Writer/Gamer Q&A: Thomas Nowak

Our next Writer/Gamer Q&A is with Thomas Nowak, who gave us “Flashcards,” a compelling series of poems that dives a little bit deeper into what some of those common internet acronyms might really mean.

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

Thomas Nowak: Currently I am mostly playing: Starcraft II, trying to break into the platinum league; League of Legends, with my lovely partner, Courtney, who has picked it up and plays a mean Jinx; Heroes of the Storm, because I got into the alpha; and The Legend of Zelda, A Link Between Two Worlds, and it is a wonderful nostalgic trip to my past.

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

Nowak: There was an Atari in the basement when I was a young child, and we had games on our Hewlett Packard beastputer, we even had an NES, but the first gaming system that I embraced was the Super NES. I really started to understand the magic that could exist in a separate world contained within a cartridge with that system. Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Metroid… all of them were so rich and immersive games; they are responsible for a lot of the imagination and passion I invest in games today.

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

Nowak: My friend Pete and I used to play the game Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun on a 56k dial-up connection. We lived across the street from each other and in the early 2000s, we played this every night. One night in chat Pete is only typing gibberish. Our conversation went:

Tom: “I am going to attack.”
Pete: “jggsdjbeuygfbkjsgh”
Tom: “Are you okay?”
Pete: “ajhgsfcdrfghjkmeio”

Now as a young kid I assumed Pete was being attacked by an assailant in real life, but I played on. Pete played well enough to assuage my fears that he was under physical duress, and the next morning I asked him what happened. It turned out he had spilled milk on his keyboard. In the age before Skype and cell phones, that meant a total blackout.

Cartridge Lit: Care to list your top five games?

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Bioshock: Infinite
The Sims

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

Nowak: In graduate school I noticed my mentors really embraced the things they either loved or obsessed about and turned them into projects, and after that, into these fantastic books. I just realized one day, “Hey! I could that!” I was lucky to have all the support in the world, but I think I would have done it regardless.

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

Nowak: I wouldn’t compartmentalize it in any way. If both things are things that come natural to you and you enjoy them, just do them and let them intermingle if that seems natural. I tend to write about what is in my head, so I almost always write about video games in some way, but that is just because I think about them so much. There is no magic plan to make it all fit. Just don’t spend a lot of time and energy doing anything you don’t love.

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

Nowak: I would love to either see Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” with all its gaming nostalgic glory turned into a game with games within metagames, or a standard Rockstar Studios presents Stephen King’s “The Gunslinger.”

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

Nowak: It would probably be a terribly boring point and click adventure full of strange scientific facts and gaming news. Tom Simulator 2014 would also probably urge you to put him down and go play Watch Dogs. What are you doing with your time?