I'm Nico D. and I'm 33 years old and my getting into videogames is a very broken line. Most people I know that are my age or slightly younger have this long continuous strand from the time that they were a child up until the point they are at now and my line is a little short little bit at the beginning and then a very long gap and then another short line at the end.
Are you doing hand gestures?
I could hear them. I could actually hear them.
Sorry, I talk with my hands.
No, it's not a problem.
I first played videogames back when I was a very little kid in the sense that all little kids play them where you go over to somebody else's house and you get introduced to things from there. I remember playing Pong on Atari. I have very distinct memories of that. The moment that I kind of really played-played videogames was when a babysitter that I went to full-time before and after school, and before I started school all day, because both my parents worked, got a Nintendo and it had, like, I think at the time she first got it we had two games. The one cartridge that contained Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros.
That was so entertaining in a way that I can't quite contextualize until now in the present day as an adult because as a kid you don't really think very hard or have an awareness about what you are doing as you are doing. That's kind of an adult trait. Little kids will just do things and then they will sort of like codify and contextualize and add meaning to things.
But when I was a little kid we were really into Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt even though none of us were good at it. We were all little kids and we don't have guides. There's no guides, there's no books. We're not reading books. We're five, six, seven,
and eight years old. We're just pointing the gun directly at the screen and laughing about it. It's just really kind of a thing and I sort of grew up with the scant little snippets of games. I remember playing some arcade games because back then in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that's when malls still had arcades. I played Street Fighter. I know I played a couple of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games because I was really big into TMNT.
I think my favorite game out of that first time period of playing games was Super Mario Bros. 3, which I think came out in the early ‘90s I believe. That was the game I was actually aware of being like, I have to get good at this, I enjoy being good at a videogame. It started out we had Game Genie and we would definitely use that and it was a good way of training yourself to kind of skip ahead in levels and stuff like that, but after a while I just got good at Super Mario Bros. 3. But after that period when I stopped needing to be at a babysitter, that was it. Videogames were just kind off my radar.
It's really hard to answer that question as to why that happened but I think it's just because as a young kid I wasn't aware that videogames were a thing that you purchased. Rather, they just sort of appeared in your house. So my house just didn't have a videogame system and my parents weren't nerds. They were just, you know, like retired hippies and I don't remember seeing videogame advertisements on TV. I was a very nerdy kid that wasn't videogame nerdy. I mean, I'd go over to friends’ houses who obviously had gotten bitten by the bug, you know. I had my one best friend, my first best friend in the whole world. His name is Ian. He was super into Nintendo. He got the magazines, he played all of those games and I just didn't. I just didn't ask for it, I didn't think that was a thing I could do.
I have no memories of ever feeling like I needed videogames in my life. I would just play them at my babysitter’s, come home. That was it. I was really into books and horses and fashion design, but not videogames. Looking back on it now, I can understand that I think some of it may have been due to the fact that videogames weren't being marketed to little girls. But overall, I just think I wasn't aware that it was a consumer product. So once they were gone from my life, that was it.
I would play them whenever I came in contact with them, but other than that it just wasn't something I pursued on any level. That period of my life died around -- I wanna say 1993 to 1994 right as things like, I mean the last real big game that I played before I went "dark" was Myst. I was so into Myst because here was a way to play videogames that didn't require a console. You could play them on your computer and I always had a computer. That was one thing that was always in our household from the time I was very little. We had an Apple IIe up until the fact that my mom started building her own PCs. We always had computers in the house, in both of the houses that i lived in -- my dad and my mom's -- because my stepmom was really into computers. So right around the time that the internet was just starting to become a thing, so you started having a thing like internet cafes and like Quake and Doom and stuff like that, that's kind of where I fell off the radar, so like '94?
Yeah, like mid-nineties. Yeah.
Yeah, I do remember playing Wolfenstein in technology class. [Laughs.]
Hey, I can match you. I was on a family vacation to Amish country the spring before Quake came out and I borrowed my dad’s credit card to order Quake in the middle of Pennsylvania.
Wow, that’s hardcore.
Also, my first concert ever was “Weird” Al. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Oh Jesus, you are a nerd.
Just kinda poops out of my butt that way.
So, this was kind of like my first and last love affair of that time period and then it just went dark. I lost track of videogames and I very distinctly remember this. In high school -- so jumping ahead four years, I remember seeing my first videogame commercial that I remember, which was for Final Fantasy VII. It was so memorable because it was the one that had the full-motion video, like the cut scenes as the commercial. I thought that Final Fantasy VII was a movie. I had no idea that PlayStations existed, even though my friends were just starting slowly to get them. I was never into -- a lot of my friends that I trafficked in very heavily were all women, so a lot of them didn't play videogames. It was all their little brothers that played videogames. I just never got back into it.
It was just very funny to me, to talk to my best friend and be like, "Ah Vanessa, what is this film? We gotta go see it looks super cool!" Because we're both like really into anime and Sailor Moon at that point and it was you know, it was just like, "This is from Japan I gotta see this!" And she was like, "It's a videogame." And I was like, "Oh. Oh! Oh, I feel really silly."
That was kind of the last sort of videogame memory I have on the ‘90s. The ‘90s is just completely kind of blank.
So you found out Final Fantasy VII is a videogame and your response even though you were interested was to still stop playing for two decades?
Why didn’t you feel strongly enough about it to track it down?
I mean --
Have you heard of Journey?
Yes. I mean, I know what it is. I’ve never played it, though.
Nah, it’s just that people point at things like Journey or Braid as an example of being something different and for people who don’t like games to seek out and pick up. It’s similar to what you’re talking about with Final Fantasy, although I don’t know that you hear much about people buying a PlayStation just for Journey.
I just did, actually!
Just for Journey?
Yeah. I mean, it's like -- the price point finally got low enough and yeah. I've been wanting to play Journey for quite a long time and I realized it was only on PlayStation so I'm finally buying my first PlayStation ever.
That’s still pretty rare. I do wonder, though -- if you aren’t into videogames how are you supposed to hear about things like Journey or things that are a little off the beaten path? If you’re curious and you want to know, where do you even go without feeling overwhelmed or treated like a poser?
Yeah. It's because I think the internet has a lot to do with kind of recatalyzing my interest in videogames. But friends came first.
Can you tell me a little bit about your bumpy re-entry into videogames?
I mean, is that a fair characterization?
Yeah, that’s fair.
It's interesting because I think that games always kind of stayed on the periphery of my life. I just didn't pay attention to them as much because I think by the time that I started re-entering that space, I still just didn't think that it was something that I -- I just didn't care about it in the same way that gamers do? I mean I consider myself a gamer now, but you know at the time I really didn't. It just wasn't something that had been kind of part of my life. It was always out there on the outer reaches, just something that other people did. I would just do my thing. I mean, if we wanna go into something that I was always like really into I have piles of stories from when I was in the punk and hardcore scene on the East Coast for all of like the ‘90s and the early 2000’s. That's like -- you know, it's hard. Could I talk to a bunch of gamers and kind of like bridge that gap between what it was like to go to punk shows and like come out of a club like reeking of cigarette smoke and your eyeliner running and you just had the most like amazing night and you met like the lead singer of The Dropkick Murphys? Or you just got your face busted ‘cause you were like in the pit? It's very hard to translate that to people who haven't been there.
So, for me gaming has always kind of been this other language, this other experience that people weren't very good at explaining to me. But the start of my re-entry to it was I got to college and I suddenly fell in with all of the gamers. [Laughs.]
As someone coming to videogames from punk scenes, what do you make of the way people in videogame circles talk about punk as a parallel to movements or subcultures within videogames? Does it make sense? When does it make no sense at all?
I wouldn't say they are related very much in the overall community except if you are saying someone could be into punk and a gamer. How they are perceived as an overly masculine scene now that it's been really commodified is perhaps the greatest similarity, but games have wanted to borrow the punk aesthetic to seem edgy or cool but not really care about the politics. It's always come off fake to me.
I came from small scenes that had very tightknit communities and house shows and whatnot. Gaming is a huge corporate machine.
Gaming has very rarely been counterculture, and I mean counterculture in the way that aggressively resists mainstream culture. Nerds as a whole want to believe it is because it was shot down a ton as a niche hobby, but gaming very rarely in the AAA space has resisted mainstream. Now, if we want to talk about indie and sub-indie/DIY gaming scenes, you could say that's way more punk now than anything else gaming has to offer -- people creating messages and experiences that translate the day-to-day emotional rawness. You could definitely say that that whole arena is the place where punk and gaming actually intersect.
You can't play the whole "gaming should be apolitical" and then try to parallel that to punk-rock, when to me, punk-rock has always been and should always remain a way of political speech. Even when it was people talking about doing parties and whatnot, there was a message of being outside of what was considered marketable youth culture. I mean, we're just getting to social justice in gaming now, in a contemporary way and punk's been doing that shit since the ‘70s.
I was on a podcast last night and people always like to ask me, "Is it getting better?" And I just wonder if anyone ever asks you that about game culture, and if so, what do you say?
Better is really hard to answer because it reduces it to progress being linear.
Yeah. I always struggle with that simplistic framing.
In a lot of ways we are moving forward. Towards what, I don't know. And things and conversations are being had we never could have had in the open three years ago. But we lost a lot just to get there, and are still losing a lot.
It will always be getting better for some people, I think. For others, I'm still not sure. I don't know if I could answer for them! I feel like it's gotten better for myself personally, a little. But on a personal level, it's hard to situate myself broadly into the larger picture!
That's often what those questions are implying, right? "Answer for everybody."
Last night I was talking about how it all depends who you ask, and the reality that things are always improving and deteriorating simultaneously. The world doesn't exist to just be quoted about.
I don't want to restrict you to speaking only to this, but are there things you think are bullshit about the ethos of punk being applied to videogame culture with regard to the treatment of women and members of marginalized communities?
Yes! If people think punk and gaming are synonymous, I think it's largely perceived in that way as homogenous on the gender and racial level, which was also a failure of punk as being perceived from inside and outside. Punk always had people of color, particularly black progenitors as well as women of all stripes, queer, and trans creators.
But punk was always portrayed as angry white men. So you can see those parallels. And it's incredibly myopic. I mean, how can you talk about punk rock and deliberately step over how big Riot Grrrl was? Even though I wouldn't 100 percent agree with all the messages from back then because we weren't in the same place re: feminist thought in the ‘90s, it still was a huge spearhead of gender politics. But even farther back, there's always been women in punk So in that way, you could say we've been forgotten by both things.
History often overwrites those who were there because they aren't considered important to the narrative. In the case of gaming, it's a little more manufactured because women were literally not considered the marketable demographic after the collapse at the end of the ‘80s. But, we still were there. But if everything preserved is built up around a male consumer, it's easy to just brush that aside. Same with it being largely white, which factors into gaming being so heavily tied into class as well.
Where did you go to school?
I went to a state school in western New York but I'm not going to mention the name of it. It was a very much a college that was known for its audio production track and music recording, theater tracks. It's very much a liberal arts state school versus a lot of other state hubs in New York that are more known for like tech and stuff like that. So all the nerd and the band kids were at my school. [Laughs.]
I was really big into anime at the time because anime was finally starting to make the jump onto the internet because the internet was finally fast enough that you could hope to download a RealAudio file of like, a TriGun episode in like 16 hours?
On that blazing T1 connection that the entire dorm building splits, yeah.
“Damn, these .ra files are flying!”
Especially when people were good enough to compress things into .avi format, it was like the world opened up. [Laughs.] But that's how I met all the gamers because all of the gamers were also anime fans, so we kind of all fell in together.
What do you remember about trying to bridge your punk roots and past to videogame circles? Were you concerned about losing touch with your roots? What you mentioned in our emails, and what a lot of people talk about with acclimating to videogame culture is they’re often treated with this attitude where it’s like -- they don’t even care whether you’re able to follow along or they’re losing you.
It was weird.
I guess I’m also asking: What sort of experiences did you have where you felt like people weren’t throwing ladders down to you?
I had my group of friends that were like my scene friends and I had my group of friends that were like my gamer friends. The gamer friends tended to be the ones I hung out the most with so after a slow period out, I just sort of drifted away from the scene friends -- scene friends not as tight with me as the gamer friends apparently. You know if you stop going to shows, they don't see you there, that sort of thing.
Right. I used to be in bands all the time and I totally understand. Part of the appeal of videogames is you don’t have to go anywhere.
[Laughs.] Yeah, you can just stay in your dorm and it doesn't cost as much money and you don't have to get dressed up. Yeah, it's totally great. It's a lot easier to do because we were out in the middle of nowhere. My school was just out in the middle of the country with nothing to do. So gaming and drinking were just very prevalent. It's weird though. All of my friends played videogames but I didn't think of them as gamers because I don't really know if I knew that terminology yet.
People are touchy on the consensus of that.
Yeah. I know for me, “gamer” is such a market-codified term. When I think of the history of my relationship with videogames, “gamer” doesn't enter into my mental lexicon until roughly like three or four years ago, at all. Back then I just had friends that played videogames all the time, but they were the sort of people that looking at it now would be called gamers because they had grown up with games they knew all of the obscure shit. They made jokes about it. They made independent films about videogames. They had entire student films based on Silent Hill or based on PaRappa the Rapper or that sort of stuff.
What were those movies about?
I can’t remember. I wasn’t really involved. They tended to do the film stuff like that on the weekends when I would like hang out with boyfriends or things like that. I wanna say it was kind of more like a slightly raunchier take on the actual story of PaRappa the Rapper except it was basically like people were cosplaying as PaRappa the Rappercharacters. I think it was like the main character PaRappa like solving a mystery of some sort? I think. All the films were like comedy except for theSilent Hill one.
You have to be true to the source material.
Yeah, they actually went to an abandoned mental institution to film the Silent Hill one.
We were emailing about this -- you were saying that it feels like the industry forgets that people like you exist. That is, people who picked games up, put them down, and then found your way back to them. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Who is forgetting and how can you tell they’ve forgotten?
Well, it's complicated and I talked a little bit about this on my podcast, the way I technically don't even register as a gamer, even when I started playing videogames again.
How did you start playing again?
I started playing World of Warcraft in 2005 and that was the first time that I was starting to play games regularly again and not just like, oh my friends console or oh, I'm at a party where videogames are present or all my friends are talking about something around me. This was the first time I was actually playing videogames on my own computer again. WoW is full of misogyny there were a lot of jokes like, “Oh, WoW isn't a real game. People that play WoW are not real gamers.”
So I guess I picked up that term earlier than I said before.
There's no women on the internet? Women don't play WoW? Despite the fact that there are many women that play WoW and every other game, but WoW in particular. But I didn't really care as much about the not knowing other game thing until I started to try and break away from WoW. A couple years ago I started trying to get a little bit more involved in not-WoW stuff. Then even like, last year the podcast jumped from being a WoW thing to a general -- so I had to very quickly learn who the people were writing and making videogames. That sort of thing. I got a very fast education and the entire time over the past couple of years I didn’t get half the jokes. I don't have any of the nostalgia so a lot of the like marketing magic doesn't work on me.
I haven't played half of the cultural touchstones that people reference in their own work when it’s considered retro or nostalgic. Like, I've just had to sort of pick up stuff as part of the general churn of the internet because that's just kind of, it's like low level radiation. You just sort of absorb it anyway. Like Pokemon, I've literally never played a Pokémon game.
But you know who Pikachu is, right?
We’re gonna run out of ones that I know very quickly, but yeah.
You know the little yellow rat thing.
Yeah, with the tail. He’s the one who says, “Pikachu.”
Yeah, I think? Not sure.
But yeah, that sort of stuff, the really top-level stuff I just sort of had to absorb so I can get the jokes and laugh, because what's tied into all of this is for a long time while I was still playing WoW I really got big into talking to people online ‘cause I was a very lonely person at that point in my life. I was only playing online games. I was in a really shitty relationship that I was unhappy with so I was just constantly playing online games, so I fell in with a lot of people who were gamers that did know the lingo, that did make those jokes, and I was a woman on top of that. I technically didn't exist and I wasn't supposed to be there and I felt very alienated and so what do you when you're a woman in the nerd space and you haven't embraced feminism, oh you are going to pick up all the of the shitty stuff and gaming knowledge that you know because otherwise you are a fake.
What shitty stuff?
Oh, I said a lot of things to other women in that time period that I would never be comfortable with saying now because it was awful.
Oh, I’m not asking you to repeat it. I just meant more generally.
No, I mean, yeah. Like, that kind of like self- and other-policing woman nerd shit that you go through when you're friends with all these gamer guys, just shitty shitty stuff. But you also have to pick up all this knowledge very quickly because otherwise you're a fake which is funny because I was a fake. I was a real fake. [Laughs.]
I thought it mattered that I was the fake on the side. Because if somebody found out then I would like lose my cred and all these guys would hate me and that would just be like the worst thing in the world.
If that’s what being a fake is, what is authenticity? Obviously it’s not just being able to talk the talk, right?
Yeah, I still don’t really know. It doesn’t matter to me now and now I embrace being a fake. Because you know, gaming, for me, gaming is for everybody and it doesn’t matter if you play one game or play several games, or play games part of your life or not. It doesn't matter.
So, in spending time with a group of people who seem to think that girls don’t exist or shouldn’t exist in this space, what do you think is behind that or driving that belief? Not to make you speculate too much about what’s inside other people’s heads, but I’ve never really brushed up against that in my own friend or social groups myself.
Well, one of the most influential people in games writing that I ever read on the topic, because I do read quite a lot of game writing now and I say now because I didn't read it prior to 2013, was that piece on Polygon about how marketing in the gaming industry really veered away from women, very, very sharply. And considering that gamer culture as we know it today is codified from this marketed environment laid on top of this very weird in-group that's based around gaming consumerism. I believe that, “there were no women on the internet, that there were no women in games, that all of them were fake” comes from there because if you're told from day one that gaming is for you and you are a guy, then by that logic it can't be for women. If there are women it naturally follows that they're just standing in the background, they're not really there to game, they're bad at games. Nobody can be good at games if you're a woman because don't we know that women are just terrible at everything and gaming has to do with skill? And I'm good at games, so if a woman is bad at everything and she picks up a controller, she couldn't possibly be better than me because I'm a real gamer and she's not a real gamer and only real gamers can be good at games.
Are they afraid of women?
I would say afraid of women on the same level as the same level that people are afraid of women in a societal sense. I mean, this is where my big spearhead of being a feminist is coming through.
That’s what I want to hear coming through.
It's hard, I can't keep it inside.
You shouldn’t have to.
Feminist media criticism is eventually how I started getting latched onto what I consider the gaming community because then I started looking at World of Warcraft and started blogging and from blogging I went to podcasting and so on and so forth down the line. But gaming culture mixes in with societal misogyny in a very potent way just because of that consumerist layer that has pushed out women. The media messages that many young people say in videogames often has to do with women being rewards or background characters or side-chicks. They're not really part of the story or they're not really there, or if they are, the rare ones that are, they're unique or special or a rare unicorn.
Whether it's a character or a real woman in a gaming space they are put through all of these authenticity tests, they are put through just gates, just gates and hoops and things like that and you never quite really earn it because on some primal level if the game industry says that women are the outsider by dint of it being marketed to men then they are going to stay the outsiders to all of the people who whole-heartedly participate and kind of swallow this logic down.
What are some of the things people have told you that was meant to hurt you because you are a woman who plays games or comments on them?
That's hard to say because the misogyny was never really gaming specific.
It’s still misogyny.
I mean, it was less about pointed comments about gaming. It was always comments about wanting to push me out of the space by just being openly misogynistic but like I said before, the low-level pervasive idea that women don't play videogames is a joke that people make around you because they don't necessarily recognize you are there, especially in a game that is an anonymous massively multiplayer online RPG where you don't know who is on the other side of the screen. The jokes about girls don't play videogames follow me everywhere.
There’s shit like that everywhere. In comedy, there’s the whole “women aren’t funny” thing.
Yeah. It's not super-specific to gaming in that women are terrible at gaming but -- also, there are comments that are not even intentionally meant to make you feel like an outsider. But there is a very poignant moment that I very distinctly remember. For people that have never played World of Warcraft or any sort of like MMORPG, one of the things you can do in WoW is you can basically do a very large dungeon crawl where you go into a space in the game that is locked away from the rest of the game world. You go with a bunch of your friends, you beat big-giant monsters, you kill ‘em, you get special armor and things from their corpses and it makes you stronger and better in WoW.
I was part of a group of people that did this weekly for years. It was like a family. I met my boyfriend through these people. I’m in a guild with a lot of these people for many, many years. This was a long standing relationship of going and killing monsters every week and they were people I even knew outside of the games at this point. Somebody, a guy friend of mine -- I had been to his house several times. I knew his wife, I knew his kids. He had helped me with this stalker that I had. He basically made a joke in the middle of this dungeon crawl on voice chat with all of the raid members there. He made a joke about me being a sex worker, which I'm not. I don't have any problems with sex workers at all but it was meant in a way to degrade them and in doing so, degrade me by saying that I was one and that I should go on the corner and prostitute myself, very vulgarly. This was somebody I was friends with. This was somebody I was really close friends with and that just fell out of his mouth.
Did you ever talk about it?
Yeah, it came up in officer chat. I was furious. I was upset. I was furious and my boyfriend kind of jumped in and was like, “Man, that was super not cool.” Especially because it was coming on the heels of my stalker, every single day of life at that point calling me a slut, and a whore and all sorts of other really awful things. I was like, I'm hearing it from this guy, this scum of the earth and now I have to hear it from one of my best friends? Because he just didn't think about it or how it would make me feel? There were also moments in chat where one or two guys in the group, also would talk about how disgusting women's genitals are? And this is sort weird because the raid would have women! It wasn't like I was the only woman! I was one of many women in power positions, and yet that sexism just kind of rolled right out. Just fell out of their mouths. Just not even thinking about it. So, there were just moments like that. There were moments that you are reminded that this is not a space where you are supposed to feel comfortable.
Why do people do this?
I think the anonymity aids it because it masks the true diversity of the situation. If you are a person who is used to being considered the majority of a space, regardless of whether or not that is true, but as long as that is hidden from you, you don't think about it at all. I mean, when most people think of the internet now they think social media, so there is now some sort of a person's identity sort of floating in front of your face, regardless of how accurate that is or not. When you're playing an online game like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, all you have to really go on is an avatar or a name and a lot of times that's not very representative of the person themselves.
We’re around the same age. I’m 32, and going to be 33 in a few weeks. But when I think of the internet -- am I mistaken of having a memory of an internet where the attitude was much more, “Oh wow! I found a person!”
Yeah, I do remember that to some degree, AOL chat rooms and stuff like that.
Yeah, and BBSes, but that was even less representative of the world because it was only words. But how has it gone from, “OMG I found a person!” to, “This person shouldn’t even exist?”
I think a lot of it is something specific to gaming, or has its own spin in gaming culture where again it falls back on that marketing where if the only people that are expected to be the audience are the X's,Y's, and Z's. Those people that are X,Y, and Z forget that the A's, B's, and C's are still standing there because they just don't have to think about it. They just don't have to think about it, it's just not something that enters into their consciousness. They're not having their skin being pricked by the subtle implication that they're not supposed to be there. Whereas, I know I'm not supposed to be there. When I see an interview from one of the game developers behind Halo talking about why Cortana is naked to gain an upper-hand from men that she talks to, I'm like yep.
How did that get past PR?
Fuck if I know.
I had not heard that, but nothing would ever surprise me about videogames.
Well, it just happened this morning.
Oh, it happened today?
It happened literally today. And last week, it was like, “We're gonna give players a model in the game where the women characters can unzip her top for a tactical advantage.” And week before that and the week before that, and the week before that and so on and so forth. I'm always reminded that I am not the audience for what is considered to be triple-A games. Now when it comes to the indie space, that's a whole other story. But the videogames that people always talk about on a cultural level, I am reminded on a consistent basis that I am either not represented or I am not supposed to be in the audience. So, that effect is going to filter to the people that make, play, and consume this media and engage with it and don't critically engage with it.
Was there a moment when you felt most on the outside?
That's a good question. But that’s the thing, though. I don’t remember because it’s always been like that. I mean, that’s really kind of a non-answer but --
That feels true, though. Because that would imply at some point it started to improve markedly.
Yeah. I’ve always kind of been an interloper, so I've never stopped feeling like one but in terms of like what was the turning point where I wasn't supposed to be a part of games, I would have to say WoW in some ways just because of the ever-present misogyny. But at no point have I ever felt like I am really part of games. Gender-related, related to my gender or not. I just, you know.
What keeps you sticking around?
Because, so No. 1, I'm 33 years old, I'm a feminist, and I know where this stuff is coming from so I'm an adult and I can kind of explain that it's not just videogames where I don't feel comfortable. It's television, it's movies, it's society, it's when I step outside of my house and somebody shouts at me from a car about my boobs or whatever. I would have to quit living, I would have to quit everything forever. I would have to sit in a dark room by myself until the end of my life if I didn't want to be reminded. [Laughs.]
I’m trying to think of the most depressing thing someone has told me in one of these interviews, and that might not be it because it sounds like you were laughing.
Well, I have a very dark sense of humor. I mean, you have to kind of have a really dark sense of humor to be a feminist.
What seemed to get really important in videogames in the last 20 years or 15 years from where you stopped to where you picked it up? Like, what seems to pop up a lot? What does the industry seem really proud of?
People seem to be really proud of invoking nostalgia, which is very weird to me because that is an unbroken chain for a lot of people that I just don't have access to. Like, that fucking Star Wars Battlefront commercial where like the guy picks up the R2-D2 and looks at it and he's about to just like fucking cry but he's not gonna cry because he's a dude in a commercial and dudes in commercials don't fucking cry.
But it was so weird because it was absolutely, baldly trying to capitalize on that guy’s memories and all of our memories from being kids and it's like, I didn't really see Star Wars when I was a kid.
I mean, we’re speaking in the midst of the great new national holiday, which is the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future.
That I did see when it came out but not in the theatre. I just saw all of these things at my friends’ houses because video tapes were suddenly coming into popularity.
I feel like with this thing, I'm building like a moral case for something wrong with consumer culture. I’m still figuring it out. It’s an ongoing thing, as I know you know. But what seems specific to you about the way games try to manipulate nostalgia that is different from Back to the Future or Star Wars?
Well, because a new Back to the Future movie doesn't come out every year. [Laughs.]
So there’s a greater hollowness to the nostalgia in videogames.
Oh man, that’s so sad.
I mean, why do you think there's a new Legend of Zelda-related property every year? They're marketing to 30-year-olds. They want you to buy the thing that you found so compelling and wonderful as a kid.
I feel like they’re marketing to 30-years-olds who have kids so parents can buy the machine to push it on their kids and have this forced recapturing with them.
Oh yeah, so a different generation can get hooked on the product, which is really weird because I do have some of that nostalgia about, like, Super Mario Bros. But I didn't play it enough to get like every single Mario game that comes out because again, guess what? My Mario experience ended with Super Mario 3. So if we wanna like -- you'd have to basically recreate Super Mario Bros. 3.
Well, guess what? Now you can!
Yeah, I know Mario Maker. It's very hard for me to find myself really interested in games that hook into that nostalgia because I just don't have it. It's like a place in my heart that's missing that only that game could fill.
Is that a Zelda reference?
I don't know.
No, it is. I wasn’t sure if you were making another reference. In Zelda, you collect heart pieces.
Oh. I haven't played it. But I mean, like, that's the thing. Where gaming would try to hook me with that stuff I'm just like, "You can't touch me bro. I didn't play that game." I'm not weeping about the memories I have from when I was a little kid. I'm not. I don't look at the Duck Hunt dog and go, "Duck Hunt dog you were like the best part of my childhood."
I mean, I have a boyfriend who, I love him to death. He will talk your ear off about every single Metal Gear because he has played it the like entirety of his life. What do you think Metal Gear V was really about? It was about putting a closure on that relationship. So that stuff doesn't work on me and it's kind of weird to see that happening when you kind of know how the sausage is made or you can kind of see behind the curtain. The nostalgia doesn't work. Building a franchise really doesn't work with me.
I should add some caveats to that because I don't pick up Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed every year. I did buy several World of Warcraft expansions though so I'm not entirely out of the woods on that one. But those are things that are like, it's easy to see how the wheel turns when you aren't kind of part of that machine getting up and going.
When you play any videogame, what are the sort of learning curves you find yourself running into? Things that are in games that they think are obvious cues for life-long players, but are actually fairly opaque?
Okay, so good example? Undertale. Never played a traditional RPG before.
Right. You didn’t get your PlayStation, you didn’t get your Final Fantasy VII.
I mean, at this point in my life now, I've seen a Final Fantasy game. I played a little bit of XII That was okay, but traditional turn-based RPG stuff? Really not a thing I think I like. I haven't played it enough.
So, when I picked up Undertale I was like, “What are all these fucking menus? Oh my god! Why is this exciting for people? Why does everybody like this fucking game! This is awful!”
What’s funny is in the Final Fantasy era, the attitude used to be, “I suck at this game,” and not, “This game sucks.” But it’s an odd convention, where there’s a bunch of menus and battles and you can’t do the battles because you have to do things in the menus and then things from the battles go into those menus. It sounds about as far away from exciting as you can get.
Yeah, and so the thing is so many people did play those early Final Fantasys. They played EarthBound. They played all of that stuff, so they do have that nostalgia for it. And Undertale was just, like, a love letter to people who loved those kinds of games and that's who it was made for. So when I confront it and people are like, “Don't read anything about it, go in blind because the whole real trick of the game is you playing into those expected RPG elements of just trashing through mobs one after the other.” I didn't have that knowledge. People were making assumptions about my level of literacy that really made it very frustrating to try and play the game. But I run into that literacy gulf a lot. When I pick up a console controller, I don't have console muscle memory.
What is it you could possibly find intimidating about a 12-button controller?
Back in the day, controllers only had four buttons and you didn’t use half of them. They were square and they weren’t fucking rounded. But no, I didn’t own the Wii U until last year. That was my first real console. And now I just bought a PS4 and that hasn't arrived yet.
Yeah, you recently got a job so you can do things like that. Congrats, by the way.
Thanks. But I mean, yeah. I guess that’s also another thing that I don’t tend to mention, but the recession of the middle of the last decade, too. I was poor for a really long time.
No. I still am.
How are you supposed to afford games or consoles?
Are you asking me specifically?
No, it was a rhetorical question. I mean, how are you supposed to game? How are you supposed to be a gamer when you can't afford games or consoles?
People just pirate them.
Oh, I would just play one game, which is World of Warcraft.
I think that’s a factor, though, in a lot of the stuff on the internet that has been talked about a little before on this site. I mean, I’m not an economist. I’m definitely no p-sychiritrist, but I think that’s part of the fuel that is making the internet around entertainment circles, and certain political circles, so fucking angry.
Gaming expects a certain level of disposable income, which factors into that consumerist stuff that you were talking about which is why I only played one game for a really long time. It was 15 dollars a month and I had a computer that ran it because I needed a computer for everything else.
I had always heard whenever recessions hit, expenditure on luxury items and frivolous things actually go up. They don’t go down. I read an article about how this fuels a lot of the fast-food industry.
Yeah, food is a luxury. I really like things like food.
Food is good.
When you are starving and you don't eat everyday, food is really good. I would spend my disposable income on literally two things, 15 dollars a month on World of Warcraft and sometimes I would buy junk food. That's it. That was it. I couldn't afford anything else. I lived in New York City. I worked in a really low-paying job and those were two things I could afford that didn't involve rent.
I mean, you gotta do something that makes you feel good. Otherwise you just feel like a fucking robot.
Yeah. That’s why I stuck with WoW. That’s why I dedicated that 15 bucks a month for so long, because it was the cheapest entertainment I could come by. Fifteen dollars for an entire fucking month for as much WoW as you'd like? Hell yes! Sign me up. It was the cheapest gaming around because this was also before mobile game. But still, WoW’s bang for your buck? Holy shit, off the wall way farther than any other videogame out there.
What does the word “community” seem to mean when people talk about it online? Not just in games, but just generally, what does that word mean online?
A shared virtual space that can sometimes extend to meeting locally with shared -- I mean, I’m falling back on my ComSci degree.
No, I heard. As soon as you said the word “shared,” that was coming through.
Yeah. Shared, linguis, socio-linguistic political values. [Laughs.]
Let me just put my glasses on.
Common vocabulary jargon.
But what does it mean in videogame circles? Is it different?
Yes. I would say they do have similarities because in videogames, communities do spring up in very similar ways. They tend to be around a property sometimes, though. Property. Like, the WoW community are the people that play WoW.
Yeah, the old dinosaur way of thinking about community is that it was console-specific.
Ah. Oh, so is that way people would fight about Xbox and PlayStation and stuff?
Yeah, that’s part of it.
That's still fucking weird to me, I'm never gonna get over that.
That’s part of what was referred to as the “console wars.” It’s part of the continuation of, like, Nintendo had about 80 or 90 percent of the market, and then Sega came along and it became this prolonged debate about which one was better.
I don't understand that. Who cares? Who fucking cares?
Well, obviously a lot of people care.
Yeah, but why!
Tell me a little more about why that’s ridiculous even if that seems super obvious?
It's ridiculous to me because as somebody who never owned those like -- I mean, I'm sure that meant more when exclusives were really exclusive and they were always trying to one-up one another with, like, who had the better graphics. But it feels very contrived. It feels very much like fires stoked by marketing teams, of you have to subscribe your loyalty to this mechanical box in order to prove that you are the real gamer who is either a PlayStation of Xbox person. It's just weird, but it’s also like, it's something that comes up in games a lot. Are you red or are you blue? Are you Xbox or are you PlayStation? Are you left or right? Are you like you know, Doritos or Mountain Dew?
Don’t make me choose! Can’t I be both?
There is a site for you now called dewanddoritos.com.
That site is for me!
You can be everything you ever wanted to be on dewanddoritos.com.
That sounds like I'm signing up for the military or something.
Again! Another topic of where games and other things have intersected in a really fucking weird way and I hate it.
Yeah, I’ve had a few conversations like that on here. I think I’ve told you about that.
Yeah, it’s just --
There’s more. I’m gonna have more of those.
Yay! The loyalty aspect of consumer products is absolutely something they want to keep stoking in games. It's something that gets people to show their loyalty by buying the game, buying the peripherals, espousing it in tweets or forum signatures.
One would think incorrectly that if an industry is looking to espouse so much devotion, they would be looking to have as many people as devoted as possible?
I feel like you’re skeptical of that reality in the videogame world. But, like, I want to explore the language around games and the way that’s used to keep people out, too. Like, I noticed you mentioned Metroidvania --
Yeah, like, what the fuck is “Metroidvania?”
It’s a portmanteau of --
Oh no, I know what Castlevania and Metroid are, but what is it about those games? What game mechanics of those signifies the name? I remember both those games as a kid but I don’t remember enough about what the gameplay is so unique about them that things are a Metroidvania now?
I mean, are you asking me to define it?
I mean, if you want to?
Well, I mean, this is one of those things people will get real nitpicky about, but my understanding is it’s a blending of of elements from both of those games, where it’s a big sprawling map that is gated behind different doors that can only be opened when you do specific things in other parts of the map. That’s it.
I remember a few years ago one writer tried to start the term Zelda-like, and a term like that is probably not very helpful for you, is it?
Nope. The -likes? Don’t get ‘em. I don't know what a rogue is. I don't know what a roguelike is. I've never played rogue. I literally thought that rogue or a roguelike game. So I'm thinking, oh is it a game where you sneak around a lot? Do you sneak around a lot in roguelike?
I don’t really understand what the name “roguelike” is supposed to mean. I’ve never looked into it. All I know is those are games where you are set loose in some sort of dungeon or large area where your life is constantly ticking down, you have to fight through enemies, and there are no continues. So once you’re dead, you’re dead.
What does that have to do with the word “rogue,” though?
‘Cause I think Rogue was the name of the first game that set the genre?
I mean, to make this a little broader, that would be like making movies where people would have to spend a lot of time to understand what a comedy is or a drama.
Yeah, like, the terminology does reflect back on people who have a consistent canonical literacy that I just don't have.
Well, what about with the writing about videogames? How is it not as inclusive as it thinks it is?
Again, again, that assumes literacy.
How does that manifest?
A lot of jargon. When I read a review -- and I don't read reviews very often because I don't find them very useful -- the first like graf or two is like, "This is a visceral, puzzle-platformer that you're sure to enjoy if you like X, Y, and Z." And I'm like, “I haven't played X, Y, and Z.”
I don't know, I mean, I know what a puzzle-platformer is now. That is one of the terms I actually learned. But yeah, like, "This is a classic Metroidvania, roguelike with visceral graphical..." It's just like meh, gobbledygook.
But games writing, there's a couple kinds of games writing. When it gets very academic, that's when I start not being able to understand it. I still don't know what formalism is.
That’s a complicated thing to define.
I am not a gaming academic. I'll put it this way: It's not that necessarily that I can't climb over the hedge, it's that I don't care to. I just, I'm not a gaming academic and you know what? I don't think I'm ever going to be a gaming academic and that's okay. You know there are gaming academics that talk to other gaming academics in academic language that's not 100 percent accessible, but you know what? It's very specific to their discipline and that's fine because I understand that academic disciplines have that language for a reason. It's how they communicate with each other.
I'm a feminist media critic. I'm sure that some of the 400-level feminist discourse stuff is extremely dense and not accessible to a lot of people. But I understand it because I have taken the time to want to learn it because it's important to me and my life. So when games writing is very academic, I struggle. So I tend to just avoid it.
Whereas if games writing is embedded in a language of general criticism, media criticism, that's when I can get onboard. That's when I'm like, “Yeah, let's talk about information in a scene. Let's talk about framing. Let's talk about narrative.” You know, that sort of stuff. Because I come from a compsci background that also has strong influences from film and audio production and I've done a lot of writing about TV and that sort of stuff. So, if you're going to talk about narrative-story being how dialogue or costume choices impact our view of gender or race or things like that. Anything that combines the things that I'm knowledgeable about like feminism, social justice, media criticism? That stuff I can always get on board. I also love games writing that is personal. I feel like that is a place where a lot of women can kind of jump on the train, is personal stories. And I do have feelings about that being kind of overused a little bit, like women tend to only be asked about their experiences with games if it's like mining the personal a little bit, which is a little bit weird. I'll say that, but it does bring about some really great writing from an experience that I can kind of see myself in, because it's typically about that alienation, that outsider status, that confusion, awkwardness that a lot of women feel in the gaming spaces whether they are a high-ranking videogame player or if they're just a writer or this, that, or the other thing. That's something I find really interesting.
Then again, I do stay from reviews and academic stuff. Games writing that jumps into other disciplines to talk about like, games versus film, I really find interesting as well. I like games writing from anybody who isn't specifically just a games writer.
I’ve had that experience, too. There’s a review I wrote last year, and I don’t really write them anymore because I wrote one that sort of sparked in my mind this was a better use of my time. But I did this review and people intended this comment as a dismissal, where they were like, “That review you wrote was basically a film review.” Like, that was the full exchange of information and I was like, “Okay, so?”
Yeah. I mean like, that's the weirdest part to me about games writing, when people don't branch out into other forms of art. I am also an artist. I write and I also draw and one of the biggest tips they give to you when you are learning how to draw or learning how to paint, or learning how to do any discipline in art, is you have to put your eyeballs on as many things as possible because the more you look at anything that information is going to permeate into your skull, and your brain, and your memories. It's going to come out through your work. It's going to make your work have more weight and realism and it's going to infect your work with new ideas, new modes of thinking, expand your literacy. It's going to. It's why artists go to art museums and churches and look at architecture and look at fabric and packaging designs, because all of that stuff gets sucked into your brain and absorbed and it turns into this soup that informs your style, and it informs your ever-continuing improvement on your work. How that has escaped many people in gaming is really weird to me.
That’s always been a thing with the videogame culture. I understand how people get myopic, but there’s an angry or insecure myopia in videogames where people act like it’s dirty pool if you talk about games in terms of something else.
Yeah. It's that cloistering effect of you only need videogames in your life, you don't need anything else. But heaven forbid you call games an artform, because then you'd have to start paying attention to other artforms and how those artforms inform the gaming artform and how a lot of games don't borrow from any other artform because they feel like it's affecting the purity. But it's like, how can you not look at videogames and see them really trying very, very hard to be films? I mean --
Some of them.
Some of them. The one's that really have extensive cut scenes, they are often framed in a very cinematic way, the narrative is a framed in a very cinematic -- I mean, they have episodes. Life is Strange is trying to be a TV show. The language of episodic storytelling is TV and film, like soap operas. Soap opera is episodic storytelling with receptive narrative follow through; through-lines and things like that is absolutely what gaming would love to hook into. That's why franchises basically exist, they kind of continue a story along, you want to know what happens next. when I was playing Life is Strange that was the first thing I thought of was like, this is a teen soap opera. This is like watching Degrassi, you know?
But the core of the review in games tend to be approaching the question of, “Should I buy this?”
I usually pick up games if somebody tells me the story or art is really good. If a game has really good art I'll try to pick it up. The game has to have a certain combination of aesthetic and story things going on. And then, if a lot of my friends recommend it -- which is why I picked up Undertale and then promptly fell flat on my face because I remembered that all of my friends are into RPGs and I'm not.
Yeah, a lot of people told me to check it out and some point I will. But that doesn’t surprise me, but it is disappointing to hear because I’ve also heard it has a lot of commentary in it about videogames and the audience for them.
I'm sure it does.
I would have assumed they would have made it a little bit easier to get on board with it.
Here's the thing though: Sometimes there's gotta be games that I guess really do cater. I'm okay with games catering to just one kind of niche, ‘cause you know what that's what Dark Souls is. That's very specifically for a certain kind of gamer. I just want people to be honest about it.
I'm not mad at Undertale for being inaccessible to me, because guess what? Not every game is going to be accessible to me. I just wish people were honest about that, and just honest with themselves that not everybody is going to know what an RPG is. And you know, it sucks that what seems to be a very wonderful story that everybody is talking about is locked away behind those mechanics that I really can't stand. I'm never gonna experience it, because I just don't care enough.
Yeah. And something I wanted to ask you about -- and this is related -- is the cycle of hype and positive reviews.
And the backlash!
And then the backlash. You were saying in our emails that there’s “no room for initial and continuing negativity about favored popular or positively marketed games.” I know what you’re saying, but can you please elaborate a bit on that here?
It's really hard to express my opinions as somebody who is still very much an outsider to games or as somebody who is very specifically -- you know, through the course of this interview we have talked about how I'm always just going to kind of be new to a lot of stuff for a very long time, or I'm just new to a lot of things. So I'm going to have a lot of initial criticism of things if I can't play them. If I don't understand what they are supposed to be doing or if I just get into it and don't like it and there's a lot of people who really get upset if you don't like a game that's very popular.
I think I remember a while ago seeing you tweet something about how it’s a design’s weak point -- that something should be self-explanatory in a videogame. That it’s not like something is inherently genius and either you get it or not. I mean, do you remember that comment I’m talking about? Does that sound like you?
No. It does sound like me. I just have a very terrible memory now and I also just say a lot of things on a regular basis.
No, that’s okay. I think there is this attitude people have, especially creators, of, like, “Well, it’s just your fault that you don’t get it.” And that, in my experience, is not something a creative person who is interested in growing as an artist can say. I mean, you can certainly blame the audience and that’s one way to go but --
But are you doing anything to fix it? Yeah.
That's a very frustrating thing to me because that's going to happen more and more now as younger people get into videogames who don't have that literacy. Guess who really doesn't have that literacy? Like you said earlier, 13- and 14-year-olds. They didn't fucking grow up with those games. If you don't explain to them how to do it you're shutting them out. You're shutting out anybody who’s never played those games, whether they are older or younger.
Anybody who isn't in this very specific subset of, like, 25 to 35 who played videogames when they were a kid or at some specific point that your entire game is reliant on. I really do like the idea of pushing for design that is explicitly self-explanatory so that if somebody is new to coming to it, they can decide whether or not they want to play it based on the merits of they don't like the story or things like that. Not that the mechanics of it are so opaque that they can't figure it out. You know?
Right. And the average person reading this who doesn’t know a lot about videogames won’t even know what the word “mechanic” means here.
They’re just like, “Wait, are a lot of games now just about working in garages?”
Okay, I’ll repeat myself.
No, I wasn’t calling you on that or even saying you have to explain it. I’m just saying there’s so little that can even be assumed due to so many wildly different points of entry. But, still, a good movie teaches you how to watch it. I haven’t seen Memento, but I understand it at least does that.
Yeah, it was nonlinear. Which, don’t even get me started about Memento.
I haven’t seen it.
Oh okay, yeah. You know what? You’re not missing anything. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] I shrugged.
Games should -- well, not should. “Should” is a really strong word.
“Should” has some baggage.
Yeah, “should” has some baggage. Could! Games could be better if they had more accessibility on a lot of different levels. Whether that's accessibility for physical or psychological things, there's also a lot of accessibility issues with just like -- games are meant to be played by people that have no disabilities. Like, there's a lot of things in games that are very hard to do if you don't have two hands, or if you don’t have full-color sight or if you can’t hear. If you are deaf -- a lot of games rely on a very specific set of physical attributes, which is funny because videogames are seen as the most anti-physical thing ever but never takes into account physical disability.
They are very frequently not accessible to people that don't have that literacy as I've mentioned before and then there's that accessibility of just taking like three seconds to walk people through how the game functions. I mean, tutorials are a good thing. Teach people how to play your game and they will probably want to try and stick around because they've invested that time to learn how to jump or move left or move right or hit the thing or shoot at something you know? Tutorial levels are important to teaching people what the game's all about whether it's story or aesthetic or how to move or shoot things.
Well, you have said, too, there’s also presumptions about income level.
I agree. But can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Well, a lot of games have a very high price point from the start. Console games really get into this. This is a really big deal with console games. What if they don't have local multiplayer? How are you supposed to play with a person in the same house as you? You'd have to get two consoles, you'd have to get two controllers, two copies of the game. That's a lot of money, even for a couple of some nature. Things like DLC. You don't get most of the game with the game anymore even though you just paid $60 to $80 dollars for it. You have to pay $10 and then $20 and then $10 again and then $15 or $3 or whatever. Many games are console-specific, so if you want to play all the games you want to play you have to own a computer, a Wii, a PlayStation, an Xbox, maybe some sort of handheld like a 3DS or a Vita, or any number of things. Or there are even some things that have very specific peripherals. There's also things in the PC-gaming world where to play a game now you have to have a top of the line motherboard and CPU and memory. You have to really trick out a gaming rig, man. You just gotta do it because otherwise you can't really see things they way they are supposed to look, man.
I think that's one of the reasons why there is a rise in games that you can just play through your browser. If you have access to a browser, you can play this videogame and I think that that were -- like, Twine has really sort of picked it up because it's a simple programming language and it plays in your browser. You just need a computer that's good enough to run a browser, which a lot more people have access to. Or they can go to places that have computers that can run browsers and things like that.
Right. Which, if you’re not aware, is ironic because it indicates in some ways that one full revolution has been completed because we’re back again to text-only games. It’s where videogames started, in a way.
So, there’s no real natural way to segue into this but can you please tell me about white guys?
[Laughs.] Like, my feelings?
In our emails you had listed among the things you’d like to see go away from the space was “white guys.” I didn’t know if there was more to that you wanted to talk about or, like, if I should just hang up now?
[Laughs.] Please go away David. End the interview, go away, and feel bad about what you did.
No. There's a lot of straight white guys in game development and writing which makes it very easy for people to not seek out work by people of color, queer people, trans people, and women in general you know? There's even level of things like -- there's even white dudes that are pushed out too. Like, lower-class white dudes, disabled white dudes, there's even a hierarchy in the white dudes.
Games writing is so overwhelmingly full of -- I noticed I started following just these dudes on Twitter in the games-writing space who are really angry. If you don't know videogames, don't know their work, don't know their existing opinions about stuff like, they are very smug. It's a whole other attitude that as a person -- as a woman online that I am not allowed to literally link to somebody's work and say, “Uh, wow. This is trash.”
I mean, I can do it if I want to, but there is a considerable, it's a considerable risk that I take so.
I just run into a bunch of them on Twitter that just get away with saying a lot of things that I would just not have the spine to feel comfortable doing because it just seems rude. They are just used to throwing their weight around and having their opinions be validated on every level, because they're the ones that get that jobs. I'm friends with a lot of women, non-binary people, people of color who just don't get those writing jobs.
The writers that get to become the household names of this very specific circle of people that read games writing, a lot of them tend to be white guys. They just -- I just see them have these personalities that are extremely smug and smarmy about their opinions and their feelings about other people and it's just not something I feel comfortable around? Because i'm like, “When are they gonna bag on me next?” I've had conversations with some of them where I'm just like, “Why, why are you saying this? You're talking to a very specific group of people that I am not a part of, yet I'm reading your work and I can feel the waves of your disgust rolling off the page.”
You know? Like, here's the thing. If I don't know a ton of stuff about videogames do you really think I'm going to know a ton of stuff about games journalism? No. Probably not. I didn't start reading games journalism stuff until like maybe two years ago at most? I don't know what this very specific community of people is talking about and I definitely don't know writers that have come and gone and their work is supposedly going to be lasting and eternity, for time immemorial, because they had an influential thought about Metal Gear like five years ago?
You know, “I don't care” I guess is a really callous way of putting it. Games are changing so fast and games writing has to change just as fast to kind of keep up with it. The people that consider themselves an institution sometimes I think get really used to not being challenged in any way because they never had to be challenged on their perceptions of gaming, of their perceptions of what a gamer is, or what a game is. It's very off-putting to me to hear some of them talk or their writing or their tweets or whatever talking to each other or a general audience in the same way that games are alienating. They talk about games in an alienating way. You know?
Yes. I can’t imagine that they’re happy, but I wonder what their lives are like.
Yeah. I have no idea, and I think about something else. [Laughs.]
Part of it, too, is that there are so few opportunities to go around and you can tell people are reacting to that just by how vicious people are being over such minor things. But I also wonder if every subculture is just doomed to be like Lord of the Flies? Is there always going to be a race to the bottom? Is that really a thing you want to be proud of?
I think it's because games press has had to like occupy this limited space between enthusiast press and PR. I mean “games journalism?” I say this loosely because it's a mixture of journalism and PR you can get shut out of your story if a games company just doesn't want to give you anything. And that's not really the case in a lot of other places and games have to always have this symbiotic relationship with game companies in order to make the gears go, and it's an underpaying job. I understand where a lot of this feather-puffing and insecurity is coming from. I mean, I live with a games journalist. I see this everyday. There's this insecurity because you never know where your next meal is coming from because one day Ubisoft will just be like, “You know what? You gave us a bad review. Fuck you. I'm not sending you anymore review copies and you can never get an interview with us ever again.”
And then your fucking editor is like, “Wow douchebag, thanks for screwing that up.”
I can understand. I can understand it's hard.
At the same time, it’s hard, but who cares if you got a children’s toy a little bit earlier? Why is that a thing to derive your self-worth from?
On the other hand, I think the problem I have is less of people trying to make a buck at their day job and more people that take their criticism and opinions as being so far above every other person's criticism and opinions. I mean, I spit out shit on Twitter every single day and I think my opinions are just as valid as somebody who has a byline at, you know wherever, Kotaku. They just get paid $14.50 an hour to do it and I don't.
Well, speaking of money -- the main mechanism for protest people talk about in games is they just won’t spend their money on a certain product. That’s kind of moot, because someone else will take their place and will spend their money. But I wonder if there’s a way you’d like to be more heard by the industry that isn’t that.
Yeah, boycotts don't really work and all they end up doing -- I mean if you're really serious about a boycott all it ends up hurting is the lower class workers that have to make that product because capitalism is terrible and there's no ethical consumption. But how I like to make my voice heard is literally the same way a lot of other people do it, which is yelling on the internet. Like you know, it's writing strongly worded emails, talking to people via social media about issues. When I had issues with Quiet from Metal Gear, I redrew her outfit and posted it on Twitter and people retweeted it and stuff. There's forums, there's community inboxes, there's -- you know, it doesn't have to be a buy the game, don't buy the game because I can buy the game and still complain about it.
That’s very popular.
Well, I’d like to think my complaining is less about, “Well this is buggy,” and more like, “Uh this really represents women in a really degrading way that tends to be my line of criticism.” Given the fact that we have so many platforms for our voices now on the internet, I think it's really interesting and important to be able to see that stuff happening.
Not necessarily on a big site like Polygon or Kotaku that literally anybody can start to maybe get a hold of a dev on Twitter or meet them at an event or something. But social media has been for me kind of the great equalizer. There's a lot of issues with social media and I know you’re well aware of what those problems are as somebody who's on the receiving end of it quite a bit. But when I would have problems with World of Warcraft I would write posts about it on my blog, I would podcast about it, I would write forum threads and get flamed by people. But after a while Blizzard started listening to me? You can only make noise for so long before they -- I mean they can ignore you but, I think we're starting to see some of that penetrate a little more. I guess it's just like: Just try. Just try to yell I guess?
I want more people involved in media creation because I think it's such a powerful tool for being able to find a space for yourself to criticize the media you are consuming. I mean that's why YouTube is such a big deal, that's why social media is a big deal. Podcasting. Any form of being able to express yourself and being able to eke out a place for yourself, especially in media that ignores you, especially is kind of a positive note to end on. That's how when I got into games again, asserting a space for myself to be myself and interact with games that is authentic and honest to my experiences and not taking shit from people about it.
What do you think videogames have accomplished?
A new form of media. It's a new form of interactive media that is doing what media has always done in the past, which is borrow on forbearers in order to express new ideas about art and society and also make people lots of money. But it is an interactive art form that does things that other things don't do like film, or TV, or books or comic books or whatever. So, in that way, it is doing something new and has been doing something new for quite a long time.