Writer/Gamer Q&A: Andrew Donovan

We’re continuing our contributor Q&A series with Andrew Donovan, who offered us the innovative and wonderfully strange “Holy Shit (Applied Reverb).”

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


Shovel Knight:

I just beat this game, and I think it is really the must-play game this year. It’s so quirky and amazing in the way it fuses the best elements of a bunch of NES classics. The developers have done for old-school games what Tarantino does for ’70s movies. This is the kind of game Rilke would write a poem about. It was so good I recently had to bring it with me on a very short car ride to the movie theater.

Mario Kart 8

There’s a lot of praise behind this game already, so I’ll pile on more. Nintendo has been producing some refined, rarified takes on classic formulas the past couple of years; it’s a sad situation that so few people (relatively) will experience them.

Day Z:

Been playing this in very short sessions with friends. I was skeptical at first, but there was this intense moment on a server where I encountered another player (armed to the teeth) for the first time. If I ran, he would have shot me. I was totally at his mercy. He told me to go around the corner of this building. I was pretty sure I was dead or worse, but he gave me some water and a jacket and told me to be safe, stay out of the open. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that kind of fear in a game before. 

FTL on iOS

Man, this one really makes me feel like a spaceship captain. Like swiping up to activate my systems. Very nice touch. Games on mobile interest me in general. There’s a lot of ingenuity there. I am fortunate to know a mobile game designer named Jon Yuhas (he designed this great game called simian.inferface for iOS). We talk a lot about this idea of implied narrative in games; why does GTA IV’s Niko complain about wanting out of the life in cutscenes, but as a player you’re mowing down the citizens of Liberty City?  I think FTL does a great job balancing narrative “events” and a sense of implied narrative.

Papers, Please:  

Please, just play it.

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

Donovan: NES. The only game I ever owned for it was Nintendo World Cup (I think it came with the system). Remember that one? All the players would run around sort of looking like they had to pee. Every other game I played on that thing, I rented from this local video store attached to a gas station somewhere in Florida. I would recommend kids do this today, but, of course, they can’t. I remember renting some really strange games like Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular. Back then, before widely-accessible reviews and metascores and other nonsense, you could really get yourself into some trouble renting. I miss that. 

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

Donovan: Definitely renting a game I knew nothing about, like Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular

Cartridge Lit: Care to list your top five games?

Donovan: Oh man, I’ll try. This is an as of today thing:

1) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

2) Sim City 4 

3) FTL or Papers, Please

4) XCom: Enemy Unknown / Enemy Within

5) Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season One  

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

Donovan: I think these are fair questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. I do wonder, however, if a writer wrote about, say, 1940s Hollywood, if someone would ask them, “How do you balance watching movies and writing?” It’s just that, in terms of time commitment, I devote as much time to playing games as some writers do to watching TV or reading blogs. 

Seems cliché to say, but everyone has different patterns. I don’t have the patience or commitment for most MMOs, for instance. I like games that I can pick up and put down just as easily. I also like games where I can sort of project my own narrative into them. Simulation and strategy games, strangely, work very well in that way. RPGs with silent protagonists as well.

I’d say games have definitely influenced how I write. My poems may even read like they’re game-addled in some way. I’m not exactly sure how, but I’m OK with that. Recently I’ve been watching The Story of Film: An Odyssey on Netflix. In that, Mark Cousins says that there wasn’t such a thing as a true flashback in literature before film. I was suspicious about that, but, to be honest, I am hard-pressed to think of something that is a flashback in the cinematic sense. In Homer, you’ve got all these people telling stories about the past or past deeds that are appended to dude as appositives, but I can’t think of an example of where time just shifts to the past before the era of film. Games will influence literature in this way.

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

Donovan: Moby-Dick. I’m serious. Like, I don’t want something like that POS Dante’s Inferno game EA put out. Do you remember that? Dante is the size of a linebacker and can shoot lightning from his butt? So much missed potential.

I think Moby-Dick: The Game would largely be a simulation. You could draw some influence form Papers, Please in terms of messing around with sea-faring documents and inventory; it would be cool if you played some tertiary dude on the Pequod. Like what if you were Stubb’s brother or something? You could interact with all these NPCs from the book and sort of decide where you land in terms of life philosophy. Like, seriously, what if you interacted with this depressed dude sitting on the mast-head and come to find out it is Ishmael? Dope.