh, that's tempting, but I've moved on it."

What is the difference? I'm not even sure. Are there movies I loved when I was a teen that I don't like anymore now? Probably. But I don't know what the difference is. That's a good question.

How do you define creativity in games?

Mechanics. Level design. When I played Quake 2 online everyday after work, it was all about, you know, how to use that weapon to defeat that opponent in the right exact way and how to beat him perfectly, all that stuff. I feel like as it's gone on, it's been more about story and more about graphics and all that stuff. But it kinda got away from the true creative part being the mechanics.

Games being like movies is something that really turned me off. That's another thing. I kept focusing on culture because that's my educational background. But they try to be more and more like movies, they focus more on story and graphics. And like, I have movies for that. I have novels for that. I'm big into movies, too. So, I didn't come for that. Like, I came to games -- like Diablo 2, I didn't even read the text, to be honest with you. It was all about getting to new areas, killing new enemies, getting new loot, and hanging out with friends and talking on chat.

So when it was more about the story part, I sort of tuned it out. I did some of that in Baldur's Gate. It was rare. You have to do it really well. Baldur's Gate is an exception, it had gameplay and story, in a talking-to-people fashion, whereas now it's like, "Watch a cutscene." That really turned me off. The last game I tried playing was Dragon Age last year, whenever it came out. I hadn't played a game a year before that. And somebody told me, "Hey, your computer can run Dragon Age on low."

So, I got that, and I played it. It's either a movie or you're collecting stuff. It's one or the other. There was nothing else to it. I played it for a few hours and then I stopped because I was either walking around collecting things or I was watching a cutscene, and I just was not impressed by that. So, you want to know where creativity should be? In me doing interesting stuff. [Laughs.]

That game was literally "keep smashing the R trigger" to kill enemies and walk around and press "A" on stuff to pick it up. Like, if you boil that game down, that's what it is. That's what it was. Now, when I read reviews, when they talked about how amazing it was, it was all about the story and it was all about the dialog and it was all about the pretty areas and it was all about the characters and all that stuff. But when you're sitting there playing the game, you know, there was no depth to the combat. There was no Zelda castle. You just picked up tapestries, or something, to make your thing look prettier.

I wasn't doing anything interesting. The story kept me completely out of it.

Sometimes when I hear people talk about these bigger games, they just sound like a massive project you're working on.

[Laughs.] It feels like work.

The purpose of this site is to not slam big-budget games, although I do think there is a degree to which they are culpable for the lack of creativity. I really liked Assassin's Creed II. It's the only Assassin's Creed game that I liked and played to the very end.

Same here.

I kinda liked GTA V, but what I liked best about it were the heists because I liked the project-management aspects of them. [Laughs.] I'm serious. But what you're talking about in Dragon Age reminds me of that stuff in Assassin's Creed II, where you collect stuff to improve your mansion or whatever.

I think there's definitely people who are into games for different things, and probably the era you joined is a big part of that, I would think, because different eras of videogames concentrate on different things. I will always love platformers because I was a 14-year-old playing on Super Nintendo. That's what I played as a kid.

Maybe if you have joined in the last 10 years, you're more into story than I am. I don't know. But I think a lot of people come to games for story. A lot of people come to games because they're super bored and need stuff to do, and a lot of games nowadays give you 100 hours of stuff to do. It might not be fun, but you're working on something. You're doing something. Completionists or whatever. I don't know.

Like you said, it felt like a project. That is exactly how Dragon Age: Inquisition felt like. It felt like I was working at something. It felt like I was doing a job or a task list.

Sounds like you're trying to put a ship in a bottle.

Yeah. Exactly. Building a model. Way back in the day, Fallout did not feel like that. I don't even think there was a quest list in the original Fallout. It was literally just, "I walked around and I did stuff as it came to me and I enjoyed the tactical combat, and at one point the game was finished and the story had some cool aspects to it." And I was like, "Ah, that was fun."

Deus Ex, same way. Like, they plopped you down in New York and you had to figure out how to do this thing in the warehouse and you had it all open to you and you figured it out and that was the mechanics of it. Now, it feels like the last few games I played, I played Dragon Age and before that -- man, it was years. I don't even remember. But, like, everything I played just felt like I was checking things off. I was working at a project. I think you perfectly captured it by saying it. I couldn't say it better.


I don't even know if it's fair to hold Mario up as some sort of gold standard because I was thinking, well, in Mario you collect 100 coins and you can get a new life. In Assassin's Creed II, you collect, I think, like, 100 feathers and I think you get an achievement.

But I never did that stuff.


[Laughs.] But different people come in games for different things. Like, I didn't even know -- I don't even remember that, 100 coins in Mario. Like, my goal was to get from the beginning to the end without dying. So, I was all just about, "Make sure you jump over the pit. Make sure you land on the platform. You make you dodge the turtle dude. Get to the flag thing and then you won." So, and in Deus Ex, they said, "Okay, your mission is to turn off the satellite" or whatever. I don't even remember. But they gave you a few different ways to do that, and I just did that. I didn't care if I shot every soldier in the head. I didn't care if I collected every item. I just did the goal. And now, I think achievements were a big part of that. I think they're focusing so much on the minutiae or the busywork aspect that you lose sight of what's actually fun about actually sitting down and playing a videogame.


Do you feel like games have gotten less creative? Or just fixated on different things?

I definitely feel it's less creative. I think it's -- I think they're copying movies wholesale for the story and the visual aspects of it, and for the actual gameplay, I'm not trying to be mean to the people who make them, but I think they're focusing on the things that are easy for them to design, relatively -- not easy to design in general but compared to deeper mechanics -- and foster a compulsive, working-at-something feeling for the player, but not necessarily truly enjoyable.

I didn't play the last Grand Theft Auto, but I remember Grand Theft Auto 3, way back. I played that for the first time in a store. They had a kiosk set-up. You remember those? [Laughs.] I played on a PlayStation 2 in a store aisle. I was into videogames more casually at the time. I was 21, doing what people will do at that age. And I remember playing that and thinking, "Wow, you can walk anywhere. Wow, you can get in any car." That was just amazing to me. That was a truly new thing. I went out and bought it, and I played it for 50 hours or whatever and loved it, and then Grand Theft Auto 4 comes out years and years later, and it was the same exact thing, it just looked better and it had a lot more cutscenes. [Laughs.] Like, there's nothing new here. I already did this, and the parts they improved, I'm already getting from movies or whatever, so I don't know what's supposed to really get me excited. And I don't know what Grand Theft Auto V is like, but I assume it's the next step? But did they -- you mentioned something that was pretty interesting, and if that's a new mechanic, that's great. That needs to happen more often.

I just remembered the game I had played before Dragon Age: Inquisition was actually when I was on my summer break when I was home from working in Russia: It was Dishonored. And I really liked Dishonored. From Dishonored to Dragon Age, I played nothing, so you can look at a calendar to see the dates on that. I enjoyed Dishonored, but it was basically like Deus Ex again. It was the same thing. So, like, I enjoyed it because I enjoyed Deus Ex but at the same time, I already did it.

So maybe this gets into the whole greater conversation we're having.

Maybe you spend your 10 years in games and you kinda see everything that games do, and then there's nothing new for you anymore.

Well, why do games still matter to you to if, by your own admission, you have pretty much lost interest?

It was a big important part of my life for a long time. When I was a kid, I definitely ran around outside just as much, but I played a lot of games. Mega Man. Mario. Final Fantasy. Shadowrun. All those back then. It was a huge part of my youth. And then, I got away from them for a while and then I came back and they were a huge part of my twenties with Quake 2 and Diablo 2 and all that stuff. I played that a lot in the early 2000's. They were a big part of my life.

I've barely played them the last seven years, and yet -- I think when something's part of your life so much, you just can't escape it sort of. So, every once in a while I'll be like, "Hey, I wonder what's going on in the world of games." I'll click on my Eurogamer bookmark or my Kotaku bookmark and just see what's up. And I still follow some people involved in games on Twitter, like Jeff Gerstmann, 'cause he's funny, and he talks about videogames and I'm like, "Hey, I remember videogames."

And so, even if I haven't played anything in six months and before that, for two years, it's still something -- it's a part of my life. Like, you can't escape it. And I don't think it's all nostalgia. I think it's genuine good memories and it was important to me at the time. I kinda wish it could be again, to some extent. And the indie games, too. But at the same time, I've played it.

Pillars of Eternity is another Baldur's Gate. I've played it. I played it when I was 21 or whatever. But I've played it and I loved it, but I've moved on, and I don't need to play it again. If I do, Baldur's Gate would probably be more satisfying because of the nostalgia factor.

I think you kinda have your era, and you enjoy it, and it's an important part of you. But then you move on and it's not the same anymore.

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