Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Archive for February, 2010

Reading the text: Jesper Juul interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 25, 2010

 Jesper Juul is a theorist in video game studies and author of Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds as well as A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players. Here he talks about his second book, why he thinks casual games are saving video games from cultural ghettoization and why he thinks this is happens to be an exciting time to be a video game player.

Author’s blog: The Ludologist

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Would you please explain what you happen to do for a living?

I’m currently a visiting professor at the New York University game center. Which is to say that my primary occupation for the last many years has been as a video game theorist. I spend my time teaching video games theory and video game design, and my mission in life is to make sure that video games are taken seriously. Seriously, in the way that we tend to take literature or cinema seriously. This is not to say that video games are the same as these other art forms, but that video games are sufficiently important that it is important to think about how they work, how they develop, and where they may go in the future.

How would you describe your book A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players to someone who has never heard of it?

A Casual Revolution tells the story of a specific moment in the history of video games: that moment around 2005-7, where suddenly the Nintendo Wii took off, music games took off, browser games took off, downloadable casual games took off. The moment where video games broke out of their box and it became accepted that basically anyone could be a video game player; that video games weren’t just for young men.

I tell that story in a few different ways: I talk about how solitaire became the most popular digital game, I talk about how we always play new games using the strategies of games we played before, I look at the design of Wii games and music games, I examine the history of matching tile games, and I talk about how the industry traditionally was very reluctant to acknowledge that there might be another audience out there. Theoretically, the book builds a way of understanding how players aren’t simply “casual” or “hardcore” but that rather we may change over time due to life circumstances such as getting a job, having kids, or retiring.

So why did you write this book and who was it written for?

The book was really born out of my own curiosity about why video games suddenly seem to be played by everybody. I’ve played video games most of my life, and it always saddened me that it was so hard to convince non-players that video games were worthwhile. When things turned around with little casual games, the Wii and music games, I became curious why that was: what was different in these games? Why had the status of video games changed? The book really is my personal journey towards finding out what happened with video games in those last few years.

I’m an academic at heart, but I’ve tried to write a book that is generally readable. This means that I focus a lot on the stories of individual players or developers, and then I introduce readers to ways of thinking and understanding about the stories I’ve told. So really it’s a book for anyone who is interested in thinking about video games, their status in culture, the design of video games, and the differences between different players. I wouldn’t call it a casual book, but it’s certainly meant to be accessible and interesting to read.

Would you mind talking about the kinds of research that went into writing it?

Academics will often focus on either game design or players, but I wanted to write about how some game designs reach certain players as well as how players can sometimes take a game and make all kind of different things out of it. So therefore I did two kinds of research: I ran a survey at the Gamezebo website where I ask players what they played on when, their age, and how their playing habits had changed over time. And then I did in-depth interviews with some of them. The other kind of research consisted of looking at the design of the games we typically call “casual”. I looked at how matching tile games have developed historically and how they have been reviewed, and I used some interface design theory to understand why Guitar Hero or Wii sports will reach such broad audiences.

Forgive me for stealing one of the questions you have on your blog, The Ludologist , but I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on it: Are casual games saving video games from cultural ghettoization, or are they preventing video games from dealing with serious themes?

I think that casual games fundamentally are saving video games from cultural ghettoization because they just reach a broader audience, and they make it harder for opportunist politicians to claim that video games are something horrible that should be banned. They also save video games by showing that video games can be many different things, not just big budget productions sold in boxes at retail. I will say though that some distribution channels for casual games are very conservative, and make it very hard for developers to create innovative or edgy content. One developer I quote in the book mentions a casual game portal who said that they didn’t wanted to sell a product that could potentially offend anyone. But outside such distribution channels, I do think that things are looking good and that we are seeing more innovative content than we used to do.

Are you pleased with the way the book turned out?

I’m pretty happy. In the very beginning when I started writing, I perhaps hoped that I could make a single big theory about the difference between casual and hardcore, but it very quickly became clear that the data showed that the life circumstances of people is a huge influence on their playing habits, so that angle became much more interesting to follow and the book became more story-driven.

In that way, it is very different from my first book, Half-Real, which presented a single big theory of all video games. The new book is much more focused on the stories of players, developers, and games.

Would you mind giving us a brief overview of your gaming background?

I first started playing games on my Commodore 64 back in the early 1980s. (I grew up in Denmark which wasn’t a big console nation at the time.) This was realistically a time of rampant piracy, so I had access to most of the games that came out for that platform, and I spend huge amounts of time trying out new games with my friends. After that, I switched to the Amiga and got into games such as Lemmings and so on. Then I was a PC gamer for a while, and then I started playing much more console games. I probably like most kinds of games, but I always want to find something new that I haven’t seen before.

What is your take on MMOs? Are you a particular fan? What has your experience with them been like?

I played EverQuest and World of Warcraft, but it really isn’t my thing to have several level 70 characters and so on. I always want to try new games, so MMOs just aren’t that great for me because they take so much time. Once I’ve seen the basic mechanics of such a game, I’m not particularly fascinated with the idea of spending 100 hours to see what content they will throw at me afterwards.

As someone who has done extensive research on gaming, do you find it difficult to separate gaming for pleasure and gaming for research?

I certainly have games that I need to play for specific research purposes, and I have games that I play to keep up with what’s happening. Then I have games that are guilty pleasures, but they often end up in the research anyway: the fact that I’d consider a game irrelevant to my research may mean that I need to think about my research in a different way!

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Most of my writing has been about video games, so it’s hard to pick the two apart. I would say that my experience programming video games has meant a lot for my work habits in terms of structuring what I’m doing. Lately I have tried to use some of the motivating factors from video games in my writing: I will divide a writing task into a large number of subcomponents such as “fix the transition between section two and three”, “make outro more interesting”, or “introduce theory up front”. Then I know what to do, and then I can tick off my todo list quickly, giving me that “ah, yes, ding!” rush that you also get from playing video games. In effect, I am trying to make writing as satisfying as playing video games.

Would you have any words of advice for aspiring writers wanting to publish articles or books on video games?

If you want to write academically about video games, you should think about what you are bringing to the table; do you have a background in a specific discipline that hasn’t been applied to video games? If so, you should think about how that can be useful, and how to demonstrate that your background is useful and relevant to everybody else. Then you should read what’s been written before. There’s probably 20 books and 50 papers you need to read, but set aside the time for that (and perhaps learn speed reading). There’s nothing worse than people who haven’t even bothered to use Google scholar to see what’s already been written. Find something that’s interesting or unresolved and figure out what your personal take is on it. Then build your argument using sound theory so you can convince everybody else.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer audience?

Photo credit: Jesper Lagerberg

I think it’s an exciting time to play video games and to think about video games. Just a few years ago, it seemed that we knew when video games were: they were products sold in boxes providing 10 to 40 hour experiences. Now, with casual games, with digital distribution, with art games, with indie games, with cell phone games, we have an explosion of game forms. It’s always great to try something that completely disproves all of your assumptions. I think it’s important to seek out those kinds of experiences.

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Reading the text: David Louis Edelman

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 22, 2010

David Louis Edelman is an author, blogger, and web programmer who has recently completed his first science fiction trilogy. Here he talks about the Jump 225 series, what he finds pleasurable and not so pleasurable about writing, and discusses his gaming background where he boasts — rather unrealistically — about his skill at playing Yars’ Revenge.

Author’s website: http://www.davidlouisedelman.com/

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Could you please explain what your Jump 225 trilogy happens to be about?

The Jump 225 trilogy is three books — Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron (the last of which has just been released by Pyr). It’s a story set about a thousand years in the future, where you download software that runs on nanobots in the human body. So you can download a program to cure a disease, or focus your vision, or even show a specific expression on your face. The story focuses on a group of software entrepreneurs as they try to bring a radical new technology to market.

I’ve heard some good quick phrases for what the trilogy is about. There’s “Dune meets the Wall Street Journal,” “Neuromancer meets Wall Street,” “the love child of Donald Trump and Vernor Vinge,” and (my personal favorite) “Boston Legal meets The Matrix.” I tried to really find the excitement in the business world and focus on that, rather than just use it as a jumping-off point for your typical action thriller. These are probably the most exciting books ever written that climax in marketing demos and government hearings.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?

Like most published authors, my story was pretty excruciating and involved a lot of luck. After I finished the first book (Infoquake), I shopped around for literary agents. I sent two dozen queries and samples to the top SF/F literary agents who claimed to be looking for new talent, and got two dozen form rejection letters. Finally a former boss of mine, who had done some literary agenting before, offered to take a crack at getting the book published. He sent the book out to a number of publishers, and I just happened to get lucky by landing in front of Lou Anders at Pyr. From there, it was another 18 months until Infoquake hit the shelves.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

When I was a kid, I was a big board game aficionado. My brother and I used to invent board games on construction paper when we were kids. We made this board game where we recreated the whole map of Disneyland, complete with a pop-up Skyway and replica ticket books. Later on in my early teenage years, I was into AD&D — but for me, it was mostly a reading experience, since I never found a like-minded group of serious players. I also had a whole collection of Avalon Hill games that never got much use, unfortunately. My board gaming and RPG experience pretty much ended in high school.

On the electronic side, I was a serious Atari 2600 and Colecovision addict as a kid. But my experience with console gaming largely died in the big videogame crash of the early ’80s. I’ve done a fair share of computer gaming in the years since. In college, I was big on the Infocom games (Zork, etc.) and stuff like King’s Quest and Space Quest. Since then, it seems like I pick up a new game every two or three years and just play it over and over again, long past the point when I should be bored with it. I’ve lost serious amounts of time to Civilizations I through IV, Starcraft, Diablo, Master of Orion, Neverwinter Nights, Return to Wolfenstein and Star Wars: Jedi Academy.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

For some reason, I’ve never cared to game with real people. I just like to play against the CPU. So that’s limited my exposure to online worlds. I played around with Second Life for a little while, but I didn’t really see the point of it. Seems like a fabulous idea that has utterly failed to pan out once you actually log on. And believe it or not, I’ve never even seen World of Warcraft.

 
 

David Louis Edelman

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

In junior high school, my group of friends and I decided to say goodbye to RPGs by playing a raucous game of Chutes n’ Dungeons n’ Ladders n’ Dragons. It was a pretty lousy gaming experience, but it was fun to play Dungeon Master and describe all of the neon-colored stuff on the Chutes n’ Ladders board with a corny dramatic voice.

I also find it interesting and amusing that I tried to create an RPG version of “Guitar Hero” 20 years ago, long before the technology was around to do anything like that in pixels. I sent an unsolicited proposal to TSR and never heard anything back. Somewhere out there is an alternate universe where I’m so wealthy I’m using hundred-dollar bills for napkins.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Absolutely. I’m known as something of a worldbuilding addict — the world I created for the Jump 225 trilogy not only has religions, political parties, a banking system and business regulation, but a shipping system and futuristic building materials too. It’s much easier to think that way if you’ve got a gaming mentality, because you’re constantly thinking in terms of cause and effect. The Civilization games have taught me a lot in that regard. I’m constantly trying to think a few turns ahead of my characters, to set things up that I might use in the future, to think about characters in terms of resources to be used and points to be scored.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Yes, unfortunately, writing is not exempt from the grind. For me, it’s a huge part of the process. I tend to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, then reread and reread and reread. It can get tedious at times, but when you look back over what you’ve accomplished it’s definitely rewarding.

I didn’t make things easy for myself by having so many things to keep track of. For instance, in the Jump 225 books, there’s a virtual communication technology called “multi” which lets you project a virtual body into real space and interact with other people as if you’re actually there. So for every scene in all three books, I had to keep track of which character was present as a real body and which character was present as a multi projection. Definitely gets tedious the 45th time you do it.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Hearing from the fans and the readers. And I’m not just talking about abject flattery (though that can be rewarding in and of itself). I enjoy reading reviews and discussions and emails from people who are really engaging with the books, even if they dislike parts of them. As long as they’ve taken the books seriously and not just as mindless entertainment, I’m happy. A couple of critics have even shaped the content of subsequent books to an extent by making criticisms or bringing up issues that I’ve overlooked. There’s a crucial subplot of Geosynchron that really only came together after I thought long and hard about the criticisms in one particular review.

When do you find time to write?

Mostly at night, after the babies go to sleep. Which is why I really have no life. And also why it takes me so long to get any writing accomplished.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I used to escape by immersing myself in books and films. Before I started writing, I was a serious two- or three-book-a-week reader, and I tended to watch my movies very seriously, on a big screen on Blu-Ray and full digital sound. But since becoming a parent, I’m afraid I’ve found it too difficult to concentrate on reading for any extended length of time. Instead I tend to just browse the web too much. I wish I could say that I was reading deep, intellectual things on the web, but instead I spend too much time on the Onion AV Club and Reddit.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

You have to be prepared to never be published, and even if you *do* get published, to never be appreciated. There’s a huge amount of luck in this business, and the number of deserving authors who actually get recognized for their work is minuscule compared to the total number of deserving authors. The only way you can deal with that it is to have this zen-like sense that it doesn’t really matter in the end whether you’re successful or not.

I’m also fairly convinced that the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle are the harbingers of a very big shift in the publishing industry. Right now, novelists are very much subject to the whims of the big bookstore chains. But within 15 years, I think, having a big New York publisher isn’t going to matter nearly as much as having a dedicated online following. So I think the best thing a budding writer can do is to network, join online writing and reading communities, build up your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. And just keep writing.

You wake up to a world where your Jump 225 trilogy has been made into a role playing game. What character and class would you play and why?

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Lunar tycoons, who are very much the people pulling the strings behind the scenes. Who wouldn’t want to be able to manipulate people from afar for your own self-gratification and not worry about the consequences?

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I’d like to remind everyone that Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron are now available in bookstores across the country. And if you can’t find them in the bookstores, you can order them from a zillion different online vendors. You can read the first seven chapters of Infoquake on my website at www.infoquake.net if you want to get started right away.

I would also like to point out that back in the day, I could kick all of your asses at Yars’ Revenge.

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Grinding to Valhalla: Year one

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 19, 2010

Grinding to Valhalla is one year old today. Over the past year I managed to pester quite a few people with countless questions. In fact, I was able to interview 88 bloggers and podcasters, 67 authors of both fiction and nonfiction, and 11 game industry professionals.  I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

The year ahead

During this next year I hope to mix things up a bit by intermittently posting some of my own personal observations on games and books. I’m a casual game player (and reader, for that matter), but I do enjoy thinking and talking about what I’m up to in these realms. I’m certainly not turning my back on interviews, it’s just that over the past year I’ve found myself writing more and more posts of this more personal variety, setting them to draft, and then putting them aside not knowing what to do with them. I felt the start of a new year would be as good a place as any to start subjecting these on you.  Lucky you.

Gone but not forgotten

One of the other things I’d like to start doing is interviews with people who once blogged but for whatever reason have hung up their keyboards. Sort of a ‘where are they now?’ and exit interview combined.  I’m not sure really what could come out of this, but I think it might make for some interesting exploration. I would ask those of you who have been around the blogging community for a while to let me know of anyone you think would make for a prime candidate and I’d be happy to try and hunt them down.

Feedback

I welcome any comments or suggestions you might have.  If there are any people you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know. I’m always looking for more people to interview.

Who really knows what year number two will bring? Certainly not me.  Here’s to the year ahead.  Hope you’ll stop by from time to time to see how it’s going.

Feel free to drop me a note at grindingtovalhalla@gmail.com.

Take care,

RC

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Reading the text: Kevin J. Anderson interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 16, 2010

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Here he talks about his latest writing project, Terra Incognita, a nautical fantasy trilogy involving sailing ships and sea monsters and how one of his early fantasy series was directly influenced by his days of playing Dungeons & Dragons. One wonders how different Mr. Anderson’s output would have been if it weren’t for those formative gaming sessions.

Kevin’s website: http://www.wordfire.com/

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The second volume of your Terra Incognita series is due out in June. Would you mind setting up the premise of the series and perhaps what you’ve set out to accomplish with it?

And I’m right now half-finished with the third and final volume — this is a big epic fantasy set in a world with sailing ships and sea serpents, and a religious clash of two great empires: much like our Age of Discovery and the Crusades. It’s got a large cast of characters ranging from kings and sultans, soldiers and sailors, religious fanatics and the truly devout, all trying to unfold the mysteries of the blank spots on the map, fears of sailing off the edge of the world, the excitement and terror of discovering the unknown.

I’ve finished the seven-volume “Saga of Seven Suns” about a gigantic galactic war. Even though this one is only three books long, it’s still got a huge scope and deals with some major issues of religious intolerance, blind faith, and the need to expand our horizons. Oh, and sea monsters. Did I mention sea monsters?

As an innovative side project, we’ve also worked with a record label, ProgRock Records, to do two companion rock CDs that accompany the first two novels — we’ve got performances from some of the legends of rock music. The band name is Roswell Six. We’re recording the final vocals for the second CD right now, with some incredible performances from my music idols. (Yes, I really feel like a fanboy.)

At the risk of upsetting you, I’m going to bring up a Dungeons & Dragons anecdote Kristine Kathryn Rusch shared in an interview I did with her a little while back.

“In my D&D game, the players always celebrated the end of a good run in a tavern. They’d drink, then toss their glasses in the fireplace. So one of the villains developed a potion that, when put in fire, exploded. He dosed their cups. (I set this up with my character, an evil magic user, and using some long lost D&D rules) I had this thing for months, but the players stopped tossing their glasses in the fire. Then one day, after a particularly grueling session, they did. The tavern exploded, everyone died, and Kevin never forgave me. In fact, he still gets mad about it if you mention it. (Mention it. Mention it.) My character survived because he knew what was coming. Became the most powerful character in the game for a while. <evil grin>”

Have you by chance forgiven her and would you have any comment?

Oh, I have found many other ways to get my revenge. Kris was just showing her evil streak even back then.

You’ve mentioned that much of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s first novel, White Mists of Power, as well as your novels Gamearth, Gameplay, and Game’s End were inspired by your days of playing D&D. I’m guessing those were pretty fruitful gaming sessions. Would you be able to expand on this a bit?

Yes indeed, those were wonderful formative days.  Many of the characters in my Gamearth trilogy were the characters I played, and Kris used some of the characters from the game in White Mists. Her novel was a straightforward fantasy with some parts adapted from adventures we had. My trilogy was more self-referential to the game system: a group of players (like us) playing every week…finally deciding to stop and move on to other things — but the characters inside the game discover their world falling apart because their game is no longer being played, and so they try to fight back against the outside players.

So, yeah, those gaming sessions were very fruitful.

Aside from D&D would you mind discussing what your experience has been with gaming (board games, other pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I used to spend a lot of time with board games as a kid, but the couple of years I played AD&D with Kris and our group was the only time I got heavily into it in a time-consuming fashion. In the early days of the internet, I played some of the text quest games (usually at work, so don’t tell anybody), but I never got into computer games or videogames — when I was at my computer screen, I was having too much fun writing stories. Which leads nicely into your next question…

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. Where do you happen to stand on this?

I’ve known many authors who find plenty of distractions online, whether it’s gaming, mmorpgs, or just chat rooms, discussion boards. I know I could dive into some fascinating games, but I am really satisfied with the creative thrill of writing stories instead.

How then do you tend to escape these days?

My big escape is hiking and exploring. I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with more trails than I can possibly walk, and then I spend a lot of time in Utah with the most fabulous canyon country. That’s where I go to recharge my batteries. I also read a lot, watch TV and movies, attend a lot of SF conventions.

You wake up to a world where your Terra Incognita series has been made into a fantasy RPG. What class would you play and why?

Sailing ship captain, no question about it! I want to explore the “terra incognita” on the maps and encounter all sorts of adventures and wonders.

And one final question, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

In anger? I have the dice right here (my wife keeps a bunch of them around, Just Because). It’s been quite a while since I rolled one in a game…but I did just write a D&D story for their website. Does that count?

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Reading the text: Luke Cuddy interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 8, 2010

Luke Cuddy is the co-editor of  two books on pop-culture and philosophy: World of Warcraft and Philosophy and The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy.  He is also a philosophy instructor, a copywriter for Vandusen Design, and a freelance writer.  In this interview Luke answers some hard-hitting questions about World of Warcraft and Philosophy, talks about how he plays WoW and what the rest of his gaming background has been like.

Luke’s website: Neo-Philosophy

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Could you take a minute and explain what World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King is about?

The book is a collection of essays (and a couple of stories) that, in a very informal tone, explore some aspect(s) of WoW as it relates/connects to a particular philosopher or philosophical idea. In some cases, greater social issues are explored—for example, the relationship between Blizzard execs and the players themselves, or the real-world economic implications of in-game actions (like Gold-Farming).

Forgive me here, but how would you respond to someone who said that “philosophy” and “World of Warcraft” don’t belong on the same title page together let alone in an entire book discussing the two?

First, I would ask for this person to give me some premises rather than a conclusion alone. But I think this question really goes back to the distinction between those who believe philosophy itself is a specialized activity, only fit for a select few, and those (like Rene Descartes) who believe that philosophy should be brought to the masses in whatever way possible. Given that I’ve edited two books for Open Court’s Pop-Culture and Philosophy series, you can tell which side I’m on.

Or maybe the person has another intention that goes beyond WoW. Maybe she is implying that the nature of games is such that philosophy cannot help us understand them, and vice versa. After all, the person might argue, it’s only a game; it’s not real. Of course, claiming that the game is real or not is itself taking a philosophical stand on the issue. And even if it were argued that the game is, in fact, not real we could still ask why so many people experience it as real. All of this can help us address a key philosophical question: what is real? If WoW can help us understand this question, what else can it help us understand? Well, that’s what WoW and Philosophy is for…

How do you see World of Warcraft as an ideal environment for exploring philosophical concepts?

It’s a virtual environment with over 11 million users, each with a real life identity as well as an in-game identity. Although players have some limits in terms of creating a toon, they are not limited the way they are in many console RPGs. Furthermore players can do so many things as they play, like raid or gather herbs or terrorize noobs or explore. This vast amount of player freedom creates an ethical minefield. What will players actually do with this freedom? Will they adhere to the moral standards of “good” and “bad” behavior we observe in daily life, or will they hide behind the anonymity of a toon to become a “murderer” or a “tyrant” (as a guild leader, for example)? And these are only the ethical implications…

So, does the book target WoW fans specifically, or did you have a wider audience in mind?

It’s definitely for fans primarily. We want players to see the way that WoW participates in the long history of philosophical inquiry. We want players to think about what they’re doing in the game and why. Other readers can still get something out of the book, but they might feel a bit out of the loop when they come across references to the greater WoW community, like the Gnome Tea Party.

Ruminating on the books subtitle, how would you say Arthas stacks up as a philosopher king? Would he make Plato proud?

Well, despite living an interesting life, Arthas unfortunately doesn’t indicate a direct interest in the quest for knowledge and philosophy. Plato’s philosopher king is just that, a philosopher. I guess we don’t know enough about what Arthas did in his spare time, but my guess is that a detailed study would show that he doesn’t quite stack up. Plus, I don’t remember Plato suggesting that a philosopher king should kill his own father and mentor:)

Based on the reviews I’ve read of the book it seems those who have read it find it impossible to play WoW in the same way as they had before. Would you say the book was then working as intended?

Absolutely. As fans of philosophy, we want people to think about their experiences instead of just experiencing them, at least sometimes. Hopefully people who see WoW differently will eventually see life differently too.

Okay, so you’ve got Plato, Saint Augustine, Kant, Nietzsche and Marx running a 5-man heroic of Icecrown Citadel. Who would be the tank and who the healer? Also, who would most likely be the one to walk out with the phattest loot?

Haha, great question. To prevent a class struggle from occurring, Marx would be the healer, providing potions and buffs for all. And Kant, of course, would be the tank, given that he has a moral obligation to his fellow philosophers. I think Nietzsche’s ability to propel himself “beyond good and evil” might lead him to leave with the phattest loot.

You’re obviously no stranger to World of Warcraft. What has been your experience with the game (when did you start playing, what is your playing style, etc.)?

I love WoW. I think it’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. However, I’m told that I play differently than many other people. Although I’ve been on my share of raids, I prefer solo play. To me, it’s just amazing that there is this entire world to explore in the game, and sometimes it’s easier to explore on your own. I’ve built several characters up to about level 60 mostly by myself, then started an entirely new character and did the same thing. The thing is, I’m really an explorer, in the real and virtual worlds. I got deep into WoW a couple of years ago, but before that I had played one of my friends’ accounts (roommate at the time). Before WoW, I experimented with the original real-time strategy Warcraft games.

Would you mind giving us an overview of your gaming background?

I was a child when video games were coming into their own, consoles anyway. My brother and I had an Atari 2600. Later we got a Sega Master System which I still like despite having been virtually forgotten by the gaming community—the original Phantasy Star was my favorite. Later a friend got an NES. I remember waiting for school to end each day in 2nd grade so we could go home to play Zelda. As a teenager I got into first person shooters, beginning with Doom and Doom 2. Role playing games, of all kinds, are my favorite, though, and I’ve been playing them my whole life. I also play board games with some friends when I can. I like Settlers of Catan and the expansions.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience (assuming they truly exist)?

Sure, I am working on Halo and Philosophy to be published next year. Any ideas?

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Reading the text: N. K. Jemisin interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 2, 2010

N(ora). K. Jemisin is a writer of speculative fiction who recently published her first novel. In this interview she discusses The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, how she got it published, what she particularly enjoys about writing, and of course her gaming background.

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Could you take a minute and explain what The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is about?

Sure. Basically, it’s an epic fantasy set in a secondary (non-Earth) world in which human beings have, through various circumstances, enslaved several of their own gods. One family in particular controls these gods, using their power to rule the world. The focus of the story is on a young woman who is a member of this family, though she was raised in effective exile; she gets brought back to the family seat and is forced to deal with politics she can barely understand, much less survive.

The book is the start of a trilogy, all set in the same world.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting this published?

Well, I originally wrote a version of this novel 10 years ago. It was very different then, but still had the same core ideas. But I wasn’t as good of a writer then, and so it didn’t sell; I couldn’t even get an agent with it.

I trunked it for awhile, wrote a few other books and found an agent in the interim, then decided to take a second look at it. Now, as an older and hopefully wiser writer, I was able to see what was wrong with the original version. I changed a number of things, wrote the whole thing over from scratch, then sent it off to my agent. This time it sold. =)

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

As a kid I was sort of interested in Dungeons and Dragons, but never really found geeky-enough friends to play it with me. In college I did, but we didn’t play D&D — the local campaign was some kind of superhero thing. I don’t remember the publisher or name (that was 15 years ago!). I played a woman with electrical powers named Live Wire… who got killed about six months in, as I recall.

Also in college, I got introduced to the Super Nintendo by a friend, and played Zelda and various games. Didn’t get hooked on anything until…::drumroll:: Final Fantasy 2, which I think was actually FF4 in Japan.  That was the beginning of a very long love affair with Squaresoft (later Square Enix), which continues to this day — I’m still working my way through FFXII. Have promised myself an XBox 360 when I finish Book 3 of the Inheritance Trilogy.

I’m also a big fan of Atlus’ games, in particular the Shin Megami Tensei series and its spinoffs. My current favorite among those is Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2.

In addition to RPGs, I’m a big fan of survival horrors like the Silent Hill series and Resident Evil (though I refuse to play RE 5), and action games like the Devil May Cry series. I’ve also got a taste for “art games”, for lack of a better descriptor — Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, and so on.

Why do you refuse to play Resident Evil 5?

Because games are supposed to be fun, and racism and sexism aren’t.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Nope. I prefer games with specific plots and established characters. It might have something to do with me being a writer; I spend so much time having to do worldbuilding and character development on my own that when I relax, I prefer to use something already developed!

As someone who obviously appreciates the written word and the art of narrative, do you tend to read the quest text and immerse yourself into the story of the game you are playing?

Yes, definitely. I really don’t have much interest in games without a story. I’m also not fond of games that are badly-written or, in the case of Japanese games, badly-translated. ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US is funny the first time or two, but after awhile incomprehensibility gets old.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

One of my BFFs in college was a guy who loved to talk smack about his gaming skills — with a particularly macho, “you’re just a girl, you can’t relate” undertone. One of the game loves we shared was World Heroes, for the Neo Geo. He challenged me one day, and I mopped the floor with his ass. What’s amusing is that he’s still mad about it even today, 15 years later! Any time I bring it up, he bristles. It’s so cute.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer?

Yes — I’ve been utterly fascinated by some game worlds to the point of writing fanfiction based on them (yeah, I’m admitting it!). I tend to use fanfic as a practice ground for narrative techniques which I later use in my original fiction, so basically I work out the kinks there first.

Also, I think the kinds of games I’ve loved best have been those which challenged my assumptions on some level. For example, one of my favorite games is an old Japanese survival horror called Galerians. The hero is a drug-addicted anorexic teenage sociopath with psychic powers, who spends most of the game exploding the heads of anybody who gets in his way (think the old Cronenberg movie “Scanners”). I think I spent most of the game with my mouth hanging open, wondering how the heck this got published in the US.  But it really worked, and that made me more willing to write stories about heroes who weren’t very “heroic”, and characters who were overall more complex.

Would you say there is grinding in the writing process?

Of course there is. I usually start out a novel with a very clear idea of its beginning and end, and a few “cool bits” in between. But getting from point A to B to C often involves painstaking outlining and writing and rewriting. There’s nothing to be done for it; just gotta put your head down and keep it going. I try to do at least 1000 words a day, 2000 when I’ve got a looming deadline.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Seeing how people react to my work, even if they don’t like it. Maybe it’s my time served in fanfic, but to me, the worst reaction I can get from a reader is apathy. Anything is better than that.

When do you find time to write?

Well, at the moment I’m a full-time writer, so every day! But back when I was doing a 9 to 5, I generally wrote in the evenings after work, and sometimes on the weekends. It took me a lot longer back then to finish a novel — a year and a half to two years. Working full-time I can finish a book in six months or so.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Writing *is* an escape for me, even though it’s also a job at the moment; I wouldn’t do this stuff if I didn’t love it. But if you mean how do I escape from that, I read a lot, travel, am a “foodie”, and hang out with friends.  I still play video games. At the moment I’m replaying several old favorites.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Heck, there’s tons of that out there, from people who are more established than me and have a better idea of what they’re doing. Go listen to them. =)

But I guess I’d have to say that the main piece of advice any writer should keep in mind is… write. Don’t say you’re a writer, *be* a writer. If you write, you’re a writer.

You wake up to a world where The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has been made into a video game. Which character would you play and why?

N. K. Jemisin

Oooh, fun. =) Well, I don’t know if this means anything without people having read the book, but I think I would play Sieh. Sieh is the god of childhood — he’s literally aeons old, older than the planet, but he looks like a ten-year-old. His powers derive from his ability to maintain a childish persona at all times; he literally *has* to have fun, or he grows weak. Something about that really appeals to me, as a thirtysomething adult with grownup concerns. I like his attitude.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Blowing up (virtual) stuff is cathartic and good for you, in a psychological sense. Go and be healthy!

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