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.
On top of working as a prolific stand-up comic, Wyatt Cenac has been a correspondent on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart since 2008, and will be leaving the show at the end of the year. In the meantime, he hosts a weekly show in Brooklyn and plays games whenever his busy schedule will allow him. He talked to The Gameological Society about his Thanksgiving game-playing marathon and his problems with accidentally murdering future presidents in Assassin’s Creed III.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Wyatt Cenac: I started playing Hitman: Absolution over the Thanksgiving break. I had started playing Assassin’s Creed III, didn’t like it, and then had a taste for blood. So I needed to figure something else out to do for the break. Usually it’s on holidays that I end up playing a lot of games.
Gameological: What was it that you didn’t like about Assassin’s Creed?
Cenac: There were a few things. I didn’t like how it took forever to reload a gun. That was a minor thing where it was like, “You can’t suspend that disbelief for this game, but you’re asking me to suspend my disbelief that, ‘Oh, there are revolutionary ninjas running around the Americas!’” If you’ve gotten me to believe in white-guy ninjas, then I don’t have to watch a guy reload a musket. And you have to sit there and watch him do it. And while you’re doing that, you’re just getting stabbed. But I think the biggest frustration for me was, honestly, for a game that’s built on sneaking around and stealth, you don’t actually control much of the stealth. If you wanna crouch down, you have to find bushes that you can crouch down into. And not all the time will your guy crouch in the bushes. And so that was really frustrating where I found myself yelling at the television a lot. “Just duck! George Washington is about to see you!” I did accidentally kill George Washington.
Gameological: Did the game just go on, or were you desynchronized?
Cenac: You get desynchronized. It would be interesting to see what happens if you did just kill him and then it’s like, “Welp, you just did that, so everything changes. Welcome to England’s colony.”
Gameological: So what is it about Hitman that you like more?
Cenac: I like it because I think I’m normally more into sports games. Either sports games or really childish games. I loved Kingdom Hearts more than an adult should.
Gameological: That game is great. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Cenac: No, there’s nothing to be ashamed of as an adult man running around saving the universe with your friends Goofy and Donald. There is nothing weird about that. Just an adult hanging out with The Little Mermaid. [Laughs]
Gameological: I guess when you put it like that.
Cenac: Yeah, nothing strange at all. So I played that, and then I play Madden a lot. I very rarely get into the more story-based games. But last year I played Arkham City, and that one I loved just because I love anything Batman. It was fun to do all the stealth stuff in that game. And since I’ve already played that game and beat it—which I rarely beat games—I felt like, “Oh, okay. I want another thing like that.” And I thought that was going to be Assassin’s Creed. I liked the idea of doing something with history. I was a little confused as to why a Native American protagonist was helping the Americans drive out the British considering that, like, oh, somebody should tell you the Americans don’t help you either. It’s going to be so much worse than you think. Then I saw [a video of] Conan O’Brien playing Hitman, and when I saw that you could crouch I was like, “There it is.” I’m sold on crouching.
Gameological: Because you so rarely get a chance to play games, do you play in marathons?
Cenac: For certain things, I do. When I first moved [to New York], I got a Wii. I saw you could download old Nintendo games, so I decided to download The Legend Of Zelda, because as a child I had never beaten it. That became a thing of, like, doing it for the 10-year-old version of me that was like, “You have to do this.” Then realizing how simple it was. It’s a very easy game to beat. There’s something about that. Like, I was an impatient idiot as a child. This was too easy. I will get in little moments where it’s like, “I’m going to play for another hour.” And then seven o’clock has come by, and I’m supposed to meet somebody for dinner at eight, and I’m like, “I’ll just get 15 more minutes in.” And then by 7:30, I’m like, “Hey, I’m not feeling well.” Once the clock hits double digits, I kind of feel bad. I either have to stop when the clock hits double digits, or the opposite. If I start in double digits, then I have to stop when it gets too deep into single digits.
Gameological: Why is it that you haven’t beaten a lot of games?
Cenac: I’m sure that a psychotherapist would probably have some great thing to say about me and commitment issues. I’m sure there’s somebody working on a term paper right now. If you don’t finish video games, you probably don’t finish relationships, or something. If not, I just gave somebody a great idea for a thesis that they will get a C on. But sometimes I get busy. It’s such a wonderful distraction, but it’s a distraction. I have to put it down for that reason. Sometimes you start a game, and it’s not as exciting as the trailer made it out to be. But then there are other times when—like, I love the idea of the Grand Theft Auto games. They make me dizzy as shit. I’ll start it, and then I’ll get vertigo, and I just can’t do it anymore.
Gameological: I guess you’re not a completionist, then. I definitely can be for certain games.
Cenac: It may be that I grew up in a time where video games still weren’t looked at in the way that’s, like, oh yeah, people make movies out of video games, and they are a whole industry unto themselves that makes millions upon millions of dollars. There are people who go to work in these fields, whether it’s writing video games, or programming or designing them. I grew up in a time where it was still, like, “That’s a waste of time!” And you had adults telling you, “Ah! You’re rotting your brain! It’s worse than TV!” So I still have that residual thing of, “No. You’re procrastinating from the stuff you’re supposed to be doing.” That guilt comes in. I can hear my stepfather’s voice telling me to go do my math homework.
Gameological: Do your friends feel that way now, or do they not really care?
Cenac: I don’t have a lot of friends who are regular video game players like I used to. If there’s one thing I miss from college—other than a totally socialist lifestyle where I didn’t have to worry about food or housing, outside of that beautiful thing where healthcare was free, and everybody who lived on my floor was my age—I think in college it was a much bigger thing to play video games. You didn’t have a lot to do. You didn’t have car, so you’d sit in your friend’s dorm room and play Madden against each other. You’d play, like, NBA Live until it was time to eat or go to a party. I don’t have as many friends that play any more. I have yet to really venture into the online world. I’ve tried two or three times, like, “I’ll play Madden with somebody online because that will be fun.” And they eat my lunch so quickly. In the first quarter I’ve thrown eight interceptions. I’m good enough for it to be a casual thing with a friend. Every now and again, I try to convince other friends to play. But my friend Gene, he and I played Arkham City. I would play for a bit, and when I’d get frustrated, he would take over.
Gameological: That’s kind of sweet. Like a gaming soulmate.
Cenac: I honestly think I’ve had more friends who will happily watch. Over Thanksgiving, I had a few friends over, and we wound up firing up Hitman and playing it. I think there is something about people enjoying, like, “Hey, go down that way.” Or, “Try the gun.”
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.