jonathon howard

jonathon howard

Okay. My name is Jonathon Howard. Thirty-four. I live in Davis, California.

I talked about it in the email exchange, but it wasn't -- you just lose time.

I mean, you said you didn't even stop buying them. You just stopped playing them.

Yeah, and that's true. Videogames are aspirational in the sense that I one day hope to have the time to play them. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

I aspire to have that free time.

But, you know, I went off to college. I had a ton of free time. I was playing games. And then you make friends and you meet a girl and some of the friends aren't into videogaming or your girlfriend isn't into videogaming, and so it takes a backseat.

And it's not that you can't do it, it's just that when time becomes limited and you want to spend it with people, if videogames aren't a thing that all of them want to play, then it doesn't play with them. If you have three hours of leisure time a day, it's gonna be taken up by people as opposed to videogames. Especially in my case.

You were talking about how a phone was preferable. Well, in-person is preferable for me.

Yeah, I meant the same thing. I just can't fly to where everyone is for this project and talk to them, but I totally would.

Yeah. Like, social interaction with people is more important than getting all the achievements or unlocking all the characters. [Laughs.]

What! What sort of deranged individual are you? [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] And then, you get a job and you get busy. Especially in my line of work.

I work at the state capitol. Legislative consultant. I don't have a 40-hour work week. It's a "work however much is needed to work" week.

Yeah. So, like, 60 to 80 minimum.

Yeah. Yeah.

90 hours, yeah.

There are times when that is the case, yeah. Where it's just go, go, go.

In the line of things that take an investment of time and energy, videogames are pretty high. They're not like books, they're not like TV. It's very hard to veg out on a game, and so when there is that time where it's like, "Okay. What can I do?"

I think I said I was gonna watch The Big Bang Theory or something. Some mindless rot. Or, if I feel like I need to be stimulated or, you know, this time can't be wasted, I'll watch a documentary. Or I'll pick up a book. Because, you know, books are the same kind of aspirational object at this point.

Yeah. Do you find that fiction is a harder sell for you than non-fiction?

Yeah! Yeah. It's kinda the same situation where if I'm gonna have that time, it kinda feels like I should use it to do something noteworthy.

Does fiction not feel --

Yeah, yeah. Fiction doesn't. And it's not just genre fiction. I'm talking any kind of fiction is a hard sell.

Yeah, exactly. That's the way I meant it.
I'm kind of similar in the sense -- I have a friend whose girlfriend always feels such sympathy for me. She's just really sorry that I don't think fiction is valuable, as she says.
And it's not that I don't think it's as valuable, it's just that sometimes I have other sources of fun and these diversions. I don't feel like -- sometimes it's just nice to be learning something in addition to being distracted. But I don't understand why they're so separated out where one is seen as needing to be defended.

I think -- I used to feel, and I kind of actually think this is a really generational thing for people our age because people older than us, too, where there was a time when videogames weren't just another form of mass media. And so if you grew up playing a lot of videogames, there was a cost to it. A social cost or a popularity cost or, you know, you talk to people who play D&D and they'll say, "Oh, I never told anyone I played D&D. It was my group of friends on the weekend and we never told anyone because we didn't want to get beat up."

And for a long time, I had that. "Oh, don't talk about videogames. Nobody cares about videogames. Videogames are for nerds."

And that's not the case anymore except for people who are older than us who feel that way.

But I talk to people younger and there's two differences.

One: Videogames are just like books, they're just like movies, they're just like music. Some people like 'em and some people don't.

And the other part is they don't have that special relationship with games? That I think people who -- I don't know, suffer, for their hobby might have for it?

[Laughs.] I mean, something I never see talked about is -- maybe this is some of what's playing out right now, is the whole, "Cringing at someone else for being a fan of the thing you were a fan of because they don't fit what you think that fan should be like."
Like you were saying, they weren't "suffering for it the way we did."
I was talking to a friend of a friend who's a comics critic for a New York newspaper a few weeks back and he told me about being really into Metallica growing up and then another friend of his was dating a hippie girl. And she was, like, cleaning the dishes at their apartment and humming Metallica and was just like, disgusted.
I don't hear parallels to stories like that in videogames so much with just quiet private scoffing. I see more of that resulting attitude but I don't see the specific irritations.

You don't? Isn't that what "fake gamers" are? Isn't that what --

Well, as I said, unless that's what's playing out now.

Like, I kind of wonder if that's what's going on with a heavy dollop of misogyny and racism and --

I mean, a dab'll do ya of any of those.

[Laughs.]

In that recipe of whatever you're cooking there.

Yeah. A dash is a little too much.

This is not at all where I was expecting to go, but what's the difference? 'Cause, like, I think the people who are "defending" videogames, what sort of suffering did they endure to have that sense of entitlement?

Yeah, I don't know because -- [Laughs.] I got harassed about it. Not a lot.

Yeah.

It wasn't like, "Oh, you're a loser. We're gonna stuff you in a drawer." It was just that, "Games are stupid and it's a waste of time."

I mean, you had said in our emails "the implicit message many in your life seem to be sending you is that games aren't evil, they're just superficial and superfluous."

Yeah. Yeah. And that's true.

That's how people feel about genre fiction. That's how people feel about most TV. And that's fine. That doesn't stop anyone from consuming it.

It just means that when I'm going down the list of things to do, they're pretty low on the list.

So who's sending that message that they're kind of, you know --

I think it's -- I think part of it is just me, though.

I was going to ask that later.

Like, I don't know. Part of it comes from being that nerdy kid and never growing out of that. Like, that's what got carried along.

Some people might say to your friend, who heard her humming, like, "Oh, you never suffered for Metallica so you don't get to be part of Metallica."

[Laughs.]

"You don't get to claim ownership of this thing."

And I just turn it around into like -- this thing that I like isn't worthwhile. He went one way to defend it, and I went the other way: I should be ashamed of this. Or this doesn't have high-priority or it shouldn't.

Which is obviously a subjective thing.

Yeah.

And that's totally fine. So long as you're doing the things that make you happy and content, it really shouldn't be an issue. [Laughs.] But apparently it sometimes is.
I sometimes like to ask in these: Have you ever run into that thing, like, "Oh, come on. You should have moved on from videogames by now." And a lot of people say no, but it sounds like you did run into that a little bit?

Yeah. I got it from my parents. I got it from my wife.

I think part of it is -- my wife wasn't part of any pop culture. Like, you can't talk to her about '80s cartoons. She doesn't know who -- she just didn't have television growing up. So she doesn't know who Scrooge McDuck is. She can't name any of the Transformers. All this pop culture that our generation seems to be raised on. She can't quote The Simpsons to you.

That must be a real hindrance for her.

Yeah.

I'm half-joking, but it has to be frustrating for her.

It's not a real hindrance, but when you're standing around with your friends and you're reminiscing, she just doesn't have anything to say. And then when you live with that person, she doesn't see the value in putting time into it.

Well, and so I think -- isn't this an indication of a symptom that's been allowed to gestate just because videogames haven't been going after different types of audiences?

Yeah, that's a good point. Like,people don't see the value in it because it's constantly marketed to 18-to-25-year-old men?

Yeah.

Yeah.

I mean, that's the way I would think, well, of course they would see that because they've never been -- it's not that they've never been "meant" for them, it's that they've never been "made" for them. Any sort of thing where you're not made to feel like you're the audience of it, you're just gonna be like, "Well, I don't see the appeal."
Well, why should you? [Laughs.]
It's all obviously that something that should have been striven for but the thing that I don't understand, then, is from the industry standpoint is why there's not more of an effort even if you take the greedy "we can make more money" standpoint. Like, I've talked to a few people for this who have been at those tables to try to do that and they're just not interested.
Which isn't a question to pose to you, but that's where this is coming from.

Well, and no one's gonna do it until someone does it and makes a lot of money doing it.

Yeah.

You know, giant billion-dollar studio don't take risks.

So I've been hearing.

But that's true with every industry. You don't see -- like Schick or Gillette. Procter and Gamble doesn't take gambles -- haha.

[Laughs.] Yes. [Laughs.]

They don't take risks on the Dollar Shave Club but the Dollar Shave Club and that Harry's Razors are making a ton of money off of them. Or Budweiser and Miller Lite aren't going to change their beer recipe just because there's a couple people who have craft brews that are making a couple million dollars, right?

[Laughs.] "Oh, that's great that you have your tiny little business but we bring billions of dollars in with the lowest common denominator because it's the lowest common denominator."

That's not just videogame companies. That's every big giant business that has a ton of stuff in there. They're gonna keep hoeing the same --

Yeah.

Until somebody makes money with it, right? Because they used to say, "Oh, you can't make any money with a science-fiction film." Then Star Wars came out. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

And then everyone wanted to make science-fiction films.

"You can't make any money with superhero films." And then the first Spider-Man came out. That was the first big one? And now we have Marvel making four of them every year for God's sakes.

One for every season.

[Laughs.] Yes. [Laughs.]

"For every season, there is a Marvel / Turn, turn turn."

[Laughs.] I love that song.

[Laughs.] Myst was that game.

It was, and I know you've read some of these interviews but, like, is it just that thing you were talking about? Laralyn McWilliams told me she was at the Game Developer's Conference right after Myst was proven to be a big success and there were a lot of developers sniffing their noses at it and saying, "Well, it's not a real game."
In other words, implying there's nothing to be learned from here.
And indeed, history has shown: It's basically been buried. You can't really draw a lot of arrows from that to how it rippled it out. It's almost remembered as an anomaly, not the new theme for there to be variations on.

Yeah.

But isn't that because the people who loved it didn't approach videogaming as a "I'm a gamer?"

What do you mean? I agree, but let's break that down.

So, yeah. This is interesting because, like I said, there's a small cohort of people, I think, who self-identify as gamers where their life is constructed in such a way where it revolves around the consumption of videogames.

There are people like that in the music industry and there are people like that with movies. "Oh, I'm a cinephile or I'm a music auteur."

But that's not the whole market for music and movies. But for videogames, it seems the whole market for videogames is those self-identified gamers.

And when games come out that go beyond that, like Myst, like Candy Crush Saga I guess. [Laughs.] Those people make a ton of money but then the game industry doesn't know how to integrate it into their model.

Why is it that movie people can watch movies and it doesn't have to be, "I'm a movie person." But videogame people, it's like, "We only make videogames for videogame people." Is it because the costs are so high? I don't know.

It just seems weird to me that you can have -- I hate to use the phrase, like, "core" and "casual," but why is it that in every other industry you can market to casual people and the core people at the same time, but you can't do it in videogames? And when you do, and videogames get it that you market to casual games, it's just seen as an anomaly?

I think people don't like to admit that they're wrong.

That seems like a really stupid reason to give up on a lot of money. [Laughs.]

I'm not the one -- [Laughs.] I mean, that's gotta be part of it, right?

Yeah, I know you've had developers on. It might be interesting to have -- not that actual number crunchers could tell you why they do anything anyway, so it wouldn't do you any good.

Well, what's the question?

Ask the people who make those money decisions -- not the designers, not the developers, not the producers but the guys with the pens and the spreadsheets that decide "this isn't worth or this, there's no money in this" -- "Where do they get that there is no money in this and why is it that you can release something like Taylor Swift's 1989 where millions of people will buy it just because it has catchy tunes, and at the same time serious music people will also buy it and they can appreciate it for the -- I'm not a fancy music person, so I couldn't tell you -- but they can critique it and they can appreciate it on a level that seems higher than just "I want the latest pop tunes."

But there's nothing -- where is that in videogames? And when it does show up, why is it that half the audience decides that they don't want anyone else to enjoy their hobby?

I don't see music critics in The New Yorker or anywhere else saying that you're not allowed to listen to this band 'cause this band is only for "real music people" or "only people who truly love high film are allowed to watch Rear Window or anything by Alfred Hitchcock."

[Laughs.]

I don't get that mentality. I don't know where it came from because it's only here. Right?

Yes.

It's only in videogames where the people who should be evangelists -- I talk to music people, and I have a lot of music friends who are way more into music and when I say, "Oh, I like The Offspring," they chuckle and say, "That's too bad." And then they talk about -- newsflash -- they also like The Offspring and then half a dozen other bands that they think are better that I would be interested in. Why is it when someone comes in to videogames and they say, "I like Candy Crush Saga," we call them all the bad words we can think of and we try our hardest to make them never want to play another videogame again?

Well, so all this points to in that recipe you were mentioning before a call for -- I don't know what the proper unit to mete out insecurity is, but, there's definitely at least a whiff.

It's just so weird.

Is it because we were beat up and stuffed into lockers at one point?

But I was never -- I've been teased, sure, but never over videogames. And even if I had --

No. Right. But that's what we talk about.

But who's gonna beat up someone today who --

Nobody!

But some people never grow up!

[Laughs.]

That's not a surprise. I've been to my 10-year high-school reunion.

Yeah?

Those people are the same.

[Laughs.]

And that must be true of the nerds who were beat up.

It wasn't even "beat up." You're right. It was "I didn't get invited to the cool parties and I didn't have sex 'til I was in college."

Well boo-hoo.

Yeah.

Like, grow up.

Were things always this way around videogames? Maybe it was just less intense before? How did we get to this place?
I am not at all submitting this as my official theory and I rarely state my own opinions in these interviews. I'm here to try to figure out how other people see this so I can figure it out for myself. But videogames have long had to be on the defensive. The market crashed in the '80s and Nintendo tried to bring them back and re-position how they'd be received: "No, no, this is not for adults. This is for kids. It's a totally different market." They came back having to apologize themselves.
And when that worked, they got blamed for bad grades and being too violent and they went to Congress and they got blamed for school shootings and it's like everytime you think surely the audience for videogames will let something rollover, it's just taken to a huge extreme. It's the same pattern over and over, including this and last year.
I understand there's a gap in that succession that I just rattled off, but it's not like these attitudes went away. It obviously was allowed to linger.
But then I talk to other people who say, "No, those insecurities are easily shrugged off. Games aren't stigmatized anymore."

See, I haven't shrugged that stigma off.

I'm looking through the emails I sent at the very beginning of our conversation and here: "I find it hard to play games when I have dogs, a wife, and friends who I could be hanging out with and should be hanging out with. There's social pressure to be normative."

And if I went through here, I'm sure there would be more where it talks about how -- yeah.

"People come over to my house and they see the shelves of games for six or so different video systems, look it over quickly, make the kind of comments we all make when we're trying to be polite or masking confusion."

Yeah. I was going to ask you about that.

"The same comments you hear when people comment on your grandma's tiny silver spoon collection or your aunt's shot glasses that she's collected from all the tiny towns in the South, and you're like, 'Oh, that's great.' Or, 'Here's my silver spoon from all the amusement parks I've been to.' And it's like, I'm not judging my grandma for having that, but there's no place for me to talk about it."

And for a lot of people, I think it's true, where it's like, "Oh, that's a lot of videogames."

"Do you like Mario?" "Yeah, I like Mario."

But for people who games are ancillary or just another form of media, among all of them, there's not much more than that so you just go over it. You just don't talk about it.

So how is the industry screwing this up by not broadening it? Even the perception of it.

Yeah. I think they're afraid of their core audience.

[Laughs.] Have we talked about this before?

I don't think so.

Like I said, I rarely drag my own opinions into this but -- yeah. That's what I think. That has been my starting point, in part, for this. They're afraid of what they've created and can't acknowledge it.

And I think at one point it wouldn't have mattered, but --

Or maybe they're making so much money they don't even care.

Yeah. That could be the case.

I mean, that's a perfect thing because, look, I'm still buying games and not playing them.

Why? Because you think you can later?

Yeah.

Like, I want to.

Or, there's a ton of -- oh, perfect example. What's today?

Uh, the 26th.

So, Tuesday, the new King's Quest comes out, right?

Correct.

I -- some of my earliest memories are watching my brother on a Tandy 1000 go through the first King's Quest, right?

Me, too.

Like, King's Quest and Space Quest -- when I think about computers, when I think about games --

My parents didn't have an Atari, we had the Magnavox 2. So I didn't play any of that and I was too young, but my dad got a Tandy PC from, like, Radio Shack pretty early on. The mid-'80s. And, yeah, when I think of videogames, it's largely Sierra On-Line because that's what I knew first. Like, Sierra's been dead for over a decade. Why do I have this urge to buy a game I won't have time to play just because it says King's Quest?

Insert

Like, that's nostalgia. That's a bunch of me putting on things that aren't in that game and then wanting to buy it because I want King's Quest succeeds because I love King's Quest whether I ever play it or not.

And that's true with the Civilization series. That's true with lots of different things. I want Sid Meier to be able to make videogames, so I'm gonna buy 'em even though I think I've maybe played one or two games of Sid Meier's.

You know, you mentioned that Tomm Hulett thing before we started, where he asked me that question about why things are staying the same from the big-budget spaces. And I told him, well, because people keep buying it.

[Laughs.]

Just to be like, "Hey, I really want you to make stuff. But the reason I became a fan is because you did a lot of different things and I want you to do something different."

That's Kickstarter. Right?

Sort of. That's a much more narrow window where it's like, "Hey, I only wanna do this one specific thing." But what if you're like, "Hey, people doing this new King's Quest who were not the people who made the old King's Quest, maybe you should do something different? Here's money."

Yeah.

But then -- yeah. I don't know. That game's going to sell because it has King's Quest on it, not because it's a good game.

Regardless.

It might be a great game. I don't know.

It'll be a bonus if.

The reason they put King's Quest on it is because whoever owns the rights to it were like, "Okay, Telltale is making games that seem to be selling well. We want a piece of that. What do we have in our stable? Oh, King's Quest."

[Laughs.] "Shove it out there!"

Yeah. Because here's a tiny thing that's doing well.

Telltale's done really well. I mean, considering the size of the studio.

Yeah, but they're in an odd position that the games that they're making themselves have become side shows to what properties they can get involved. And it's not a concerning thing, in the sense that it --

Are you talking about The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, that they're the licensor of choice for these kinds of things? [Laughs.] "Have Telltale make a game of your property!"

Basically, yeah. That's fine, but isn't it odd that people are more excited over the properties than what the games themselves will be? I don't think it's a stretch to say that people who like comics also like videogames. Like, I don't know that it necessarily grows the audience. Maybe it will?

Yeah, I don't know. That would be interesting to look at it if it grew the audience. I think, again, this is because of the AAA giant studio, can't-fail model. Like, oh, it's great that you made a game -- because Telltale made the Sam & Max games, right? Let's think about where they started.

Insert

They did the new Sam & Max games. They did that Back to the Future stuff. They had some original stuff but -- what was the puzzle? Puzzle Agent? They did that right, right?

They did.

But we're never gonna see another Puzzle Agent.

They did a sequel, though. But I guess we're seeing why they're doing the things they're doing.

Because that helps -- it defrays risk, maybe?

Yeah.
We were talking before about game companies and whether it's unique to the game industry -- why is it game companies stay silent when the audience is harassing individuals who are part of the industry? Or their own employees? Like, why is Intel the market leader on this?

I think we don't know how to deal with it.

Like, we think of the Internet as new and shiny and I don't think -- okay. Here's a perfect example, because I work in politics.

Anytime someone calls or writes a letter to my boss' office, we count it as 10 to 20 people feel that way. Because calling doesn't seem like it's a high bar of entry, but it's a high bar of entry for a lot of people to look up a phone number, call a stranger, and then tell them how you feel about legislation or new laws.

And writing a letter and sending it in is the same way. But on the Internet, that bar is so low. That's where "don't read the comments" comes from. Right? Most people would not put the awful things they put on Twitter or on YouTube comments -- they wouldn't commit that to paper and then send that to the newspaper or the developer. [Laughs.]

And so maybe this hate was always there. Maybe this vitriol, this conservatism was always there but no one knew about it. And now we all know and we don't know how to deal with it. Marketers, PR people don't know how to deal with that.

That's fairly clear when we see what happened at the end of Mass Effect 3 or we found out, like, a woman was writing Mass Effect.

I mean, it's like an endless parade of awful stories.

Or how anytime Tomm says anything about anything on Twitter, someone pops in and says, "Fuck you for ruining Silent Hill, die in a fire."

Twenty years ago, in that same situation, everyone woulda been like, "Oh, this is a good game. It's a little different."

I don't even play the Silent Hill games, so I don't even understand what he did to ruin them. But I'm sure that 20 years ago he'd have no idea and no one would care and his career would not be stalled out in that, "Oh, you're the guy who ruined Silent Hill."

You mean he wouldn't be labeled that way in other people's eyes.

Yeah. Like, but, somehow that's Tomm's story now.

And that sucks for him.

And that sucks for the writer for Mass Effect and the Dragon Age person or the community manager for whatever some game is that happens to take the brunt of this ugly.

It probably happens a lot.

It probably does. It happens steadily, and there's a thing that's somehow the catalyst and a lot of people are like, "Yeah, we're all gonna be angry about this one thing."

I just think we don't know how to deal with it. Like, we see, right now, the world, the Internet companies coming to terms with how to deal with all this vitriol. It might have been all this vitriol was always there.

The means to broadcast it was difficult.

And now it's really not difficult. Because anyone can grab a $10 camera, put a top hat on and go on YouTube and be an ass of themselves and people will listen because they feel that. I mean, Donald Trump is running for president.

I've heard.

Donald Trump is the perfect example of the exact same thing that's happening in videogames.

Right? Who is this guy? How could he be doing this? This would not be possible in any other world but the one we currently live in. Because, hey, it's now really easy for people who have always felt like he felt or the way top-hat guy felt or "skull in your video" guy felt or “I wear a bathrobe” guy felt, for them to get together and share the fact that they hate everything.

I think these people were always there. They just couldn't find each other before.

And society has a good job of making people be polite. In person, I imagine most of these people would never say the things they do because in person we have ways of punishing people.

You were saying other industries do more to protect their people or to do more damage control.

Like Monsanto. Yeah. Or academics for schools. People who experiment on chimps, right? People who do animal experiments.

But, again, that's been going on -- academia is a pretty limited, tiny field, and even tinier within it are the people who study chimps or study mice or people who you would say torture animals.

Yeah.

And that's new, right? There's probably books or documentaries about how 60 years ago these people started to get targeted. And I'm guessing if we'd look, we'd find out that schools and the police didn't know how to handle it then, either. Like, the first time called and said, "I need you to come to my house, police, because Greenpeace is here and they've torched my car." "Well, what do you do?" "Well, I'm a scientist." "Well, why do you think Greenpeace torched your car?"

Like, it's the same denial. Who cares that you work on chimps, because for most people it's like, "Okay, you're a scientist. That's what you do. Why would anyone attack you?"

And I think that those industries had to learn how to deal with it and now that's what we had to learn how to deal with. And I think that's what you're seeing: Twitter is learning how to deal with this. These big companies are learning how to deal with this.

Do you think this is just going to take care of itself?

[Laughs.] I don't think it's going to take care of itself, but people are taking care of it. We're seeing movement now where it's like, "Enough's enough. This is no longer acceptable and people are experimenting with models."

And of course, the problem is that this is in a medium that's controlled by advertising and because all the products we use online -- the model for online is "sell your consumers to advertisers."

Right. If you don't see a price, you are the product.

Exactly.

And so, Twitter and Facebook -- the reason it's harder for them to deal with this, and every website, is that's how if people leave because they're being censored or whatever, then you just lost money. If the users were the people paying for it, this would be solved. It would've been solved a long time ago because no one's going to pay. I'm not going to give you $9 or $15 a month for people to take a dump on me everyday.

[Laughs.] Some people might.

[Laughs.]

But people would leave and then your company would go away. But because Twitter makes its money by having millions and millions and millions of people on it, every person who leaves it costs them money, and so they want to do as little as possible to make anyone leave because their whole model depends on having millions of eyes.

It's like Reddit. Isn't Reddit doing the same thing right now? "We have a bunch of racist misogynist everything and we need to hide these people while not getting rid of them because we actually need these people to stay here because we sell advertising based on those numbers, and if all the racists leave, then we can't sell our advertising for as much and our model doesn't work."

Oh no.

I'm not sympathetic to it. I think it's a bad model to build --

No, but it's the fact of the model.

Yeah. That's the reality of it. I would like there to be a different model. I would love for us to start paying for the things we use again and appreciating that. That, "Oh, if I was the consumer of this, this would not be the problem." Like, if I could just pay for Twitter, then I wouldn't have to worry about it and this would go away. If I could pay for Facebook, this would go away.

Because now the vast majority of people on Twitter are nice people, right?

I think so? It depends.
It depends on what people you have in your orbit. [Laughs.]

Well, and that's the other thing. I'd like to think that most people are nice people.

Yeah.

Yeah, but, I think they're trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that it's a shitty model that we built the Internet on.

So, what do you think the games media could be doing to help improve the industry or the space around it online?

I mean, I don't read. I occasionally read USgamer.net, and that's only because I know everyone there. Like, I know Jeremy Parish, I know Kat Bailey, I know Bob Mackey. [Laughs.]

You followed them there from 1UP?

Well, yeah, but I know them in person. They're friends. [Laughs.]

But I think we need to admit there's a problem. Let's go through the fuckin' 10-steps program, right?

I mean, I think I'm trying to do something here.

Yeah!

Being honest is the first part and we're not even there yet, right? People are like, "There's not a problem?"

Or alternatively they're -- insanely enough -- people who are saying there is a problem and the problem is all these people who aren't awful being in my hobby. "Social justice warriors are the problem." Like, I don't know how you come to the point where you think the problem in your hobby is that more people want to be involved with it and they want to explore that medium in new and different ways.

[Laughs.]

Like, how is that a problem? When students make student films, when auteur film critics make their weird, post-modern stuff, when people have those plays where they just pour honey on themselves and roll around in newspaper for an hour and a half -- like, "Oh, I get it. That's not art to you."

Don't buy a ticket. Who cares.

Yeah.

I don't understand, again, the mentality where it's like, "No. You're not allowed to like my thing." Like, the fact that Gone Home exists doesn't mean that the next Call of Duty isn't coming out. Right?

Yeah. There's no displacement going on. The only displacement is coming from the people feeling attacked -- except, well, wait, everyone's feeling attacked.

[Laughs.]

But the point is that there is no displacement.

Maybe it's just growing pains. Maybe the fact --

That's where I started before I started this. Really ugly growing pains.

Maybe what we're seeing is that some of the people in the industry are realizing it's bigger and, I don't know, when you've been pampered to your whole life and now when you see marketing that's not to you, maybe you get upset by that. But, I don't know. It's a weird place to feel like, "Oh, people are enjoying the things I've wanted them to enjoy my whole life and now I have to hate them for it because they don't enjoy it in the exact same way I do."

"I am the one true arbiter of this piece of entertainment." I don't understand that at all.

It seems weird and it seems that it's just something that videogames are dealing with.

And maybe, again, maybe that's just within this small group of 25- to 35-year-olds who are fucking caught up in their own myth-making, right?

Yeah. You sound like me on Twitter when I just ask into the void to no one in particular: These things you want to be true, why do you need them to be true?
Do you want to hazard a guess?

I don't know. I'm not invested in it anymore outside of, like, I want videogames to succeed, I want the people who made my childhood so great to succeed, so I'm gonna keep buying videogames I don't play. [Laughs.]

Outside of that, I don't get it. Fucking grow up.

Why are we still having console wars? We're not 7-year-olds in the schoolyard. But we are? Because I have to pick what's a real game and if I don't I'm going to get -- I mean, this is the kid who was tiny in school and then he goes off to school and fills out and now he changes his life and now he's gonna be, like, alpha male or macho guy the whole rest -- like, you climb the ladder and then you kick it out after you're there. I don't understand that mentality, but it's a common enough occurrence that we have the phrase, "Oh. Climbing the ladder and once you're on the top, kicking it out."

It's a common enough occurrence that it's a cliche.

I mean, I guess it would be this is the way games have been marketed, this is the message that is constantly being reinforced and --

Is it? Is that how they market games? Like, "You're a true gamer if you like this game?"

I mean if a lot of the most popular media sites repeatedly report on, "This is the main thing you should be interested in or this is the only thing to be interested in," then anything outside of that will feel weird or stupid because -- people want to feel better than something.

Yeah. Maybe it's because it's not marketed as art. Right?

Like you said, Nintendo came around to it because it was hey, "Hey, this is a toy for kids. We're not doing videogames. Videogames are terrible things and the market crashed."

How do you see art be marketed?

Art is hella marketed. [Laughs.]

I mean, the art industry is, like, a billion-dollar industry. Just because I don't see it -- I'm not the buyer, right? But it's marketed to those people.

Open up New Yorker and there are ads in there for, like, Christie's, for art galleries. So -- yeah. There are headhunters out there who are looking for, like, the next big thing in art. There are trends.

But art didn't start that way, right?

No.

Because art didn't start that way, we have to dress it all up as art.

But videogames started as a consumer product. Videogame press started as enthusiast press, right? There's no history --

Well, and it was to help bolster the industry take hold, period.

Yeah, yeah. I mean, the original -- the press grew out of "let's sell videogames." That's where videogame press came from. [Laughs.]

This is accurate.

Its whole job was to move videogames and books didn't start that way, right? Books are a form that's 600 years old and capitalism didn't exist when they came around.

And so, that's the same for art, and that's the same for music, it's the same for TV. TV has always been a consumerist product -- well, no, that's not actually true because when TV first came on had to dedicate part of their airwaves, if you broadcast television, to the arts. To improving people.

Yeah. I mean, when radio first started, weren't the airwaves considered sacred?

Yeah. It was public property.

Yeah. They thought of it as rightfully belonging to the audience.

Yeah, you had to dedicate so much of your time to the betterment of the public. That went away in the '80s, I think.

But, again, at least at some point there was the point that this is a medium for bettering ourselves. That's never been true for videogames.

I don't know. I think having fun, having a break -- I think that's a way for betterment.

Oh, I'm not saying it's not. I'm saying that baked into them is that they're just a consumer product.

Yeah, I would agree with you there.

So, there's no value of it, and so when critique starts happening, maybe that's why we have a problem because there's no -- "Oh, we want videogames to be art because we want our hobby to be recognized as something better than just wasting our time."

But at the same time, there's not an understanding maybe of what it means that it's art? Like, okay, if it's art, then it needs to be taken seriously, so let's start taking it seriously.

[Laughs.] There's always gonna be someone who thinks what you spend your time on is silly.

Yeah, that's true if I collected Andy Warhols, right?

Absolutely.

If I was in the world where I could collect Andy Warhols, there would be some art guy who would be like, "You have all this money to collect fantastic art and you're wasting it on Andy Warhol?"

I would love to meet an Andy Warhol otaku, by the way.

[Laughs.] I'm sure they exist.

I'm sure they do, too.

But, again, someone in the art world will say, "Oh, Andy Warhol's not for me." And in private they might tell their friends, "Can you believe that guy wasted all that fucking money on Andy Warhol?"

Because the art world exists in that -- this is art and just because you don't like it, you can't say it's not art. Just because you don't like this painting, you can't say it's not a painting. So, you still have to engage with the media. You still have to engage with the medium. You don't tell that person, "Your Andy Warhol collection is garbage and I'm going to call the police and SWAT you because I don't like Andy Warhol."

I mean, the idea is insane. It's ludicrous that someone would be like, "Oh my God! Someone signed a toilet and they put it in a museum! I'm going to SWAT the curator of the museum, the artist who signed the toilet and put it there and all the people who make an argument for as to why it's art."

How dare he not be into Lichtenstein.

That sounds insane, and it is insane, but here we are in a world where on my where Twitter feed they talk about how they're being swatted because they want more women and minorities in videogames. [Laughs.]

Yeah, and I've talked about that on Twitter, too. And they insist I have rose-colored glasses.

[Laughs.]

And that's what it gets down to: There's something different today that wasn't true 20 years ago. And, okay, sure, there weren't local SWAT teams 20 years ago but I don't think people would have done that 20 years ago. I don't think they would do that even if the capability was there. The availability of the capability is almost immaterial. Somehow these things in the Venn diagram is poking people in a really stupid way. [Laughs.]
I don't want to keep going in circles here. I feel like, "Okay, cool, we really agree with each other." And I'm glad but --

It's not even agreement! I think both of us are, like, trying to get in the head of someone who -- like, I literally can't inhabit the head-space of that person.

[Laughs.] Here's my most negative I'm going to be.

I'm going to say that -- and this is probably the actual truth -- is that despite all our progress as human beings, most humans are small, brutish, and nasty. And we've been dragged kicking and screaming into a civilization where it's no longer polite to be small, brutish, and nasty. But that doesn't mean that most people in it aren't small, brutish, and nasty.

I think, also, there's some harm done in acting like we all have to like each other. I think it's all right to be like, "You know what? I don't really like that person so I'm just gonna not waste my limited life expending energy and letting them know I hate them."

Yeah, I agree with that, but I don't see that happening.

I don't either.

[Laughs.]

But I think that person has always been there. I just think that until now we had the luxury of ignoring them.

I would agree.

That's what it is, and that there's no luxury in social networks and in media spaces anymore.

No.
Well, hey, let me ask you a few quick questions about videogames while I have you. [Laughs.]

Yeah.

I mean, it's all related. This stuff does not exist in a vacuum.

Do people just really want to talk about videogames without the context?

Some do.

Once again, that's the perfect example of videogames just being a consumer product, right?

Like, we don't talk about the glasses we drink water out of. [Laughs.] They're just a thing that we buy, and if I don't like them, I throw them away. And then if you see people talking about them, "Well, this glass has an extended blah blah blah," it's like, "What're you talking about?"

Everything has a context to it.

[Laughs.]

Only in post-post-capitalistic materialistic societies like ours do we have the luxury of treating things as products that have no context. That they're just things that exist, and I don't have to put it in a context, and it's disposable.

So, hey, perfect example: "I don't want to talk about anything surrounding this. I just want to consume this item and how I consume it is up to me and you don't have the right to tell me I'm consuming it wrong or that there are other ways to consume it because who else does it for anything else I consume?"

Except for art, and most people don't engage in the art world. They just want the legitimacy of the art world.

I thought people like those sort of tips. Don't we just call those life hacks?

What sort of tips?

On better ways to consume things.

[Laughs.] Yeah, but, again, that's just, "How can I be a better consumer?" That's not questioning consumption as a model. That's not questioning the context in which the product you're consuming exists and what are the assumptions baked into it.

Like, okay.

And, again, if you don't want to have that conversation? Tune out. Nobody's making you.

Okay! Ask me the questions!

I think I have been. [Laughs.]
Do you feel like there was some fulfillment from games that you just stopped getting?

Yeah, like, I think I so. And I think that's mostly on me because God knows that games are much easier to get into now than when I was playing King's Quest IV. When I was in college or high school, when I was going, through, like, 100 hours of Final Fantasy VII, like, where did I find the time do that? And I must've gotten something out of it despite the opaqueness and obtuseness of parts of Final Fantasy VII. [Laughs.]

Yeah.

But you're right. I'm not getting that now because I think if I was still getting it I would make the time for it. It would still be important enough for me to tell friends and family or whatever -- if it's important to you, you make time for it.

Do you remember a point where you were like, "You know what? I'm out."

Yeah, like, right after I graduated college and got an internship it was like, "I can't."

That would be, like, 2007, 2008. It was like -- there just wasn't feedback, I guess.

Insert

Maybe I just stopped taking itself so seriously and because I wasn't taking it so seriously, it didn't have the value -- like, we're both here talking, "Why did people lose their minds over this?"

Well, maybe because they're taking it so seriously? And I just don't have that emotional attachment anymore. It's just, like, yeah, it would be enjoyable to play Dark Souls, but I don't get anything out of it. And apparently a lot of people get a lot out of Dark Souls 'cause they seem to be crazy about it.

Somehow "people who feel differently than me" has become the new "Sega versus Nintendo."

Yeah.

That became the new console wars? "Things I don't like versus the things I like."

And I think most people -- well, and because that's the culture, I think people just disengage, right? I'm not interested in having a discussion on the 100 reasons why Xbox One sucks and PlayStation 4 is good. I'm not interested in having the discussion on whatever the game mechanics are in Dark Souls that make it you either love it or you hate it. But a lot of people do because I'm sure if I went on Something Awful, there would be a forum that's thousands and thousands replies long where it's just people arguing over the minutia of that game.

I'm just -- yeah. I guess I don't have the energy for it anymore.

Like, just how I don't have energy to read fiction.

Hmm.
This is highly speculative, but how do you think games might change if people stopped moving on or cutting back? Either the software or the ecosystem. I'm not asking you to speculate on specific series or anything.

Here's the thing.

I'm still buying all these games. I imagine that the people who disengage are still buying it. I still play them occasionally. It's just I'm no longer play them in the context of doing it with other people 'cause that's just not interesting to me because as you were saying: If I want to talk about the media I'm consuming as a videogame, the only way to do it is to have an argument.

I'm saying if I want to talk about Dark Souls, I can't just say, "Oh, it doesn't have a manual and I don't understand what any of the stats do and nothing's explained to you and I don't like that." Instead of someone going, "Huh. That's interesting. This is what I like about it."

Now they're going to say, "These are all the reasons why you're wrong."

That's helpful.

And, "You're also stupid for not getting it."

That's also helpful.

Well, I can do two things.

One: I'm not gonna play that. Well, I'm definitely not going to talk to you about it.

So I'm not going to engage the community of gamers.

Two: I might stop playing it because if you like it so much and you're so awful, then I probably shouldn't like it.

And/or three: I'm just going to consume it privately.

And I'm guessing here -- we keep talking about how people are still buying games, right? But they never talk about how they're buying games. Maybe they don't talk about that they're playing games, either.

But they are. They're just doing it in a private way. They're now consuming their games privately, when before we wanted -- for a long time it's like, "I want to play this with my friends, I want to play this with my friends, I want to play this with my friends, I want to play this with my friends." And then the culture moved to, "Even my friends have to be oppositional, so I'm just going to play this by myself or I'm just gonna play it with the two people I know who aren't going to be assholes about how they're playing."

My web guy, Mark, wrote a thing on his blog about how bad games still are at just helping you find new friends to play games with.

Well, because, buying a game is a pretty low bar of whether two people are going to click, right?

This is sort of why I think the discussion of "game culture" can be weird because it's such a low bar of entry to have something in common. It would be like throwing a mixer for everyone who bought the same oscillating fan as you.

Yeah.

"So you also don't like being warm?"

[Laughs.] There's a lot to build a relationship on.

Exactly. And the answer now has been to, like -- "Well, you'll still interact with this person but we're going to limit that interaction so they don't actually talk to you." Right?

Like, "Oh. It's okay to play Halo. Just play it on mute."

Or on Hearthstone, I think you can't even talk to people, right?

I have no idea.

Yeah. I think you can't even talk to people. Like, there's a list of things you can say. You can't type anything. And I think I read an article that it's the same in Splatoon. Like, you can't talk to anyone. You just say, "Go here. I'm doing this."

So our answer to that solution wasn't to make those places inviting or to do better matchmaking. Our answer was to limit interaction to gameplay mechanics.

Which is fine. That's useful. But we did that because people were sick and tired of being harassed out of other games. It was a way of, "Okay, I want to do this multiplayer game but I don't want to actually want to interact with the people who are doing it because there's nothing there for me."

That's really weird because -- I don't know. A ton of my friends I met through the fact that they had videogames.

Why was it so open and welcoming when I met all these people and now it seems to be this awful place?

Insert

I don't know. If I had any of the answers I wouldn't be doing this.

Yeah. I don't -- where were these people? "Oh, they were on 4chan. Or 8chan." Whatever. And it's like, "Okay. Well, why did they leave?"

[Laughs.]

They've always been here and they were always awful -- well, why all a sudden are they showing up everywhere instead of just their one little hate circlejerk?

And why did we adopt that culture? Because now it's not even just them who are doing it, it's people I know and like and have been friends with who -- why is that the format in which we engage people about this media?

You know, I think people like to blame games as being too violent. I don't think that's the case.
I don't know. My brain is so awash with other people's opinions at this point from doing this.
But the point is that's a good question. And I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with this specific output. But it might? And it might be hard to know that.
But the fact of the matter is, as we've said, there are other consumer groups who are not doing this. I have friends who no longer write about games and have quit social media. We have discussed this at great length and they put up with me tugging on their sleeves. Maybe gamers were the first Internet-connected consumer group. And maybe it has something to do with the interactive nature of it and the industry's obvious lack of taking ownership for some pretty big and basic things. Somehow all that gives off the impression that this is all about them and, I guess, you know, whatever the prevailing attitude is. This is democracy. This is what if not the most people think, the most who are loudest.
And it seems like, online, the loudest people seem to think there are only two sides to everything.
Both sides are going to act very sanctimonious.
Nobody's going to be happy.
Everybody is losing.

So, this is cable television's fault is what you're saying.

Maybe. I've traced some this back there in conversations with friends that have nothing to do with videogames -- about the Internet.

Like, this is the 24-hour newscycle: There are two sides to everything and every point has to be respected.

That's not actually the case, it's just that at one point news channels had to fill 24 hours and so they threw garbage in to fill it and the garbage became the model.

Yes.

And now you can't say a thing without someone popping up and being like, "Well, you're being unfair because you're not presenting the other side of the story."

Like, that's never been the case. That's not the norm. [Laughs.] Go back 60 years. It wasn't the news' job to present both sides of the case, right? It wasn't like, "Oh, that's a new model where let's have two talking heads beat each other up and when it's over go, 'Hmm, they both have interesting points of view.'"

[Laughs.]

Like, that wasn't normal.

Yes.

It's normal now and so now you can't even present your opinion or you can't even present facts without someone saying, "Well, wait a second. What's the other side of the story?"

"Well, there is no other side of the story. These are the facts."

"Well, but, no. There has to be another side to the story."

No.

Sometimes there's not another side of the story.

Yeah. Facts are not up for debate.

There's no other side to this story than that there are a bunch of misogynistic, awful people out there who don't want women participating in their culture. That's it.

Because even if women are participating in it, they're not gonna do any of the things you seem to think they're going to do. Because women play videogames doesn't eliminate -- I don't know, whatever game it is you play.

[Shudders.]

This keeps me away.

At this point, when I see my friends dealing with, when I see Jeremy Parish say, "No, I'm not gonna say that. I'm not gonna talk about it because I get enough hate from these people already." Like, I can't say, "Well, but it's your job."

Well, you have a right to not having your life destroyed by crazy people online.

So that's a valid choice to choose not to engage.

And that's the choice I'm making. [Laughs.] And that's a choice that I make everyday when it's like, "Oh, videogames are still awful. Nerds are still awful. So I'm gonna go back to read my book because I can read it and I can talk about it and I can sit down with a group of people who can be strangers and talk about that book and not have who I am as a person questioned or try to be invalidated."

And that doesn't seem to be the case in videogames right now.

We can't just disagree, you have to invalidate the person.

So, I'm just not going to engage. If and when I do, it's going to be -- like, I'm part of the problem. It's going to be with King's Quest and Civ 5, right? Like, "Oh, we need innovation here." "Well, I like these people, and I can engage with the product that I have always liked and will continue to like probably because it's not very different from the original one that I really liked and I don't have to interact with you."

Insert

In other words: just have fun.

Yeah, but it's less fun, right? Because it'd be more fun to do it and talk about it.

The thing about reading a book that changes your life is you can share it with people. And I've never been in a situation where it's like, "Hey, this book is great. I want to share it with you!" And the person says, like, "Okay, I'll read this." And then they come back and then they say that I'm a garbage human being. They might say, "Oh, I didn't like this book and here's why." And then we can have an interesting discussion about it.

And for all I know, if I was way into Goodreads or book culture, maybe those people exist. But those Goodreads people aren't all over Twitter. [Laughs.] They're not in The New Yorker, they're not in The New York Times being covered on how they just doxed or swatted someone who liked a book that they didn't like.

[Laughs.]

Like, that's the difference.

So, I'm gonna read a book because I'm safe there.

Well, I don't think you get people to change their mind by repeatedly telling them they're wrong. That's just how you make someone become a terrorist who hates you.

[Laughs.] It's true.

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