There has been some confusion amongst the readership concerning my gender stemming from my profile picture, which depicts your author being scrutinized by a lissome security guard. Some drew the conclusion that I was that guard, and not the man in the box. All I can say is: I should only be so lucky.
No, the guard is my girlfriend's sister, Cristie. Since I have an enduring interest in what the other tribes think of the game-playing set, I convinced her to do an interview about games. She is an inveterate theorizer, and I knew good things would happen if I could persuade her to direct her beam towards our curious pastime. The results follow.
Q: What kind of video games did you play growing up?
A: The earliest I remember involved something like a green cursor that you gave commands to, to make it draw things. I'm not sure, in retrospect, that it was a game; I think it may have been something meant to teach me math, or basic programming, all on the sly. I think I thought it was a game because they told me the green triangle who did my bidding was called a "turtle," but it's not like it had anything remotely like characterological traits, aside from obeying my commands (which is a great characterological trait, just really admirable). God the more I think about this game the more I feel taken advantage of. Anyways, then there was a lot of Stickybear Bop and some Glider, later Mavis Bacon which was just another one of those nefariously game-like trojan horses for educating me unawares. Then came the game console era-- we got Nintendo and Sega, and I played the usual games and liked them, but soon after this I turned 15 and was much more interested in the higher stakes and more sophisticated rules-system involved in the game of being a high school girl. After this point, games got relegated to a once-yearly xmas-to-new-years binge in which bff Liz and I would play whatever game we got for christmas from beginning to end (myst, monkey island, indiana jones, basically the LucasArts oeuvre), committing several hours a day for several days straight, fueled by microwaved nachos and hot chocolate, and never speaking of it to anyone. Sorry for outing us, Liz.
Q: Those Lucasarts games were a the hardtack of my own childhood. I loved the everloving shit out of them. Why did those survive the onset of adolescence, for at least for a week or two yearly?
A: For one thing, it's amazing I survived--its amazing anyone survives--adolescence, so let's all do ourselves a favor and accord it the dread it deserves. So. You want to know why I still played Lucasarts games after the collapse of my faith in the benevolent and blue-skied world I had loved as a child? I don't know; it's too cold to leave the house in Boston late December, plus maybe I liked the excuse to eat only nachos? I like a good mystery? I couldn't imagine not playing Myst to the end to find out what happened to Atrus, but I never had much invested in demonstrating to my nonsentient video-adversaries just how much alien ass i could kick. Also, part of the fun was the collaboration—me, Liz, and my sister would crowd around the computer and think through puzzles together, snark about bad dialogue together, plus did I mention all the bubbling-hot nachos?
Q: What is the deal with Myst? I never played it, and all I know is that everything was super mysterious.
A: Are you asking me to give away the mystery? Would Coletta approve of this question? Myst was the first game i played in which the task was really about figuring out what the task of the game was--how the world worked, what was going on, what my role in it was. It was the first game i played that seemed to have a theory of itself.
Q: I've noticed that a lot of my female friends, even the ones that think games are icky, loved playing those point-and-click adventure games at some point in their youth. Why did games lose those people?
A: In my case, I started losing interest as the games got, at least in theory, actually better. That is, the draw for games like Myst was the completeness of the world it had created. But with all the improved verisimilitude—e.g. the minutely detailed renderings of everything, regardless of importance to the game, the fleshing out of spaces so that there is, if this makes sense, more world than game (i.e. not every room you walk into will ultimately prove to have some relevance to your quest)--meant that the game/tasks became increasingly submerged in the plenitude of the world. I just know I spent more and more time aimlessly wandering around islands, methodically picking up every damn shell on the beach, hoping something would turn out to be significant. Liz had way more patience for beachcombing than I did, and she kept playing the games (still does, now and then). But I lost interest. Games were supposed to be entertainment, give me a sense of accomplishment. I want my escape worlds to be more tightly plotted and exciting than my real world, so I'm not likely to "play" a game in which walking around and finding shit to do is as plodding and frequently fruitless as it would be if I'd just got out of my chair and looked for realtime adventure as the licenseless, dateless, underage 15 year old that I was.
Q: It's funny you say that, because speaking from personal experience, the dateless 15 year old boys spent this time clamoring for yet-more-realistic ways to bloodily decapitate of their enemies and blow up some robots. Do you think that girls would love that stuff too if they played it, or would they need to come up with some more, um, gender-appropriate adventure? Like in Japan, they have all these really fascinating games that are basically being-in-high-school simulations. You know, like they cope with the crushing anxiety of pubescence by representing it as a system of rules you can interact with and master. That kind of stuff never caught on stateside but it's totally legit overseas.
A: But see the thing about a convincing arterial spurt is that at least in theory those boys don't actually want to decapitate anyone; the game lets them simulate a scenario that lets them exorcise the scary side effects of their testosterone surges, without it being real. But even a convincingly premature hockey team captain/date rapist could just never stack up to my desire for the real thing.
Moreover--and first let me put an asterisk on the following by saying I have some major reservations about the way we're even talking about gender differences here--I think the thing that might make a game "gender-appropriate" game for girls or boys isn't really going to be the content. Navy seals vs. baby seals, weapon selection vs. accessory selection--these aren't where the divergence happens, it happens somewhere earlier, somewhere more structural. If pressed I'd say that the kind of rules-systems that games trade in, that you're so interested in, might just appeal more to a male than a female mind ("female mind!" god help me). The game world is so much simpler and more reliable than the real world, and that's why it always seemed like exactly that--"just a game," an escapist fantasy, no substitute for "real" life--to me. I don't want a high school game that pretends like high school operates by an ultimately ascertainable set of rules. I need that time to study the much more dynamic and open-ended complex of forces actually shaping my life in high school. And I think that's why some gamers do strike me as pathological--they can seem outraged that the real world doesn't seem to reduce to a set of rules the way they want it to, and so they prefer their video world with its reliable, discoverable rules, where they can hide away and feel like masters of their universe. just... get over yourself. Men, you know? Sheeesh.
Q: Is there any game, right now, that you would purposely seek out for the purpose of leisure?
A: Is there one that looks like a game but is actually secretly getting me to write my dissertation? That would be cool. I don't know what's out there, anymore. I suspect I've missed, like, several boats and if I tried to pick one up now I'd be way out of my league, I'd look like mom trying to upload pictures to Facebook ("but i dragged it over the album, where did it go?" "how do i hang pictures on my Wall"?)
Q: I don't know about you, but I would kill for some Mavis Bacon teaches dissertation writing. When you see a game console in the house of a childless adult, what kind of thoughts go through your head?
A: What consoles tell me is that this person likes to spend downtime at home, possibly alone or with one or two good friends, instead of out and about, seeing and being seen. In my experience, there's a range of different kinds of (let's face it, statistically) adult guys with consoles. If I had to get all typological, I'd say they break down into two broad, untenable categories,--those who have the option of socializing but actively like hanging out at home, and those who stay home because they don't feel comfortable (but otherwise might be happier) going out. In the first, healthier category there are the stoners, and their related but more lawabiding cousins, the homebodies. In the second, more pathological category, you have your peterpan-don't-want-to-face-adult-reality types and, yes, your 40-year-old-virgins. It's not like I see an xbox and instantly think social pathology, if that's what you're fishing for. That said, I guess I've never dated a gamer, though in my defense no gamer has ever asked me out either.
Q: I should steer away from this dating-a-gamer question, since I still haven't lived down that time I invited your sister over seven years ago and then played Final Fantasy X for several hours straight. I guess what I'm getting at is that consoles have this stigma about them in certain quarters. Do you just look at games as one kind of entertainment among others (like obsessively updating facebook and watching DVDs and the like) or does the presence of a console lead one to draw certain conclusions?
A: Um, yes and no. Since I love movies, I'll probably be more excited to see a bunch of netflix lying around some new friend's apartment, than a console. Since you're a gamer, and you're also a totally charming and entertaining, if often room-clearingly gassy, kind of fella, I've been willing to withhold judgment when I see a console. It's all about how you play the games--obsessively? Do you ignore your girlfriend for three weeks when a new game comes out? Do you play games instead of looking for a job while your girlfriend pays both of your rents? Do you and your friends only talk about games when you hang out, to the exclusion of nongamers in the room? I have first-hand experience with grown-ass men with these gaming tendencies, and that's how the stigma gets earned. Consoles don't make you a dork; only you do.