What Are You Playing This Weekend?

Stephen Markley

Stephen Markley, writer

The author of Publish This Book tells us why Jenga is the perfect drinking game.

By Ryan Smith • April 26, 2013

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.

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  • fieldafar

    Probably nothing but Poker Night 2. Just because.

  • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

    Finally got Tekken Tag 2. It took me two hours to finish the arcade version on medium with the first hour being nothing but practice. It’ll be another week or so before I feel halfway ready for online co-op. Good thing I’ve been playing the same character since 2002, most of the moves are still there in my muscle memory.

  • Nudeviking

    In college we played Candy Land as a drinking game.  I don’t really recall the specifics of it, but it usually got us pretty fucked up.

  • Fluka

    Lots of travel last weekend meant games on my Mac laptop.  I got my ass handed to me by Atom Zombie Smasher so very very badly.  But apparently that’s okay, because the ending is always the same?  (Spoilers: El Presidente Lives!)  I love this game and its ridiculous non-sequitur “cutscenes” so much, you guys.

    Mr. Fluka’s home now too, but when he’s not using his computer, I’m finally getting to play a little bit of Fallout: New Vegas.  Lacking creativity, I’ve decided to just give up and build myself: a scientist who is afraid of confrontation and talks too much.  (Points in Stealth, Science, Energy Weapons, and Speech!)  Hey, at least I shook reality up a little and made myself black.

    After yesterday’s thread, I feel bad not having any hilarious glitches to report.  But I did have two fun surprises the first day:

    1) First time making a Critical Strike using a plasma pistol.  That man just turned into a green skeleton!  I literally painted the ceiling with him.

    2) As I always do, I had my character activate the filthy in-game toilet, in the interests of “role-playing.”  (Always remember to use the bathroom before going on a long mission!)  I…did not expect my character to lean over, reach out her hand, and start taking a drink.  Using the sink to wash my hands resulted in more loud, radiation-filled slurps.

    New Vegas: I love you so far, but ew.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    Is…Is it wrong that I like it better than War Of The Lions?  I think I was won over by the Ogre series for Serious Matsuno Games, and so Grimoire Of The Rift fulfilled what I really want out of tactics games that aren’t designed to be difficult: collecting a whole bunch of garbage and doing a bunch of nonsense for no reason.  Thanks for Final Fantasy IX’s ability system, but do we really need 20 weapon classes in a tactics game?  Yes!  Please!  Make it 30 next time!

    And while I’m throwing out unpopular opinions, its prequel had a surprisingly mature plot, right?  People talk up The World Ends With You/It’s A Wonderful World, but I think Marche’s story was unnecessarily but gratifyingly nuanced.  I’d play another, certainly.

  • Citric

    I want to play FFTA (the first one), but I lost it. No idea where it is, it’s possibly in one of four houses and no idea where it would actually be in those houses.

    I tried emulating – because seriously, I own it, I just don’t know where it is – but I find I kind of want to play a handheld game on a handheld. Especially one I know I own.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    Look, FFTA2 has a thief character, so they made her appearance cat-themed. One day, people of all nations will come together and realize that this is the best school of character design. It’s inevitable, I think.

  • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

    I’m playing on a controller, and while it’s hard, redo-ing things over and over seems to be the name of the game anyways.  
    I dunno if the mouse-control players are doing a lot more shooting than I am (I try and avoid it), but for melee purposes a controller is just fine.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    If you go into a shooter like bioshock inf and you’re not expecting violence, you’re gonna have a bad time.

    Personally, I feel like the violence makes sense when you come to the end of the story and hit the twist.  It plays to the idea of the duality in all of us that one version of Booker would use his energy and power to build a city based on racism and oppression and the other version of Booker would signle-handedly bring that city to it’s knees with remorseless violence.  They’re both the bad guy after all.

    Which is worse, to build a society based around exclusion and oppression, or to bring that society down by murdering hundreds if not thousands of people?I agree mostly with the American-History as Window-dressing theme espoused by others.  America’s history was not the center of the game, in fact I believe a large part of the ending centered around the idea that this very story could have taken place in a million different locations in what not.I was attracted to the human center of the story which was Booker, Elizabeth and Comstock, and I knew from playing enough shooters, that there would be some ludo-narrative dissonance, but I am also of the mind, that this game could have been something truly special if they had released it as an Adventure game or an RPG as opposed to a beautiful guilded-age murder sim with a human heart beating in it’s diabolical chest.

  • Aurora Boreanaz

    ORIGIN: We’re Like Steam If Steam Was Shitty ™!

  • DrFlimFlam

     It wasn’t bad playing it, though the final boss battle was definitely glitched. We went after it a good 15-20 times and never succeeded, even with referencing FAQ’s. So my friend came over the next night, the battle proceeded very differently, and we had it done first time through.

  • George_Liquor

     You’ll dance to anything.

  • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

    I CANNOT wait for Fez!  I bought a little notebook for decoding stuff and have it nerdily next to my PC with a few different colored pens and pencils.

    To @twitter-493417375:disqus , Ni No Kuni has a sudden ramp up in difficulty around the time you get access to ocean travel, but to compensate there’s a rare overland monster you can kill for 2000 xp a pop introduced at the same time. It’s basically a free level-up per monster until around level 35, at which point the difficulty is more than smoothed out.

    There’s a similar monster around level 50 that’ll give 8k xp each and sometimes appears in pairs that achieves the same purpose.

    No spoilers, but it’s location is easily Googled.

  • Fluka

    @Effigy_Power:disqus I played it on a laptop during a Christmas holiday where I was far away from home and feeling lonely, surrounded by in-laws who didn’t speak English.  Also, there was a storm, so periodically the power would go out, suddenly plunging the rest of the house into darkness.

    This probably explains why I have conflicting memories of the DE as A) Being a melancholy story about loss, and B) Being a tense horror game, gah!

  • feisto

    Thanks for the heads up, but for whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be a Japanese version! Grrr. I guess I could import it, but I like to play my Japanese games in the original Japanese. I wonder why nobody’s localized it for the Japanese market?