In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.
Fiona Maazel is the author of Last Last Chance, a 2008 novel in which a deadly plague is unleashed on mankind—which proves bad timing for a drug-addicted woman who’s trying to get clean. Her forthcoming novel, Woke Up Lonely, features a cult leader who tries to eradicate loneliness in America. (It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.) A Brooklyn resident, Maazel is currently abroad, serving as a guest professor of literature at the University Of Leipzig.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Fiona Maazel: Oh, you know, I’m playing that game where you watch other people play. Play what? Soccer! Finals of the Eurocup are this weekend. Have I watched all 28 games so far? I have. I’ve watched at home, in bars all over Germany, and with 30,000 of my Polish friends in a park just west of the main square in Krakow. I’ve graphed the scores and recorded most of the players’ stats. I’ve thought a lot about the geometry of the game—there’s real elegance in all that math—and also about everyone’s hair. A lot of gel on the field this year. A few mohawks.
I’ve also thought about my revising allegiances as the tournament proceeds. Generally, I root for the team whose home country’s economy is in worse shape. I wanted Greece to run away with the whole thing. Then Portugal. Spain. Italy. Except this is just in theory because it’s impossible to root for Portugal—Ronaldo is an ass—and even harder to root for Spain. When nationalism—which usually just fronts for xenophobia—doesn’t come into play, allegiances turn capricious and strange. Or just unpredictable. So I don’t know who I’m pulling for, so long as it’s not Germany. Anyone but Germany, which are fightin’ words, since I’m in Germany, in which case maybe this weekend, I’ll be playing that game called How Not To Get Killed By A German.
Gameological: Great game, that—the German death one, not soccer. Do the Germans have drinking games?
Maazel: I don’t think they have any. Like anyone here needs a game to drink? Most of the bars open at 8 a.m., and usually have plenty of customers by then. That guy with his pint of Schwartz beer? He really doesn’t need to be playing quarters.
Gameological: At least you can use your hands in quarters. You just finished up your second novel, apparently centered around a cult leader, his family, and a hostage situation. But you say it’s really about loneliness. What’s your interest in that?
Maazel: Oh, I think I’ve been interested in loneliness all my life. One of the central questions of the novel is whether loneliness—which is, of course, very different from solitude—is congenital, circumstantial, or acquired. Is it surmountable? Can it be mitigated? I don’t really know, so I decided to write a novel to see if I could find out.
The book’s about people on various paths towards or away from estrangement. It’s about four people who get taken hostage, the cult leader who snatches them, and his ex-wife. The cult is a therapeutic community whose mandate is to assault and overcome loneliness in 21st-century America. It does and does not succeed, depending on who you ask.
Me, I’ve always felt somewhat lonely. Surrounded by friends and family, but just sort of not there or worse, unknown. I am certainly not the first to feel this way and not the first to write about it. But I started to think about this condition in the context of the 2000 and 2004 elections—when the country seemed so polarized, though who could have known then how much more polarized things would get?—and what would happen if a whole lot of people, in addition to feeling fractured from each other, also felt fractured from the ruling government to the point of wanting out. Of wanting to secede. So some of the book is about a fringe part of the cult and also, uh, North Korea, which is rather keen on sponsoring a large anti-American movement from within. Well, the book’s a little nuts. Am I answering your question? Maybe the game I need to be playing is how to be coherent about my own work.
Gameological: Well, as far as games go, loneliness interests me because, on one hand, it seems like games are meant to be played with or against each other. You know, other people. On the other hand, one of the best things about gaming, and books, for that matter, is that they both appeal to the maladjusted loner in all of us. You don’t need other people for either one. In fact, they can be a detriment. Or is that what you meant by solitude? What’s the difference, in your mind? One is voluntary and the other is not?
Maazel: It’s true. Gaming in the 21st century is often about solitude, though I don’t know if it’s about loneliness. What’s the difference between the two? They seem almost unrelated to me. Solitude is just about being alone. Loneliness is about feeling disconnected from humanity, which you can feel among friends or alone, no matter. For a lot of people—especially the Transcendentalists among us—solitude is redemptive. It’s a spiritual condition that has nothing to do with loneliness. It is a condition to be sought and cherished. Reading is a solitary activity; likewise certain kinds of gaming, though that interaction—between man and machine—actually feels more binary to me than the experience of reading a book. For instance: a book doesn’t punch back.
Gameological: Norman Mailer may disagree. Run into any soccer hooligans, German or otherwise?
Maazel: What makes you think I’m not a hooligan? So presumptuous. Get enough adrenaline flowing, and maybe I’m the one fencing strangers with a broken beer bottle. But anyway, I’m told the Germans aren’t really allowed to express their nationalism—for all the obvious reasons—but that football is a sanctioned pretext for it. So you’d expect them to go wild. But they are no more wild than anyone else. At the moment, Germany’s riding a very high horse, and so I think the rest of Europe has added incentive to take them out. But from Germany’s point of view, the game with the Netherlands was more charged than the game against Greece—the former being another notch in an old rivalry, the latter being about, uh, David & Goliath economies, which only a dork like me cares about in this context.
Gameological: How do you express your American nationalism?
Maazel: Gah! I don’t have those feelings! I am, in fact, horrified by any display of nationalism. I find it embarrassing. Okay, I can deal with the national anthem now and then, but the flybys and flag folding and children’s choir singing “God Bless America”? That stuff makes me despair. How about we spend less time indulging displays of our greatness and more time actually trying to be great? Or even decent? How about just decent?
Gameological: I’ll settle for decent. Personally, my favorite symbol of American nationalism is “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. I just played an Xbox game that took as its premise a militarized United Nations invading the United States. Guess those guys got tired of us, too. With the EU kind of failing and nativist elements popping up in the U.S., do you see the world sliding back into armed nationalist camps? Or are we too busy playing the Angry Birds to get that angry anymore?
Maazel: Well, you know, Duggan has a bachelor’s in applied plant biology. So when we all blow each other up, that guy’s gonna be just fine in the biosphere. Nationalist camps? Well, it certainly seems like jingoism and extremism are on the rise—for instance, what is Golden Dawn doing with 21 seats in the Greek Parliament?—but then I think this has less to do with actual jingoism than despair apropos of failing economies and desperation. It’s a lot easier to blame the immigrants than your idiot government for why you have no money, though I suppose it’s just as easy to blame both. Personally, I’m way too busy playing Angry Birds even to be having this dialogue with you, but then I might not be the control here.