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.
Stephen Markley is the author of the memoir Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story Of How I Wrote, Sold, And Published This Very Book and the digital short The Great Dysmorphia: An Epistemological View Of Ingesting Hallucinogenic Mushrooms At A 2012 Republican Presidential Debate. His latest book, Tales Of Iceland, will debut next week. He spoke with The Gameological Society about his love for Jenga and the hazy cultural status of video games.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Stephen Markley: I think Jenga, and I’ll tell you why. It’s the best drinking game. It’s communal, and you don’t have to really pay attention to what’s going on, and there’s not a lot of strict rules. The very best part—it’s like the movie where you have a bomb you have to defuse. I don’t understand why there’s no game where you’re just defusing bomb after bomb. I’d play that game.
Gameological: Do you have any ridiculous Jenga stories?
Markley: No, I just meet a lot of girls playing it. It’s a great social drinking, get people together kind of thing. Everyone knows how to play it. It’s perfect. I’m not really that much of a gamer. I’ll play board games once in a while, and I used to play video games, but I quit very consciously in college. I wanted to concentrate on writing, and I realized how much time I was spending on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City beating hookers to death. So, during my sophomore year of college, I sold my PlayStation and all my games and didn’t look back except for a period in like 2008 when I got into Game Boy Tetris again.
Gameological: So you never regret that? You never see games you’re tempted to break your vow for?
Markley: All the time. This is sort of a thesis I have on video games—I think they’re kind of where the novel was at when it first started. Kind of like when Gulliver’s Travels first came out, the social critics thought it was this lowbrow kind of entertainment. It’s the same way many people snidely talk about gamers today. Very clearly, video games are the evolution of storytelling and what will come next is interactive storytelling. I have a lot of interest in video games theoretically, but I’ve just been out of it for a long time. But I do think at some point soon, someone’s going to create the Citizen Kane or Birth Of A Nation or whatever it was that made movies suddenly a great art form. It’s going to happen to video games, I’m just not sure it’s happened yet.
Gameological: Part of the problem games are going through right now is that they’re still so tied to violence. It’s been a struggle to make popular games that are compelling and fun and yet don’t involve guns in any way.
Markley: There have been some games, I mean, I was a huge Myst fan back in the day and it was incredibly compelling. And there’s other games where it’s not just about destroying and murdering, but it is where the preponderance of it is and that’s what sells. It’s interesting though because when the Newtown thing happens, everyone goes right back to blaming video games. It’s the same kind of things people were saying when the novel first came out. It was like ‘Okay, this is going to make everyone sexualized and create a culture of narcissistic hedonism.’ It happens every time a new art form comes out and a new form of expression is introduced. People are scared of it and video games exist very much in that space. And that’s from someone who doesn’t really play them right now.
Gameological: I think we may be turning the corner a little bit. One thing some people are talking about with BioShock Infinite is that the world and the story are amazing and there’s this sociopolitical context for everything. Yet, an hour into it you start shooting and it kind of detracts from the experience in some way.
Markley: Yeah, I’m sure it’s probably the economic motive, right? You need the game to sell, so you put the shooting into it. But I feel like the new Sim City sounds like it’s got part of it right, where you have to think about, how does society function? How do you create a world where people can live in peace and harmony? I think it has many interesting dimensions, but I just don’t think we’ve hit the tipping point yet where people take video games seriously as they do other forms of art.
Gameological: You’ve spent a lot of time in Iceland recently and just wrote a book about that. Do Icelanders play a lot of games?
Howard: Yeah, well, it’s dark like 23 hours a day in the winter there, so I think they are pretty into that culture. But they’re also very Americanized, so they get most of the movies, games, and books and all of that.
Gameological: Is there anything in particular you noticed they seemed to play more over there than in America?
Howard: Not really, I was too busy drinking and climbing on glaciers. I guess I should have introduced Jenga. That could have been a huge hit.
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.