Episode 30: Games and Fandom
Elizabeth and Flourish interview Evan Narcisse, a journalist who covers both comics and video games. They compare gamers and media fans, think about the way that gatekeeping functions in different nerdy subcultures, and consider strategies for critiquing media texts. They also read more listener mail about fanart, and go deep on the Sims. Elizabeth does not promise to play any new video games, much to Flourish’s chagrin.
As always, our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.
Big news: our Patreon just hit $300/month! That means that now we can afford to pay occasional contributors to our Medium collection. Hooray! If you want to support us, you know, that would be awesome. If not, just celebrate with us we guess? 🎉
Our letters are both responding to Episode 27, “Fanart Insights.”
The first letter is from @redgoldsparks. Go say hi! She is also the person who created that amazing drawing of us for our first anniversary, SO CUTE.
The second letter is from @fffinnagain of @threepatchpodcast!
All our interstitial music is by Jahzzar this week, licensed under CC-BY-SA.
Evan Narcisse is on Twitter as @evnarc! Go follow, say hi, etc. You can also read his writing on the sites formerly known as Gawker Media.
Evan wrote about reading The Question comics when he’s depressed. (And getting nerd-checked.)
If you don’t play Overwatch and you have any interest in shooters at all (or even if you don’t), you might want to try it. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about it but, you know, um, it’s a fun game with a lot of different characters, with different backstories, to choose from. Plus really adorable video content. (LOOK AT THAT BABY GORILLA.)
And yes, Flourish is really obsessed with Zarya, the pink-haired Russian butch ironic gay icon character, as described in another Kotaku article.
Evan wrote a really interesting and thought provoking review of No Man’s Sky. Go read!
Other video games we mention: Mass Effect.
Remember Me is another game we mention—produced by Dontnod, who went on to make Life is Strange. Which has produced some adorable fan art, including this one by marin-everydaybox.
Everyone loves The Sims.
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish.
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for and about fandom!
ELM: Episode 30, “Games and Fandom.”
FK: So we’re going to be talking to Evan Narcisse about video games, the very first time on this podcast. And I am really excited about that.
ELM: I’m scared cause you know I’m not really a gamer.
FK: I hear that you’re really good at “Candy Crush.”
ELM: I am pretty great at “Candy Crush.” [FK laughs] Sometimes I win the Bubblegum Hill special challenge, and then I get to be king of the hill.
FK: I don’t even know what that is. I’ve played “Candy Crush” but I’ve never even made it to the Bubblegum Hill special challenge, whatever that is.
ELM: If you’ve only ever played original “Crush,” and you’ve never soda crushed, you don’t really know.
FK: Isn’t it “Soda Saga”?
ELM: I’m saying “soda crushed” like a verb.
FK: Oh. Wow.
ELM: Wait wait wait, we should say who Evan is. Evan is a journalist.
ELM: Who writes for io9 and used to write for Kotaku.
ELM: Both former Gawker Media…
ELM: Products. Platforms. What are they? Sites! Websites.
FK: They’re websites.
ELM: Now owned by Univision. And I’m really excited to talk to someone who knows all about all these things that I just kind of blankly [FK laughs] I’m gesturing…
FK: Yeah I think he’s gonna have a really good perspective because he’s both very knowledgeable about comics and comics fandom and also about video games and video game fandom and even though neither of those are sort of the transformative fandom from which we both hail, they’re very different from each other, and so I think he has a good level of perspective on different types of fan engagement and we’ll have a lot to say about that.
ELM: All right, perfect. But before we talk to him, let’s talk about money. [all laugh]
FK: So the Patreon swims on…
ELM: That devolved into a evil laugh. [laughs evilly]
FK: So the Patreon swims on. We’ve got 83 patrons and they’re pledging $287 a month which is awesome. And we just received our first round of funding! So we’re beginning to put everything into…
ELM: I love that you just said “round of funding” as if…
FK: It’s not that kind of round of funding! [laughs]
ELM: Series A, round of investing, Silicon Valley, yeah, first round came in, 1.5 mil, you know…
FK: [laughing] I mean I feel pretty good about it. I feel probably as good about it as I would if we were doing Series A funding to be honest. I’m really stoked about this.
ELM: False. False. I think you would be pretty excited if someone invested 1.5 million dollars in this podcast.
FK: That’s true. Nobody do that. That’s a bad financial decision, guys. Don’t, don’t, don’t make that choice.
ELM: Yeah, I can guarantee like 5x, 10x growth in 18 months on this podcast so…
FK: [laughs] So anyhow, now that we have our first influx of cash, flush with our, you know, almost $300, we’re gonna start putting some of that to work and fulfilling some of our goals, so that’s exciting. However, we’re still a little bit below the point where we’ll be able to commission people to write for our Medium.
FK: You know…
Together: We’re just saying. [Both break into laughter]
ELM: If you somehow missed the last two episodes and you don’t know what we’re talking about, go to patreon.com/fansplaining. A Patreon is like a rolling Kickstarter, you pledge as little as a dollar a month, we have some nice prizes to offer you including this will be the first episode that comes out a day early for patrons over, I think it’s $2 and up?
FK: Uh, yes, I think so!
ELM: And yeah! I mean, I don’t know. That’s all I have to say about that.
FK: Great! OK. So before we call Evan, I think that we ought to read two letters that we’ve received since our last episode.
ELM: OK, let’s do it.
FK: All right. The first letter is from Maia and she says, “Hello Elizabeth and Flourish! I just re-listened to Episode 27, the fanart episode, and it solidified a few of the thoughts I had on the first pass. I am a person who aims to make my living on art, so obviously I have a lot of thoughts on the importance of artists being paid and getting credit. I agreed with Leslie’s opinion that great fanart is greatly transformative and says something new, even if it uses the style or characters of an existing property.
“I would say, though, that her perspective is heavily influenced by her section of fandom. The art spinoffs or original art from mainly animated or live-action TV or movies. My experience in the One Direction fanart community has been quite different, partly I believe because the original source content—the music and personalities of the 1D boys—is not a two dimensional medium, meaning that any two dimensional drawn fanart will have that medium shift that you reference, such as when fic is written based on a TV show or movie.”
She talks a little bit about her fanart and the fact that she’s not into official 1D merchandise, because the branding’s bad in her opinion, and that fanart was not—that nothing that fan artists were creating was really comparable to what that merchandise was. And then she adds: “You mention the possibility of fic writers creating Patreons to support their writing. I think that’s a great idea. Almost all the people I support on Patreon are webcomic authors who offer a similar model of free, regular content. I love being able to throw a dollar or two a month at the very least to artists whose work I’ve been consuming for years, and I bet many others would feel that way about fic authors.” So that’s from Maia.
ELM: All right, so should we talk about this or should we read our other letter first and talk about them together?
FK: I think we should read the other letter first. Why don’t you go for that.
ELM: All right, this from Finn of the “Three Patch” podcast in Sherlock fandom. OK. So Finn writes, “I swear every episode of Fansplaining makes me pause, and pause the recording, but I have had trouble catching anything shareable. The fanart discussion was really thought-provoking. Your guest suggesting the bar of what counts as ‘transformative’ is set by the consumer of the art, by their motivation for purchasing a piece, was particularly hard to swallow. Consider the fan artist who makes an edit of an official promo shot, exerting careful but relatively subtle changes in tone, image, proportion etc. If their work produces an image that I find strikingly effective as a portrait of my favorite character, presenting their essence within preferable or more familiar aesthetic, I might suddenly find the result to be so much more attractive that I decide to purchase a copy.
“Should the edit’s qualification for the status of ‘transformative’ depend on whether or not I understand Photoshop enough to recognize that it passed through the hands of an unofficial artist? I don’t know. I hope not. I really don’t know anything about Photoshop. But if they laid the original text next to the edit and explained their process, I would surely accept the importance of their contribution. Actually, if they had just said ‘I’m a fan artist and I put X hours into manipulating these promo shots into portraits,’ I would probably imagine changes they could’ve made and feel comfortable claiming to recognize the transformations without actually having a clue. So please do not give me the authority to distinguish between imitation and transformative works.
“The suggestion that visual fanarts are distinct in their relationship to media-matched source material? I hate to say it, but I’m starting to agree.” So. I think there’s some similarities in these letters.
FK: Yeah, I thought it was really interesting that Maia was talking about how fanart for One Direction or for musical acts that don’t have existing visuals beyond the actual people they are…I mean they do have visuals, is the thing. Right? There is merchandise, there are images of them. But that it feels somehow different, as opposed to if you’re taking like a cartoon of Iron Man and then drawing another cartoon of Iron Man in a different style. Or a similar style.
ELM: Yeah but…all right. This is so complicated, because it’s also like…I don’t know, I guess it’s hard for me cause I get hung up on trying to do comparisons with fanfiction and they are different things. I was gonna say, every so often I’ll read a Harry Potter fanfic that feels tonally very similar to the book, or structurally very similar, and those are still transformative.
ELM: In a way, actually…I don’t know, it’s interesting. I don’t know.
FK: [laughs] Yeah, I think there’s also something about putting the, centering the consumer of the art and their motivations…I think that Finn has a good point there about this, because everybody, you’re just saying, you bring your own thoughts about what is fanfiction to art. Right? And other people have different backgrounds that they’re bringing to their understanding of what the art is and whether it’s transformative or not. So I think that Finn is making a good point saying that it’s really murky if you start saying “Well, are you part of a community? Do you understand this is transformative? How do you understand it as transformative?” Et cetera. That does get mushy and difficult to deal with. There’s no bright line.
ELM: Mushy. Still though, now I’m thinking about... cause Leslie, and actually I remember cause when I was editing the episode we went down this road but then something happened and we got sidetracked and we didn’t really fully explore it. But she was also frustrated with people who create pretend movie posters in the style, sometimes even in the style of…which people do all the time. And that ties to the manipulation thing we’re talking about too. But I just found last week I was transcribing a talk by Heidi Tandy, our friend, who gave a talk at Leviosa about fair use, and just listening to Heidi for many hours as I transcribed, just hammers home that yeah, you’re manipulating an official image. Is that not fair use?
FK: Potentially it is, yeah.
ELM: It probably is! You know? So. It’s work! And why does it matter how much work it is? Yeah, if you just do a tiny, tiny bit, say “This is my art,” yeah. Sure.
FK: But I think there’s also, I don’t remember whether this made it into the episode with Leslie or not, but she was talking about how some artists pretend or make it seem that the movie posters they’ve created are somehow official. Right? They create an unofficial movie poster, but then it’s impossible to tell that it's not official, or they imply that it’s official, or suggest that it’s that.
ELM: I’m wondering how often this actually happens. Cause I have never encountered that, I’ve never…
FK: I don’t know.
ELM: I’m sure it does, but that just feels to me like we’re in the realm of if you read George R.R. Martin’s old man ramblings about fanfiction where he’s like “Well, I swear they’re just trying to plagiarize me.” That’s my George R.R. Martin impression.
FK: No, I get it—
ELM: It’s like “Bro, chill out, they’re not.” Maybe a tiny fraction of people are.
FK: I do think there’s a very big difference between the way that art is presented online and especially alternate images and so forth, and the way fanfiction is, but I’m not sure…I agree. I don’t know. I haven’t done a study of this, so I’ve got no idea.
ELM: I think it also depends on, I’m not sure I would say that. You have people on Wattpad regularly, constantly republishing other people’s work and saying “What, I just…”
FK: That’s true.
ELM: “I liked it!” and I think there’s a lot of, there seems to be a breakdown because our platforms are so built on sharing and reposting, I think it’s creating this kind of…people who are already pretty murky about what plagiarism was or what it means to put something up someplace, I think this is further complicating it, right?
FK: Right. And plagiarism and fair use and copyright are all actually kind of difficult concepts to keep straight and picked out. I’m not sure that, I think it’s really hard actually to have a strong grasp on it.
ELM: Well, I mean, it’s interesting cause I feel like Tumblr is so…at least once a week I see a post on my dash that’s like, credit artists. You need to credit these artists. And then there’s still like a million people on Tumblr, probably more, who have aesthetic blogs and just take images with no credit and they’re like “This is just my space. This is like where I put images I like.” And you’re like “Yeah, but you’re actually putting them on the internet with no attribution!” So it’s like you have these two completely polar opposite, obviously one of them is legally and morally right and one’s wrong, but.
FK: Yeah, but there’s also a point of, there’s no reason why I would need to credit an artist if I put something up in my bedroom. And if I think of my Tumblr as the equivalent of my bedroom wall, right?
ELM: That’s what makes these platforms really complicated, completely.
FK: [laughs] Well, I don’t think that we’ve come to any conclusions. I’m not sure we can.
ELM: No, no. People, please continue sending your thoughts. Before we talk to Evan, there was a second part of Finn’s email that we should mention, which was unrelated. Do you wanna read it?
FK: Yeah, sure. Finn says, “Through the ‘Three Patch’ podcast I’ve developed and released a survey on fandom and sexuality. The survey is designed to address assumptions about the relevance of sexuality to our consumption of fan works and the involvement of fandom in our respective sexual practices whether or not these practices involve sexual partners or any kind of bodily engagement. It touches on a number of different aspects of sexuality and fandom, from the relevance of shipping to details of sexual fantasy, and thus far reactions have been positive. We’ve had over 700 submissions in the first 24 hours, and it takes about a half hour to complete. The quantity of responses is already enough to see some interesting patterns, but the population is really biased towards male/male shippers, Archive of our Own users, Tumblr users, and to a lesser degree BBC Sherlock fans. We’d like to make the survey accessible to fans in other regions of the internet, with the hope of gaining insight into the experiences of other subgroups.”
So she asks us to tell you guys, our Dear Listeners, about the survey. You can see it at 3-patch.com/sexsurvey, and you can apparently look at all the questions without filling it out if you want to before you go through by just clicking next next next. It’s launched by “Three Patch” but it’s not just for that podcast, and they’re planning to make the anonymized data publicly available. So it’s open until the 21st of September, it’s for people who are over 18, would consider themselves fans, and consume transformative works like fanfiction.
ELM: All right. Are you gonna take it?
FK: I don’t know, probably! I haven’t yet.
ELM: A half an hour! That’s a lot of questions.
FK: Yeah, but it is for a good cause.
ELM: Naw, I’m kidding, I’m gonna take it.
FK: I guess I’ll take it.
ELM: Do you ever do that, like, I remember, I listen to WNYC, NPR affiliate in New York City all the time. And whenever they do a survey, they say “This just takes 45 minutes, just tell us…” And I’m like “I’m gonna tell you everything I feel about this.” [FK laughs] So yeah, when I care about something I’m fillin’ out that survey!
FK: Yeah! And maybe we can cover the results since they’re gonna be publicly released. That’d be great.
ELM: All right Finn and “Three Patch,” if anyone wants to come talk to us, I know they will talk about it on “Three Patch” podcast, which if you’re not in Sherlock fandom is a big Sherlock podcast that I have been on several times.
FK: Awesome. I am looking forward to finding out everything in the survey.
ELM: Me too. All right, so, reader mail concluded!
FK: OK, should we call Evan?
ELM: Let’s do it.
FK: All right, let’s welcome Evan Narcisse to the podcast! Hey, Evan.
Evan Narcisse: Hi, guys. How are you? Thanks for having me on.
ELM: Thank you so much for coming on.
FK: Let’s see, how are we gonna start this? I think that we should throw it first to you to just talk a little bit about your background, what you do, and what you’re into, comics and games…
EN: Yeah, I can do that. I’m a writer, I’m a cultural critic, sometimes a reporter and journalist but mostly I write criticism about pop culture focusing on video games and comic books, mostly comic books of late. I’ve been doing this for a long time, almost 20 years? Yeah maybe almost 20 years. And I currently work at Gawker Media, even though I don’t think we’re calling it that anymore. But I’ve worked for Kotaku for four years and I switched over to io9 for the last couple of months, it’ll be three months, no, four! Yeah, four months next week. So both sites within the same network. And I’ve been writing about nerdy stuff for a long, long time.
ELM: Well, on a personal—do you identify as a fan?
ELM: Or a fanboy?
EN: For certain things. I think part of my job as a critic is to not be overly fannish. Is to be professional and to maintain a kind of critical intellectual remove from the stuff I write about. But can I be fannish? Sure. Can I be a fan and, like…I think a fan is somebody who is mostly uncritical and adherent to kind of whatever they’re passionate about in a way that isn’t always necessarily, I won’t say good, but moderated.
ELM: That’s funny, because I see that as a very male, what’s the word I'm looking for, you know.
FK: I don’t know! [laughs]
EN: Attribute, trait, interpretation…
ELM: You know about male-dominated versus female-dominated fandoms, so female-dominated fandom is, I think, very very critical, so it’s very interesting cause that’s something I associate with male dominated fandom is the way you describe it, which makes sense.
EN: Yeah, this might be a thing we need to get into later, but… [all laugh] One of the things I don’t like about comic book and video game fandom, the way it’s changed over the last couple of years, is this idea that…there’s a thing I call “nerd-jocks” or “jock-nerds” where the need to measure their fandom against yours.
EN: And I hate that, I hate that.
FK: Nerd-jocks! That’s the perfect term for that and it’s so true.
EN: I also use “nerd-checking.” Like people have done that to me, I’ve written articles where then the people in the comments will be dropping little trivia minutiae with the assumption that I don’t know and I’m like “Yeah, I do know! It’s just not part of the narrative of what I’m writing about, the point I wanna make.”
I wrote something about The Question, the Charleton Comics character who was then acquired by DC. There’s a run of comics that I love, and was one of the first big things I wrote at io9, cause I read those comics when I get depressed, and that was my headline. And it was part of a wave of mature, more psychologically complex comics that was happening around the time that Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were happening. And somebody in the comments was like “Well, you know, there was a crossover between The Watchmen and in The Question where Vic Sage, who was The Question, was reading The Watchmen on an airplane!” I’m like, “Yeah! I did know that! I didn’t mention it cause [all laugh] it’s not part of the point I was making in the article! I don’t need you to come and nerd-check me!” And I hate that.
It’s part of nerd culture, at least how I experienced it growing up, there was how much facts, how much minutiae, how much lore do you know and remember. But as these things have gotten bigger, people act like that’s an end unto itself, the accumulation of data. And I don’t think that’s an end unto itself. How you engage with it and what it means to you is the ultimate end, and the data points are just a way to get there.
FK: So that’s really interesting because it seems to me that it connects up with some things about the way people play or engage with games as well. I know that you’re not a gamer, so you’re gonna have like 500 questions about this, but let me get my question out.
ELM: What are games? [all laugh]
EN: A waste of time!
FK: You’re the one who was trying to teach me, what, cribbage?
ELM: Oh my God. Do you ever play cribbage?
EN: No. Card games and me are not a thing.
ELM: OK, that's fair. I was like, “Flourish, let’s play cribbage.” We were on a picnic and cribbage, it’s got like a little board and there's counting. Can I reveal this on the podcast?
FK: [through her hand] Yes…
ELM: And she was like “Ah, no thank you.” And I was like, “No no no no no. We can’t just sit here and talk to each other. We’re gonna play this game.” And she was like, [singing] “I really don’t want to!” And then we start playing and all you’re basically doing is adding. No number ever goes higher than 29. Right? It’s just very basic addition. We’re talking nine plus seven plus four.
ELM: And Flourish has to count on her fingers to add.
FK: I got a 660 on the SAT counting on my fingers!
ELM: I just felt bad! I didn’t feel like, I wasn’t like “Oh you idiot,” I was like “I forced you into this position and you tried to stop me!”
FK: I do a lot of math but one of the things I don’t do with math is mental math, Elizabeth!
EN: Well the big question is, since we’re going up to 29, did you have to break out the toes at any point? [all dissolve into laughter] I mean it’s a valid question, right? You’ve only got 10 fingers.
FK: There were no toes involved.
ELM: It was amazing too because you’re supposed to go like “10 plus 6 is 16.” But at some point she put down, say the 10 was down and you put down the 6 and you're supposed to be like “16”? She put it down and she said, like, “28.”
ELM: A random number!
FK: It wasn’t quite that bad!
EN: Was this a picnic that involved a lot of day drinking?
FK: No, I was not drunk. I was in fact not drunk.
ELM: There’s no alcohol on Governors Island.
FK: As we helpfully found out.
EN: Yeah, I’ve been on Governors Island a bunch…there’s no alcohol there? I guess not. That’s weird.
FK: Turns out there’s not. We certainly never would bring any alcohol onto Governors Island.
EN: Not in a flask or anything like that.
FK: Never. So…but now we’ve totally derailed my question [laughs] which was I was trying to say, the idea of gathering facts or completing something, that very understanding a thing as the end…it feels to me like when fans do that sometimes it’s like, when fans of comics or TV shows do that, sometimes it’s like, “I want to understand this whole system or this whole world that has been built.”
FK: I wanna understand every piece of it and how they fit and how they work together. And I see this in games as well, although in games I guess you’re, figuring out the system is maybe explicitly part of the pleasure, a different way? But sometimes it can get a bit weird when people are into a game purely to min-max and get really into the…you see this in like “Warcraft,” is a prime place where it’s big enough that there can be separate cultures. But there’s other games where it’s like, you have to do this. You have to engage in this. I don’t know. So I’m just sort of interested in, are those two things connected? Cause…
EN: Yeah, it’s funny because you look at video games as a cultural medium, they have so much rigid design templates on top of them and there is, there is a kind of passionate enthusiast practice of following every little change that happens in a game. Multiplayer shooter games like “Call of Duty” and “Halo” and stuff, when weapons get buffed or nerfed, people lose their shit! They—
ELM: What does that mean?
EN: A buff is when the damage or the power of the weapon gets increased. Nerfed is the opposite, where it’s like a nerf gun. You can shoot it but it doesn’t really hurt. [ELM laughs] So when that kinda stuff happens in multiplayer games, games with big multiplayer communities, people can revolt. They complain. And then there’s the corresponding vector of people who ask for nerfs. You know? Like “Overwatch” is Blizzard’s big game right now and people have been complaining almost since the beta, before the game even launched, that Bastion, this big robot character, was overpowered. He’s become a hated character ever since. I’m not playing “Overwatch,” I played a little bit of the beta, but it’s been fascinating to watch the responses to certain characters whose personalities outside the fiction get interpreted a certain way specifically because of how people use them.
So, like, Mei’s another character in the game, and people are like “Only trolls use her,” or “You must be this kind of a person if you use Mei or if Mei is your main character.” Same things happen with fighting games, like “Tekken” is a long-running fighting game that I personally, it’s my favorite franchise. There’s a character, a capoeira character called Eddie Goro. The inputs for his moves are fairly easy and they involve a lot of button-mashing, less skill according to some people, some players. He’s immediately interpreted as a cheeseball player. And if you’re an Eddie user, then your skill level must not be as good as somebody else as somebody playing Kazuya or somebody like that. So it’s interesting how the data points, the usage characteristics, the features, the design features of specific things within video games can then themselves create fan reactions amongst the user base.
ELM: I was gonna say, that sounds exactly like the way people talk about ships and characters they relate to. Not exactly, that’s maybe an overstatement…
FK: Like people say “You are this kind of person if you ship this”?
ELM: Yeah, and it’s also like, it sounds like it’s not exactly, we’re talking about a narrative versus, I don’t know, I mean, I guess you could describe a video game as a…it’s not the same thing. But you say, “If you don’t relate to this character this way, you’re not even doing it right. You’re not consuming this media correctly.” Which sounds like there’s a distinct parallel.
FK: I was just gonna say, that’s really interesting especially with “Overwatch,” which is explicitly designed to be a welcoming game, you know? And is intentionally…not just welcoming in the sense that there’s a broad and diverse cast, but also in the sense of the game design being intentionally something you can pick up, that you’re not blocked out of the way you are of some other shooters.
EN: And they don’t have kill/death ratios, which is a popular stat, in other multiplayer shooters. They’re like “Here’s how many people you killed, here’s how many times you died.” They don’t have that, they instead have Play of the Game, which is highlighting a good contribution.
EN: Which I don’t think anybody’s figured out how they derive that. I think it’s algorithmically driven or parsed. But yeah, that’s the kind of thing they made to be like “Oh, OK, the normal muscle-flexing look-at-me antics that can plague other games,” they specifically tried to design their way around that stuff. It pops up in another different kinda way.
FK: Right, I think it’s just interesting cause I’ve noticed in “Overwatch” specifically, there’s a lot of fanfic for “Overwatch” instantly, there’s all of this cosplay. And part of that’s just cause it’s a Blizzard product, and everybody will do that for Blizzard, but part of it’s also I think because it genuinely is more welcoming when you first pick it up to play and so then you think, I don’t know, when I started playing I picked Zarya because Zarya is totally the character I relate to, and now of course Zarya has her own thing about who uses Zarya, who plays Zarya, but…I don’t know or care about that! So it makes me think about the different groups of people who can exist within a fandom for a particular thing.
EN: Did you see the other thing about Zarya, my former colleagues at Kotaku ran a piece about how she’s become a gay rights icon amongst Russian players?
FK: Yeah, totally! That may have been part of why I picked up Zarya because I was like, “Clearly if there is a very large butch woman, especially if she has hair that is kind of a strange color in any fandom, that’s who I wanna be. There I am! It’s me!”
ELM: That’s why you like what’s her name?
FK: Brienne [says it Bry-een]? Of Tarth?
ELM: Is that how you say her name?
FK: That’s how I say her name. “Bree-enn.” I think they say it “Bree-enn” on the show, but I started reading it before the show was up, so.
ELM: Uh-huh. OK.
FK: So that’s interesting. So the other thing that comes up within this is thinking about the way that narrative lays on top of games and the difference between people getting into a narrative and people getting into a game and how those two things work together. I wonder if that’s part of why…
EN: Yeah, what’s weird is in a lot of video games, narrative is not the point. “Overwatch,” for example, if we can keep on talking about that, they don’t have a single player mode. The story all exists outside of the game. They have little comics that they’re doing and other stuff, but they don’t have a single player game, which is typically where you would learn about the backstories of the various characters you can use and why they’re doing what they’re doing, et cetera, et cetera. You get little hints of that in some of the dialogue, and there are videos setting up the game and the world and stuff, but in terms of a long ongoing narrative, that’s part of the game itself, that’s not why people show up. They show up to shoot each other. [all laugh] And be good at it!
Yeah, but you know, then there are games that are exclusively narratively driven. And then they have a different kind of engagement piece around that. I tend to prefer the latter, but then there are other games that have this weird negative space narrative where it’s all about how you play it and what you see and that there’s a different kind of fan response to that. So yeah, it’s not like an inherent kind of native…it’s not always that way, I should say. It’s not always “We want to tell a story.” I think a lot of game makers want to deliver an experience, a design experience, and have that be its own kind of story. It’s weird. It’s, you know, there’s still the kind of idea that “Oh, video games don’t tell stories well.” Or some don’t. Or some don’t want to. And that, I think, you wind up having various fractured schools of thought that are like “OK, should we even be trying?” Or, “Should we continue trying to ape the way that movies and TV tell video game stories?”
EN: Tell their own stories, I should say. And there’s certain ways that video games can tell stories that are unique to the medium itself, and the games I kind of like the best are the ones that gesture at that.
FK: Right. So you wrote a really great article about “No Man’s Sky,” which I guess for people who don’t know who are listening to this podcast, is a game that recently came out in which you have effectively infinite? Or that’s the selling point? Procedurally generated worlds that you are stranded among and you wander through them and encounter things.
FK: And there’s not really a clear, um…
EN: You’re supposed to head to the center of the universe where some kind of enlightenment or capstone happens. You can keep playing after that. But really it’s an exploration game. And it’s very lonely. You basically go from planet to planet, mining resources, trying to improve your ship, your space suit, meeting other aliens, learning about their languages and little bits of their cultural history, and using that to further all the other things. So there’s a loop: the more words in the Gek language that you know, they’ll help you solve more puzzles which will help you improve your ship, which helps you go further, which helps meet aliens…so there’s a loop there.
I like it, I like the game a lot, I like the fact that you’re not the hero, you’re not the central figure of the fiction of the universe, you’re just the guy who's passing, or woman or whoever, who’s passing through.
FK: A being.
EN: A being! Yes, yeah. You never see the player character model. You don’t, it’s not like “Mass Effect” where you saw your created, the Shepherd that you’re playing as, you got to see the face and the body and then the clothes and all that constantly. You don’t see that in “No Man’s Sky.” You don’t matter, you know? And that’s one of the things I love about the game. The universe is completely indifferent to you, your existence. Whether you go and catalog all the different weird mashup animals or not, it doesn’t matter.
EN: But at the same time, I find myself enjoying that experience a lot. It lines up with my, with what my expectations of the game were, and I enjoy that. These little weird emergent stories start coming up. Like the other day, in the starter ship that I’ve had for like 40 hours or so, I really should have gotten another ship at this point. The way you find ships is you can buy them, but I don’t have the money to do that. But you can find abandoned ships that are crashed on some of these planets, and they’re fixer-uppers, right?
So the first fixer-upper I found, I had to abandon. I just couldn’t juggle my inventory enough to mine resources, keep stuff that I needed, and take the ship. I was able to do that this time. But then the thing could barely fly, so I had to fix the engine and some other shit in the ship, but I was on this toxic planet where toxic rain kept falling. The water’s toxic. Everything. The animals were nasty and mean. All I was trying to do was gather enough freaking iron and iridium and all this other stuff to fix my ship and get off the planet, and basically I had to do these little quick jaunts, like run back to my ship. Let my life support heal. Then go out and get some plutonium. Run back to the ship. Then heal. Then get this other stuff. I did this for, like, maybe three hours the other night. Just cobbling together enough resources to get my ship and get the hell outta there. Is that an explicitly written story in the game? No. But it’s a singular kind of unique experience. I had. Hey! I can tell people about this now! That’s the kind of thing I like about this game a lot.
FK: What’s interesting about the way you’re talking about it, and I think you gestured to this in the article, is that it reminds me a lot of the way some fans experience the Star Wars or Star Trek storyworld. It’s not, for some people it’s about the characters and so forth, and for other people it’s about inhabiting a universe or imagining. It’s great to hear about Kirk and all that, but I want to think about what happens if I’m a Starfleet officer. I think that’s interesting because it’s not a pleasure, I think if you’re not a gamer, I shouldn’t speak for the not-a-gamer person here…
ELM: Don’t talk over my experience! [EN laughs]
FK: But I think when people use the gamer label, that kind of a pleasure isn’t part of it. That’s not what people think about it.
EN: Yeah, it’s weird.
FK: If you’re not part of it.
EN: It’s funny because there’s this whole subgenre of games that some people call, mostly derisively, they call them “walking simulators.” I’m talking about games like “Gone Home,” “Dear Esther,” “Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.” These are games that are not shooters, they’re played from a first person perspective, you explore an environment, you tease out embedded bits of story and relationships between characters. Not a lot happens dramatically, right? There’s not a big world-saving kind of imperative or anything like that. You’re just, you know, inhabiting the life experience of a character that can be heavily written and designed or not. And “No Man’s Sky” has elements of that. There’s not this huge kind of pressing timeline for you to get to the center of the universe. You do it at your own pace. So stuff like that.
People call walking simulators, and I hate using that term, cause they’re all games to me, but they say “They’re not games.” You have a certain segment of hardcore video game enthusiasts who don’t consider those kind of things games. To the point where they want to wall them off with a term like “walking simulators.” With snotty name-calling and stuff like that. It sucks.
ELM: So is it because they, they have a lower skill threshold and they’re therefore more accessible? Is that a part of this?
EN: That can be part of it, yeah. These are games that literally you don’t have to build up muscle memory or anything like that to figure out how to play them.
ELM: It's interesting. It feels like, I mean no one’s sitting there talking about visual art and saying “is it not a work of visual art” in that regard…I don’t know how complicated the visuals are on some of them, but I’m assuming…
EN: They are, they are, but I think I see your point: you don’t talk about, like, the skill level that’s apparent or not in the painting the same way that you would in playing a game.
ELM: Even though you could have more or less knowledge that could affect the way you’re looking at it but you’re still passively…I mean, I don’t want to say passively, because obviously if you’re looking at art you’re still doing something. But you’re still not, you know, you're not winning the painting.
FK: Nobody goes “Because I understand the whole situation around Rothko’s work that makes me a better viewer of paintings…” Maybe it does but I don’t know.
ELM: People do say that though. Haven’t you ever been to an art party?
FK: Yeah…so maybe it is, maybe people do do this in art, you know?
EN: But I think there’s a more aggressive strain of that with video games. And comic books too, like I was talking about, the amount of knowledge or skill that you execute with creates this—for some people, should create a hierarchy of passion, of fandom, of experience. I don’t subscribe to that at all. And you know it’s funny, it’s part of the thing too, I think about fandoms, which is your proclivities get judged. You know? There’s a company called Remedy Entertainment that makes the Max Payne games and the Alan Wake games, they’re super cheesy. They’re written in a pulpy, noirish kind of way where it’s like, are you trying to be Jim Thompson? Are you making fun of Jim Thompson? Are you making fun of people who are trying to be Jim Thompson? Which one is it? Are you trying to be hard-boiled?
And I think where I ultimately wound up is, they’re just expressing their love for that stuff. They absorbed it and this is the way they’re putting it back out. You can interpret it—and I like that there’s this little bit of interpretive wiggle room where yeah, if you want to believe this to be a hard-ass, hard-boiled, classic style narrative, you can take it like that. But if you want to be like “Oh my God, this is so over the top, it’s a commentary on the characteristics of that genre,” you can read it like that too. And I always have more fun with stuff that’s like that.
But for some people, they’re like “Nah, it’s badly written and I can’t deal and I hate it.” That’s such a small space to allow that game in your experience with it, but it happens.
ELM: She’s looking at me because I describe things as badly written a lot more than she does.
EN: You know, look, there’s no…I think, I wrote a review of the Angry Birds movie like a month and a half ago. Probably even longer. Two months ago. My headline was like, “Angry Birds is Over.” Because to me the fact that this crappy movie came out of a mobile game that was a fad, there’s this arc there that shows us desperation to go from one medium to another. They’re so…and it’s a movie that felt cookie-cutter and created by committee and had all these terrible tropes and clichés in there, it made a shit-ton of money.
And one of the things that happened in response to my article was I had random people, you know, a granddad who took his son to see the movie and was like “You’re wrong! It was fun, we loved it!” I’m like, “But but but it’s bad!” I generally don’t come down definitively like that on stuff, I talk about what I like about it but I felt like this was a thing that is bad. That, its very existence is bad. [FK & ELM laugh] And—
FK: And it should sit there and be bad in its badness!
EN: Kind of, yeah!
ELM: Wait, did you talk about—I heard it was Trump propaganda.
EN: I didn’t talk about that, I didn’t talk about that
ELM: But did you see, our friend Kfan wrote about this—
EN: I saw it, I saw it.
ELM: Yeah, yeah.
EN: That was kind of, nakedly there. How it’s very xenophobic. There’s a stripe of xenophobia that runs through there, I was like, “Wow. In all the other ways this thing is fucked up, this is yet another way that it is fucked up.” [ELM & FK laugh] But you know, even I have to allow, as strongly held as my belief about the quality of this movie is, even I have to allow that people may like it.
I guess we’re talking about a universalism of taste. I don’t ascribe to that and generally don’t like it when people try to pin things down on some weird continuum in terms of taste. But I think we can talk about execution. What are the goals that movie had?
FK: To make money.
ELM: To make a shit-ton of money, yeah. As you said.
EN: Right. And is it to be, I don’t know, heartwarming? If it’s a straight down the middle family CGI cartoon, you can do that and be good. That’s a known quantity. If it’s to…the main character was a terrible, terrible entity and stayed terrible towards the end. His growth arc was minimal.
ELM: That’s like the game though. That’s pretty true to the game. If you were gonna talk about an adaptation… [laughs]
EN: Yeah, but at the same time those things kinda change when you’re turning it into a movie!
ELM: Flourish is the one who does franchises so we should pin this one on her.
FK: I cannot speak to this but I will say that I did not enjoy The Angry Birds Movie as a viewer of it.
ELM: You saw it too?
FK: I was on a plane.
FK: I watched a tiny bit of it over someone’s shoulder and I was like “No, this isn’t for me.”
EN: And you can hear the ambivalence in my…cause I’m trying to find that, where I’m seated in all these different vectors, and it’s bad, I know that, cause I think you can do what they tried to do and be good. And they just didn’t.
FK: I see. So it’s like, things can be bad if you can name someone who was going for what they were going for, but did it better, then it can be bad. But if it’s just that I reject the idea that this is a good idea entirely, then maybe you should rethink your…
EN: Yeah, again, that’s…I’m processing here. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about where I stand in terms of my own personal process. But yeah. I think you can be a good family friendly kids’ animated movie that makes a shit-ton of money and not be nakedly avaricious and insecure while doing so.
FK: Well so this interesting because it actually kind of brings us back to something we were talking about at the beginning, which is fandom and people removing the taste module from their brain if they get really into something, which was your complai—which was what you were saying about fans. Was feeling like that was part of it. And I think it’s interesting because…
EN: Or prioritizing their own taste over yours.
ELM: Well, I don’t know where you’re going with this, but it makes me think of an argument I got in yesterday with some fellow fans. Did I tell you about this?
FK: Not I.
ELM: So I love fanfiction, right? And I’m also a literary critic of literary fiction. And I got into this weird fight, I hope they don’t mind me mentioning it, it was very upsetting to me, with some friends from fandom, where they were like “I don’t wanna read literary fiction, it’s not for me. I have a hard day, I just wanna read fanfiction.” I was like “I don’t know why it has to be an either-or thing.” And they got really really defensive and I think within that is this kind of projection of the idea that, you know, it’s the same thing of “I don’t wanna read anything serious, I just wanna read something fluffy and fun.” And then it gets very defensive and high-horsey and…I don’t know. It was really tricky, because can you say you like one thing without trashing another? I feel like I’m taking this on a tangent cause I’m still processing that myself.
EN: That’s very valid. I feel like the thing about fanfiction is like, this is not my world so let me know if I’m wrong, but the thing about fanfiction sounds like it’s more about prioritizing the primacy of a person’s emotional engagement with their fandom. Right? Than…you can have fanfiction that’s weird or different and outlier, that still scratches the itch you needed to scratch, without it being, again, good is relative, but…good, right?
EN: You know what, I want fanfiction where Sonic and Knuckles have an orgy and Mario is a priest who decides to marry them and absolve them of their sins, and it’s kind of a bad idea on the face of it, but like…
ELM: What, why do you think that’s bad. That sounds great. [FK laughs] Mario was a priest?! Ideal. That’s perfect.
EN: But like, it may be kind of a crappy story, but if it gives you what you need in terms of, OK, Sonic and Knuckles are fucking and Mario’s finally the quasi-religious figure that I’ve always imagined him to be! [ELM chortles] That’s what fanfiction exists for. You know? I wrote about a graphic novel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks, and it kind of gets at this idea. It’s about this cartoonist who was a hot young thing but is now kinda doing middling superhero work. This is all inside the book. And he finds a pen that can transport creators inside the comics they make. They can interact with, like, the naked green space girls on Mars. Like one of his predecessors did. The idea in there is that how you interact with the fiction feeds the fiction itself, feeds the fandom itself.
Right? And it acknowledges that yeah things can get creepy and sleazy and slimy, but even that distasteful to some, even that fiction or reworking of the fiction can then itself be recontextualized or even rooted out or used by somebody else. So it’s like a palimpsest, right? That’s a story that's rewritten, and you write your own story on top of it and somebody else can write on top of it. And then the whole writing on rewriting of stuff becomes its own thing. And I feel like that’s my ultimate ideal of a fandom.
Or, like, the Black Panther’s my favorite superhero character, right? And you know, there’s been some crappy stories with him there that have fucked the way people understand him and fucked with my own loving of him. But you know what? If I wait long enough, somewhere down the line, someone’s gonna write a kickass story that invalidates the shit I don’t like or makes me like it because it uses it in a different way, and that’s just the nature of the beast.
What I don’t like is when people create these hard line stances where it’s, they say “No, that doesn’t count, because I said so.” Or because I don’t like it. Or because it’s bad. I don’t like the Star Wars prequels, but I have to acknowledge that they exist! [all laugh]
FK: Even Jar-Jar.
ELM: And they don’t erase your love of what came before or since, you know.
EN: Right. And you know what? I hate midichlorians. I hate the idea of them, I hate the word…
FK: [laughing] Everything about them is wrong!
EN: I hate them! Right. But you know what, if in Episode Eight or Nine they come up with some shit like “Midichlorians are awesome because…” et cetera, et cetera, I’ll be like, “Oh shit. I have to rethink everything I thought before.” And that's great! To me that’s the nature of being a fan of something. You’re open to the interpretation of the thing. I feel like being closed, especially with nerd culture stuff, is a waste of time. The reason I think conservative attitudes about what matters and doesn’t about video games, I think the reason that can persist, is because video games are this weird melding of design ideas and technological execution, right? So you can have things that have great ideas, that don’t execute well. But hey, you can be like, I like this idea!
There’s a game like that called “Remember Me,” produced by Dontnod, who have since gone on to make the Life is Strange games. And “Remember Me” was a science fiction game, kinda like a dystopian Blade Runner-esque future where you played as a lead character called Nilin. She’s a memory hunter, if I’m remembering the nomenclature. Which means she’s like an operative for hire who will go out and rejigger, remix the memories of her selected targets, so they remember things differently. Then their actions, based on those memories, will change. So one of the missions was a CEO who’s going through a business deal or something, and you can change something that happened to him as a kid that made him think badly about space trucks or some shit. And he’s like “Oh wait! I hated space trucks, there’s no way we’re buying this company,” and then the company doesn’t get bought.
I’m extrapolating, I don’t remember exactly what happens. But those moments in the game were supremely powerful. They were really freakin’ great. Cause you have to scrub through kind of a movie and then pick things out. The rest of the game? Was not good. The fighting engine was all right, they give you these beautiful tableaus that were not 3D so you’d just walk past this awesome looking world, “I can’t go in that door. I can’t go in that door. I can’t engage with these characters.” So there’s a lot of things they didn’t execute well on. But as a piece of science fiction, I loved that game. As a bit of character design? The main character and how she sits in that world, kind of existentially? I loved that.
But then, and this was the larger point I was making before, because it didn’t execute technically as well as some other games, people will say it’s a bad game. I'm like, no! It's flawed. Or people won’t memorialize it the way they will an Assassin’s Creed game or something like that because there’s not as much polish. I’m like, polish is a means to an end, it’s not the end unto itself, like what you were saying before.
ELM: Yeah, that’s really really interesting. One thing that has really helped me, I don’t know how you…it kind of seems that you think about this too as a critic, but when I’m writing about books, one of my editors has always framed it as—cause I write pretty short reviews. So you have to get a lot into it.
EN: You’re a blurbologist. I’ve been a blurbologist too.
ELM: It’s hard to do! But so he’ll say: “What are the terms of success for this book?” Which I always really appreciate, because we don’t have some kind of checklist of…and that does set it up to say “Well, this book fails because,” but you don’t explicitly say that. But it really helps you, you have to reframe the question every single book that you…which I really, it’s a nice way to not knee-jerk your way across the world.
OK, so we are running out of time, so I as a game civilian [EN laughs] am very curious about your perspective on “Pokémon Go,” which seems like the game—the mass consumer game story this summer. Not within the gaming world, but within the world. [laughs]
EN: Yeah, not just the summer, I think of the year.
ELM: That’s bold! What, something could happen in November.
EN: I mean…I haven’t seen a game get picked up like this in the zeitgeist outside of the gaming enthusiast world since “Wii Sports” and the first Wii. When late night comedy show hosts start making jokes about a video game, then you know. And it’s not like a deep cut joke, and it’s like OK, 75% of the audience gets it, then you know you have a phenomenon. It’s really interesting because it kind of revealed the level of people’s engagement with Pokémon.
Even though I’ve written about video games and nerd stuff my entire career, I’ve never been a huge Pokémon fan. When the show was on the air…I know. Flourish is all aghast.
ELM: Flourish is dead now. I’m sorry.
FK: You mean that you didn’t spend your life trying to determine whether you should select a Bulbasaur, a Charmander or a Squirtle?!
ELM: I always did like Charmander. He’s really cute.
EN: Yes, he is cute. But yeah—
FK: Bulba bulba bulba.
EN: I’ve never been into Pokémon that much. I haven’t been playing the game because it hasn’t got that much appeal to me. But what’s been interesting is, oh! OK. Pokémon is a thing that’s been in people’s minds that’s been dormant for 10 or 15 years because they haven’t kept up with the latest games on the 3DS or whatever, but here’s this easily accessible, non-reflex based, non-skill based experience that you can carry around with you, and all of a sudden people are into Pokémon again. It’s really really interesting.
Some of the game design people that I know and follow on Twitter, they get in so many conversations about how the design template of “Pokémon Go” is not at all new. “Google Ingress,” this is basically “Google Ingress” that’s been reskinned to the point where they use some of the same location data to spawn the Pokémon that clues and stuff in “Google Ingress” were spawned on. But because it has the branding of this pop cultural kinda phenomenon, people are like “Oh OK! All of a sudden I care.” And that’s been really interesting.
But also, it’s been interesting about how people react. Certain characters get found a lot more than others, like Pidgeys is the pigeon Pokémon, the bird Pokémon, apparently it’s one of the ones that you can find basically outside your door. But because it’s become so prevalent, people are like “Pidgey’s a shit character.” But then you have people like “Don’t you dare talk about my Pidgey!” because you know, “I like it for X Y and Z reasons.” So it’s been really really interesting to see how it’s gotten this life, this weird kind of popularity that has so many different reasons for existing, and it’s been really really really interesting.
ELM: Do you, I wonder if there’s something specific about the Pokémon concept. Do you think this is replicable?
ELM: Or do you think this is a confluence of, the whole idea of it…you’re catching creatures, you know?
EN: The thing that's interesting about Pokémon is part of the fiction and the design of it as a game and as a story is collecting, right? You’re supposed to find these things and…
FK: Gotta catch ’em all.
EN: And train them and fight them against each other. That alone is great. But then there’s the idea that there’s super rare Pokémon, there's legendary Pokémon. There’s the idea that there’s a hierarchy, that the more devoted you are to the experience of watching this show, the movies, playing the card game, playing the mobile game, the more you do those things, the better your chances are that you’re gonna get this peak-level, Godlike kind of Pokémon experience. So again, just the very idea of Pokémon lends itself to rabid consumption.
I remember when it was the first weekend the game was live and in New York City people were in Central Park, swarms of people, hundreds of people in Central Park looking for whatever Pokémon were spawning there. And that’s amazing! I think it’s because it’s Pokémon. What remains to be seen is if, like you said, if Disney and Lucasfilm make a Star Wars version of it, maybe yeah. It’s kind of like, it’s a similar phenomenon to the Kim Kardashian game. The Kim Kardashian game was not a novel game design experience. It was replicating a lot of design ideas that were in social media games that were on Facebook and stuff like that. But it was Kim Kardashian, so you had a lot of people showing up because they’re Kardashian fans or whatever, to play it, and then you have a Katy Perry game. And a Britney Spears game. And whatever. Those replicate some of it, but the actual kind of “Oh my God,” nuclear explosion success of it, no.
Because the jig is up now, right? People know that what you’re trying to do has been done elsewhere. You’re just trying to reskin an idea that has been executed phenomenally, I should say I don’t mean that in terms of quality but in terms of it became a phenomenon. You’re just trying to reskin an idea that’s been executed better somewhere else, or more surprisingly somewhere else. And I don’t know if that’s gonna happen here. But it could, because again, “Pokémon Go” in and of itself is basically another game with different branding. Can somebody then rebrand the rebrand to make it level up? I don't know. Maybe? But I think part of it is uniquely inherent to Pokémon being Pokémon and that’s a very long-winded way to give you an actual answer.
ELM: Yeah it’s funny, we were at San Diego Comic-Con and so that was a couple weeks after it came out, and I haven’t had this experience since. I don’t know if you have. But the fact that I would be sitting there and be the only one at the table not—like, someone would pull out, you know that thing where you're at dinner and someone pulls out their phone and you’re like “Oh, it’s phone time now.” And everyone, you know?
ELM: But it was like this with Pokémon so I’d be sitting there like “OK.” But I cannot imagine next year at Comic-Con sitting at a table with eight people and having them all pull out their phones to catch a, catch an Ewok or something.
FK: [aghast] An Ewok?!
ELM: They’re little, right? You could catch that.
EN: But you—Flourish does not wanna catch Ewoks.
FK: First of all they’re called “Endorians.” Second of all… [laughing]
ELM: Oh wow. You’re so gatekeepy. Catch a Luke Skywalker. No?
FK: He probably smells. All right, I think we should probably wrap up because we really are running out of time. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
EN: Thank you for having me.
FK: And being the first proper games person.
FK: In addition to your comic-book-ness and your other-things-ness.
EN: My other-things-ness. Yes. I’m full of nesses.
FK: All of the things that you are, but the one that we’re focusing in on is games, so thank you for coming on.
ELM: Thanks for illuminating things for me.
FK: Maybe we can get her to play “Gone Home” or something.
EN: Yes, do it!
ELM: “Candy Crush” is fine for me.
FK: All right. Talk to you later, Evan.
EN: Bye guys!
FK: All right, I have to say that Evan was the best possible person to come on and gently introduce us to the universe of video game fandom.
ELM: “Gentle” is the word that I would use.
FK: Did you feel like, supported? And introduced?
ELM: Yeah, I felt intro— [laughs] Supported? I don’t think there’s anything to support. [FK laughs] But, yeah, I felt very gently introduced. It was really nice.
FK: I am really excited about talking about some of the things that came up more. I’m especially intrigued at the idea that some of the things in games, like especially the sort of walking simulator kind of games he was talking about, are about discovering little pieces of a universe. Right? Or finding the gaps in a game, in a story world, I’m really interested in how that’s similar to writing fanfiction or putting together fanvids or…you know. The kind of transformative fanwork that we’re usually talking about.
ELM: OK, so…you’re saying that…say more. [laughs]
FK: All right. If you’re playing “Grand Theft Auto,” right. You can choose to do exactly what the game wants you to do and go and, like, slap some…
ELM: Murder a sex worker.
ELM: Isn’t that what you do? Shoot some women in the head?
FK: It’s not the only thing you can do! Because it’s an open world game, so that’s what the game sort of wants you to do, but you can also just say “fuck that” and go and like…
ELM: Just drive away?
FK: Just drive away! You literally can just drive away and explore what else is in the world. There’s all these interesting YouTube videos of people who have, like, found a way to drive a car on top of a skyscraper. Or…
ELM: Feels like a problem with the coding.
FK: No, because it’s intentional that you can just choose to walk away from the things the game is sort of trying to make you do. And go explore the world and find out things about what’s going on. And listen to the radio. Drive around the town, listening to the radio. And just have that be your game.
ELM: So we’re saying that there are…yeah, there’s definitely parallels. There’s types of fanfiction that are like that.
FK: Right, but also the idea that you’re going to instead of, I mean, we were talking about, in our last episode, the idea that fanfiction is “transformative” or it’s “reading against the text” and that maybe this isn’t always what fanfiction really is, but I think it’s interesting cause when you choose to do that in “Grand Theft Auto,” or when you choose to play a game like “No Man’s Sky” and just wander around and explore the universe instead of heading to the center like you’re supposed to, that feels to me very similar. You’re taking something out of this media experience that’s there for you, but maybe isn’t what you are sort of supposed to take.
ELM: OK, that’s an interesting spin. But that feels like, I thought we were gonna talk about specific kinds of fanfiction, but that feels more about most fanfiction. The act of fanfiction generally.
FK: Yeah, maybe. Although there’s also plenty of fanfiction that is the same thing. That is like what you’re supposed to take away from it.
ELM: What are you supposed to take away from a source text? Out of curiosity, what would you say?
FK: I don’t know, I think if you were writing a piece of fanfiction about a canonically together couple that was extending a scene.
ELM: Who are those boring people? [FK laughs] That’s false, I had a canon ship once. OK. Sure.
FK: But it’s interactive in a way that…yeah.
ELM: Yeah…I don’t know. I don’t know if I would make those distinctions.
FK: Right. Well, there’s also something interesting in the fact that games are supposed to be—you’re supposed to interact with a game, whereas I feel like you’re not necessarily supposed to interact with a TV show. The TV show’s on a screen and you don’t interact with it.
ELM: That’s interesting, so you would consider television is supposed to be a passive medium but video games are inherently an active medium.
FK: Well, I think that video games can be pretty on rails, like they can limit what you’re allowed to do. But you are supposed to take an action, right?
ELM: Right, right, but what does that even mean and actually to engage with a smart television show is not a very passive experience.
FK: No, not at all because you’re thinking about it, of course.
ELM: That’s complicated. You know, for all our joking about “Candy Crush” I did for many, many years play “The Sims” a lot. And so that’s what I’m thinking about when you talk about this. Because, it’s funny, did you play “The Sims” ever?
FK: I played a lot of “The Sims” also.
ELM: OK Flourish I wanna know I wanna know, what kind of “Sims” player were you? And I can give you some examples if you want, unless you already know what I’m asking.
FK: Uh, why don’t you give the examples anyway. Because people who listen to this maybe never played “The Sims.”
ELM: If you’re unfamiliar with “The Sims,” it’s like maybe you played “Sim City” back in the day…I played “Sim City” once and I burned down all of Rio de Janeiro, so I was like “This was not for me.”
FK: [laughs] I played “Sim City,” I played “Sim Life” which is the deep-cut Sim game that almost no one played cause you had to evolve little dudes…
ELM: In “The Sims” you would create a character or a family and you would move them into a house and you could build the house or you could get one premade, and then they would live their lives which sounds boring but I found quite engaging. But, OK, my little sister for example loved building the houses and decorating them, and then she would wander away. And I despise building those houses with a fiery passion and decorating them I can take or leave, it’s just annoying, you gotta budget things, just like, gimme the house and I’ll trade up, you know? Cause you can sell your items and get better items and stuff, or cuter items. And I was more interested in making the people play their lives, and it’s…they’re very gamified lives. You build up skills, you work your way up the ladder of a job. You know?
ELM: And then I would achieve, you know, success. And then I would get bored of them. So.
ELM: And, and also I would always do it as my ship of the moment. I would make them the ship that I liked.
FK: [laughs] I think that is incredibly common in fandom circles.
ELM: In fandom, in fandom! So like, but they would have to, I would have the additional goal, the very easy goal of getting them together as a ship. Because it’s not hard to make two characters get together.
FK: No, in “The Sims” you just sort of smush ’em together and they go off and do the romance dance.
ELM: You have to develop a friendship and then they have to be open to flirting.
FK: Yeah that's true. But it’s not hard.
ELM: Yeah. It’s really pretty easy.
FK: So I was the extreme version of your sister, because I knew all the cheat codes, so I would just use cheat codes to get everything that I wanted and I would build dollhouses in it.
ELM: See, that's interesting. It’s like they have two parallel games that exist: this architectural game and this, I don’t know.
FK: No, I mean, like, I enjoyed having the characters and I also did the thing where you had characters for your ships, but I would first build an extensive Hogwarts dollhouse, you know? [ELM laughs] Cause I would use the cheat code to get infinite money and then I could just make the dollhouse be effectively whatever I wanted. Then I would put my characters in there and I was never ashamed of using cheat codes to make them do what I wanted to do at all.
ELM: I have used the money cheat, but then also sometimes I really wanted to play it. I remember, well, I kept doing this thing where when I was watching Torchwood I would need the whole team. So then I would have freakin’ five to six adults. And they give you like no money. And I remember there was one family I played for awhile and I couldn’t afford a fourth wall for our home. [FK laughs] It was bad. I’ve had a lot, I've done it where they’ve had to rotate, they’ve had to take turns using the three beds.
ELM: You should never have a group of adults cause they’re useless. Children are useless too because they can’t even work.
ELM: [laughs] This is terrible.
FK: But this is so funny because you came into this saying you know nothing about games, you don’t enjoy gaming, you’re not, but it turns out you play all this “Candy Crush” and “The Sims.” These are games!
ELM: And I’ve played “2048.” What a game!
FK: And you play cribbage! And I can’t play cribbage. But you play cribbage.
ELM: Yeah, but I feel like, we talked about this in the conversation and I think a lot of people…and in a way I find video games and comics to be parallel in that regard, I find them to be very gatekeepy.
FK: Yeah. I think that’s true.
ELM: Which obviously Evan talked about. And even when he wasn’t explicitly talking about it, that thread came up, just talking about people’s disdain for characters that are easier to use. That kind of culture really turns me off and it’s like, why would I want to sign up? It's hard, cause I would like to be into this stuff. But it’s like, if I’m not drawn to it, the way I’m drawn to fanfiction, why would I actively choose to sign up to be mocked by nerd boys?
FK: Right. I mean, for me…I felt like that for a long time, and it was only recently that I sort of started embracing the idea. I mean, “recently,” I guess it was kind of a long time ago now. [ELM laughs] But it was only like, in the past 10 years that I started realizing that actually I kind of play a lot of games and always have and enjoy games, even though I’m never gonna be part of that nerd boy thing. Something that really helped was finding that sort of walking simulator, indie games crowd. The people that GamerGate hate. Encountering them, and being like, “Wait, all of these people are interested in all the things I'm interested in, actually! They like games the same way I like games.” You know?
ELM: Right. That’s interesting. I don’t think…I also think that you’re more drawn to things via community and communal engagement than I am.
FK: Yeah that’s true.
ELM: I rarely look at a group and think, “Oh, I wanna be a part of that.” It’s more like, I’m drawn to something and then I find the group after the fact.
FK: Yeah. Well, I have a bunch of games that I wanna make you play, maybe for special episodes. You’re gonna have to come up with more things to make me do.
ELM: Oh my God, yeah, what? I have to watch Twin Peaks. I have to play video games. What are you gonna do?
FK: I dunno, read A Little Life?
ELM: That…I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t make you do that. [FK laughs] I don’t wanna make you cry.
FK: You can make me cry, it’s OK.
ELM: No, that’s OK. I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.
FK: All right.
ELM: Yeah. You know what I could make you do?
ELM: I’m really enjoying the book I’m reading right now. It’s a history of Britain and British politics in the 1970s.
FK: Oh my God. [ELM laughs] Elizabeth, please don’t make me! I’d rather cry.
ELM: Yeah, we’ve just got to the Keith [inaudible] election and then there was no majority so now Wilson’s back as PM again but he’s drinking too much. It’s actually great narrative!
FK: I feel like I’m almost about to stick my hand in a bear trap and have to chew off a limb to get free. [ELM laughs] Sorry British people. I don’t know. I don’t think I can take that.
ELM: It’s actually, there’s a lot of amazing narrative dramas. The miners’ strikes?
FK: I guess if I make you watch Twin Peaks then you can decide whether you think this will make a good episode or not.
ELM: [laughing] Can you imagine? The miners’ strikes, what else, there's an energy shortage and they have the three day week and it's basically like it’s Victorian times all over again. In 1974! Isn’t it fascinating?
FK: Yeah. That’s…sounds like the garbage strike of Manhattan. Except less smelly.
ELM: It’s nothing like that!
ELM: Maybe we should just do one about industrial action and you can really learn the history of the labor movement.
FK: [defeatedly laughs] If I must, Elizabeth. If I must.
ELM: [laughing] OK perfect. I’ll make a list of all the things you’re gonna have to learn about.
FK: Oh my God. All right. Whereas I’m…I’m giving you fun things! Like Twin Peaks!
ELM: The idea of making me play video games is not fun.
FK: You will like some of these video games.
ELM: Great! Well you’re really gonna enjoy these political histories.
ELM: OK. So. As always, if you have more comments, especially about fanart, but you know, about video games or anything else, it’s email@example.com, or fansplaining at Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, all lines of communication are open, and of course patreon.com/fansplaining if you wanna give us cash!
FK: All right! I’ll look forward to whatever responses our audience has, and I’ll talk to you next week, Elizabeth!
ELM: OK, bye Flourish.
FK: This week’s Fansplaining is brought to you by our wonderful Patreon patrons.
ELM: You just said “Pat-re-on.”
FK: I did. [ELM laughs] You're infecting me.
ELM: All right. The patrons.
FK & ELM: Elliot Byrom, Christopher Dwyer, MCF, Chloe-Leonna Steele, Clare Muston, Christian Gossett, Menlo Steve, AR, Katherine Lynn, Clare Mulligan, Heidi Tandy, Megan C., Jay Bushman, Lucas Medeiros.
FK: Bradlea Raga-Barone.
ELM: Are you—
FK: Did I say it wrong again?
ELM: Completely wrong.
FK: What is it.
ELM: “Bradlea Rah-ga Bar-rone.”
FK: It has an E at the end of it!
ELM: Have you ever met an Italian American!
FK: I have met plenty! I’ve met you! [ELM cackles]
ELM: Now I'm—Jules Chatelaine again—Jules, please tell me if I’m doing it wrong.
FK & ELM: Jenna Hale, Georgina, and in honor of Jacob Sanders and One Direction!
FK: And we’ll see you next time!
ELM: Thanks guys.
FK: The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or employers, or anyone's except our own. This episode’s music is by Jahzzar, at BetterWithMusic.com, under a Creative Commons license, BY-SA.