Writer/Gamer Q&A: Brian Oliu

We’re kicking off what we hope to be a regular feature on the Airship, contributor Q&As, with Brian Oliu. He wrote the wonderfully lyric non-fiction piece Cartridge Lit launched with: “Goonies II”.

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Cartridge Lit: What games are you playing right now, if any?

Brian Oliu: Right now I’m in the middle of Link Between Worlds for my 3DS with a few games of Madden here & there. Oh! & Threes for my phone. I don’t play nearly as many videogames as I lead people to believe, however, I’m pretty sure I played enough video games in my youth that I still average like three hours of gameplay a day throughout my lifetime.

Cartridge Lit: What was your first video game system? Did you love it or hate it or feel something completely different about it?

Oliu: My first was an NES. I would collect pennies around the house & put them on my father’s night table on weekends & ask if that was enough to buy the system. I don’t really remember the day that I got my system, but I do remember playing it on a little TV cart in our foyer. It got moved to our living room for a little bit (which was a room that I normally didn’t go in) until it eventually got moved upstairs. I owned Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt & Wild Gunman (for some weird reason).

Cartridge Lit: Most nostalgia-laden memory from your video game history?

Oliu: I think a lot of folks my age remember Super Mario 3 coming out & the frenzy that occurred as a result of that game being released: The Wizard came out in December, which had a preview of the game, despite the game not being released in North America until February. The game was sold out everywhere: the first time I got to play it was at Justin Louise’s house—my mother brought me over to play & sat there while she sneezed her head off; she didn’t know that the Louise’s had Siamese cats, to which she was highly allergic. It’s easily the greatest sacrifice a mother can ever make. I finally got my own copy of the game at a Jamesway in Flemington, NJ—I got the game on a Thursday & we had to leave for Ohio for my uncle’s graduation on Saturday. It was the cruelest trick ever. I read the game booklet over & over & over again during the car ride.

Cartridge Lit: Care to list your top five games?

Oliu: My list will read pretty similarly to just about every video game nerd’s list: Earthbound, Super Metroid, Link to the Past, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, Shadow of the Colossus. I really like single-player games; multi-player doesn’t do much for me. I also like games where I can collect things.

Cartridge Lit: How has your writing life interacted with your gamer life? Has one inspired or influenced the other?

Oliu: Well, my book Leave Luck to Heaven is all about trying to balance video games with nostalgia & artistry: to me, these games of my youth were incredibly pivotal in learning storytelling—through videogames I learned about death, about patience, about the absurd. When you picture these worlds that are within games, they are completely sublime: when forced to confine to the rules of the game (e.g. why are birds evil? can’t someone call the police? how many people have you murdered?) these intricacies come out that are worth exploring—the goal in my pieces are to imagine if these games are real & how they lined up with my feelings at the time, or what I interpret as my feelings at the time now that I am much older. I love the balance in playing a game as well: you are both simultaneously “controller” & “character”—that interactivity is something not found in other mediums, & as a result it is a really interesting thing to explore in writing.

Cartridge Lit: Any tips for how others out there can balance a writer’s life and a gamer’s life?

Oliu: Video games are difficult for me, as there’s really no getting around the fact that, “Yes, I am wasting time playing a video game right now.” Which is part of the reason I wrote a book about video games—it was like, “Oh! I have to beat Simon’s Quest today because it lends authenticity to my research!” Whenever I play, it’s usually in huge binges; I played Borderlands 2 for three weeks straight; FIFA can suck me in for hours at a time. Video games work as reward, but writing also works as reward too: write first, then play.

Cartridge Lit: What novel would you like to see turned into a game? What genre would it be? How would it play?

Oliu: Alissa Nutting’s Tampa. Just kidding. Whoever designed that would get arrested in twenty seconds. Any survival story could be a lot of fun: something like Lord of the Flies could be fascinating—games like Far Cry already steal these concepts, we might as well take from excellent source material. I do love the idea of books having “boss battles” though.

Cartridge Lit: If someone made a game about your life, what genre would it be? How would it play?

Oliu: Ian Denning at the fabulous video game reading at Seattle AWP introduced me as. “If Brian Oliu had a video game about his life it would be called Trackjacket Quantum Fighter: Go! Go! #Tuscaloosa,” & obviously I could never come up with a better name than that. It would consist of a bunch of fast paced mini-games, which would include drinking gin, coming up with lesson plans, making up songs to sing about vapid things in hopes of annoying your girlfriend (Tasha Coryell) when you wake up, testing your patience in regards to how much bad professional wrestling you can watch, & occasionally attempting not to get hit by SUVs driven by undergrads as you drive around Tuscaloosa. Think Bart’s Nightmare but less annoying.

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 Be sure to stay tuned for more contributor Q&As in the future! And if you haven’t read “Goonies II” yet, get on it!