Gamer – Jared Newman

23 Sep

Q1. Who the hell are you and what do you do?

I’m a Los Angeles-based blogger and journalist who tried to write about video games but got sucked towards technology writing instead. My regular gigs include PC World and Technologizer, and I just started freelancing for the New York Times. I also run a small game culture blog called GamerCrave.

Q2. When did you first get into games? How old were you?

My family had an Atari computer that played game cartridges, and sometimes they’d set it up for me, but when I was about four years old I learned how to work the Atari 2600. I’d play Berzerk and Space Invaders and come up with little narratives in my head, because back then, games didn’t really have plots. They were more like frameworks. I kind of miss that.

Q3. Omit nothing, what is your gaming history? Where did it start and how did it progress?

After a couple years of Atari, I witnessed Super Mario Bros. on a friend’s new Nintendo Entertainment System, and was entranced like everyone else. I wrote a letter to Nintendo, asking them to make Super Mario Bros. for the Atari 2600 (how ignorant that sounds now). A couple weeks later, my parents brought in this cardboard box, like it had been shipped in the mail from Nintendo headquarters, and a brand new NES was inside. I’m pretty sure my parents never sent the letter and just took it upon themselves to be awesome.

The rest of my gaming history is pretty standard, except one thing: When I was about 12 years old, I’d tried pretty much every shareware PC game worth playing, and was bored enough to decide that I’d make some games myself. I discovered Klik & Play — a visual game development application, no programming knowledge required — and shortly thereafter met this whole online community of people who made staggeringly impressive games in their free time. I drifted away a dozen years ago, but amazingly, the community still exists at a site called the Daily Click. The founder, Rikus Kras, was a community old-timer even when I started hanging around, and he’s still there.

Q4. Why do you actually play games? Is it for fun? Or maybe something else?

I try to allow for the entire art-fun spectrum, but my favorite games hit that sweet spot between pure challenge and raw emotion. I won’t suffer through bad play for plot alone, but I really enjoy games that make me feel a certain way, whether it’s isolated, macho, helpless or heroic. The best games have a vibe.

Q5. If you could choose one game (just one) to give to other gamers, one that epitomises videogames for you, what would it be?

Mario 64. It’s not my favorite game of all time, but unlike more recent Mario games, it captures a certain magical quality. The sounds of chirping birds punctuating a gentle breeze outside, the secrets of the castle gradually unfolding before your eyes, the very act of jumping into paintings — these flourishes convince me that I’m not just clouded by nostalgia. This game is really special, and of course it’s a blast.

Q6. What was the last game you completed? Did you enjoy it?

Limbo. I enjoyed it —  yes, there’s a lot of trial and error, maybe symbolic of punishment for life’s sins — but I wished the ending was different. Not because it didn’t explain much, but because it just didn’t resonate. But if you expect stellar endings from this medium, you’ll hate it.

Q7. Now the tough stuff… Favourite gaming platform ever… and why?

Oh, that’s easy. When I was in college, I lit some incense in my room before a house party, then I went downstairs to play beer pong, and forgot about the whole thing. I didn’t have a proper incense burner, so my stupid solution was to stick the incense in a chunk of Styrofoam, perched atop my television. A few minutes later, my housemate’s girlfriend informed me that my room was on fire. I got up there and discovered flames coming from my television and my Gamecube.

Fortunately, I was able to blow out the fire without any help, but now the room was dense with black smoke and the stench of burnt plastic. I didn’t care. Priority one was to fire up the TV and test the Gamecube, whose front side was melted to the point that the second memory card slot and a couple of controller jacks were inaccessible. Imagine my surprise when Metroid Prime’s title screen popped up on the television.

I like a lot of game consoles for a lot of reasons, but there’s always a special place in my heart for the one that didn’t quit after becoming a fireball. Hell, the Xbox 360 craps out when you stare at it the wrong way.

Q8. Favourite game or franchise?

Metroid Prime, and not because of that last anecdote. Samus’ first 3-D adventure was the best, because it perfectly captured the earlier games’ simultaneous feelings of utter isolation and high-tech badassery. And for goodness sakes, the plot was a subtle, sombre undercurrent. It pains me to see the newer Metroid games clobber you over the head with dialog.

Q9. How do you feel about online gaming?

I liked it more when it felt fresh and new. Now that every online shooter applies the same tired formula — play, level up, unlock things — I can’t get too deep into any of them without wondering what the point is. Sometimes I’ll go on a Halo binge for old-time’s sake, but it always ends with the same identity crisis: If there’s no endgame, what am I fighting for?

Q10. And motion control?

Motion control has its place in social settings. I’m not ruling out deeper experiences — Child of Eden looks promising with Kinect — but I’m instinctively skeptical of games that try to replicate so-called hardcore genres, such as first-person shooters, with motion control. I want to see new kinds of controllers applied to new kinds of games.

Q11. How about 3D gaming?

The couple of games I tried at CES failed to excite me. During Sony’s E3 press conference, I found the 3-D effect in Killzone 3 to be distracting from the actual game. I’ll try to keep an open mind, and I know a lot of consumers are at least interested in 3-D, but I’m a gameplay over graphics kind of guy. Selling me on 3-D is going to be an uphill battle.

Q12. Where do YOU want to see the industry in five years time?

The industry is on a good track. Downloadable and indie games are getting better and more elaborate on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and WiiWare, with a lot of fresh takes on once-forgotten genres. Big-budget, AAA games have accomplished some mind-blowing things. As a result, mediocre games from major publishers aren’t selling particularly well, so the bar is raised. Sure, franchises and sequels are the status quo, but that hasn’t stopped games like Heavy Rain and Demon’s Souls from finding commercial success. Motion control is bringing fun games to a wider audience, and that’s fine by me. The only trend that I’d like to see put down over the next five years is the rise of mindless social games like Farmville.

Q13. What does gaming mean to you?

Gaming is a way to experience worlds with different rules, to stimulate the brain, to connect with other people, or just to pass idle time. It’s my favorite hobby and I hope I’ll always have time for it.


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