Okay, sounds good. My name is Joe Bond. I live in Northern Virginia. I work as a firefighter/paramedic. I've been doing that for about 10 years now. So, that, basically, has nothing to do with videogames.
If you want to go all the way back, I started playing videogames when I was a little kid on the Atari 2600. I'd broke my leg and was bed-confined for two months and all I had to do was play this Atari 2600, which was the newest, greatest thing. I pretty much never stopped playing videogames since then, and I've gone through all sorts of consoles, and Commodore 64, PCs.
As far as when I started to lose my passion for it, it's hard to say really. It's something you don't notice until you look back and go, "Hey, I don't feel the same about these things anymore." We've talked about how I read your Cracked article about the gaming industry and it gave me a new perspective. It was a new concept that I didn't have, this idea that maybe it's okay to think something's wrong with the industry, like the games aren't going where I expected them to, or subconsciously wanted them to. That's kind of where I'm at now. That was just a few months ago, right, when we started talking?
Yeah, that article ran on Mother's Day. I had a Mother's Day full of people from the internet disciplining me for having an opinion informed by all the opinions I’ve been gathering here, basically. Then I did hear from you through it, and a couple other people as well.
For the record here, since it’s something people usually say up top: What is your age?
I'm 40. I just turned 40 last month.
Oh, happy birthday.
Yeah, so I mean, there's a lot of different places to go. Can you tell me a little bit about, not in a navel-gazing way for my personal benefit, but why was what I wrote about a new concept for you? Did you feel like there was something “wrong” with you if you didn't feel as engaged with videogames as you used to, or what were you thinking before you had read that?
I always thought, "Maybe videogames are more for a younger age group. Maybe I'm just outgrowing these things." I never really bought that. There's mature games. I have people my age that still play games that I know that I don't think of as childish people. I don't necessarily think of myself that way either, although sometimes maybe more so than I should. It's like I said a new concept, so I'm still kind of trying to get my head around it. Gosh, I'm trying so hard not to do the navel-gazing.
Well, you can say whatever you want. I just didn’t want to start off with you thinking I was asking, “Hey, what did you think of my piece?”
I'm not really asking that, but I think maybe it would be helpful if I talked a little bit about -- I don't know. It wasn't was obvious to me before I started this. For me, I just noticed this revolving door, this cycle of people who play videogames leaving. People typically reach this point, and it could be a certain age or it could be something else, but just they move on from videogames and they "age out," or they become lapsed players, or there's any number of ways to describe it.
As I put it in that piece, I always describe it as being like SNL or The Simpsons or even “Weird” Al, where no matter what they’re putting out it’s really for the next group of 12-year-olds coming up. Which, not be pejorative about videogames, but I think that it's not necessarily as clear that the industry doesn’t want people who are “older” nearly as much as they want people who are “younger.”
Right, well, they should want people who were older because now I have some money to spend on these things. They should be marketing people my age as well as younger people. When I was thinking about doing this call over the last couple days, I started thinking about other media, or entertainment media, which I would assume videogames would be considered a part of. Nobody says this about movies. Nobody goes, "Well, I liked movies when I was a teenager, but I have a job now and a family, so I don't like movies anymore." That would sound strange, wouldn't it?
It would sound strange. That's the word I would use.
You're like, "Well, there's plenty of movies for adults." Right.
Well, there are movies for adults also, on top of those movies for adults.
Do you feel like people lose interest in books and movies and music and TV in the same way that they seem to lose interest in videogames?
No, I don't. I mean, it's like there is a broad market for any age, and trust me, there's plenty of good videogames for adults that are smart and fun still. Just what you see on TV or what you hear about, it all seems to be stunted in an adolescent area, a mentality almost. From what I see, like sports games notwithstanding, they seem to all be explosions and guns and people running around shooting each other online. I think we can do better than this. There's a place for that, but there's a lot more to explore with this technology.
You said that you love videogames but you don't really like them anymore. You said that you had to quit smoking because of your job, and if it was required of you you would completely quit videogames and you'd be fine with that too. But as I think you mentioned, you're still buying games? You mentioned you're buying stuff for PS4 and Steam, right?
Right, I still do.
But you're not, really? I think you said some are still completely in their plastic.
Which is totally fine. I’m not advocating at all here for people to buy more or less videogames. I’m just curious to hear more about people’s relationship with them or their thoughts on them. Why do you think you're still buying them if you're not as interested in them?
There's always this hope that I'm going to rediscover the feelings that certain games that I truly love to play. I think part of me is always like, "Well, maybe you'll get that again with this game."
Which game? What you are you talking about? What sort of thing specifically do you feel like you're not seeing anymore?
I mean, it's going to be different for everyone I'm sure, but for me a big one was Civilization II, Sid Meier. That was a game that, and let's see -- I was probably early twenties when I started playing that. It was a game -- you talk about staying up way past your bedtime, like I would stay up until 4 o'clock in the morning when I had to work the next day and play this game. I did that for weeks. There was just something about the game. It wasn't the prettiest game out there, but there's something about it that just grabbed you. You could play several games of it over the course of a week. Now games I feel like you have to set aside a week to get through them. There was something special about that for me. Like I said, it's different for everyone, so maybe somebody wants to play it through in a week, but there is like a sweet spot in that game. Even the Civilization games since have never even met that. They've been great for the most part, but there's, I don't know. I hate to use the cliché of the perfect storm, but that's kind of how it was.
Do you think it's nostalgia? If you’re buying things still, are you pining for the past, or do you just find it hard to stay engaged with what's going on in the surface of games once you get into them?
It could be. I don't think it was possible for me to rule out a level of nostalgia.
Right. No, that's a difficult thing to self-diagnose.
Yeah, and I know that when I go back and I have GOG, the Good Old Games website. You go out back and you can play some of those old games and you're like, "Ooh, from today's standards, this game stinks now. Why did I like this so much?" At the same time I know I spent hours of my life on Civ II. There was something there. It wasn't the lack of other options either. I had other things to do and play, especially in my early twenties. I mean, I could have been doing a lot of things other than videogames, not to just limit it to one especially. Anyway, I'm getting off topic. There is some nostalgia to it, but I just think there was something there.
Even with Civ II as a specific point, that was a game that -- then the business side of it forced it. They had to keep making Civ II and all the other iterations. They couldn't venture too far from it even if they wanted to try something new. I think he did try a little bit out there with Alpha Centauri. I'm talking about the makers. I shouldn't say it's Sid Meier specifically, but the developers. I don't think that was a commercial success, so they kind of had to stick to where they were. That gets into the broader industry of -- it's like anything new and innovative is doomed from the get-go the way that the industry is set up. The one bright --
How do you mean?
It seems like for something to be a commercial success it's got to be derivative of whatever was right before it, and that's why I can't even tell the difference between Call of Duty and the other big shooter game that comes out every year. There's two of them every year it seems like, and I don't even know the difference because they seem like they're such the same game to me. Then you look at sports game, like Madden comes out every year, and they really don't do anything but update the rosters, but they charge full price, and it's smart for them to do this because they make a ton of money on it every year. There's a built-in system it seems like to not be innovative.
I’ve written about this before, and how it’s hard to grow in a relationship with something that isn’t growing with you. If you talk about games being in a state of adolescence still, which I think is right to say, how do you feel that videogames didn't grow with you if you grew up with them. If you’re 40 now, how do you feel those games didn’t keep pace with you?
Ooh, that’s difficult.
I don’t have a good answer for that right now.
I don't know. That's like almost like looking into an alternate future, or present, alternate universe.
Because I think people think about these types of conversations where I'm talking to someone like yourself. I think they think someone is able to sort of pinpoint the exact moment or the exact game when suddenly you lost interest, which I think is actually impossible to do in hindsight like you've said. I know you mentioned Diablo II, and started just clicking the mouse over and over and over again, which is funny because that's my version of your thing. I was staying up until 4 a.m. and then going to work the next day.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I love that game.
No, no, it's fine.
At a certain point you're like, "I'm not even really paying attention to what I'm doing playing this game. I'm watching TV and playing Diablo at the same time, and that's because I don't really have to think in this game. Why do I like it?"
I don't want to keep referring back to my piece, but was there a thing that resonated with you and you realized like, "Oh, well maybe I'm just not the audience that the game industry wants anymore"?
Gosh, when was this? Probably late '90s, and I could be totally off on the date here, but when multiplayer games started to come into play, or online gaming with other humans. For me, that was like, "Ooh, I don't want to play with other people. They're better than me in general." When I've tried to play I'd just go out and get crushed because I don't want to put in the time to get better. I just want to enjoy my game at my pace. That was a big moment for me, or it wasn't really a moment.
That was a big revelation though when I started going, "This isn't fun. If I wanted to go play with other people I'd go do something like play football or something. I wouldn't necessarily be playing a videogame, especially with people I don't know, you know, and I don't know where they are." I feel like I'm probably in the minority on that one, but --
Not really! I mean, for a lot of people I talk to and a lot of people that I know, when multiplayer became really big, it was sort of like a fork in the road where people felt like the industry went in one way, and the people who had grown up with games up to that point went another. For them, multiplayer meant playing with other people in the same room. Now there’s the extra deterrent of fear of harassment or just no desire to be anywhere where you can be hassled. I think fear sometimes can be a strong word here, even though it definitely applies. I think it’s just that people don’t want to be hassled during in their free time, you know?
Hassled is the perfect word for it. The few times I have played, it hasn't been fulfilling, I guess is the best way I can describe it. Now, you obviously have talked to exponentially more people about this than I have at this point, so I mean, is the fork in the road that you spoke of, am I downplaying my viewpoint on it? Is that a bigger thing than I’m saying?
It’s hard to know what’s truly universal here but I think it’s more widespread than you suspect. It's not just you.
Have you tried to still be part of the videogame community online? Were there ways where you felt like you just didn't belong or there weren't conversations you could start where you were online at the time?
No, I knew I didn't want to be a part of that. videogames are what I did when I wasn't socializing. They always have been. Now it's different. When I was a teenager, we had the Super Nintendo, and the four of us would sit around and play games until, gosh we worked at a pizza place that would close at midnight, and we'd go home and play until the sun came up. That was a great fun time, but you're with your friends, and you're in the same room, and you're getting better at the games at about the same pace as each other. There's a real, true social interaction there. When it started to be you had Ultima Online, and gosh, I think World of Warcraft has been around for a long time, right? That couldn't have been too much far behind. That kind of interaction never did it for me.
It was almost akin to the AOL chat rooms. I never found anything interesting about them. Now, obviously a lot of people did. One of my best friends met his wife through one, so I had friends that liked that stuff. It's just for me it never interested me, and then to add gaming into it, it was just two distinct worlds that I wasn't interested in. Like I said, that was a big, what would you call it, like a sentinel moment in the gaming industry for me. Then for a while I worried that everything was just going to be online. It seemed like it became a thing and it was huge. This must have been in, like you said 15 years ago. I felt like games weren't even getting single-player. Ultima, well not Ultima, Unreal. Wasn't that designed just to be a multiplayer game? Or you can even just play with other bots and not even other humans?
To me it's like, "What is the appeal of this?" But obviously it's there. It's weird because I know I like videogames because they've been a part of my life since I was a little kid, but then you see this whole different aspect of it just booming and you're like, "Well, I know I like that, but I don't like this part of it, and everyone seems to like it." It's kind of confusing, and it creates a rift.
Hmm. That being said, it's definitely gone back to where there's plenty of hours of single-player game entertainment or whatever you want to call it. It's almost to the point where it's too much, like every game is so long now, I feel like how does anybody have time to play more than one of these in a month, or year almost. If you really want to get through everything in a game, it's going to take you a long time.
You said that your dad also lost interest in games, right?
Is that something you've ever talked to him about?
No. He liked Atari, and then when there was Nintendo and there were two buttons, that was his way of I think saying, "I'm done with this." He still played on the Commodore 64, but it used the Atari controller, so it was an easy thing to continue with. I think he was looking for an exit and that gave him a good excuse.
Yeah, but I mean, and he played board games when he was younger, so some of the Commodore games were kind of board games that were ported. I think he liked those. Then, gosh I don't know, he just decided, it was almost like he told himself, "You got to quit smoking," but he said it about videogames. Yeah, I know he's just not interested in that stuff. Hasn't been for like 30 years.
You think it's different the way you lost interest versus the way he's lost interest?
I do, and I think it's due to our ages, when we grew up. I definitely think timing for me, and my situation of being stuck on a bed for almost two months with an Atari, I think that ingrained it to a great degree with me.
In our emails you asked the very excellent basic question: “How did first-person shooters come to dominate the industry?” I'm not going to flip your question back on you and answer you, but do you remember when that started to surprise you, when that was really starting to carry sway as far as games coming out?
Unfortunately I don't remember. It was almost like looking back at this new concept of, "Hey, maybe I don't like videogames anymore." It was kind of the same way in a smaller sense with those games. It's like, "Why is everything a first-person shooter now?" Maybe it obviously translates well on a PC. I think that had a lot to do with it with the mouse as a way of aiming at people. I've tried playing those things on consoles and for me it's incredibly difficult to use a joystick. I'm surprised that they're as popular as they are on those. Maybe they lend themselves very well to online gaming, which is another thing that I'm not into and don't really see the appeal of. I don't know. It's almost like asking somebody who likes heavy metal music why country music is so successful, you know what I mean? I have my feelings, but I can see why they don't transfer to everybody else.
The media is also a factor in this, and we haven't really talked too much about games media consumption. I know you read Cracked, but has that changed at all over the years, the stuff you've read and how much you read? I know you've read a couple interviews on this site, but beyond that, what is your games media consumption like, or do you just not even pay attention to that anymore at all?
Oh, it's much less than it used to be. I used to subscribe to PC Gamer back 15 years ago. That was all that I really had, but let's see. Gosh, the internet even wasn't as fleshed out back then. Now there's so many websites for everything. It super serves every niche of every type of media. I think pretty much I limit myself to the games that I know I'm going to buy when they come out, and there's just a handful, like I'm sure I'm going to end up getting Civ VI at some point, just because I do it. I'll get all the DLC for it, and I'll put in 123 hours in a year's span and I'll never play it again. When I see a game that I know I'm going to get, I'll probably go to IGN or GameSpot or GameStop, I get the website confused with the store.
Yeah, I used to as well all the time.
Pretty much I'll Google it and one of the top two hits, I'll read a little bit about it.
Yeah? Do you go down and read the comments as well?
No. I try not to do that with any of the websites that I go to. There's got to be a name for that type of website too, right, where it's an article and then -- I'm thinking of the Uproxx. Have you heard of that?
I go to their site for wrestling a lot, and I know they have a videogames section too but I never quite go into that one. I don't think I consume that much written media about videogames. I don't see a need. I know what I like, and now that I've read your article about how messed things are I don't even want to. You know what interests me is the concept of fanboy for a certain game or a console. It's amazing to me. Let's use the PS4 versus Xbox One as a comparison. I definitely have seen people that will just bash an Xbox, or whichever one they like, or don't like, just for the sake of it's not what they have or would prefer. I'm like, "You're not getting the profits for this one. Why do you care?"
I think it's a stranger concept today versus as I'm sure you remember versus the days of Nintendo and SEGA where the systems were fairly different and they would have largely different libraries, and even when the same game came out on both systems they would be different games. The mentality has shifted as such that today the notion of a major budget videogame coming out for only one system and not the other, people will sort of complain that that's unfair, and so that rarely happens. Now instead you'll have things like Microsoft paying extra money to get the new Tomb Raider game earlier than it'll be out on PlayStation. It's really strange that yeah, there is still sort of this fanboy-ism is one way to describe it. I don't know.
I guess that's not the politically correct term. I feel like there's a better way to describe it. It's almost like it's a product or a company-ism. It might be Apple versus PC or something.
It's like, yeah, corporate enthusiasts. Yeah. Well, you said that you feel like every need is sort of super-served, but did you start off with that approach to reading about games where you would just sort of drop in and drop out with just the things you already know you're interested about? Are there things you wish you could read about with games or the way the industry works that just you never have or just never seem to see?
Honestly it'd be nice if there were more articles like you wrote where it's critical, like they need an ombudsman for the whole industry to say, "You guys are not doing this right, and you're fleecing people. You're charging 60 bucks a year for the same game." People probably could figure that out on their own, and maybe that's why they get mad like, "We know it's the same game. We know they added a rocket launcher and a tank to this game this year, and that's the only thing different, or no, it's set 1,000 years in the future as opposed to 100." I wish it was more reflective of the state of the industry.
Hopefully this won't be too big of a tangent, but the kind of thing that I did that you read and led you to me? I wish I could do stuff like that more. The kind of stuff I want to write is stuff that is, yeah, is a little bit more introspective, a little bit more reflective, a little bit more critical, but not necessarily needing to be scathing. It’s not just individual products but sort of trends on the whole I think we all suspect and don’t see articulated. It's very rare. It's super-rare to see that at what's called the enthusiast sites or websites that only cover videogames. I want to try to cross-pollinate that sort of thinking. That’s why I approached Cracked, to places that they kinda cover games but they also cover other stuff too, because I've just found over the years when you do try to do that stuff, if you only write it to the audience for games, it's not going to reach people like you who kind of feel like they're on the bubble, or on the side, or just outright not part of it. I don't know. It's just I don't know why it's like that.
I think it's also sort of compounded by the economy, and I'm sure you've heard how the media is doing. Not that I know what's best for the concept of videogames and stuff, but it's worrying that this is a major entertainment industry, and I don't know. We don't really have to talk too much or at all about Gamergate, but there are a lot of things where there's a lot of internal tension and abrasiveness. It's not unique to videogames, but it's like someone should crack a window or something.
Yeah. David, you know what it's called? They need to look at it honestly. That's really what it is.
Oh, I'm being too polite I guess.
[Laughs.] Well, it's called journalism, and journalism should be honest. It got me thinking as you were talking about that stuff. I think the feeling I get from a lot of these videogames websites and why I don't go to them is that I'm saying to myself, "You guys are getting money for this article. I can tell how you're writing about this game that you're getting something out of this. Basically what I'm feeling is you're lying to me as I'm reading this article."
Well, the whole product cycle is just so bizarre. Unlike other industries, maybe movies a little bit, and sometimes music, there are no other entertainment industries where it's like, "Okay, we're going to invest millions of dollars on this thing, and now we're going to match that same budget on the marketing, and then we're going to share an early unfinished version of it with a handful of writers at multiple times along the way." It's like when things are in the preview stage, you really can't say anything too negative because it's sort of understood that it's still a work in progress. For some sites, yeah there is that concern that they don't want to alienate or piss off a company that has extended them that invitation that ostensibly will give them a lot of traffic because they have the early exclusive or whatever. Then you can review a game, but then there's just so many different schools of criticism. There's a lot of I think really good analysis being done, but sometimes it's not what people really want because sometimes they just want to know, "Should I buy it?" and that's a completely legitimate thing. I think it's just there are so many confused schools of thought, and I don't know, because you're basically talking about payola, right?
More or less. I mean, I don't want to accuse anyone.
That's the feeling I get, like, “This is too glowing already.” You sat down and played for two hours at some predetermined part of the game where the developers brought you in, the few reporters to come and play the game. You're getting to see what they want you to see. That's propaganda is really what it is. I get it. You need the games to sell because you want people to play games and come to your website. It fulfills its own needs, but at the same time, I would rather just read something that's honest about it. It's like we almost, are you familiar with the site Deadspin?
They proudly state they don't have access. That's their thing. I feel like I get better information from them than I do ESPN regarding sports. There's criticism and there's fairness. I don't know. It's not as slick as ESPN's site is obviously, but I guess I like the meat more than the fluff coverage.
I’m the same way. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I do wonder -- I don’t know if you know this. The typical lifespan of an aspiring games journalist or writer's career, if they're really trying to go all-in and try to get a job or whatever, which of course there are not many of, the revolving door there is typically about two years.
You'd have a longer career in the NFL.
[Laughs.] I think it’s harder to get into the NFL than it is to start writing about videogames. How do you feel like from the stuff that you read that you can tell there's a fairly steady housecleaning of talent going on?
Well, there's not one author I can name.
It's sad because I'll talk to people that I've known coming up writing about entertainment in general and it's just sort of the common thing of, maybe it's just what happens anyway in all industries, but when I've talked to colleagues like, "Hey, do you know any other writers I should talk to and interview for this, people who used to write about games and maybe don't anymore?" There's like a similar thing where it's like, "Uh, I can't remember them anymore. Who are they?"
Well, part of it is also it's not journalism in the same standard as like a newspaper would have been. You're not breaking big stories because that's not the job of these websites. Maybe there aren't big scandals to break. Maybe there are. I've heard about some of those old Atari programmers, so maybe there are some scandals to break.
Well, I mean, yeah. It’s --
Nevertheless, nobody's making their name off of a propaganda piece, you know?
That's true. Yeah. I think it's a lot of covering marketing or sometimes it's covering the culture of fandom of videogames, but it just very rarely peeks into how the companies work, and what's going on, and this, that, and the other, I think because of those relationships we said.
Are there ways that these websites make you feel like you aren't the audience anymore, or the marketing for games don't make you feel like you're the audience anymore? Are there ways that when you visit these websites you feel like you're being reminded that you're not really who they're going after anymore?
No, nothing's coming to mind as far as that goes. I'm pretty used to all sorts of websites. Not that I'm an expert on websites. I'm just saying you see all sorts of good and bad websites just by browsing the internet. For instance, GameStop, right? That's the one that's a brick and mortar store?
Yeah, that's the store. Yeah.
Okay, so if you go to their website, to me it doesn't look a whole lot different than Best Buy, or any type of other commercial website. In that aspect, that seems the same. The colors are different, but that's about it. They have a search. They have your cart. You can parse things down by categories. When you go through one of the, I could look right now. Is that cheating if I look right now?
Nah, that’s not cheating.
Yeah. I'm looking at IGN right now and it kind of looks like what I would expect.
It's just it's got the rating reviews on the right. It's got some stories. This “Daily Fix,” it's like some YouTube clip. That looks terrible. You know what? Now that we're talking about this and I'm looking, this does look a little bit -- how do I put it? Yeah. This looks a little young for me. There's cars and I don't want to go on record with how I really feel about this. I'm just like, "Yeah, you're right," you know? You know what? I don't really go to the homepage of IGN that often though. I usually click the game in and then click to the link, which you get a different feel of the website this way.
The old-fashioned way of using the internet.
Just go into a website, not going through Google or Bing first. No, it's different. Yeah, this is awful.
How about comments? I'm curious. How would you compare a typical comment thread on Deadspin versus a typical comment thread on IGN?
Oh, wow. They've got punctuation, proper capitalization. It's generally concise. Yeah. You know what, and I can compare it to like a Steam comment section, because that's probably where I see the most comments for videogames. To be fair, I understand there's a lot of international players and people that don't speak English as a first language, so I would not expect it to be grammatically, or with the punctuation that of English speaking. There's just a lot of terrible typing and spelling. It's not like they misspelled it once. It's continuous. Some people they might think, "You're coming across as like an English major type of snob." I'm not an English major, but there's something to it. It speaks to a mindset of somebody. It's like I'm reading these things and I'm like, "Maybe you should spend more time studying your homework and get off the gaming website because you can't even spell." There's a thought process with that poor punctuation that image already that comes across. That's some of the funniest comment sections you'll too ever read. That's a huge difference.
Well, let me ask you. I don't remember if I wrote about Gamergate in that piece, but have you heard of Gamergate? Was that a thing you heard about?
No. What is that?
Oh boy. Okay, so in 2014, basically what it boils down to, it's a couple of groups on the internet that are, this is sort of intentionally slippery to describe, but just that there were people on the internet who decided that they were uncomfortable with women, and minorities, and people from marginalized communities making videogames, and so there was just a bunch of rampant online threatening of fans of videogames against women who were making games, threatening to kill them, threatening to rape them, this, that, and the other. It was sort of this really rabid, rampant thing two summers ago. If you haven't heard of it before I don't know if it's necessarily useful to ask about it. The more broader question I was going to ask --
I'm skimming the Wikipedia of it right now.
Yeah, there's also some stuff in there about how it’s actually about ethics and gaming journalism, which is a whole other side story. There are multiple versions of Gamergate, and I think calling it a movement is sort of heightening its legitimacy a little bit too much. I was just more curious of the shear level of vitriol and toxicity that can be on display among some pockets of the videogame audience, whether that's like a surprising development for you, or if that's something that maybe you remember from growing up some people acting that way. I'm not saying there's necessarily a link between videogames and that, but just does that surprise you?
It doesn't surprise me. This is kind of I guess part of the reason I didn't like the multiplayer -- what's the word? MMORPG?
I can't remember the “M” now.
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Yeah.
Massive, that's it. That whole mentality of you're safe in your bubble. You're on the internet, everybody is much more brave on the internet. You never talk to anyone in real life like you talk to people on the internet. I do it too. It's faceless. Frankly, it's gutless. We all go into it at times I think. I'm not surprised that there's an extreme side to that. I also think, think about what you're doing in the games. I mean, you're killing these people in videogame form, so it's only natural to ramp up affection-style hatred for something else. They have clans in the games. It's not surprising that this mentality would fester, perpetuate in a real forum somewhere. Plus, just like there's websites that super serve everything, there's ways to find people that hate other people on the internet. It makes it much more broad. I mean, we're getting into a huge broad discussion here about this, but it doesn't surprise me.
I'd mentioned this in one of the emails before we were talking, but I just don't understand why games are so fixated on destruction. I don't think that's -- let me say that again. As far as this Gamergate goes, games that involve killing and destroying things, they're going to lend itself to people who already have these hateful, destructive tendencies. I'm certainly not saying that if you like games that are shoot 'em up's or where you're blowing up things that you're a homicidal maniac, or sexist, or you know. I'm not trying to say anything like that, but I think that you're going to pick up people who do feel that way. Does that make sense?
Yeah. No, it does. I wanted to sort of touch on this as well. This is some of the stuff you were saying before. You mentioned what you do for a living as a paramedic and a firefighter, and we also in our emails, you were talking about my interview with Pablo. I was going to say, he was in New York at the time. He's in the UK right now going to college, but you made a comment about how mature for his age he was. That was the first time I had asked that question about heroism in videogames. I'd like to pose that same question to you. What do you feel like in videogames, what does being a hero mean?
As far as videogames go, it means winning the game, right? Putting you in the position of your character, and you win the game. I was playing, and maybe it's because I knew I was going to talk to you today, last night I was playing Grand Theft Auto, what is the last one?
Yeah. Man, it's a great game. It's so fun, but you're a horrible person. You are the worst people ever.
You're three horrible people.
Yeah. If you win that game, they have their motives, and you can make a case for -- well you're killing people that deserve it or there's some BS argument you could make probably, but no. You're despicable. You're all criminals, and you are murderers, and thieves. Take that a step back. What if you're playing a videogame that's a first person shooter, but you're in the military? Well, let me go back to Call of Duty, the original. It was probably what, 15 years ago that that came out?
Yeah. Something like that. Yeah.
It's World War II and you were kind of playing these three stories through the European Theatre, and I thought it was a really fun game. It was one of the few first person shooters I actually could beat. You were a hero because you were fighting to end the fascist Germany at the time, and fine, but you're still shooting people. There's something to be said for that.
I feel like games get attached to this, they attach being a hero to killing when you don't really need to. Does that make sense how I'm explaining this?
Yeah. How often do people call you a hero?
Call me personally?
Well, not very often at all. I know they look at my profession and they think of us as that, and it'd probably make me very uncomfortable if somebody said that. I know that there's aspects, like I have an exciting job at times. True, most of it's pretty mundane like most peoples' jobs probably are, but there are times you get to do things that nobody else gets to do, and it's a lot of fun. I'm definitely surprised there aren't more firefighting games.
I meant to send it to you before. I will after. There were two games, I guess I can send you some links right now. What was it? It was The Firemen for for Super Nintendo.
Yeah. I can't believe I didn't send this to you before. If you want to just punch that in and take a quick look at what you make of it. This was 1994, so it's been a while, and this was a Japanese game.
Oh my gosh, it looks like Contra, or the original Metal Gear, doesn't it?
That's Japanese, you said?
No, look at that box art. It looks like --
It looks like Die Hard a little doesn't it?
I like that they had to put the mustache on the one guy. Of course they did. It looks like Dragon Ball Z firefighting with its cover.
Exactly. Well, no. I'm not trying to conflate those two, or really even to dwell on the concept of heroism, but I think your profession more than my profession has that air where people just immediately picture something sort of outdated, like you bringing a baby out of a shattered window or a cat out of a tree. This is a long way to go to ask about heroism in videogames, but just wondering if you feel like you see more heroism in videogames than badass but “justified” criminals? Do you feel like you see aspects of your profession that are actually heroic in videogames anywhere around heroism?
Aspects of my job in particular, or just overall like trying to help someone rather than --
Right. Okay. It's very few and far between for directly related to my profession. I've seen European games that are ported to the US that aren't very fun that revolve directly around firefighting and rescue. Have you heard of the Emergency series?
I have, yeah.
I play them just because there's nothing else like them, but their interface and everything's awful. The graphics are terrible.
What do they get wrong? Do you feel like they did their research or no?
Well, they simplify things, and I'm fine with that because at the end of the day you're trying to rescue people, which I think is a lot of fun actually, and you're trying to do it quickly because that's actually paramount obviously. To save someone life who's injured or put out a fire, time is definitely an issue. The interfaces are just, you’ve got to click on every little thing. There's ways they could make it better. I think that the games suffer from, I'm guessing, a lack of funding. I would imagine it's probably like two or three people making the game, and there's probably not a lot more in the marketing behind them. Unfortunately, more people can't play the game. I think if more people bought the game maybe other people would develop that type of game. There was a game where you were a Coast Guard rescue chopper pilot. You had to actually rescue people. That was like 20 years ago probably I saw that. I was like, "This is a cool idea for a game." The game was terrible though. I got it and you couldn't even play it. The controls were so awful, but still is like, there are certain games that the concept is so novel you'll put up with a lot just because you want to try something new. You know what I mean?
On a bigger scale, I feel like you're a hero in games, and you're trying to do good. I just think it's through hurting or killing other people too much. Even if it's not people, it's something. You have to kill zombies. Maybe you don't feel as bad about shooting a zombie as you would a person in a videogame.
They just drew a zombie instead of drawing a person.
They act as the same, whatever you're doing. I just think that they could, on they I'm saying developers of games. I should probably find a better word than they. I feel like there's a whole other aspect of being a hero that's just not even touched on, or it's barely touched on in the industry. That is off-putting to me too. Even in Diablo, you're hacking everything up. Yes, you're trying to save the world or whatever, but you’ve got to kill 10,000 monsters on the way to it.
What aspects of heroism do you think are not being explored?
Did I, well yeah, I mentioned to you in one of the emails about playing Grand Theft Auto and wouldn't it be kind of cool if you could just be the cop, or the firefighter in that? There's aspects of that game -- I know there are many missions where you could actually be the cop or whatever, but I think that involved killing guys too. That wasn't fleshed out at all. Even in games that have the infrastructure to just, they could have just ported it over to another game pretty much and it would have entertained me to just kind of be a crime fighter. Gosh, now I'm thinking even the superhero games, like the Batman games. You're beating the crap out of people.
Yeah, pretty regularly.
Which, that's fine. That's what Batman is, right?
He doesn't kill people though.
I guess that's a little better.
Except in the new game where you're in the Batmobile a lot and you're running over people, but don't worry. Those aren't really people. The game continually reminds you they're actually drones or robots.
You have a clear conscience then.
Sounds like it's Grand Theft Auto now.
Like I had mentioned earlier, a lot of these games become very, very similar. I don't know if I sent this to you, but I had interviewed Brenda Laurel, who is just a long-time game designer and she worked at Atari. She had told me back in the '80s she had tried Star Raiders. We talked about this. This was in the interview, and she was wondering, "Why isn't there a negotiate button in the middle of this space shooter about intergalactic diplomacy?"
I mean, it's not like this intrinsic thing that videogames have to be violent, but do you feel like is it really plausible given just what our movies, and TV shows, and what everything else is like, is it plausible that videogames could have gone in a different direction in the '70s and the '80s? Is that even a thing you think really could have happened, or were we fated to have videogames be like how they are today?
It's totally plausible. We'll go back to movies. Not every movie involves violence. It wasn't like the movies when the movie producers back in the early 1900s said, "Well, this movie has a lot of violence and it's selling well so that's the only thing we can do." There's other genres, and there should still be those games that we're talking about. They have a purpose. They're fun, a lot of them.
Right. They have a place. Yeah. I mean, I think back on like yeah, some of those are really early nickelodeons, like the sneeze was popular, and the train coming at the audience was popular, but it's not as though --
Everything is a train movie.
Yeah, right. Here's another sneeze movie. Oh, Sandra Bullock is going to sneeze in this new movie.
The thing about it, too, is it's difficult to even criticise that because you get called a prude or something else, but I come at it with the angle of it's kind of I guess boring. I think about this, no matter what it is, whatever anything is, if you're experiencing it over and over and over again, it gets monotonous. If the world was the other way around and it was all art films, and all games about super abstract concepts, sooner or later you would just be like, "Man, I kind of want to just see something blow up." You know what I mean?
Absolutely, and it's true. That would be true of anything. If every game, what's a nonviolent game that I can think of? If every game was, geez, this is saying something. I can't even think of one. If every game was The Sims, or some version of that, you'd be like, "This sucks. I want to blow something up now," like you said. "We need an explosion in The Sims. Why can't we do that?" If everything had been a derivative of Pong, we wouldn't even be having this conversation right now because the industry would have gone away before this. People would have been bored by 1979. You know we used to have arcade games where it was like you were shooting a big centipede. Even that would shake something up.
Space Invaders. Yeah.
It's weird how just guns and bombs are such a ... If aliens were to judge our species right now based on our videogames, well they'd probably be scared to come down here and talk to us, like, "All these people do is blow each other up."
Especially if they saw Space Invaders, yeah.
Yeah, right. Except they always won at the end.
That's true. Well, they're tricky. They move.
They get faster.
What do you think videogames have accomplished?
That's the question.
That is the question.
Here's my gut reaction.
This is going back to kind of what I wanted to say. I feel like games have managed to become beautiful and kind of soulless over the 40 years that they've been around. Is that long enough time frame, 40?
Forty-five, 50 years now?
Sixty, if you want to be super generous. Yeah. It's still a young medium.
That's really how I feel. They've gotten beautiful and soulless.