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.
Emily Gordon is a prolific writer and producer. She cohosts The Indoor Kids, a video game-themed podcast with her husband, comedian Kumail Nanjiani. She also works for Nerdist Industries, helping to run the company’s live shows in the back of LA’s Meltdown Comics, and has been published on Vulture and xojane.com. She’s currently writing sketches for Disney and playing plenty of Where’s My Water? on her iPhone.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Emily Gordon: I’m playing Borderlands 2 a lot. That’s the primary game. Kumail and I are playing that together. Have you played Borderlands 2? I’m a Gunzerker, and Kumail is an Assassin, which he regrets every day. He is not fond of the Assassin. He feels like the special power he does with the decoy is pointless. My special power is to wield [two] weapons, and you scream the whole time, for a brief period. I love it. I like playing anything that’s the opposite of me. I like playing this huge, brutish, heavy, slow-moving—he can’t fully run. The thing that makes me laugh harder than anything is when I’ll be running from somewhere, and I’ll be like, [grunts].
Gameological: Those characters couldn’t be more different. Your guy has this primal grunt, and the Assassin constantly tells everyone how awesome he is.
Gordon: He thinks he’s really really smart, but he’s like a douchebag intellectual. Like, really, are we speaking in haiku? Is this what’s really happening? It irritates the shit out of me. The game itself is so clever, and it’s got so many references. I’ve have never cared about guns in games. I’m not even a shooter. I’ll play shooters, but they’re not my favorite. And I am so obsessed with the guns in this game.
Gameological: What is it about Borderlands that makes it okay, versus Call Of Duty or something, where the violence has these creepy military overtones?
Gordon: I’ve thought about this a bit, and I feel like there’s a couple things going on. One is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. I really hate the Call Of Duty games. They’re trying so hard to take themselves so seriously, and be like, “Oh, look at war, and the importance of war.” Those stupid quotes that come up. I feel like it’s not the route to go. This game is absolutely aware that it is a video game, and it’s winking at you the whole time.
In other games, [the missions] would be like, “I have to defend my honor!” and this one is like, “No, you have to go find the inspiration for Scooter to write a poem to the woman he’s in love with.” It’s the right amount of tongue-in-cheek mixed with really good mechanics and story. Number two is the unlimited random gun thing. All I ever do is think, “Oh, I can have the best gun in the planet. It’s just in that pile of poop,” and that moment where you see the gun on the ground, you’re like, “This is it! This is the one!” And then it’s not the one. But it doesn’t matter because you’re going to keep looking. It’s a perfect carrot dangling in front of you situation.
Gameological: When I spoke to Martin Starr, he said that even though games hold out these carrots, he ultimately doesn’t take pleasure in accomplishing things in the game world, because it’s not “real.” What is your feeling about that?
Gordon: I read a really great book called Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal, which is all about how we need to use video game mechanics in our day-to-day lives. You don’t see a lot of direct results of your actions. It’s not like when people used to be builders or cobblers, and be like, “Oh, I built a shoe,” and they’re like, “Oh, there’s the shoe I built.” My life isn’t like that. There’s very little that I can do where I see the direct result. But video games give me goals that are obtainable or difficult. And then they fucking reward me with Badass Tokens when I do them. There’s nothing more satisfying than a goal that you see, and then you meet it, and then you get a reward for it. We don’t really have that in our jobs anymore. We’re all smaller parts to a larger machine. Video games do that for me. I’m not so above. I know it’s pointless, but everything’s pointless when you start looking at anything too hard. It’s really a slippery slope.
Gameological: You mentioned enjoying playing as the Gunzerker, who is very different from you. So are you a game escapist? Do you always play as someone totally ridiculous?
Gordon: It depends on the game, but for most games, I’m looking for the experience of being an entirely different person. Part of it is part of me growing up female—as I still am. I never could put myself in a video game character’s shoes, because there weren’t many female characters. Whereas Kumail was always like, “I am that guy, whoever I’m playing.”
Gameological: What is your impression of the way women are portrayed in modern gaming?
Gordon: This is going to be an ongoing problem for God knows how long. We’re still having trouble putting female characters in TV shows and movies that aren’t completely one-dimensional. So this is not what I’m looking to video games for. That being said, of course it does bother me that this is how a lot of young men and women are experiencing the world now, through video games. They’re learning these lessons that are hard to unlearn. It is getting a little bit better. Of course, there’s a lot more strides to be made, but it’s tough. It’s hard to have a real answer, because if I’m completely honest, and I really wanted to be a soldier, then maybe I wouldn’t play some of the games I play. I also like to play games even if the female character is completely underdressed for what she’s doing, and is acting like an idiot in the game. I still want to play the game. I’m not quite to the point where I’m ready to boycott games that don’t represent women appropriately, but I’m fine. I’ll talk about it forever, for sure.
Gameological: It just feels like there’s a disconnect between who the audience for these games actually is, and who the perceived audience is.
Gordon: Oh yeah. And that’s true for anything that’s pitched to nerds. These days, people still think nerds are like, “Wuahh, I’ve never seen a lady before!”
I feel like also, if it stopped happening, it would be such a weird thing, because it’s such a known quantity at this point. Our friend Guy [Branum], who does our podcast fairly often, says it’s a bunch of men in their fifties telling men in their twenties how men in their twenties want things to be. It’s always older dudes like, “No no, this is what men like. This is how guys like it.”
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.