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.
Brian Stelter has been writing on the internet since he was 11 years old. In 2004, and at the age of 18, he founded TVNewser. The blog offered a glimpse into the infamously insular industry of broadcast news. He left the site for The New York Times in 2007, where he is currently a TV and media reporter (you might have seen him in the documentary Page One). He’s also writing a book about morning television that is tentatively titled Top Of The Morning.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Brian Stelter: When did the most recent Halo game come out on Xbox? Because that’s all I play. That’s the only video game that I play. I have a weird video game habit where I bought my Xbox for Halo, and I only play Halo, and I haven’t bought an Xbox game since. So that’s what I’ll be playing this weekend.
Gameological: Is that Halo: Reach?
Stelter: Yeah, Halo: Reach. I don’t ever play campaign. I’ve never started the campaign. I always play multiplayer. It’s my stress reliever. It’s a really good one. I’ll get home at 9, 10, 11 p.m., play for an hour, and go to bed—not every day, but a couple of times a week. Every once in a while, I wake up at 8 a.m. and play before work, also.
Gameological: Are there still a lot of people playing it?
Stelter: Whenever I go in to start a match, there are still several hundred in every—I don’t know what you call it—room or whatever it is that I look at. So yeah, I’ve never experienced a little delay. I’m dreading the day that there aren’t enough people to play with in the multiplayer, but I think there’s a new Halo coming out, what, later this year or next year?
Gameological: There’s one coming out in November.
Stelter: I was going to guess November. So I will buy that one. I’m a very weird Xbox player. I literally bought the Xbox to play Halo because in college I played the original Halo with a bunch of college friends—eight-player, physically. I’d lug my television set over to a friend’s house and we’d hook it up in the basement. We’d play eight-player, two TVs, across two rooms. It was amazing. It was a great college memory. So when Halo: Reach came out, I decided, sort of on a whim one weekend, to go out and buy the Xbox and buy the game. I know I’m missing a lot on the Xbox, and there are times where I wish I went out and bought more games and learned them, but oddly it’s sort of the right amount of video games for my life. I know if I bought more video games, I would play too often and I would spend too much time playing.
Gameological: I did the same LAN stuff with the first Halo, lugging TVs across suburban Long Island to play with friends. There’s something about that which is so great and I feel like you lose it a little bit when you go online.
Stelter: You lose it you do, but at the same time it’s so easy and so convenient and there’s always someone to play with. And the reason why I haven’t gotten tired of it is for a full year all I was doing was 10-people sniper battles and then one day I discover capture the flag and I did six months of just that. There’s something very boring and repetitive in it, but it works for me.
Gameological: Why do you think it’s a stress reliever? Why do you think it works for you?
Stelter: I might offend some fans out there by saying this but to me it is relatively mindless. It’s not like campaign. It doesn’t take all that much strategy. It’s short, maybe 10 to 12 minutes at a time. It’s very digestible and I’ve gotten good enough and I win often enough that I feel good. [Laughs.]
Gameological: That was my next question: Do you think you’re good at it?
Stelter: If I won every time it wouldn’t be fun, but I win often enough to make it rewarding. I usually quit once I’ve had a really good game.
Gameological: You’ve really never split off from Halo?
Stelter: The last time I bought an Xbox game, it was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and that was the only game that I would play. But the current iteration of Halo is all I play. There are probably other people like me. It’s casual, almost a different kind of casual gaming. It’s not casual in the sense of going home and playing a Facebook game, but it is casual in the sense that I know if I buy more games, I’m going to play them, so I purposely don’t. [Laughs.]
Gameological: I once heard of a concept called “gamer shame” that theorized that once you cross the plane of 20 hours of play time in a week, you start to feel bad about it.
Stelter: I don’t know if I ever feel bad. I fall into two or two-and-a-half hour periods that I play in. I will admit to being late for work a few times when I played in the mornings. But I will also admit to having written a story in between games, in the few minutes that it takes me to start a new game. You can get a good amount of work done while the server is finding other players.
Gameological: You founded TVNewser while you were in college, but your internet publishing life started even earlier than that with game reviews. I actually found a Star Fox 64 review you wrote. You must have been around 12 years old.
Stelter: I was something like that. There was an interesting period in my teenage years when IGN.com was paying me 500 bucks a month to write reviews. This was the height of the dot-com bubble. It might have been 2000 or ’99, but let’s call it the height of the dot-com bubble. This was before it was bought by News Corp. and back when they were flush with cash. I don’t think they realized I was a 15-year-old. They just needed content and had the money to buy it.
Actually, my very first website was a Goosebumps books website. After that, I worked on Nintendojo. I freelanced for IGN. I started a couple of my own sites about Nintendo and Microsoft. That all kind of trailed off toward the end of my high school years.
Gameological: Obviously you’re very ingrained in The New York Times now as a TV reporter. Have you ever thought about covering the games industry again?
Stelter: The short answer is no. I sort of feel the same way about video games as I do about HTML or web design: I knew it then, but I can’t possibly know it now. It’s become too complicated, too big, and too hard. That said, it’s a fantastic niche. It is a fantastic story, and it’s a story that’s only going to get better for the next 10 years or the next generation. So, I understand the impulse. The thought just hadn’t crossed my mind.
And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.