My name's Shane Thomas. I'm 31 years old. I live in South London in England. In terms of usage of computer games and as a gamer, I probably played on a daily basis as an adolescent and a teenager, and slowly began to fall off as I went from my teens into my twenties.
And so you said in your emails that you haven't really played with any regularity since about 2011?
Yeah. And I include PC stuff in there. But yeah, not on a regular basis in the slightest. Like, in front of me is my PS3 and I haven't done anything with for over a year.
Not even pop a Blu-Ray in or anything?
No. I just watch DVDs with my laptop.
What changed about games that made you cut back?
A number of things. The main thing was time. As you get older, you tend to have more stuff to juggle, more stuff to worry about. It can be socially, personally, professionally -- when you're in higher education, all of a sudden your workload changes. It's not so much that your workload changes, but as you get older you have to structure your own time a lot more. Obviously when you're a kid or even when you're a teenager, you're used to doing specific stuff at specific times. So it's like, "I have to go to school between these hours. I might have some social thing that I do outside on this day." And that's it.
Whereas I, as I got older, and I'm sure most thing have a similar thing: You have to start taking charge of the different things you need to do, various things throughout your life. You have to start deciding how you allocate time and obviously then some things will begin to just fall by the wayside a bit more. And videogames is one thing that fell by the wayside for me.
I can't ask you to answer for everyone, but that does seem to be a common thing. Why do you think so many people saying games is the first thing to go, but they wouldn't necessarily say that about watching TV or movies. What's different about games that that can go out the window first?
It's tough for me to say specifically because I don't play games as much. But from an outsider's perspective, videogames seem to be, as an experience, a lot more involved than they used to be. I don't know if you can be a casual gamer anymore. Popular games -- the worlds seem to be so dense and so detailed and almost so rich with whatever fantasy world is being created that it's tough to just pick up a controller, pick up your joystick, and get right into it. I think it's more of an investment of time, videogames.
Also, in addition to that, [there's] also the fact that rightly or wrongly it still has a paradigm around it that it's very much a complete fantasy, completely removed from anything that happens in your real world where television, cinema, and even music doesn't have that stigma. I think it's because it's real people a lot of the time. Where with computer games, it's all obviously made by real people, but you interact with pixels.
What about playing online or live-streaming or other circuitous ways that games have to connect you with other people? Does that not hold any appeal for you?
No, not specifically. It depends who you're connecting with. You're connecting with people who sometimes you may not want to connect with in the slightest. [Laughs.] It's almost like I'm playing these games to avoid interacting with human beings, so why would I want to connect with them?
What sort of people are you talking about wanting to avoid?
I'm more of an introvert, so oftentimes just human beings in general. But this, again, is from second-hand, third-hand, anecdotal stuff but it does seem to be kinda like the Internet. But I'm not criticizing the Internet for this because it's the people, not the medium, but it does seem to be a bit of pathway at times for all kinds of abuse, bigoted abuse and people. And it's almost accepted as just, "Ah, naw. That's just gaming. That's what it's like. It's just banter, it's not abuse."
Is this what you were referring to before, people into games around you when you were playing "indulge in outlooks that didn't correlate" with yours?
That's part of it. Even though I don't want to sound like that's specific to games and that's a gaming thing. Because that's not a gaming problem, but a much wider problem. Gaming is part of it.
What are you referring to specifically?
I mean the most obvious thing is Gamergate. That's the most obvious, and I'm sure that comment has come up in your research anyway. I mean, that's a very obvious thing where gaming -- lots of spheres of entertainment are seen as an 18-30 cisgender white-male boy's club, they're all their own private treehouse. What was it, the Little Rascals when Alfalfa meets whoever and all the other fellas are mad because, like, "You can't bring a girl into the group!"
It's that kind of -- I mean it's not just an infantile mindset, but it's quite a harmful one. And that's something I've noticed more as I've gotten older. That's not the reason where it's like I see that and [I'm like], "I've got no time for games." But that's one of a few reasons. When you put it all together in aggregate, that's part of why I'm not as much as into gaming as I was.
What do you think it will take for stuff like that to be divorced from games and games culture, whatever that is?
Well, that's the people involved, isn't it? That's the thing, where it's not unique to gaming by any stretch, but it's something where the people involved will have to change. And you could say the same thing about music, about movies, about television, about art, that part of the gatekeepers have to change, a great deal has to be made to include a greater variance of voices across different spectrums and also the people who are in charge themselves have to actually acknowledge their own behavior and realize where they've been doing things wrong. If they don't think there's something wrong, they don't think there's a problem, and obviously they're not gonna try to fix anything. Because they don't think there's anything that needs fixing.
What types of games when you were at your height playing, and what did you enjoy about them?
First it was all like the platformers. Super Mario. I've still got a couple Super Mario t-shirts. As I get older, it was still platformers and other games, but my main stuff was sports, particularly soccer and wrestling because those were the two things I was interested in mostly at that time. So it's not difficult to understand why it was what I was interested in in real life, so it's just that vicarious, second-hand experience a bit. The last game I probably played properly was a PC game called Football Manager, which is a simulation where -- we say manager in soccer -- but basically a head coach of a soccer team and it's very detailed and it's incredibly involved and absorbing. So much so that it's almost a subculture of its own.
There's a soccer journalist called Iain Macintosh who actually wrote a book called Football Manager Stole my Life, it's a tongue-in-cheek title. But that's its own subculture in the gaming world amongst – more European, obviously, than America, but it's the kind of thing where there's a very famous, possibly apocryphal story about a guy who was so involved he got his team to a big match. Kinda almost like a Super Bowl-like occasion. He took the day off work to play the final and actually played the game, like, dressed in a suit the way a soccer coach would be dressed. If you Google it, it's an easy story to find. That's what the last thing I got really involved in, and I would probably still be playing now if it weren't for time, but that is a very involving game and that game will take chunks out of your life. [Laughs.] If I had more time, that'd be fine, but I don't.
Games like that have more demonstrable skills that could possibly carry over into real life, your day-to-day, whereas games like Mario challenge your hand-eye coordination. That's an important skill, but things like those simulators you're talking about, I guess you could make the case that those have a more mature skillset.
Yeah, I mean even stuff like people who play games like Mass Effect and stuff like that, they are just incredibly involved and incredibly detailed and, again, take swathes of time. And I say swathes of time like it's a waste of time. It's not a waste of time if you're enjoying it. But they do take swathes of time out of your spare leisure time. I use Football Manager as an example because I've got direct experience with it, but it does seem like a game like Call of Duty -- like the Nintendo Wii is probably the exception to the rule, when it seems to deliberately separate itself from the Xbox and the PlayStation as something that anyone can play. You don't need to a big history of being a gamer or particularly skilled. It's easy to understand. The graphics are deliberately simplistic and very cutesy, where everything generally in the gaming world is about realism. It's almost like the real thing, which seems to be almost the deliberate appeal of the game world, which I totally understand.
That just doesn't appeal to you?
Not that it doesn't appeal to me, it's just that the undertaking to get involved with something like that is slightly tough. It's probably more daunting the more time that goes without me actually getting involved. The further distance I get from it, the more difficult it would be to get back into it. I guess it's kind of like if you decided to actually watch the Super Bowl or become an NFL fan this season, the older you get, I imagine the more difficult it is to get into it because there's so much to understand and your peer group who might be into it -- you're having to almost ask the most basic questions that your peer group is like, "We kinda covered this 10 years ago." I think that's another issue. I think even if I did get back into games, having just to learn the basics means you're constantly playing catch-up maybe on your peer group who are into gaming. Maybe it's different if you're a group who's learning at the same time.
Yeah, that was the last thing. I didn't stop that because I wanted to, it was more: I could see how much time it was taking. And it's very much like a mindset of, "I just wanna play one more game. I just wanna play one more game. I just wanna play one more game. Oh, this is quite an important match, let me do this one and then I'll go to bed." It's very involved and very absorbing.
My job here is not to convince you to play games again and say they are worth your time. But, for the sake of conversation, what would it take for games to be worth your time again?
The thing is that I see about games is I don't see them as a necessity. I don't seem them as all that worthless, but I don't see them as a necessity. If I never play another videogame ever, then I don't feel I'm really losing much. Where, if I felt I never another book or watch another movie or never listened to another album, I imagine I would be losing something. And I guess with the exception of titles like Madden, which is also year and year, sometimes in games it doesn't feel like you have to have the latest one to be caught up with what's going on unless you're in that gaming world.
I think it's slightly different with other artforms. There's no doubt that gaming is an odd little need where I think it should be taken as seriously as movies and music or whatever, the amount of work that goes into them, the amount of craft that goes into them, the amount of money that they generate. But they still are slightly regarded as almost the black sheep of the entertainment family, and a bit pointless and a bit stupid. It's almost something you do to switch your mind off, which I'm sure it is for some people.
I feel like that also manifests itself in games themselves. If you play Grand Theft Auto, you've attempted those games' attempts at being very adult. Very mature.
And the whole point of it was meant to be a satire of America. That was the whole inspiration for the game in the first place.
But I always take that trying to be mature as the most immature thing.
Yeah. I didn't even play it. I remember when I was a college student, a friend of mine had San Andreas. And so we would go out, I would go around there, and he'd be playing it. So I'd just watch him play and wait for him to finish before we went out. So I didn't even really play the game. I just observed.
Do your friends in the UK laugh at us in America through the lens of GTA or do you feel you're learning something about us through those games?
Oh, not in the slightest. Whatever its intention, it's not lampooning the system. It's part of the system now, more than anything else. I don't know if it will help you and your research, and I don't know if you can find it in America, but there's a guy, who's a writer and TV critic. An English guy called Charlie Brooker. He recently did something with Jon Hamm from Mad Men. He's a big videogame guy. I think he used to be a videogame journalist. He did a show about videogames and their popularity and place in the culture. He's a very smart guy. You wouldn't be able to interview him for this. [Laughs.] He's a bit busy. But you may be able to find some of his work.
I'm glad you brought that up because I wanted to ask about games media, games blogs, sites, magazines. When you were interested in games, how did those things impact what you were interested in?
Not a great deal because there wasn't a lot of it about. You had to go out of your way. The only thing I remember was a really corny show on TV when I was a kid called Games Master, where they would have two kids that would compete in a game that was out. It really was just an advert for the game, but you didn't realize it at the time. They had their own magazine, and I remember buying a few issues of that, talking about games that were coming out and they'd rate them and stuff like that. But I wasn't a regular purchaser of it. It was intermittent here and there, and I remember liking that show. I did watch it quite a lot when I was a kid. But beyond that, no. It was very deliberately aimed at young children, any kind of gaming media, for what little there was.
Obviously the dissemination of media wasn't at the same level as it is now where you can get it from some so many different places now. That was my only really direct interaction.
So most of your time playing games as an adult, then, you didn't get into reading those --
No, not at all. It didn't even occur to me at the time to do that. It was almost like, by this point, as we're getting into the last decade or so, I was really only playing sports games and maybe the odd game. So, like, I got quite into Guitar Hero for about a year and a bit because one time we were over at a friend's house and she had it. A load of us around there, we had a lot of fun with it. I never would have known about it had I not gone around there that particular day, for example.
Yeah, in your emails you said you were only socially into games. Whatever your friends were into, you would check out?
It was complete word of mouth more than anything else, rather than me seeking out specific media.
I guess I first noticed when they started talking about Halo. I remember one of my last years as a student, I went around a friend's house for something separate. Her roommate was playing Halo and they were passing the controller around and were like, "Do you want a go?" I was like, "I don't really know what you even do." It was a bit of a car crash. It seems like such a dense world. They clearly all got it because they played it quite a lot, but I was like, "I don't know what I'm doing with this." It seemed like so much work just to get in on the entry level.
Just to even play?
Just the basics. Like, not die within a couple of minutes.
I think there's just an empathy deficit in general when it comes to people designing games. There's an expectation you've been a lifer with most series around today. I would think if you were jumping in with GTA on GTAV, you would be completely out of your element.
I think so. Without any doubt.
Why is there so much inclusivity that actually excludes others in games?
I don't know if it's specifically unique to games, but it's almost that instinctive unconscious thing of replicating what you know, replicating what you see, maybe even replicating the person who you are and your social group. I imagine that's a big part of it. I don't think this is requisite of the entire gaming industry, but I do wonder because -- first off, it's direct. Gaming is an active experience, whereas watching the TV or a movie is a passive experience. So you're actually trying to interact with the thing that you like to do, and often it can be like a bit of a living out of a fantasy in some respects.
I had a slightly unrelated conversation that will probably relate to this. A friend of mine does a costume party for Halloween. I never go because I hate dressing up, but she said once that the theory about dressing up [was] what you get to do is dress up as the person that you actually are. And my actual thought is a slight tweak on that: It's more dressing up as the person you would like to be. I think sometimes you're almost getting an axis or spheres of what people would really like to be. So, if you're getting young white men, then you're almost seeing what they wish they could do.
Particularly with designers, they're the god of their own machine, they're creating their own world. Still, with the checks and balances of business and capitalism, the people that all the money to fund all this, but, yeah, they're the god of their own machine, which is different -- unless you own your own a movie studio or you own a record label or something.
You're saying people play video games to act out their own fantasies?
I don't say this as an empirical fact by any stretch, it's more of a theory that could be easily proven wrong. But that is a potential suspicion, and what makes games slightly unique, because it is an active experience.
I understand it's a theory, but I'm curious to hear your perspective. What's your perception of what it seems that white male Americans want to be based on the games you see out there?
I don't think that's unique to gaming, but what is unique is that it's an active experience. So, you may see a character like a James Bond or a Don Draper, and you may enjoy a character like that, but you're still watching him. Where in James Bond games, you actually get to have the gun. You get to go around shooting all the "bad guys" more than anything else, where you can't actually do that in the movie. But you can do that in the videogame.
Like, WWE has a game that comes out every year, and they themselves make a big deal of saying to the gamers, "You can be like John Cena! You can be like The Rock! You can do exactly what you see them do in the ring!" Just because gaming is unique in that respect where you're actively participating in it and you're obviously spending quite a bit of money. And there's also, I'm sure, a bit of escapism going on at times. Particularly in the fantasy realm it's something completely removed from what's outside your window. So I think that's part of it, part of the appeal.
Even what you mentioned there, the types of things people are escaping into or they are able to do, your examples were wrestling or shooting the "bad guys." Would you say that bigger videogames tend to just explore things like that? Do you think it is hurting anyone if most big games are focusing on that?
Context is obviously important. If you're getting the same thing, and it's violence, that's something at the very least to be wary of. If that's all you're getting. It's not so much the action, but who's doing the action and who it's being done to. Part of the issue of misogyny in games is because it's often violently assaulting women and often women like sex workers, stuff like that. Women who are more vulnerable in society. So if that kinda stuff is being replicated in games repeatedly without many people saying, "Hold on a second, why is this happening?," then that's an issue. That is Anita Sarkeesian's example, but it's not just her. Brianna Wu as well. When women are pointing this out, then they are threatened and being doxxed. Sarkeeisan put up a Tumblr post about a week ago where she just put out a week of abuse she got every misogynistic tweet she had and said, "There you go." Without any specific comment. Just, "That's a week for me. Everyday." That's a particular example of that.
It becomes a problem of explicit reaction. If someone points out and then people in charge say, "That's a fair point, we should maybe have a look at this," well then you think, "Okay, well, progress is being made." But when the pushback is so visceral and so vitriolic, then that's very worrying.
That's a fair question. I didn't actively seek out those stories. They found their way to me more through the people I follow online, and also because it's an intersection of misogyny, which, as I said, is not unique to gaming, but gaming is still a part of it and it's not absolved. It's that thing, as well, when people like to use excuses like, "It's just gaming, it doesn't matter," but yet they still want the gaming world to be taken seriously as an artform and seriously as a subculture. Which I think it should be. I actually agree with them, that it should be taken seriously as a subculture, but that does mean that you don't get absolved from bad behavior. You can't then fall back on, "Ah, it's just games. It doesn't matter. It's no big deal."
You can't have it both ways.