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.
Tom Scharpling has had a hand in some of the most entertaining pieces of pop culture in recent memory. He’s written for USA’s Monk and the Adult Swim shows Tom Goes To The Mayor and Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job!. He directed music videos for Aimee Mann, Wild Flag, and Titus Andronicus. And recently, he created the Funny Or Die trailer for the 10th anniversary reissue of The Postal Service’s Give Up. But Scharpling is best known for The Best Show On WFMU With Tom Scharpling, a comedic free-form radio show with a worldwide audience. The noted pinball enthusiast talked to Gameological about, among other things, the soothing effect of Simpsons Tapped Out.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Tom Scharpling: Probably just The Simpsons: Tapped Out.
Gameological: I had that game for a couple months on my phone. I had to delete it.
Scharpling: Why’s that?
Gameological: It was so consuming. I had to plan the certain little tasks out for when I knew I would have time to collect the most points. After a while it was like, “Why am I doing this? What do I get out of this?”
Scharpling: What do you get out of anything, though? Are you getting that much more out of shooting people in games? You get to hang out with your favorite Simpsons characters and get a couple laughs thrown in every once in awhile.
Gameological: What have I missed since I deleted it?
Scharpling: You get to send them on different tasks, which, for a video game, are surprisingly entertaining concepts once in awhile. Look, it’s free, in terms of laughs. It’s a calming game for me. Very relaxing. You just go there, and then you send characters that you like on different tasks, and then there are little audio drop-ins when you click on them. It’s harmless, but it’s also—I think I’ve reached my limit with it because I don’t know if this thing’s supposed to end at any point, or how big I’m supposed to make my Springfield.
There was a hack that people found that got them all these free donuts. There are two currencies in the game. One is cash that you get from rent and sending people on tasks, and you get cash that allows you to buy property, more buildings or shrubbery. And then there’s the donuts, which, you ultimately have to pay actual money for them if you want any amount of donuts that you can do something with. So there’s an Itchy & Scratchy scratch-off game you can play that’s 99 cents of your actual money to get a chance to get donuts. I’ll admit, I’ve bought more than a few of those scratch-off tickets in moments of weakness, but it’s really dispiriting that you think that you spent even one cent on something that doesn’t exist.
Gameological: That gives you a virtual currency toward the Duff Man character.
Scharpling: It’s one thing to buy a game you play, but it’s another to buy a building that doesn’t exist to make your version of Springfield better than somebody else’s. It’s a bummer, also, about the hack that people found that got them an infinite amount of donuts. So you go visit other people’s versions of Springfield, and they’ve got everything. They bought everything you could feasibly buy because they had all these donuts. It made me feel like a jerk that my Springfield will always be a distant second to anybody who was able to buy these things because they partook in a loophole. I was like, I’m not going to do that hack. That doesn’t seem fun. I was like, “Man, I spent too much money on these stupid donuts.” I’m not even talking about spending money. I spent, what, $50 over the course of a few months—and that’s not the end of the world—but I didn’t feel like throwing more money at this thing I’d already spent 50 bucks on. So I went to do the hack, and it was closed. They had fixed it. I got punished twice.
Gameological: You got punished for waiting and wanting to play the game the right way.
Scharpling: Exactly. And when I finally decided to give into the dark side of Simpsons: Tapped Out, the door was slammed in my face.
Gameological: I was spending a lot of time, not money, but so much time. I thought it was unhealthy how much I was looking at that game. Do you play a lot of mobile games like that?
Scharpling: Probably. I’m not big on that outside of a Drop7 or some kind of dumb falling game. I tend to like the games I can zone out to, and do while listening to something. Like a phone call, or work call, and I can have something harmless to look at, something that doesn’t engage beyond a very limited point.
Gameological: Do you have any favorite pinball tables or ones that you can’t stand that you see at a lot of places?
Scharpling: I’m pretty okay with just about any pinball machine. The different ones from different eras all have a charm to them. I’m not necessarily a fan of the ones from the ’50s. I don’t know who those were made for. They were built to frustrate people. The space between the flippers is twice as wide as a current machine. The ball will go straight down the middle and give no chance of hitting it with the flippers. That’s when the pinball machines were in bars, and where, I guess, if you complained they would beat you up. The owner of the bar would take you out back and thrash you for complaining for the five cents you just spent on a pinball machine. But even those are nice to look at. They’re really beautiful. I go to this place, the Silver Ball Museum. It’s in Asbury Park, with machines all the way from the ’50s to more or less the present day. Even the old, un-fun machines are amazing to look at. They’re completely restored. They’re works of art. I know people who have zero interest in pinball who can look at the machines as cultural signposts as much as anything.
Gameological: Like Americana?
Scharpling: Definitely like Americana, but there’s also an element of seeing what trends they would try to exploit. They would always be three or four years behind it. There’s some psychedelic pinball machine, and you look and it’s from 1973. Like, What? Really? Somebody thought that was hip for ’73? And then there’s the point where pinball machines become like softcore pornography, also. Some of the depictions of women are just insane how sleazy they are. On the Evel Knievel or Capt. Fantastic, with these painted on T-shirts, and clearly no bras on underneath. It’s a pinball machine, come on.
Gameological: And ostensibly young kids are going to play this.
Scharpling: Well, they put Evel Knievel on it. He was meant for seven-year-olds, and he was every little kid’s hero, and then they look and get a sex-ed lesson on the side. And also a physiology lesson on the side, like this woman would tip over if this is how she actually existed. They’re so over the top, I don’t know what they were thinking. That dudes would get wound up over a pinball machine? It’s very strange. Those machines from the ’70s are so much fun because on a good machine, they’re very lively without being turbocharged. At a point, the pinball machine became some version of a video game, like they were playing catch-up suddenly. There’s elements of games in them, and they started to have all these launchers where the ball gets propelled so fast. It takes away the fun, but it’s not explicitly about skill, where the ones in the ’70s were about that. There are games with so many targets, with all the drop targets you have to hit. That’s just about getting good at that machine. These targets, you have to know how to hit them.
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.