Video Games Were There for Me: An Interview with Adam Tarantino
Michael Kimball, who authored the book Galaga for Boss Fight Books, recently interviewed a backer to the press’ first Kickstarter “season,” which was 900% funded last year. Gabe Durham, the man behind Boss Fight Books, was kind enough to let us publish the interview here.
The second season of Boss Fight Books is currently underway—be sure to donate to get your hands on some fantastic video game writing.
Michael Kimball: I know nothing about you except that you like video games, so what was the first video game you loved and why?
Adam Tarantino: The first video game I loved? Love is a strong emotion so I have to believe it’s the one that left the most permanent impression. First, some background. I was the progeny of my father’s second marriage and my brother lived up on Long Island, NY. I would only see him when he came down during the summer and I was at my dad’s house (my parents split up before I was in 1st grade and I went to live with my mom). So, during those rare instances of time actually together, we played the NES at my dad’s house. One of the only co-op games we had was Bubble Bobble. You played these adorable little dragons that could shoot bubbles, and they could also hop on bubbles and capture enemies with their bubbles. A lot of pastels and cutesy imagery, but the game was hard to us as kids. I remember we’d always try and try to beat the game (level 99, I believe) until one day we actually succeeded. I think my brother found some bypass scenario akin to Mario Bros. games. But the result was still sweet: we beat the final boss and were ecstatic. We never could beat the game again no matter how hard we tried. However, we loved playing that game together, something our separate lives (Pennsylvania and NY) could never come close to.
Kimball: Part of what made Galaga an important game to me was playing with my friend Todd. And my girlfriend Molly and I play this stupid-yet-beautiful game called Bust-a-Move that probably wouldn’t be that much fun playing with anybody else. What other games did you and your brother especially like playing together? And/or, are there any other games that were special because of the person with whom you played that game?
Tarantino: Because of my older brother living in NY and me living in PA with my mother, we didn’t really get to see each other a lot. I can remember playing college football games on the Genesis when I was in middle school and my brother was in high school during some summers, but nothing like a bonding experience we had previously. He was more into summer flings and I was, well, more of a nerd. I didn’t really play games with other people until I got my own Xbox (original) and went to college. I remember playing Halo with some of the guys on my floor my freshmen year, but I was far and away the most prolific of gamers. My sophomore year I made friends with two guys and one of them, Steve Watts, was really into gaming. So much so that now he’s the Editor-in-Chief for Shacknews.com. Steve helped with being okay with my nerdy gaming side. We’d play (mostly his games) Final Fantasy, Super Smash Bros., etc. You know, the staples of college life in the early 2000s. After college, when I made a fateful decision to buy an Xbox 360 without my wife’s consent (did not repeat this mistake with the Xbox One), I slowly found a group of gamers online through the classic (and un-molested) beauty Call of Duty: World at War. A group of us met regularly online to play the Multiplayer as well as on the Activision (maybe Treyarch/Infinity Ward?) forums for W@W until we all decided to end our association with the repressive moderation of said forums through a mass banning. From that we started our own forum site at 4rumboys.com and have stuck together now after almost 5 years. I haven’t met any of them in person, but we regularly keep informed of everything going on through our website and through Facebook. Now, I am normally one to focus on single-player games, being a father of two young children, but it’s good to get online and talk to friends who are as dedicated (and sometimes obsessed) as you are about gaming.
Kimball: So what happened when you bought the Xbox 360 without your wife’s consent?
Tarantino: I bought it at discount when Circuit City was going out of business. One of those, I’m going out to get this one thing from Circuit City because they have a big sale; which turns into me coming home with the XBox 360 as well. I can’t remember what else I bought. Naturally it was a fight about money and responsibility. No amount of pleading on my side about the phenomenal deal I got would soothe it over.
Kimball: Why do you think you are so obsessed with gaming? Or would you use a different term to describe your relation to gaming?
Tarantino: I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with gaming. I’m very passionate about it. I thoroughly enjoy my time playing video games, but I know I have other responsibilities and I also have other passions in life. I know that I’ve molded myself into a person that other people want to talk to—and that means staying away from talking about video games with my peers (30+ professional crowd). The other hard part of not being obsessed is because I know my wife doesn’t “get it,” as we have talked about many times. Sure, she could play hours (and does) of Freefall or Angry Birds, but as soon as I pick up the XBox controller when our children are asleep—it verges on an argument. I have told her on multiple occasions that I like to decompress by playing video games because I don’t have to worry about anything. I also don’t spend hours in front of the TV playing video games when I know I have other responsibilities.
Enough of the rant about my non-obsession. Why am I passionate about video games? I have grown up with video games. When my parents divorced and I lived with my father until 4th grade, video games were there to distract me while he worked on starting his own business. When I went to live with my mother and my older sister, video games were there to distract me while my mother worked all day. I found the worlds of video games fascinating, an escape from my situation, much akin to what you described in your book. I think my wife is afraid because of the horror stories of video game addicts. However, I’ve done this for most of my life and I know how to put down the controller. The video games have matured and grown in terms of depth so much that it is quite amazing. I remember finishing the original Halo Triology. Epic story with a good finish. I never got around to finishing Halo 4, but still: a good story. Then you have franchises like Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed, which have blown open the doors on how deep a video game universe can be (yes, yes, and World of Warcraft). You have these pieces of interactive digital art and storytelling that allows users to go beyond their simple lives and do great things. I love that. I love that I can look at a distinct twist in the history of the world (the Assassin’s Creed franchise) and take part in that history. The story is amazing and the gameplay, with the advent of next gen consoles, continues to improve drastically. Look at the recent critically acclaimed IP of Destiny. I picked up a copy because the story was supposed to be good. While the story, as people found out, isn’t all that deep on the ground surface (good guys fight universal evil), you come to understand there is something deeper. Why is the Darkness coming after us? What is the Darkness? Are we really the threat to the universe? It’s fascinating. Obssessed? No. Passionate and dedicated.
Kimball: How would you describe the “it” that your wife does not get?
Taratino: I’ve wondered about this a lot since getting married. Funny how some things you never talk about during dating and courtship turn into issues when you become married. On the surface, I believe my wife thinks playing video games is both childish and shirking responsibilities. Yet I believe it’s also rooted in my wife feeling that we don’t spend enough time together. There may be truths in both. Simply, she didn’t grow up with the same life situations that I did. I come from a broken home and was torn from my dad’s custody before 4th grade to live with my mom. As I said before, video games were an escape from my predicament for me. I never made, nor make, lasting friendships (except with my wife) because then you can’t be hurt. (Such a good movie premise, I know.) Video games were there to take me away from it all. My wife grew up with a conservative mother and father who didn’t even let her have sugary cereal until she was in high school. She was more sheltered and encouraged to pursue activities such as piano, track and field, and soccer. While we’re both introverts, my wife and I cope with it differently.
I’ve thought a lot about the gaming culture and I have to say it’s a balancing act between true obsession/addiction on one side and a normal habit on the other. See, habit, it’s the first word I thought of. You wrote about driving the Ohio Turnpike and getting that “itch” to play every Galaga machine you and your girlfriend could find until you realized what was happening. Is that an addiction? Or is it okay to indulge yourself to that extent? Remember, it’s not like I sit at home all day neglecting my children, my family, or my career to play video games — that’s addiction. I do play to relieve my stress (and add new fictitious stress) at the end of the day. It’s mind-numbing and I believe that’s another reason my wife doesn’t like it. Maybe she sees it as the slide into total addiction.
So, in short, it’s a combination of all facets of what’s “wrong” about video games. Whenever I ask my wife why it upsets her, it’s the same: waste of time; waste of energy; and it’s childish. It’s something that her and I can’t relate to with each other and maybe on some level that upsets her.
Kimball: I’m glad that Molly likes to play games as much as I do. Having that play in my life makes me a happier person and gives me a sense of satisfaction that I often find difficult to explain. I’m circling back to something you said in your first answer: What makes winning a boss fight so satisfying?
Tarantino: Boss fights are the culmination of everything you have worked towards in the game. Or should be. There can be really great boss fights: I think of the first two Mass Effect games. The third installment had the finality everyone wanted, but the boss fight was more of a bother than an actual ending. There are really bad boss fights, my personal example being the Deus Ex: Human Evolution final fight. So you go around beating this group of rogue cybernetic humans as bosses throughout the game and the final one has this insanely powerful shotgun. I think I replayed the fight, since I kept dying, seven or eight times before I finally just looked up the ending on the internet and called it quits. Some people may say that’s a quitter’s mentality, but maybe I want my leveling up to mean something. Boss fights should be challenging, yes, but should not be something that is baiting you for a “rage-quit” or for the abject disappointment of having to remember an intricate pattern. Boss fights, in my opinion, should be a challenging reward, not so tough and complicated you need to do everything perfectly correct in order to win.