jason v. maxwell

jason v. maxwell

My name is Jason V. Maxwell. I'm 31. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. Not originally from here, kind of a military brat and moved all around.

And losing interest in games is just -- it's kinda been a gradual decline. I was super-heavy growing up into Commodore, NES, Super Nintendo, I had a PlayStation, PS2, PS3 and then around the time, actually -- I feel like I started to date my wife is really when my interest started to wane.

I still played, I still kept current with everything that was coming out. Tentpole releases. Your Uncharteds, things like that, I would still dive into. But I found wanting to take less of my time in the evenings to invest, you know, hours.

Because it's like, here: I could do this or I could play with my -- I have two kids. One is just turned three and one who is about to turn 10. It's like, I can play with them, and play board games with my wife and friends who come over, or I can kind of be a reclusive hermit and play through Final Fantasy or whatever.

Well, you know, Jason, great strides have been taken to connect you with people you do not know so you can play videogames online.

I know that that's an option, but most of the online stuff it seems -- a lot of it is competitive shooters and those aren't my bag. I mean, I have played FPSes since Wolfenstein and Doom on the PC. But I never really got into multiplayer outside of, like, my college dorm. LAN-ing a couple of Xboxes to play Halo with a bunch of dudes up and down the hall was great fun. But online? Even though you're playing with people, it's still so impersonal because most of them you don't know.

And I'm not very good, so it was just like -- I'm gonna sit here for 45 minutes and get slaughtered. Mmm -- I'm gonna have to pass.

I feel like we -- the royal "we" -- talk about these divergent paths in games, and the gap between people who are like, "You know what? I'm gonna stick with shooters," and the people who are like yourself who are like, "You know what? Shooters were kinda cool," -- it's almost like we are gated out from even wanting to go back because you haven't invested our time being awesome at it.
So I really don't like to slag on shooters because maybe this isn't the case, but I remember somewhere around Call of Duty 4, I just realized, "You really got to hit the ground running on day one so you can compete and even be able to enjoy being able to be online playing with other people." Even if you play against bots, it's really no facsimile.

Right.

I think the rise of esports is kind of what did in casual online playing because there are people who are people basically playing on there, and that's their practice. For someone who just wants to do it casually, you're pushed out of the market because you're not going to invest that much time.

Even before we started, you said you feel like "games are manipulating pixels." There was something from your emails: "I put hours into that game and came away feeling like I wasted my time." How do games feel like a waste of time to you?

I have, honestly, a limited amount of time. When I get home after picking up my kids and after dinner, where it's 6 o'clock, my three-year-old takes a bath at 7, so I have to hang out with him until bedtime, and then my older son goes to bed around 8:15 -- or takes a bath around 8:15, finally goes to be maybe around 9. Then I have roughly two hours there of free time. And so with a limited amount of time most days of the week, I can either -- that chunk of time, how do I want to invest it? Do I want to invest it in this game or do I want to get some face time and talk with my wife?

Honestly, most of the time I'd rather catch up with my wife or sit down and watch a television show, which then we end up discussing. Like, we were big into Mad Men, we get done watching Game of Thrones and discuss that. And so that has a more valuable use of my time than hours and hours of a game.

Do you have places you can go to discuss games outside of this, the way that you might Game of Thrones with your wife?

You know, I know that there are places out there. There are subreddits and there's message boards, and when I was in college, I posted I don't know how many thousands of posts on IGN's message boards.

But I think just being peripherally aware -- like, I kinda stayed tuned into games. There's a lot of games podcasts I listen to more because I like the people who are on them and occasionally there's something, like a smaller title that'll be interesting to pick up 'cause, like, a small title, you play them for 20, 30 minutes and you've gotten something. It's a good waste of time and you've made some progress with it.

But message boards and stuff, they seem so toxic. Gamergate and everything that arose from there, it's like, I don't want any part of that. The cohost on my podcast is much more into games than I am. Like, he plays far more than I do. He's online commenting on people on stuff. And so I kind of hear from him, secondhand, and it's just not waters I want to dip my toes into. You know? There's nothing there for me.

I'm a grown man with a good job and a family who doesn't have a lot of time to devote to this and these are people who seem to eat and breathe this and have nothing better to do than slag on other people or dox Feminist Frequency because she said something they don't like. It's distasteful.

It's almost as if that thing we were talking about with shooters, you're all-in or not at all, exists in other facets of games.

Definitely. I believe when we were emailing, we were talking about that desire for tribalism. "This is my tribe and I'm 4chan and I'm on 8chan and we do this and that and if you're not with us, then we'll sic the rest of the people on you because we'll find out about you."

It's not worth even going near for me.

The Internet and videogames, the intersection of those two was toxic before last year, right?

Probably. But it seemed like it was more -- I guess because it was less pronounced and there was less attention turned toward it, and it was more small-scale. You had people shouting racial slurs at each other and making memes of people who screwed up. And it seemed like with the lens turned on it from Gamergate that a lot of -- I don't know, if you go turn over a log in the forest and suddenly there's all those critters that were there and now that they're in the light, they're scuttering about and it may not actually be any worse. But having come to light, you're just weary of sitting on any logs in the forest now because what if those creepy-crawlies are under there?

There's someone who's been emailing me for a long time about doing an interview. They really want to do it but they're so afraid of having their name out there. I guess it will end up being my first anonymous player interview, but I think it will be good to have it out there.
Because for you and I, we can have our opinions and it's fine, but this stuff is not over. There are people who are actively terrified. Still.
And I don't really remember that always being part of videogames.

The worst that has happened is you would get kicked from your IRC board or banned from a message board or you would have people immediately come kill you when you hopped on a server. But now? Yeah. There are people who literally, if you say something they don't like, will ruin your life. "Here's your credit card information, here's where your family lives, here's some death threats for you. How do you like that?"

I'm trying to remember. How did McCarthyism turn out in the end?

[Laughs.]

I haven't gotten that far in Age of Empires yet, and I need to buy the Joseph McCarthy expansion pack.

[Laughs.] I'm surprised no one's modded that into Civilization.

The gauntlet has been thrown down.

[Laughs.]

But this is another example of the headspace around games, in games, maybe seeping out elsewhere. And something else we were emailing about is, like, lots of titles "turning dark and gritty and depressing." When did you start to notice an uptick of that?

Probably around -- oh, it's been the last couple of years. I really think some of that is the rise in zombies -- maybe you could even look at Fallout 3 as kind of a lynchpin moment because here was this well-realized post-apocalyptic world. There was still fun and light-heartedness, so it didn't feel quite -- granted I didn't complete the game because my gaming PC died and I never rebuilt it. Right after I got married, my gaming PC was like, "I'm just gonna kick the bucket."

That was probably one of the first times I was like, "I don't really want to invest the money in rebuilding this. I'll just play my PlayStation." But you know, even -- I think from that point, you know, you started having more realistic and popular zombie games. Everything felt post-apocalyptic. Even Grand Theft Auto IV, like, Grand Theft Auto on the PS2, those were very cartoonishly exaggerated versions of reality. And they were very fun to play in. Grand Theft Auto IV was so -- I mean, it had the sarcasm of the previous ones, but it was so droll and the color scheme was so drab and, "Oh, you know, I'm trying to be a better person but I'm going to continue to be a mass murderer and go on a rampage."

And even though I enjoyed The Walking Dead, the Telltale titles, those are very bummer. Like, you know something bad is going to happen. And then, you know, The Last of Us.

It's just been one of those things, I think. People -- probably related to the depression that we entered in 2008 as a country economically, kind of put everybody in a bad mood. You have this generation of people graduating college with degrees that leave them still unemployed. Their job prospects have dried up. Everyone likes to make jokes about how, "Oh, Detroit is going to turn into Robocop. They sold the city to private people."

But it's true.

And I think that dour attitude kind of invaded what everyone was creating, because our art is reflective of reality in a lot of ways.

Let me tell you something interesting. You're actually the first person organically to bring up the economy in these interviews as perhaps an influence on this. I've talked about it a lot outside of these conversations, but this is the first time it has actually happened.

[Laughs.]

And I mentioned I am gearing up for E3, and I think the game industry may be the only thing acting like 2008 never happened.

I think, you know, most distractions and media are a relatively inexpensive way to keep yourself distracted from the fact that life sucks. You -- I think people have time to invest in Call of Duty or League of Legends. If you don't have a job and you're living with mom and dad, you can play League of Legends and stream on Twitch for 18 hours day.

Now that sounds depressing.

[Laughs.] Yeah.

I said it, not you.

Yeah, it's probably -- I'm an accountant for a living, and that's probably why economy is on my mind.

I'm not assuming you're a financial expert on this industry -- I'm sure you are good at your job.

[Laughs.]

But do you feel like the games industry has just never really acknowledged that that happened and that it might be in some way affecting it or hurting it by ignoring it?

Well, I think, really, ultimately a company is not going to acknowledge downturns if they don't have to. The more rosy a picture they can present, the better their share price is gonna do.

And ultimately, that's what they want, a high share price.

They could do that, but I just saw last week on Steam: Pre-order Arkham Knight on sale, $90 down from $100, and also Steam will remind you that you're buying a subscription to a game. What rosy picture is that?

Well, if you think about it, yeah, they're knocking $10 off. So, they're charging you full price, plus the season pass, and it's the same price as the game and the season pass if you were to go buy a physical copy. So, they're saving on printing costs, they're saving distribution costs, and they're selling you a product they can take away at any time.

And if you really like that game, as much as someone might yell and scream if their Steam library got taken away, chances are somewhere along the line, they're going to, if they invested that much in PC gaming, start a new Steam account and rebuy some stuff. So, we're entering an era where -- it's kind of where people don't own anything. And that's wonderful for the people who produce content.

I work in the apartment industry. The company I work for owns and manages third-party apartment complexes. They were talking at the orientation meeting about the generation that's coming now, that's graduating college, isn't going to own houses. They don't want to own houses, they don't want the expense of owning houses. They want to rent. They are in the mindset that renting is what you do. They lease cars, they rent apartments, and it goes with their entertainment: They use Netflix, they don't buy movies. They get on Netflix or Redbox, they get on Hulu. Amazon Prime. If they buy, they buy digitally, they don't buy hard copies. So we're a generation that is going to literally own nothing of value. We will have given money for ephemera.

Okay, I spoke too soon. That's depressing.

[Laughs.]

[Laughs.] I mean, you're talking to a guy who studied the music business and then went on to be a writer, so --

[Laughs.]

Do you think that's harmful, though, for games on a certain scale to be getting more expensive to produce and yet pricewise it's either a race to the bottom or it's like, "Give us $100 for a thing you will not own?" Obviously, change is inevitable, here, but are these the smartest changes? But do you think this could be harmful in some way?

I definitely do. It's one of those things where it definitely feels like they're doing the $90 special edition as that last-ditch cash grab before we have this implosion. because, like you're saying, it's either free, ad-supported iPhone game or it's your $60 every year franchise that comes out. There's no real room in the middle there for, "Let's just throw something against a wall and see if it sticks." I think with the PS3 and the Xbox 360, last generation, there was some room for that still. But whatever people tried that -- look at THQ. They had Darksiders, they had Red Faction.

Homefront.

Homefront. Who did -- oh, you were, like, the soldier going with three people through the desert. Oh, what was it called. Anyway. The description -- someone will know what I'm talking about.

But when it was a free game on PS+, I played through it because I'd heard people talking about, "This is actually a good story." It's about a soldier with PTSD, which is a legit issue today more than ever. And it just didn't sell. The publisher ended up closing up shop, and so whenever you only have -- it's kinda like the movies today. Like, you don't really have a Kevin Smith of this generation because he's not really gonna get distributed. In the Hollywood system, you have Avengers and comic-book movies planned out for the next five years.

How many times can I say, "No, wait. That's depressing?"

[Laughs.] I'll send you some Xanax or something to perk you up.

Go ahead and attach it on our next email.

[Laughs.] Yeah. But it's one of those things where I just really don't see it as being sustainable. It's really whenever you look at -- I think that, honestly, around the PS2, was probably, for consoles, anyway, the last time when we had -- when it seemed like everyone was making money, but there was also stuff like Katamari coming out, people were taking chances, putting out this game for $20 or $30, seeing if it sells. Now, it's like -- Square-Enix was saying with Tomb Raider, it sold several million copies, and that's not good enough. Well, if that's your business model, you're screwed. That's not sustainable. You're gonna end up shutting down.

So I do a fair amount of calls on background with people, not for the site, but just to help me learn a bit more things to talk about in these interviews. And someone who used to work at one of those middle-tier companies -- they're still around, but he didn't want to be on the record. But he had this way of describing the games market today that is also very depressing but I think also spot-on: Games are a non-essential good that cost a lot of time and money to make, have a relatively high ticket price, and don't carry the expectation to last very long.
I don't see how that could ever hope to be sustainable under its current model.
So, I definitely agree with you. And a lot of people in the space do -- this guy I talked to quit games, recently, I think because there's indications of where this stuff could be heading.
But, to shift gears back to you: Did you ever run into the notion that you might be getting too old for games? Or maybe that you should have moved on sooner?

You know, I don't really feel like it was so much an issue of "you're getting too old for games." I'm 31 and most everyone I know grew up playing games or plays games. Like, my wife, who doesn't really play much -- she'll play around on Mario Kart with out son every once in a while and plays a little bit of The Sims off and on, you know, grew up with games. Like, she brought in an NES and Super NES into our marriage with her. [Laughs.] So, I don't think it was ever like "you're too old for this."

The demographic of who plays is just so broad now. Like, my grandmother is technically a gamer. Granted, it's Facebook games, but every few days it's like, "Do you want to play Candy Crush?" Like, "No thanks, grandma! No thanks!"

Yeah.

So it was definitely more the personal thing of -- this isn't as fun, I'm not having as much fun with this, and I don't know if -- like, you know, I think Grand Theft Auto IV -- I hate to keep harping on that game -- but I spent, literally, probably hundreds of hours playing the first three: Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas in college. Playing it with buddies, playing through the story, the save file on San Andreas had, like, 150 hours. And that's not counting the times we'd play for a few hours and not save and turn it off without saving it since we had activated some cheat.

I went to play IV, and I made myself play through it. But I realized as I got further in, like, I'm not really having fun. And some of that I know is the game because, you know this one feels a little clunky, and the physics engine is not quite there, but I think some of it really was me. "Do I really want to spend this many hours playing as Niko and putting on clothes and shooting people?"

The answer kind of came to be, like, "No. I don't want to spend my time that way."

I say that, but I did force myself to finish the game. [Laughs.] "I spent $60 for this, I'm gonna see the ending."

Gotta buy all the sunglasses and watch him turn to the camera and like what he sees.

I did not take it quite to the point of hunting all the pigeons, but, no, I think the last game where I tried to do that was Infamous. And I got 99 of 100 blast shards, and I had followed this map and I had been checking them off, and I missed one somewhere.

And I did this twice.

My second playthrough, I was like, "Okay, I'm just going to play through it on easy mode, I'm going to knock out this achievement. I want to get a platinum for some reason in this game." I could not find that hundredth shard, and I have not touched Infamous since. "This isn't really worth it. It's not fun. Why am I slogging through this for hours searching for a little glowing blue dot on a map."

How do you feel achievements have impacted games and the overall notion of fun in games?

I think they kind of have made it largely more directed. I think there's some developers who have used them to, "Hey, play Geometry Wars for five minutes without shooting." It kind of can flip the game on its head and make you play it differently.

And if used that way, okay, that's interesting. But most of the time it's -- I don't know, at first I think they maybe did, and now they have to put them in there. It's like, "You beat level one! You beat level two! You got three headshots! You killed 1,000 people in the online mode!"

Eh.

I think they had their time when for really OCD people -- they kind of forced them to play games more and in particular ways. But I think a lot of people now kind of tend to ignore them. So I think they had their moment in time where they were detrimental and now it's like, "Well, we have to put it in there, but who really cares?" I haven't ever turned on my PS3 and been like, "What's this person's trophy level? Pfft, I'm 12, I'm clearly a better gamer."

[Laughs.] Yeah, but we're in our thirties.

True.

But, then, okay, I have a nine, going on 10-year-old, all he touches my PlayStation or Vita for is Minecraft so he can play with his buddies. But he was a Wii U that he plays all the time, and some of the games have, like, "unlock stickers, unlock this." He doesn't care. Like, When he plays, like -- when he was playing Super Mario Galaxy 2, he wasn't so concerned with, "Let me go back and get all the stars and the comet medal."

I was playing on a separate save file, and so I was much more meticulous. Like, "Dang it, I'm gonna go through, I'm gonna get the star on this level, and I'm gonna play it again until I find this and get this secret." And he was just blowing through the levels. He only went back when he got to a gate when said, "You have to get this many stars to pass."

So, I think there's maybe a narrow age band where you're competitive about that. And it could've just been us since they dropped that starting with the 360 and then with Steam and PSN. I think because they dropped that, honest, there was that initial rush of excitement and maybe because the coming generation has grown up with it, they don't really care as much and we've kinda aged out of it so it's just a, "Eh, who cares."

Maybe so, but I just transcribed over the weekend an interview with someone a little bit older than both of us who didn't know that you could collect 100 coins to get a 1up in the first Mario. Like, he just played through the way you described.

[Laughs.]

"Yeah, I was just trying to get to the flagpole. I actually never knew that."
I mean, what is wrong with us, it's like, there's a nascent OCD-ness of, "Oh, you just want to learn everything about this world."
But I don't feel that way about achievements or trophies. On the other hand, sometimes I like getting them, but I've never platinumed a game. I've never tried to. So what is that? Why?

You know, there was a period of time where I think I was -- like, where I was like, "Oh, I want to try and do this." But some of them just seemed in-achievable. Like, Resistance, I had to play how much multiplayer? I think, you know, I briefly tried to platinum -- like, maybe Uncharted 2, because that's one of my favorite series and one of my favorite games. And even that one, I was like, "I don't want to play through this again on nightmare mode because at that point, it's not fun. And I don't really feel like finding all these little artifacts because trying to run over here and look behind this dumpster isn't fun." [Laughs.]

So, you know, oh, play through Altered Beast. If you can beat Altered Beast in under 30 minutes, the Genesis Classic -- ecch -- "classic." It's not a good game. But, you know, "I'll breeze through this and get 100 percent." But I think the only on-disc title that I've gotten 100 percent on is Cars 2.

Insert

[Laughs.]

My son got the game for Christmas several years ago and played it incessantly. It's not a bad -- it's a Mario Kart-esque racer. It has decent weapons and stuff. But, yeah, that was the only one. Because he played it incessantly, eventually, it's like, a game where you can grind it out and unlock it. I also think briefly entertained playing through Heavy Rain several more times to get a platinum. But when I tried to play through it a second time, it's like, "I already know what's going to happen here so there's no real impetus to do this again just to do see this -- I cut his finger off instead of hitting the door with a hammer."

So, I do have a quick question to flip to you. Earlier you were talking to an older person and they didn't know about 100 coins in Mario and to you and I, it's like, "Duh." But there's so much stuff about NES games that it seems like everyone knew but no one knows how they knew it. Like, 100 coins? Okay. When you get 100 coins, you can see the life bar go up. Or, like, the Konami code. Or the minus worlds in Mario. Like, how did that information in the pre-Internet age, get disseminated? Was there just one kid who had Nintendo Power? That's just something that really just always made me scratch my head, like, there's this commonality of experience. Everyone knows these same things about the NES, but no one remembers how they learned it, it seems.

Well, I have a distinct memory, but I don't remember who it could have been.

[Laughs.]

"If you burn a burn a bush in The Legend of Zelda, there's a secret staircase."
But I think honestly what it was was there were fewer distractions then. We did not have iPhones, on-demand TV, 24-hour news. Maybe your kids do.

[Laughs.] No.

There was no access to Internet like there was today. There was magazines. And back then, magazines -- you know, it was an industry that was trying to establish itself. I actually used to wonder, like, why they were introducing secrets like these into the game. Like, I remember in the Atari age, there were Easter eggs, where you have to do this sequence of things no one would ever naturally do to see the names of the people who worked on the game.
And I suspect some games were made similarly and ridiculously hard to have people come the hint line. Or at least some of them, at least. I know someone had told me that, at some point. Computer games.
So I wonder if some of those secrets -- and this will be one of those things where people will tweet at us for being idiots and not having instant recall. But I wonder if some of that was put in strictly to prop up the ubiquity of these magazines. Because absolutely that's where stuff was coming from, was just information from the companies. But I don't remember where I learned that stuff.

I don't know. I really think a lot of it has to do with -- the Internet just spoils everything. Before a game comes out, somebody has gotten a cracked copy or stolen it or gotten it somewhere and they're streaming the whole thing. You can see a playthrough of a game before you even touch it.

So there really isn't -- I don't know. I don't think you really even seek it out, secrets and stuff. Yeah. I think it was a more innocent time, honestly. I think kids these days are probably somewhat more jaded because they have access to everything they could ever want. If we got tired of The Legend of Zelda, well, unless your neighbor wants to borrow it and let you borrow his copy of Faxanadu, then you're kinda screwed. You have that one game and you have nothing else until your birthday or Christmas.

Insert

I don't know. I just sort of riffed on things I know and some things I have heard over the years. It just, from a business standpoint, makes sense. But how illuminati does all that sound?

I don't know if they made it tougher to use the hint line, but I was to say I probably remember reading that games were made tougher -- certain titles would be made tougher for an American audience because rental stores are legal in America and they're not legal in Japan. So, in Japan, if you want a title, you're buying it. Here in America, if you really dug Contra, you could rent it and blow through it in an afternoon, or maybe a day or two once you learn the levels and take it back to the store and Konami has sold exactly one copy. So they made it tougher so you wouldn't want to do that.

Because, I mean, I believe the original Nintendo hotline was an 800 number. It was originally free and only later when it really started to take off did they turn it into a pay-per-minute thing.

Yeah. Well, I was referring to Sierra games and computer games as well.

Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] "Put the honey on the mustache on your face so you match the ID card with no mustache." Yay, thanks Gabriel Knight. "Pick up the shard of glass from your crashed space ship at the beginning of the game on the first screen, you can't win." Womp, womp. Thanks, Space Quest! [Laughs.]

Okay, so, when you were much more into games, how did the games media impact what you were interested in?

You know, you would listen for, "Oh, I listen to a podcast, and they talked about this crazy Japanese game where you're a ball and you roll stuff up. I'll go check that out!" I really think there were certain websites and certain people -- don't ask me to name any of them, I really can't remember any of them. [Laughs.] Or, you know, you just kinda trusted their opinions and so if they said, "Hey, go check this game out, you'll probably like it," you'd check it out and probably like it. I think some of my only exceptions from not liking those titles you're supposed to like, where, you know, like, Shadow of the Colossus. I hated the controls on that game so much. I really tried to like it because I really dug Ico, but Shadow of the Colossus was one of those games that I was supposed to like that I was just like, "No. This supposedly tells a cool story, but these bad controls just do it in for me."

But that's not related to the games media at all. But, yeah, basically there were people whose opinions, you know, you listened to and trusted in websites who would say, "Hey, this is a good game." And I would go out and try it, at the very least.

Well, no, it's absolutely related because -- well, this is an odd question. But does it seem arbitrary, like, what the hive mind will decree gets popular in games? Is it related at all with what the games media covers or doesn't cover?

I think, for a long time, games media, like, your major websites and magazines, they would all be pushing whatever the next AAA title is. "Here's the next Call of Duty. Here's the next Just Cause. Here's the next Assassin's Creed." And so they would always push these titles that were really easy to get behind, and a lot of that, I think, has to do with the fact that your major advertiser is also who you're covering. So, you're going to give them good coverage -- even if you give a bad review, up to the review, the previews are always, "It's looking good! It's a little rough, but it could be great."

I think the more interesting thing going on now is because of so many, the YouTube people, and the Twitch people, they get behind games that -- I Am Bread, and Goat Simulator, and with the push behind these things being kind of goofy and entertaining to watch, these games get critical mass. Had Goat Simulator not gotten popular on Twitch, it wouldn't have gotten an Android port. But, you know, it did. But what's also funny is as you saw this starting to rise, you started to see more coverage of small stuff like this so they didn't look like they were getting caught unaware.

But there still is that hesitance in biting the hand that feeds. And the hand that feeds is Activision, Blizzard, and EA, and your big dogs.

Is it possible to a certain extent the hand that feeds is also the audience?

Well -- you'd like to think so, but honestly because in so many cases you are getting ad-supported content, your view is what pays for that technically, but they are, in a way, selling you. You get a product from them, but you are the product that they serve to advertisers.

Which is why something like Patreon, for supporting stuff that you like -- I know you have one for this website.

Oh, please. Thank you.

[Laughs.] And there's other podcasts that use that or just take Paypal and take donations and stuff. It seems like the better way to get a more unvarnished truth because as much as people like to say they're an independent voice, there's no real independence when there's advertising involved. It's kind of like when you read about news programs, when they first started, they were a loss leader. They were a money-loser for networks, but they were deemed to be important. You had consumer reporting that went on that would blast, sometimes, advertisers who advertised at other times on these networks.

But you don't really see consumer reporting anymore. Even though -- basically, you will never hear an ill word really spoken about prescription medication because prescription drugs are one of the biggest advertisers on television right now. If you watch TV for an hour, you've seen ads for drugs that have side effects worse than your original sickness. So, it's really one of those things where whenever the money's involved, you're gonna respect who the money's coming from, which means that on certain things you're gonna promote what they want you to promote and you're gonna be muzzled in some respects.

What do you think the games media could be doing to improve the industry?

Hmm.

Like, this is a new question that might not have been in the batch I sent you to think about. But the most common response to that question is just an initial, "What do you mean?" Like it's a foreign concept.

You know, it's one of those things. Because it's one of those things so closely tied to the people that they are covering, there isn't a real -- you'll have, "Here's the IGN podcast and [Sony President] Shuhei Yoshida is on there." So, yeah, it's a PlayStation-centric podcast, but when you're that buddy-buddy and close with the people you are covering, as much as you -- you're enthusiast press. You're not an objective press. And because you're enthusiast press, you don't really have, I think, many tools to help improve the overall state of gaming. You're kinda along for the ride.

You're making symbiosis.

Right. Exactly. You are making money by helping sell a product. As much as you like to, "Oh, we're in-depth." You're kinda not. You're providing strategy guides, which, if I really wanted, I could go to GameFAQs, you're providing interviews, which are interesting, but ultimately they are PR. They're helping to sell a product.

There's not a lot of in-depth stuff. It's one of the reasons I think Retronauts and a lot of the people that contribute there. They do a lot of historical reporting and going back and talking to the people that made games with a little more depth. As far as current stuff? I don't really see there being a whole lot of influence for good possible. As gaming starts to decline, they're gonna go down, too. You're kind of riding in their wake. So, when the ship goes down, you're going down next.

How do you define creativity in games? Like, games that feel creative to you, what do they seem to have in common?

You know, it really kinda seems like the most creative games tend to -- I think it's harder to have a hint of originality about them. I hate to keep going back to it, but Katamari Damacy, when that game first came out, like, it's so simple, and it's so creative, and it was just this quirky, interesting title. Most of my friends were like, "Pfft, that game is gay, whatever."

"No, this game is awesome. Listen to the soundtrack, and watch the cut scenes that don't make much sense and play this. There's something about this."

I think it's hard to define creativity because -- it's kind of like pornography: You know it when you see it, but defining it is hard as the judge once said. "I know it when I see it, but I can't give you a dictionary definition."

I think that judge was just embarrassed to admit that he knew way more than he was willing to let on.

[Laughs.]

Well, so, speaking of interpreting videogames: What's your opinion of videogame criticism?

So much of games writing seems to be: "This game is awesome or it's meh or it sucks." And so you're chasing the hit. So, when Hotline Miami came out, "Oh, there's this game, it's kind of crazy, it's violent, it's cool, it has a great soundtrack." And people waxed on about how great it was and how much fine they were having. And when 2 came out, it was like, "Oh, you played that Hotline Miami?"

This was the discussion on every podcast.

"Yeah, what'd you think?" "Eh, it's not as good."

And there wasn't much discussion about why it wasn't as good, which probably would have been more helpful than, "Eh, it wasn't as good." It was just like, "Eh, I didn't really like it as much. It had some problems. The levels felt a little too big and random."

And that was it.

The point scale [for reviews] honestly goes from 6 to 10.

What do you mean 6?

[Laughs.]

I think, maybe, 7, if we're being a little more honest.

No, in most cases. Unless you're, like, Elf Bowling or a DS game and they give you, like, a 1. But, yeah. It's stuck in the 10-scale, and if it's a 7, then it's not worth playing, if it's an 8 and something someone likes -- oh, who was it? Someone at Polygon gave some PS4 exclusive a less than glowing review and the Internet exploded. It was so ridiculous. It's just one person's opinion. It's a number. Why does it matter?

Insert

So, when you hear people talk about people who play videogames, what do you feel is not being articulated in what the full picture is actually?

You know, it's funny. I don't really hear the "what is a gamer?" question as much anymore because -- and I feel some of this is due to "casual" and Facebook-style games -- there were was this whole glut of stories about: "Gamers aren't just 20-year-olds who lives in their parent's basements anymore! It's your grandma! It's your dad! It's the person next to you on the bus!"

And it almost feels like the word "gamer" kind of became -- it applied to basically everybody. "Well, I game. It's not so bad to be a gamer." So it just doesn't feel like it's really a super-applicable category anymore.

The word "gamer," you think, is outmoded completely?

Pretty much. I mean, it's one of those things -- because you can literally apply that to everybody, then I guess there's more subcategorization that goes on instead of this broad "gamer" umbrella.

Yeah, why is it so difficult to be, "You know what? I'm a person who plays games just like I'm a person who gets email?"

It's all back to that tribalism thing. If you play games: "What do you play?"

When a girl says: "I'm a gamer." "Oh, you're not a real gamer. You don't play Quake. You don't play Halo. You haven't been playing as long as me. If you don't play my genre, then you're not a true gamer."

Like, it's one of those things. I have a PS3, a Wii U, a Wii, a Vita, Nintendo -- I have plenty of gaming systems and things to play on in my house. But I kind of hesitate to lump myself in to the gamer umbrella just because I play games sometimes. [Laughs.]

How do games seem limited to you?

It's one of those things where it almost seems like we're at a critical mass for games, where there almost is no limit. If you want to blow realistic zombie heads off, there's 15 games you can do that. If you want to be a goat and wreck a house, you can do that because the tools to make games -- Unity is free, Unreal Engine 4 is free, unless you distribute and then you get profits or whatever.

But because the elements to making a game are readily available. Pretty much everyone can make it and -- I guess the real limitation is how much money and time do you have to invest in what you're making? So it's almost at a point where there's no real limit because things can look pretty realistic, and you can make a really open world or a really defined world. I guess I'm kind of circling the point where it almost feels like we're at a point where there is no limit to games. I mean, here comes Oculus Rift and Morpheus and VR headsets.

Maybe.

They're apparently coming. People have played with them. That's a whole other story, the idea of immersive virtual worlds in a society where people are already so disconnected from people kind of scares me, honestly. But because there's all this coming down the pipeline, apparently.

Again.

We all remember Lawnmower Man and Demolition Man helmets. It feels like we're reaching a point where there really isn't a limit on games. The biggest limit is, "Will your audience find it?"

Are there ways that you don't feel included by games right now?

There's genres and the focus of the stories being told in games that's just not really of interest to me. So, if you want to say that's exclusionary, you could? But honestly? I look at it as they're catering to not me, and that's fine. And not everything is made for every person. There are games -- Shovel Knight caters to the nostalgia of people who grew up on the NES, and newer people might have fun with it, but I feel included by that game.

The upcoming Call of Duty I don't feel included by because I haven't cared about shooters in so many years. But, again, I guess I'm at an age where I don't -- of the mindframe where it's not including me. It's not for me, and if it exists, that's fine. I don't begrudge that and I don't demand that it cater to me.

Insert

So why does all this stuff matter? Is it hurting anyone if the audience for games eventually just moves on and doesn't feel included anymore?

You know, I think in the grand scheme of the gaming industry, they're ultimately, probably not too hurt by the fact that two thirtysomethings have gotten out of the pool because there's always a new generation coming up who's growing up with games and is playing them at younger and younger ages.

I think that the bigger hit is going to be the fact that with a hits-driven industry that is so reliant on selling millions of copies, that lack of creativity I think is ultimately what's going to cause a potential crash if it were to happen.

I'm not a prognosticator by any means, but I mean -- frickin' Konami just pulled out of games because there just wasn't the money for it in them. As someone who grew up playing Metal Gear and Contra and everything they put out -- if you had told 10-year-old me, "Hey, you know what? Konami's not going to make games in 20 years." "What? You're crazy. Of course they're gonna make games. They're gonna keep putting out Metal Gear and Castlevania."

Nope. No more of that.

So, yeah, it's one of those things where I guess the biggest people it's bad for are the people in the game industry itself, the people who will be affected by losing jobs as developers get shuttered.

I'll tell you this. I don't know if I'll include this. But what I've seen happen in the games media space happened in my media space two years beforehand, just in the regular entertainment journalism space.
A massive bleeding. Hemorrhaging. Places shutting down. People being displaced. Musical chairs.
What I'm also starting to see is people increasingly leaving bigger companies, doing their own thing. I've talked to several of them already for this. I started to wonder this myself, too: Is this headed for a crash?
I've been emailing with some of the developers. I'm also not an economist. But I just asked.
And then this Konami thing happened.
It just doesn't seem like it's going in a good direction.

Nuh-uh.

For a space that likes to claim it is bigger than Hollywood, if you look at things in a very specific way and squint your eyes: Why does it keep making the same movies? And why does it keep doing the same things? Why is it ignoring the economy? Why all these other things?
I wonder, maybe it's not a bubble.
But Konami getting out of videogames? It's indicative of something. It’s the end of a certain era.

Well, I think it's honestly the next big indictment that being dependent on AAA -- even Hideo Kojima, who famously gets creative control over whatever he produces because it's pretty much going to sell to that Metal Gear audience, they were like, "This is too expensive. It's too much. We're done."

It'll be interesting to see. We're approaching a point, really, of too big to fail. There's consolidation -- there's just a few companies that own everything and every franchise. And there's not gonna be a bank bailout for EA. If EA goes under, then I'm sure the people that work there are going to be screwed except for the presidents, who have gilded their golden parachutes, and the shareholders are gonna get screwed.

But, you know? Too big to fail -- I think we will see splinters. People who are truly creative will find a way, even if it's just putting out something small for the iPhone or whatever to make a game. I think people who have that creative drive will try and find a way to put something out there. If they develop that following, whether it be -- it'd be harder to do a game via Patreon. "Pay for me to do coding for several weeks."

I don't know.

The splintering may ultimately lead to a resurgence of sorts, but it's hard to see beyond the probably coming doom and gloom that comes with the consolidations and sizes we have.

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