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.
Thomas Middleditch is a comedian who has appeared on Comedy Central’s Mash Up and is a staple with the touring improv geniuses The Improvised Shakespeare Company. He also runs a games-centric blog, n3rdlyfe.com. He spoke to The Gameological Society about why role-playing will always be a part of his life.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Thomas Middleditch: I finally broke down and started playing Far Cry 3. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty slick. Big games nowadays impress me less and less with each passing year. It’s like the difference between watching a small movie like Brick or Little Children, and the new Bourne movie—it’s awesome, but it’s just different.
Gameological: Is there a trend that you’ve noticed with the big studio games?
Middleditch: The best analogy I can make is the movie one. You go to see a big blockbuster, and you’re like, “That was fun.” You’re not leaving that moving saying, “Wow, I was emotionally affected, but man, there were some sequences that were really exciting, suspenseful even.” There were some cheesy moments that you might have even rolled your eyes at. You were never really caught off-guard by the plot or what actually happened.
Conversely, the other game I’m playing is called War Of The Roses for PC. It’s by no means an in-depth story game. All it is is a multiplayer-only, medieval melee game literally set in the War Of The Roses. You get points to get gold and buy new weapons and armor and stuff. It’s kind of like Mount And Blade. You get to a point where you’re just playing one game, you end a round online, and you’re first, the number-one-ranked player in the match, and you’re like, “Oh my God! I’m getting good!” It’s both awesome and bad at the same time.
Gameological: How important is story in a game to you?
Middleditch: It really depends what type of game it is. For example, I play a lot of flight simulators and stuff. I don’t need a story. There are some of them that have some kind of campaign where essentially you have a pilot career and you do battle and you progress in the world.
Story is—it just really depends on the game. A great example: A game like Braid. Incredible story and by the end you’re done. The first BioShock. Oh man, what a satisfying story that was. Here’s an interesting problem that some games are having, especially open world games. The main story in, say, Skyrim is pretty cool. You go and you play it. It’s very standard high fantasy stuff. It’s interesting and engaging, but some of the other stuff just takes away from it. I actually found that Skyrim, for me, is too vast. I’m 60 hours in, and I’m like, “I’m not half way done with the fucking game! What am I going to do?”
In Far Cry 3, the main story is pretty cool, and the voice acting and the motion-capture acting—the actors are great. If it were just that game, I think you could center in on it and make it a much more satisfying experience. That’s what games like Half-Life and Portal do. It’s not really an open-world game. You’re kind of on rails, but I think you get a better story that way.
Gameological: In Skyrim, the Mages’ Guild stuff was reduced significantly.
Middleditch: Yeah, it was really disappointing. What bugged me was, you got in and there’s a problem, obviously, with the Mage’s Guild, and everyone’s kind of suspicious of the one guy, and you meet the one guy, and he’s super-evil. He’s like, [in a cartoonish evil voice] “Ha, I’m bad. I’m a bad man.” He’s so obviously evil that I thought maybe if you uncovered the truth that he’d be a sort of Severus Snape kind of guy—he looks evil, but he’s actually doing good—but no. He’s just a bad guy.
Gameological: Do you play multiple games at once? And if so, how do you keep track of where you are?
Middleditch: Sometimes I do play multiple games, but the tangential game will be a game like War Of The Roses—an online-only thing where it’s like, “Ugh, I just need to hack and slash other humans.” Usually the tangential one will be some kind of multiplayer thing. Even if I’m in the mode where I’m consuming games at a rapid pace, I do like to complete one and move on to the next.
Gameological: Does your interest in games bleed over into your interests as a comedian?
Middleditch: Because I play so many video games and I’m involved in a lot of other nerdy stuff—I have a remote control helicopter, and I play a game like Dungeons & Dragons that’s called GURPS.
Gameological: It’s called what?
Middleditch: It’s called GURPS—Generic Universal Role-Playing System. [Laughs.] I don’t know if you’ve ever played it, but it’s a pen-and-paper role-playing game. You can buy a whole game and play in a certain world, but this is just a set of rules and you can apply these rules to any scenario.
I play all that stuff and naturally it’s going to influence my comedy stuff. It’s not as if it’s a secret thing. I have a blog about all these passions and I don’t write under any alias. I do like to keep some elements of my life segmented, but in no way am I shy about any of this stuff. I think it’s pretty important if you’re going to know me to know that I’m insane about this stuff. Some friends and I were talking about making an old point-and-click adventure game. That would be an interesting second dream of mine realized, to somehow make a video game.
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.