OK. My name is Shana Rosenberg. I'm in Oxford, Ohio. I'm 42. I've been playing games in one form or another my entire life that I can remember. Whether it was -- sometimes it would be tabletop with my family, or cards. That was always important. But I've always loved videogames, too. I would say kindergarten is the first time I ever played a game, and it was Space Invaders on, like, a TRS-80 that took 45 minutes to load, seriously. And we were all sitting around that computer.
And you know, there wasn't even a progress bar back in the day, right? So just this whole class of kindergartners in front of this computer just, "When is it gonna be done?!" And then there'd be 20 minutes left of school and it'd finally be loaded, and we're all, like, jostling each other and, like, "Oh, you died! It's my turn!"
45 minutes, that's way better than -- a friend texted me a few nights ago that his PS4, there was a mandatory update on Destiny that was 16 gigs, so that was his entire evening of free time just eaten up.
Oh, man! [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] So, 45 minutes, no progress bar, kind of better than somehow 2015 earlier this week. That's kind of amazing.
No, that's true!
Yeah, I mean, it's kind of depressing, I think.
That's a good connection, actually! [Laughs.]
Well, I mean, it's all load times, right? I guess that's something I'm curious: Do you have any current consoles?
Yeah, we got a PS3 and an Xbox.
So you have a PS3 and an Xbox 360 or an Xbox One?
Yeah, 360. And then we have a Wii, which we even sometimes use that, so...
So you don't have any of the quote-unquote "current gen" systems, then?
Nope, I don't.
Is there a reason why you made that decision to not hop on the bandwagon?
I think that has to do with our relationship with games. My husband as well -- my whole family is a gaming family, including my 10-year-old. Financially, we're already enjoying games to the point that we're enjoying them, and there just didn't seem like there was anything further that we could accomplish through getting the consoles -- the new ones.
It's a funny way to think about it: It doesn't accomplish anything extra, but what sort of accomplishments are you talking about that aren't there to make it worthwhile for you to buy any of those systems?
We just -- we already have what we need in our house to have a good time with games. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] It's totally true.
Yeah! I mean, it's totally true. We have Skyrim, as you know. I was actually disappointed about your tweet of 12 hours of playtime.
[Laughs.] No, you gotta realize, though, for someone who has fallen out of love with games twice, and someone who has derived income as a games critic or games writer, spending 12 hours on a game that I'm not being paid to play, that's actually a fair amount of time. I'm actually much better about it now, finding time to play stuff that I want to play, but 12 hours is actually a colossal -- it's a huge undertaking, and I'm actually fairly proud of it, and that was actually me bragging, but...
I actually didn't tweet too much, because I knew we were gonna talk about it.
[Laughs.] Oh, you knew I was, like, "dude."
Because I just wanted to get your honest reactions to it. So part of what is so significant about our conversation is when I started this project, and I tweeted in December, and I was imagining don't die, I had the feeling that people just sort of stopped playing games. Because a lot of people in my social circles, maybe just because they're in the industry or more closer to it, they sort of just fall off or they get burnt out and they stop playing. And your email, in that initial wave of emails that I got from that first tweet, you said, I think, in the first or second paragraph, that you don't -- I think either you wrote eight, nine paragraphs explaining about your history and you're like, "But I don't really think people stop playing, like you're saying."
And I really thought about that over the holidays, and I was like, "You know what? She's absolutely right." Because playing doesn't have to be on consoles. It can be mobile, it can be PC, it can be… I'm less interested in board games, although it's an interesting overlap, like I think there's a lot of people who end up "graduating" to board games because it's almost like a more pure form of play.
But you were absolutely right; people don't stop playing videogames. So, when you were like, "I'm starting to play Skyrim," I was curious, was that you breaking your "break" with videogames? Was that your first foray back after a long while away?
Yeah. My first foray back. I actually have like 120 hours back when it first came out. And, you know, I'm not done. I've never finished. [Laughs.] But yeah, so when I started to play, what, like a month ago? Maybe it was two months ago, I don't know. I probably only spent like 15 or 20 hours this foray back into it. But it was really fun. All this stuff that I've been doing on Twitter, like, your stuff, and then other stuff that I don't know if you want to get into, so, y'know, whatever, but being involved again with talking about videogames, I was just like, "Oh, I… I need to go play a 'real' video game!" Because I was in this mobile app, I was playing this stupid -- one of those, you know, "you buy gems and you get stuff, but if you want to grind, you can just do it for free."
Well, what's a "real" video game? How do you define that?
A production. I mean, I'm putting "real" in quotes, right? I don't actually believe… I think even the simplest game is a game, but Skyrim is Elder Scrolls, right? You know, Fallout? Bioshock. Just anything that you would look at and say, "wow, that's an important game."
[Laughs.] Is "important" in quotes there also?
I'm not kidding! I don't know. That's kind of the thing. Who gets to define what "important" is? I think one of the first major things of friction in games, I remember, was I think 5, 6 years ago when Casual became a big thing, and there was that whole quote-unquote "hardcore vs. casual" games, where people were mocking Facebook games like Farmville. And that sort of just died away, but those games are hugely popular, or they were. And I think people just sort of stopped talking about them, but they didn't go anywhere.
No, they didn't go anywhere. No.
In fact, they probably took stronger hold. But I don't understand, what is a "real" game? Who gets to decide that? Who do you think decided what a "real" game is or that’s the way that we talk about it?
I mean, obviously it's exposure. So who decides what's an important game -- exposure.
I used to read Game Informer cover-to-cover and they tell you what an important game is, right? "Bioshock 3, and here's what's gonna be happening, and it's incredible." On websites, on… you know?
What seems to be the criteria then for what an important game is, then, according to Game Informer or any games outlet?
The AAA productions… just so much time and effort is put into making these products, and that's what gets reported on. [Laughs.] You know, these games are required to make so much money that the people marketing really want them to be talked about, so that's what I read.
Does that really necessarily inform your decision when you're like, "I think I want to play Skyrim," or was that just more like you wanted to return back to it?
Do you mean the first time I played it, or the second time?
I meant the second time, but I guess I'm curious, yeah, when you first started, what attracted you to it? Was it just because it was marketed and written about, or did you wait a couple years, or what?
No, we actually started with Morrowind and Oblivion, just played the crap out of them. And then Skyrim was so exciting. It's actually, I think it's the only game that we purchased the day it came out, ever, Skyrim. [Laughs.] And then played the crap out of that, and we're just -- you know, I say this is the second time, but it's probably more like the third or fourth time. We just love that kind of open-world, single-player experience. You know, real immersive, and yeah, it's delightful.
Do you feel like the stuff that you love about a game like Skyrim is the stuff you see written about leading up to it coming out? Or do you find that games outlets focus on different things?
What do you mean by different things?
Well, so what do you love about Skyrim? And granted, you're a lifer, you're a big fan of that series, but do you feel like the things that you really love about that series is what you see represented in the coverage?
Oh, yeah, yeah I do. I mean, Game Informer was probably the thing I looked at the most, and we actually haven't subscribed to it for two years. So I guess it's hard for me to talk -- this is going to be really ironic, but I don't have a lot of interaction with games journalism. [Laughs.] When I told you that I found your review of Sword and Sworcery, and I was so excited to recognize your name, the only reason that I actually read those reviews was that I was looking for stuff like 7th Guest that I could play with my daughter. So that was why I had that interaction with quote-unquote "games journalism." Just these random things come into my head. Like I used to follow Leigh Alexander on Twitter, and she actually posted -- you know, she does all these essays, right? But she posted a piece on Endless Legend, okay, and it was the most incredible review. She made it sound like the most exciting take on Civ-kind of games. I forget what she called it -- 4X? I don't know. The review just made me want to go out and buy this game. I didn't, because I can't afford it.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is I get games journalism in snippets, so it's hard for me to talk about -- like, all I can tell you about is how I saw it covered in Game Informer as far as a consistent interaction with journalism.
What was it about videogames that made you cut back or disengage from the community around it? Maybe it wasn't a specific thing, but, yeah.
About a year after my youngest daughter was born, I stopped playing WoW. And so there wasn't really anything to talk… I'm sorry. You know, when we talk about games, or never giving up on games, so I would go from MUD-ing, to Everquest, to Final Fantasy, to Mafia Wars, Kingdom of Loathing, I have these periods of time where I was doing different stuff. So I don't think that I ever quit? But when I quit WoW, I didn't have as much to talk about with people.
What do you mean?
I was in a guild with people that were local, so it was kind of like a social community thing that I was doing, and we would talk about it outside of the game as well.
But you quit because you had a child and because you had other stuff to do?
I also had two middle schoolers at the time.
So "real life" happened.
Yeah, I forgot, actually, I also started grad school when I quit WoW. I forgot about that part. [Laughs.] That would probably be the main reason.
So you had your hands full. I mean, obviously, those are things where for the foreseeable future you have stuff that will be taking up your time. Did you feel like you were missing out, then, in that case? Like, you were talking about you were playing an online game with people you knew locally. Not did it cause a rift between you and the people around you, but did you feel like you were missing out on something online?
No, we were -- I played with my husband, too -- we were just kind of bored of it as well. He didn't really like Burning Crusade, so we just kind of dropped off playing anyway. But with the same people, I would play Magic, I would play tabletop board games, so it wasn't like I lost those people. It just became something different that we talked about.
Do you feel like the way, because you mentioned when you started with games a while ago, do you feel like there's been a dip in quality in games overall over the course of time?
No. I think they're different. My favorite game that I've played recently was Thomas Was Alone. Have you heard of that one?
Yeah, by Mike Bithell.
I… I think that's the name, yeah. It was narrated by Danny Wallace. See, I don't know these rock stars, so...
It's fine! I've never played that, I've heard of it, though, so please continue, though.
I mean, it's just a really different game. It's just strange. It's very story-driven, even though the characters are just shapes that each have different powers. Danny Wallace is the narrator. It has the coolest mechanic and just really creative, and somehow this platformer, where you need to figure out how to have all your characters work together to solve problems, is just amazing to me. That's totally creative, that's incredible to play, and yet… I don't think anything's gone downhill, let's put it that way. I think you need to find the games that make you happy.
And that's such a subjective thing, right? And I'm not at all applying "games aren't as good as they used to be," that's a thing I hear, I think, from people who can't find games that are making them happy, or they sort of assume what they're seeing is all there is. So then how do you -- this is a very personal question -- how do you define games that make you happy?
There's so many different ways that games make me happy. [Laughs.] Like when I'm playing MUDs or WoW or Everquest or whatever, there's that social component, and there's also that fun grinding component? There's not much to WoW, there's an interesting story, basically if you go to the Wiki and read about the story, but it's way more interesting to read than actually taking part in the story in the game, but it made me happy because you can just interact with that game in so many different ways. I actually spent… I would probably spend 20 hours a week in the Auction House in WoW using this add-on where I could search all the prices. I was basically taking part in the economy for fun. So that makes me happy.
Well, I mean, that's kind of the thing. I tweeted about Skyrim last night. To me, those games that are so wide open, and I'm much more interested in the accidental weird serendipity than "making progress." To me, the magic of a Skyrim was not so much even playing the game, but talking to friends about it? About "what is the weird thing that happened to you?" in the game. Like I tweeted, I got inducted into this secret society of underground vampires, or vampire cannibals, and every time I found a body or I killed someone, I was given a third option to feast. And none of my friends had that happen or heard anything about that. To me, that hits the same sweet spot of when I was a kid of talking to friends in the playground -- which, all this sounds like a super clichéd memory, but it's totally true -- of like, "Oh, wow, you can burn a bush in Zelda, and a ladder appears?" That, to me, is the fun. That, to me, is what being social in a game is more about. Just the way that you can talk about it with other people afterwards.
And I also would play Diablo II a ton, but I made more fun for myself in it with friends just basically trolling or messing with people in harmless ways. Like, convincing them that there was a secret casino that you could only get to by following very specific directions. That was just kind of the way we made it fun, and it was probably not super nice, but to me, I feel like… I don't know, that's part of what makes me happy about games, is the way it can connect you with other people in a way that's more inclusive.
And so I wonder, talking about games not being "as good" any more, do you feel games are as inclusive as they used to be, or do you feel like that's sort of going away, or is it not even a binary like that?
Are we getting into the word "inclusive?" All right.
I mean, I don't know. How do you want to define that? I just mean, I've talked to some other people who are like, "Well, shooters don't feel inclusive because they assume you've always played shooters." So you can interpret that word however you want. I just mean on a more human level.
Yeah, yeah, okay. Wow, that's strange to me, because I don't know why...I'm just drawn to certain kinds of games, and sometimes I feel guilty that I can't aim real well in Halo and I have to play it on easy.
You feel guilty? [Laughs.]
I do! I feel guilty! Like, oh my gosh, can't you just pick up -- you know, I can pick up most board games, tabletop games, and I'm not great, but I can do it. But then you go to videogames… I gotta admit, I kind of suck at videogames and, like, platformers? You know, platformers, this awesome mix of solving puzzles and hand-eye coordination and grinding. That's what platformers are; you have to practice over and over again until you can make that stupid jump. I like to watch people play platformers. I do not like to play them so much. And then shooters, same way. I have the best memories of playing Doom and Quake and Half-Life but I'm not good at them. I would rather watch someone play them. Survival games? Like Silent Hill. I remember watching my husband for days. It was fun entertainment, to watch him do it. But I don't think they're not trying to include me. I just don't get when people say that, to be honest, because there are so many games. It doesn't matter if you can't do a shooter well. There's so much out there to go play if you want to.
I wonder, too --
I mean, I went, like, way off-topic.
No, no, no, you're fine! This is a conversation. We're both hitting and missing as Rock, Paper, Shotgun would say. I think when we talk about inclusivity, there's also the player's responsibility, "is this really a type of game that makes me happy?" as you would say.
And certainly you can be unhappy when you can't find a thing that you really would like to like. There's just a lack of thing in that type of happy-itch that will allow you to scratch it. I don't really know what my point is. That's a really good way of putting it, though, that games should just make you happy. I feel like I don't really hear people talk much about that anymore.
Yeah! And, you know, when I say "happy," I don't mean that I have the shallow kind of joy playing them, I mean that they hit something in me. You know, The Last of Us is just, "holy shit, this is so horrible." Kind of like watching American Horror Story or The Walking Dead or whatever, you're happy even though nothing you're seeing on the screen is happy. [Laughs.] You're engaging something in the game.
Yeah, I've certainly never heard anyone discuss The Last of Us and the word "happy," but that's something too that I feel. Like when we talk about fantasy in games, they talk about empowerment fantasies where you're a little weak dude, and you can play a game where you're a big tough dude. And then I guess you act out your fantasy in that way. But I don't really know anyone who plays games for that sort of escape, but when I think about why I play games… I mean, at this point I think it's just such a lifelong habit, I don't really think I think about these fundamental things that I'm asking so many other people to think about.
I didn't really know how to answer this stuff, which is kind of why I'm having these conversations. But escapism is part of it? I guess fantasy is part of it? But also it's sort of nice to play something that's maybe the opposite of what you're feeling or where your head is at where you want to put on an album to sort of get into a sort of headset or mindset. But with games, I don't know. I don't know if it's like you want to get away from the way you feel. I think with games, you want to enhance the way you feel more, where I'm kind of in the mood for blank, and you just play a game that sort of hits that wavelength. I guess, why does Skyrim make you happy?
[Laughs.] Yeah! I mean, just whatever comes to mind. Don't try to over-intellectualize it, but on a fundamental, base level, why does Skyrim make you happy? Because you’ve been playing it lately.
I like that I can play the game any way that I want to, to a certain extent. I mean, like I said, I haven't even finished the main quest. I keep getting distracted.
[Laughs.] Just need another 200 hours.
Dude, when I was playing Skyrim, it was so lame, but I loved it, where I would just be duck-walking everywhere to increase my stealth. That, to me, was fun. That was fun to me. Then I would, like --
Well, of course you do that, you have to do that!
[Laughs.] You don't have to do that! You can walk there.
[Laughs.] No, that's the correct answer!
But I've never heard anyone admit that they did that. But I was just, like, yeah, maybe that's also why I didn't play that long? I was getting there incredibly slowly. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Well you gotta do it in cities!
But it made me happy! And I think like what you're saying, and I thought about this, too with Metal Gear Solid 2, part of the fun of playing a game is that it acknowledges you. You can shoot every -- I don't know if you've played that game -- but you can shoot every pot and pan in the kitchen on the boat in the first chapter of Metal Gear Solid 2 and it's, "Oh, this is a world I'm supposed to interact with."
And Skyrim, I think, is a perfect example of, yeah, you have to go in the fantasy of the world, and the lore and everything, but you can spend 120 hours and not do anything. I mean, you do stuff, and they put it there, but it's not really -- you know, it's like you're just living in that world.
Yeah, no, it really is. It's funny you just said that, because that immersive experience...you know, here I am talking about WoW and Everquest and MUDs, we're talking back since the mid-90's and I love that social thing, but Skyrim is literally like, "oh, I'm just gonna be in Skyrim now and it's a good way to get away from it all.
It's like a vacation.
Yeah! It's a vacation.
Do you think games have made you happy in different ways throughout your life?
Oh, absolutely. That's kind of what I was trying to get at. At different points in my life, I've been attracted to different kinds of games -- or a couple different kinds of games at a time.
It's a weird thing to quantify, but what do you think is an example of a video game you'd play now that you might not have a decade or two before, if you were playing two decades ago?
Two decades before, I didn't even have a console my entire life, up to that. I was playing -- what's funny here, two decades ago, I was playing point-and-clicks all the time, you know, adventure games, and now you see that I'm roaming the internet looking for point-and-click adventure games to play with my daughter.
Yeah, 7th Guest.
Yeah, I found a few more. Probably gonna buy that Sword & Sworcery that you suggested.
[Laughs.] Well, I suggested it five years ago, so...
Yeah, it's funny because that game actually was mentioned quite, quite recently.
What's weird to you about the internet and videogames right now?
Wow. Obviously, there's a lot of conflict going on right now in the world of videogames. It troubles me that a lot of people are being vilified that don't deserve it, and it troubles me that my identity as a gamer is being torn apart by camps of people. I'll say it -- Gamergate is really bothering me because no one is looking at each other as an individual instead of as this group. So I've met so many super-nice people who would never harass anyone, and yet they're being called neckbeards when they're women, they're being called virgin misogynists. It's really hard for me to read that stuff. I've actually unfollowed a ton of people.
I mean, I mentioned Leigh Alexander before. She writes super-good stuff, but on the other hand, she writes super-mean stuff, and I just can't take all the mean. I've actually found that people -- I hate to say this, because I feel like a traitor to good people everywhere -- I've met so many nice people that are Gamergate. And I understand where they're coming from with this anger, this thing that has been really important, videogames is, y'know, it's a way -- a lot of these people, and I do too, are really passionate, they might have depression, or bipolar disorder, or live in really bad circumstances, or they might be transgender and struggling with that kind of thing, and they're being attacked as a whole.
I don't understand what any of it has to do with videogames. I'm not saying you're saying it has a connection, I feel like it's a very fundamental thing that isn't being questioned. What does this actually have to do with the medium itself? Historically, maybe you'll disagree, but I feel like videogames are supposed to be a haven for misfits and people who don't fit in elsewhere, so for it to be splintering off further where it's like, "No, we're the cool misfits, you're the misfits that aren't allowed." It has so little to do with games. And I don't understand people who love videogames, why they would ever be like, "No, I don't want to have more types of things to play."
Yeah, but the thing is, that is not what most people are saying. It's just not. And there are these people in Gamergate that might be developers, or they might be YouTubers, and they love, love videogames, and they're really not saying, "It's okay to be harassing. It's not okay to limit yourself to one kind of video game. It's not okay to say 'don't have more women as protagonists.'" They're really saying the right stuff, and because… they're being vilified, and it really bothers me.
So I'm going to bring it back to videogames. They love games, they're passionate about games, they want to see diversity in gaming, they want to see women in gaming not be harassed. This is going to sound really emotional -- it breaks my heart when they're vilified just because of some two degrees of separation with someone who should be vilified.
It's painful to watch because gamers traditionally were these misfits, and they maybe needed games as a healthy crutch, which I certainly have in my past, and then to suddenly be told, "No, guys." You see these things from some people, "I don't even want to call myself a gamer because they're all awful people," and it breaks my heart to hear that. Because everybody, especially nowadays, you've said in a couple of your other interviews, everybody is a gamer now. Every single one of my daughter's friends plays some kind of game, whether it's Minecraft, or The Sims, or Candy Crush.
I think my parents play more videogames than I do just by sheer hours. Maybe they don't talk about it as much as I do, but who gets to be the arbiter of discussing or deciding what is a true fan? Like, who cares?
I had actually said a minute ago that everybody is a gamer. You know how there's capital "G" and lowercase “G?” Everybody is a gamer nowadays, but --
[Laughs.] I think everyone's a lowercased "g," yeah.
Exactly! Everybody's a lowercased "g," and --
I don't believe in the capital "G."
I'm an uppercased "G."
And I like uppercased "G's", right?
[Laughs.] I love to feel like part of a community, I love to feel like I can go to London and sit in a pub and if I pull out cards or Settlers of Catan or whatever, somebody will come over and play with me. Capital "G," those are people that are passionate about games.
But I’m not even sure about "game culture" or what it is, who the community is. It’s too broad, and there’s in-fighting now, causing splintering between groups that are too big and blobby, but all united under the same vague umbrella.
Just, so many people denounce all that crap. People denounce all the shitty behavior, and it's like they’re ignored. On Twitter, Twitter is evil, and that's partly why I haven't been on for a couple weeks much. All these people, and I'm getting back to a defense of people that maybe you don't -- a lot of people do denounce the harassment, and it is never enough, they're still just all gamers. This shitty behavior goes on in comments on news articles, this shitty behavior goes on -- like, have you ever heard of "A Rape in Cyberspace" from, gosh, the early 80's, maybe the late 70's, even? It took place on a MOO? You know what a MOO is, right?
This predates MUDs?
Well, it was at the same time as MUDs, it was a Multi-user Object-Oriented...
Yeah, I vaguely remember, but for people reading this who probably have no idea even what a MUD is, can you explain?
Right, okay, so before we even had Everquest or Ultima Online or anything like that, you could connect to a server and you could play with 10 to 100 people just like WoW now -- well, it's a larger thing now, but --
Conceptually, you're doing the same thing. There's dungeons, there's cities, there's -- it's all text, you wander around with groups, you kill monsters, it was the precursor. MOOs were more educationally oriented, I should say. They were more creating your own environment and social interaction. So it was less of a game. Somebody might create puzzles for you to do, or whatever, but you were literally getting into a world, so this was before Second Life, a MOO was people getting together. And you could emote for other characters, so I'm getting back to this "Rape in Cyberspace" thing. This guy was basically sexually assaulting all of the characters around him because he would emote for those characters and everybody would see it. So this is one of the first instances of shitty behavior in a game-like environment, and there's a Wikipedia article if you're interested in seeing it.
I swear, I just heard a podcast about this a few weeks ago.
Oh, wow! Okay.
I feel like it was TL;DR or Reply All. They’re both podcasts about Internet culture. I don't really know what games culture is, but I do think there's Internet culture, and games are part of that. Or can be. But I do remember hearing an episode just discussing sociologically, why is it when people are set loose on the Internet, have some shred of anonymity… they're so much more comfortable being awful to each other? This is digital pretend rape and why would you do that? You could do anything you want online, why would you do that?
This is actually my last two years of college, were spent studying behavior on the internet, so I'm not just coming from some weird place, here. A lot of what's going on now is magnified because Twitter is awful, and it's magnified because the mainstream media dispersed all this information about what's going on, but people have been incredibly horrible since ARPANET, probably.
Well, but ARPANET was just military, so are there examples of government people being shitty to each other on ARPANET? [Laughs.]
I don't know! I could look it up for you. [Laughs.]
I guess it's possibly classified, but bet the answer is probably: yes.
So I know you said you don't think people stop playing games, but why do you think games become less important to people as they age or as live goes on, like they don't prioritize it as much as they did, maybe, when they were younger?
Right. I mean, obviously there's more to do in the real world. I'm a weird person to ask, because I'm a huge gamer still, and I probably will be when I'm 70, but obviously as an adult, there's more to do. I think also as a teenager and a young college student, you might be more emotionally unstable, so to speak --I'm just saying it's really difficult to transition from middle school to high school to college, and so gaming might be more of a way to have something that's familiar to go to and to make you happy.
Yeah, and also, too, it's like, "Well, here is a digital world with clear rules."
And you can "win," but in real life it's less clear what winning looks like. [Laughs.] It's more up to you as an individual, and there are no rules, really. I mean, there are laws, certainly, but I think it's interesting -- but a lot of the stuff with Gamergate, a lot of the shitty behavior we see online is people testing the boundaries. It's like, what are social norms online? I think that's more what they're fucking with, but it's the most juvenile thing. And especially rallied under the battle flag of consumer behavior. Like, we're just hassling people over what they buy or not buy. Do you have any light you can shed on that from your schooling?
I don't even… people… there's a lot of ignorance, I have to admit. There's a lot of...
Well, the thing about what you just said -- I interact with nice people, I interact with people that want diversity, I interact with people that don't want there to be harassment, I interact with nice people. But even those nice people have some really strange ideas. It's funny, because I live in a university town -- both my parents were professors -- I have the ability to look at videogames very academically, because that's just where my mind goes, and these people -- and here I am grouping them -- very anti-academia.
And I think some of that is because they feel pummeled by the feminist movement and what that means as far as how games are looked at and they kind of see feminism as an academic invention. But basically, when you have asynchronous communication, which Twitter is, even though you can reply to people right away, people have the opportunity to think about being shitty just as much as they have to think about being good to people. And I think some people really get some kind of thrill out of being trolls or being… I mean, yeah, death and rape threats?
What is that even about? And I think that people do sit down to their keyboard or their phone and I think some people really just want to do that, for some kind of weird thrill. And I think that gamers that are not behaving appropriately really are probably your socially-distant… and I know I'm going to sound like the stereotypes in these articles that I hate, but there is that group. There are people that think it's a game to get on there and, "Oh, some woman said something I don't like, and now I'm going to call her names and threaten her."
What we're not discussing is Xbox Live or voice chat, which was the original forum of this stuff, right? You'd hope on Halo -- I honestly don't really remember playing Doom and Quake in the late 90's, which was what I used to play games online. I don't remember people being as antagonistic. I don't know what happened. Is it really post-2000 that was the real rise of that?
Yeah. And I think that trash-talking can go too far. And I think that trash-talking in gaming online has evolved into something worse.
[Laughs.] That's not the word I would use. I think it's devolved.
Well, devolved, yeah, I'm just using this definition of the word. But yeah, devolved is something where it's kind of like power creep? It's not enough to just say, "Dude, I'm gonna frag you three times." I'm not even going to get into some of the things that I've heard online, but you kind of have this power creep of, "How am I gonna shock you now with my trash talk?"
I mean, we see that elsewhere in culture. You know, Andrew Dice Clay is not really offensive any more. I mean, at the time, certainly, but even South Park, it's like, "oh, it's not as shocking as it was."
What does "games journalism" mean to you?
I mean, I have a really -- personally, I just have a really broad view of it. There are entertainment journalists -- movies, TV, literally entertainment mags and stuff like that. And then there's games journalists. And to me a games journalist, it is reviews and it is analysis of what's going on in the industry, and it is reporting on GDC or whatever, E3. That's all games journalism. And that's okay. I don't see why it needs to be this weird category, I just need it as a category.
I feel like games journalists -- I remember years ago, people would ask me, "Are you a games journalist?" And I never really knew how to answer it. I didn't really feel comfortable calling myself a journalist in that capacity. I think this project now, perhaps, is a form of games journalism, but most games journalism historically, I think, is marketing. Like you were talking about reviews, previews, features, things that are really heavily gated and guarded by the companies making these things versus, say, music journalists, who -- see, I don't even really know where the distinctions end and start. I don't really like getting too caught up on the terminology because I think it confuses the issue and what the point is. I do feel like some of the events last year -- you're kind of ignoring the audience and the whole point of a lot of this stuff. I would just think, "Those are interesting stories." What is going on? Isn't that what a journalist should do?
I don't know. I guess, then, usually I ask this question in a product context, but let's extend it further, what trends do you notice in the things that the games media will cover or tends not to cover?
Okay, well, remember I told you I actually don't interact with games journalism that much.
Sure, but you still have a sample size, even if it's Game Informer.
That's still totally legit.
Yeah, and I go to Kotaku articles on Twitter and stuff like that. I mean, one thing I see, I'll state it right now, the "Gamers are Dead" articles were in bad taste given what was going on, but that's journalism. You know, editorials are journalism. A major part of any newspaper that I've seen is to have those editorials that have some knowledge behind them but are definitely opinions. But it's journalism. I just never saw a lot of that in Game Informer, and certainly not when you get into the 80's when I was inhaling whatever about gaming. You know, Byte Magazine or --
That sounds like it would be more computers.
PC Magazine would have stuff -- aww, there'd be a lot about games in there. But yeah, you didn't see this… shock journalism just didn't have a place in games journalism back even just 10, 15 years ago, that I saw. I mean, you're going to probably laugh at this, but the thing that really made me leery of some of what Leigh Alexander would write -- and I keep mentioning her, because I actually have read quite a bit of her stuff, and I like it -- but she wrote this article about Sonic fans. I don't know if you say this essay, editorial. Oh my gosh. It was one of the meanest things about gamers I have ever read.
What was the thrust of it?
"Sonic fans are all these juvenile, porn-loving -- " she had some big deal about how there's Sonic porn out there and that's all that they're thinking about, just how the game itself, the mechanics are stupid now. She was kind of making a negative point about nostalgia. And it was just mean. It was just a mean article. And I just wasn’t used to seeing that kind of thing back in the day.
Part of also why I'm doing this is because I just felt like I got to the point with my reviews and things I was writing about games where it wasn't really affecting much. Not that that’s the point of a review, but another review of a game that I found missing its mark or not doing what I felt it was trying to do? What will that really change when these bigger problems are going on?
Sure, you can write a nasty review, have it be good writing and entertaining. Maybe I’ve done stuff that could be construed as mean, but lashing out at groups of fans, and, again, I haven’t read that piece you’re talking about. My main point of entry with Sonic is that I love the BadSonicFanArt Twitter and silly fanfics that people work on. It’s so strange and unabashedly honest in its own way. It is fandom, and anyone who loves something so purely without being embarrassed about it -- it’s endearing.
But I always felt games are supposed to be a haven for weirdos and misfits and I don't think necessarily people who are antagonizing women or minorities or whatever should get a pass. It's almost like they should be accepted in a way that… they're also misfits and maybe they're misinformed. Or they’re uncomfortable. I don't think they should be accepted for the things they're doing that are hurting other people, but for better or worse, we're all weirdos. That's what liking games was supposed to be about in the first place when I was growing up. I don't really get that whole thing about, "You're not being a misfit in the correct, acceptable way." [Laughs.] You know what I mean?
And I don't know where that became part of gaming so much. And I think you talked about the earlier interview I did, and that's why I don't feel like these are my people. Because I want videogames to be lame. I don't want people to try to act cool around games. I want to be able to have conversations like these. I want to be able to not have to explain to people I know who don't know much about games, "What is Gamergate? Why are people threatening to rape each other?" I don't know. It's not a great note to end this on, but why is there such a thing now as the "Chosen Misfits?"
Yeah, I don't know, I just want to include everybody. Seriously. We used to call it, to get someone involved with a MUD, like if you got someone involved with a MUD and they became addicted, that was like a soul point. Or if you got someone into Magic: The Gathering and they went into $5000 of debt, [Laughs.], you gained a soul point. And I just want everybody that can get some enjoyment out of games, or some kind of emotional impact, I want them to be involved. I don't care if they do have Sonic porn on their hard drives. [Laughs.]
As long as they're not being awful, then they're my people. You're all my people. And I'm not including, by the way, the awful, awful people. But I just want to say that every group has awful, awful people and I could start quoting news stories to you. So the awful, awful people are not my people, but gamers are my people.