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.
Jay Caspian Kang is an editor at Grantland and author of The Dead Do Not Improve, a novel of West Coast dissipation, angry surfers, homegrown terrorism, and curated pop culture trash. (It’s pretty great, especially for those who’ve spent any time in the Bay Area.) The novel was released this week on Hogarth press. Kang recently returned to Brooklyn from L.A.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Jay Caspian Kang: I’ve been playing a lot of Civilization V. Did you read that Reddit post about that guy who played Civilization II for 10 years?
Kang: It was amazing. You should look it up. He played for 10 years and then gave a report on what the world was like, and it’s kind of like peak oil where there’s this intense resource battle and these giant mega-cities and everything. [Laughs.]
Gameological: Wow. That reminds me of the moment in UHF when Weird Al is smushing his mashed potatoes on the plate and saying, “This means something!”
Kang: Yeah, it was awesome. I had to uninstall that game from my computer, because that game is just like, 10 hours and what are you doing. I decided to play Civilization V, but it’s already taking up too much of my time. I won’t even touch Diablo III. I read every negative thing about Diablo III to convince me not to play it, knowing that if I actually start playing it, I would not care about any of that negative stuff. I would just play. Have you played the third one?
Gameological: I have.
Kang: What did you think?
Gameological: It’s kind of beautiful. I can see how it’s addicting, although I pulled the plug on myself pretty early on.
Kang: My friend in college, on Diablo II, we used to have eight-hour shifts on Diablo II, because it was the only computer in our place. He’d come home from work and be like, get off my computer.
Gameological: Those were the days. On one hand, I liked that they didn’t stray too far from the formula, but on the other, you know, after however many years since the last game, I guess I was kind of hoping for something more?
Kang: Civilization V felt that way too. Between III and V there’s not that much change. The only one that was really different was that console one, Revolutions. The animations were kind of fun, and you could nuke things and it would have an effect.
Gameological: It was fun, in a really stripped-down kind of way. What kind of civilization do you develop?
Kang: Well, I usually use the Japanese, and I always try and make military victories. And there’s always a point where I’m like, okay, this is not working out. I have to go with science or something. Dump everything into science! Sell all the military stock! I’m not very good at it, for all the time I’ve spent. I couldn’t play for 10 years, because at some point my civilization would be destroyed. Those are the types of games I always wished I was better at.
Gameological: I was always into fostering a land of religious zealots. It often limited my technological growth.
Kang: Oh yeah, like a weird monastic culture. You’ve evolved and nobody has a penis.
Gameological: Exactly. I always felt like I could never quite push my civilization far enough in that direction, though.
Kang: Yeah, well you didn’t play for 10 years. I also play a lot of those real-time strategy war games, and I’m terrible at them. I’m the worst Korean at StarCraft in the world. Literally, I’m the worst. I can’t play StarCraft at all, and I’ve played hundreds of hours. And then there’s all the old Warcraft games.
Gameological: I’ve always been a huge fan of Warcraft II. Never played this World Of Warcraft the kids love so much. Warcraft III, I guess, was okay.
Kang: Warcraft III was the weird one with the heroes? My cousin on the West Coast, when he was 12 years old, he was like the second-ranked player or something. I’d watch him playing, and would be like, let’s play, and it’d be over immediately. It’d be like he was typing a novel, all hot keys.
Gameological: You never stood a chance.
Kang: No. In StarCraft against my friend—we played last year—and for the first five games I’d just go run a guy out and build a barracks next to him, and then shoot everyone immediately. The cheapest kill possible, and then gloat about it. I was the worst person to play against. Finally, he figured it out and just killed the guy. I was like, I got nothing left. You win.
Gameological: Your competitive fire is impressive. What do you play when not cheating at Starcraft?
Kang: I did play a lot of basketball video games. I had all of these years where I’d play and try to get to like year 15 of a franchise. And I’d play two games a day to push it along, but I haven’t done that in about a year. Too much of a time commitment. For the NBA stuff, they never figured out a way to make the draft interesting. I don’t want to scout these guys, just tell me who to draft. The only thing that’s important to me is that the character I created of myself averages 30 points a game. That’s it.
Gameological: I prefer college football. The problem is, if I make a version of myself too soon and make him too good, he decides to commit to another, more prominent school.
Kang: And he’ll torch you for like 400 yards? That sounds really fun. I’ll try that out. The new one just came out, right? I played the old one with an editorial assistant at Grantland, and I’m from North Carolina so I’d just play with the Tar Heels. I quickly realized that they had one unguardable wide receiver, so I’d just throw bombs to him all day. He quit. He said I’m not playing against you anymore you just do the same thing. I’m like, stop it then.
Gameological: When we played NFL2K for Dreamcast in college, my roommate used to play as Kordell Stewart in this really sadistic, un-defensible way.
Kang: That’s the most ridiculous reference ever. NFL2K for the Dreamcast. That sounds like it’s from another lifetime.
Gameological: It was. Do you consider fantasy sports a game?
Kang: Well, I’m not good at that either. It is a game in the way that poker is a game, I think. You build up databases, and you create your own database. I play in this league with a bunch of guys who are really good at it. It’s 20 people, and I always come in somewhere between 16 and 20. And you have to know all sorts of weird stuff. I don’t even know how these guys do it, or how much time they have. I feel like it’s as much a game as something like Diplomacy is a game. It’s just a lot of plying, a lot of pestering of people. I’ve made a lot of bad trades over the years, just because I just want these guys to stop talking to me on Gchat. Guys, just stop. I know this isn’t a great trade for me, but I just want you to stop. But I don’t want to tell you to stop, because I signed up for this.
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.