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.
Dan Wilbur is a comedian and author of How Not To Read: Harnessing The Power Of A Literature-Free Life, a book for people who don’t want to read but do want to appear dauntingly well-read. He also curates a website called “Better Book Titles,” renaming classic and contemporary literary works with the titles they should have had.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Dan Wilbur: This weekend, I will be between two games. One is called Starhawk, for PS3. And the other one is Final Fantasy Tactics, which someone convinced me I should download on my phone. I think I’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics all the way through about six times in my life. And this is probably the saddest time I’ve played it all the way through. I’ve been on a movie shoot, and then I had to do various train rides when I didn’t feel like reading, and I’ve clocked about 11 hours playing Final Fantasy Tactics for the sixth time. When I could have been making friends.
Gameological: That’s the trade-off.
Wilbur: Well, I guess it was sadder before, because I could have learned a language or a musical instrument when I was like 13. Instead I played Final Fantasy Tactics for hours after school. I think, actually, playing Starhawk is sadder because Starhawk is—I don’t know if you’ve played it—I feel like it’s sort of an answer to Borderlands 2. It kind of looks like Gears Of War, with kind of the attitude of Cowboy Bebop. Am I getting too nerdy? It looks like a futuristic space western, and you’re protecting what is basically oil, and you do it by calling a guy who is sort of the jet to Spike in Cowboy Bebop. You’re like, “Hey, send me down a turret, because there’s too many guys around me.” And then a turret comes down and lands in front of you. So you’re changing the landscape of the battlefield as you go. The reason I bring up Borderlands 2 is I feel like I put on the headset and try to play the multiplayer, and it’s just a bunch of 13-year-olds who weren’t cool enough to get Borderlands 2.
Gameological: You paint a bleak picture. Which depresses you more?
Wilbur: I think it’s sadder to play Starhawk. Everyone else is playing Borderlands 2. And I’m like, “I play games like that! I do! I’m cool enough!” Last time I played Starhawk, I had the headset on, and a kid told me to climb out of his butthole—was screaming at me, and just insane—he must’ve killed me 50 times in a row. And then at the end, I heard him say, “Dad, I want a boiled egg for lunch.” And I turned off the game. I can’t do this anymore.
Gameological: There seems to be a market for an adults-only multiplayer.
Wilbur: There should be an adults-only everywhere. We should just abandon youth. I try to go to the gym every once in a while to play basketball, and I’ll play a bunch of 14-year-olds who are all talking trash. And I’ll be like, “I’ll take these guys, I’m a decade older than them.” I’ve been playing basketball so long. And then I realize how out of shape I am compared to 14-year-old boys. And they just annihilate me. And that’s the same way I think about multiplayer games. You get online, and you’re like, oh, right, this is all they’ve been doing. They’re the most in-shape gamers. They’re probably really good at basketball. They have everything going for them, 14-year-old boys. So yes, separate everything. The only thing we have is on them is that we can legally drink.
Gameological: I can chart, I think, all of my declining skills from that point.
Wilbur: Once you can legally drink, you have that over them. So out of spite, you’re like, I’m gonna do this every day. Fuck 14-year-old me. I hate him. 14-year-old me would be begging me to buy him beer right now, but I’m not gonna do it. Because they’re mean to me on the basketball court and when I’m playing Starhawk. That no one’s playing.
Gameological: Why’d you choose Starhawk?
Wilbur: I’m a very impulse buyer of games. My schedule is such that I only get three or four days out of a month that I can really devote to a game. So I usually just go to GameStop and go onto a website of game reviews. I don’t pay attention to what’s coming out. I just pop in and pick up whatever that top-rated game is that week. And so there was a little bit of hype about Starhawk. And I’m not disappointed in it. I know that everyone is playing Borderlands 2 and having a great time.
Gameological: That’s kind of what happened when Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning came out, but everyone was still playing Skyrim.
Wilbur: I was still stuck on Dark Souls when that came out. It’s like the anti-Skyrim. It’s basically the same. You’re still running around killing dragons, but it’s like the hardest game, with zero storyline. And that’s even sadder! That one, I clocked at least 100 hours. And then I tried to play Skyrim, and was just like, there’s too much talking. There’s too much talking.
Gameological: Everyone loves Dark Souls, but I’ve yet to hear someone articulate exactly what it is that makes it so good. It’s mostly just like, “Holy shit, this game is hard and frustrating.”
Wilbur: I will tell you. It’s the Ulysses of video games. People who are very serious about that type of game love that game. Have you played it?
Gameological: I’ve started and aborted a few times.
Wilbur: First of all, anyone who plays a ton of RPGs would love it. It’s a totally streamlined, non-user-friendly video game. That’s a game I bought the day it came out, so there were no message boards saying how I get to such and such.
Gameological: It must’ve been near impossible to play at that point.
Wilbur: Oh, it was. No, I’ll say… I played the first one, Demon’s Souls. I knew you had to strategize a little bit. You go down one set of stairs, and you keep dying. And you go, “That’s clearly not where I’m supposed to go first.” And then you go down another set of stairs, and you’re clearly not supposed to go down there. Finally, you find a track where you say, “Okay, this is where I’m supposed to be.” And you slowly make headway, and the rewards are mostly because you spent so much time figuring out what’s going on in the world. The joke is that there’s no story. They even joke about it in the game. There’s no seven seals that need to be broken before the princess is released. It’s just this strange, chaotic nightmare. The only thing I have to compare it to, also much like Ulysses, is if you’ve ever smoked really intense pot, you do not want to leave your couch or speak to anyone. Not giggly weed. Like, someone says something and an hour later you realize, did they leave? No they’re still here.
Gameological: I’m still not sold, but playing Dark Souls is my New Year’s resolution.
Wilbur: I’m sure your parents are very proud. I’m gonna drop 10 pounds. Work on my novel. And also beat Dark Souls.
Gameological: They don’t read this website, so I can tell them that it’s to get health insurance. Your book teaches people who don’t read how to fool those that do. How would you instruct a person to seem like they’re a gamer when they’re not?
Wilbur: Great question! I wrote a little bit about it, if you’ve never been a gamer and you get stuck talking to one, what book you’d recommend them. And now I can’t remember a word of it. [Laughs.] How would I do that? I don’t know! I think smiling, and giving a gamer attention, that’ll do it for you. As long as you pretend to be interested in what they’re saying, and you’re an attractive woman. A gamer is going to be like, “I don’t care what she’s talking about. I don’t care what I’m talking about.” Just listen to them nerd out about everything I just said. I mean, what passes for nerd now? Maybe, say, I’m into cerebral games, like Fallout. I’d start with Fallout. It’s got all the elements of an RPG. It’s a first-person shooter. There’s no multiplayer geeks to get in your face. Or just scoff at video games, because you’re too into “the classics.” It’s just like books. The best one is to be like, “Oh, I would play that new Mario, but a guy who looked like Mario mugged me once. I can’t play it.” Get into emotionally sensitive territory. Now I can’t look at people in blue overalls.
Gameological: If you had to pick better titles for Dark Souls and Final Fantasy Tactics, what would you choose?
Wilbur: [Laughs.] Oh no you put me on the spot! Dark Souls, I think the best one. Someone sent me a GIF [pronounces it with a hard “G”]—or a “JIF,” ugh—of a guy getting hit by these swinging axes and falling off the side. And it just said, “Oh fuck, FUCK, FUCK, FUCKING, FUCK, FUCK me this sucks,” and just falling and dying. That’s a great title. It’s not an original title, I want you to know that. Or maybe Constantly Throwing Controller At Screen. You’re more likely to throw your controller at the screen and break your TV playing Dark Souls than you are playing any Wii game. With Final Fantasy Tactics, I think we landed on it. Instead Of Mastering An Instrument, Why Not Master The Monk Job Skills?
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.