Writer/Gamer Q&A: Joseph Dante

For our latest interview in our Writer/Gamer Q&A series, we have Joseph Dante, author of the moody “The Dark Hour.” He is a graduate from Florida International University, and his work has been featured in PANK, Monkeybicycle, Pear Noir!, Paste, and elsewhere. You can find him online or on Twitter.

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

Dante: I’ve been playing a lot of Bravely Default for the 3DS, a newer JRPG that harkens back to the old. It’s a horrible title for a game, but don’t let that deter you. If you grew up on the Final Fantasy games like I did, you should give it a try.

The other day I was also playing Coming Out Simulator 2014. You can play it now for free right in your web browser. Have a look!

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

Dante: My first was the NES, but I didn’t really obsess about games until the SNES. The SNES and PS2 are my favorite systems to this day. So many great games!

I recently found out my parents were actually playing video games before I was even born. They’d play the Intellivision with my uncle on Friday nights. They’ve kept the system all this time too. It’s in their closet somewhere. The controllers have ridiculous dials and look like alien technology.

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

Dante: There are too many! Playing Harvest Moon with my kid sister. Forcing a friend to play Fatal Frame II in the dark on Halloween. Making Monster Rancher monsters with my babysitter. Crying at the end of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and my mom’s subsequent concern.

One particular memory inspired this story that was published in Monkeybicycle.

Cartridge Lit: Care to list your top five games? 

Dante: Final Fantasy Tactics – I played this game when it first came out and I was only twelve. I marvel now at how I was able to even get a basic grasp on its mechanics at that age. It was brutal in the beginning, but I persisted! I distinctly remember it being the very first game that treated me like an adult and not like a little moron with a short attention span. Its story covers politics, war, power, greed, deception, betrayal, religion, family, love. It fits the very definition of epic. It’s considered a classic of the genre now for a reason. It’s such a deep, complex game that I’m still learning new things about it.

Final Fantasy IX – Usually people don’t mention this Final Fantasy when listing their favorites. But everything about this one drew me in: the memorable places you travel to, the colorful characters you meet, the fun minigames, the antihero protagonist that isn’t nearly as broody or silent as far as more traditional Final Fantasy protagonists go. The game starts out with a mock play and a thief as one of the actors stealing away a princess that actually wants to be kidnapped. In addition, it has your favorite black mage character of all time: Vivi.

Super Mario RPG – I can play this game endlessly. It’s pure fun. The soundtrack is legendary. I dressed up as Geno for Halloween when I was little and no one knew who that was. But I knew, and that’s all that really mattered.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 – I hesitated with this one just because it’s so recent. But I loved it and I imagine I’ll continue to think about it for a long time. It’s a JRPG combined with a simulation of Japanese high school life in which your relationships directly impact your strength in battle. The monsters you summon are manifestations of your psyche. You summon them with a shot to the head. It’s dark and existential. It inspired more than a few poems.

Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color – A game in which you draw creatures into the world, bring them to life, and have them fight each other in an arena, not unlike Pokemon. Your imagination is truly the limit in this game. I’ve never actually come across anyone else who knew about this game like I did when I was younger and I think that’s tragic! I have absolutely no talent when it comes to drawing, but my sister and I are both creative people, and we’d spend hours and hours letting our imaginations run wild and having our doodles duke it out with each other.

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

Dante: They grew alongside each other like siblings, maybe even like fraternal twins. I was enthusiastic about both from a young age, although I didn’t identify as a “writer” or a “gamer” until I was a teenager. As a kid, the colorful virtual worlds I inhabited directly influenced my stories (at the time, smudged scribbles in composition notebooks and stapled booklets made out of multicolored construction paper), which is why adventure games and RPGs appealed to me especially. I also really like the more experimental games that have been spreading around the internet and beyond, how game creators are making them more personal and intimate.

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

Dante: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I’d like to see how a designer would create the visuals. A point-and-click adventure maybe? Yes, definitely. I’d love to explore that world and feel the sense of mystery throughout. The bottom of wells and moving through walls. I want to listen to classical music while the protagonist cooks spaghetti.

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

Dante: I wrote about a fictional video game at the very end of my segmented essay in Sundog Lit. It’s a game about creating identity, how it comes together from the small parts you take from the people around you. You put life and personality into blank slates (the process of writing or making art maybe). I imagine it’d be something like that.