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.
Calista Brill is a senior editor at First Second Books, a New York-based publisher of graphic novels whose catalog caters to all ages with a wide range of subject matter. (First Second published the video game-inspired Level Up, whose author The Gameological Society previously spoke to.) Brill talked to Gameological about unwinding with Sudoku and overcoming her crippling Plants Vs. Zombies addiction.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Calista Brill: Every weekend, I sit down on Saturday morning with the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, which, if you live in New York and you subscribe to the Times, it arrives on Saturday instead of Sunday. I eat oatmeal, and I make my husband help me with the crossword puzzle. He’s really good at the trivia, and I’m really good at the stuff where you have to have an instinct about the weird idiom of crossword puzzle construction. Usually we get that done in a couple of hours, and if it takes us longer, I just return to it through the weekend.
Gameological: Are you a pencil or a pen kind of person?
Brill: I’m definitely a pencil person. I’m not badass enough. I think there’s a category of 80-year-old New York grannies who do it in pen, and I aspire to get there someday.
Gameological: i heard that you had a little bit of a problem with Candy Crush Saga and Plants Vs. Zombies.
Brill: [Laughs.] Yeah, I don’t play a lot of video games, partly because I don’t have any self-control with video games. I like simple puzzle games—word and number games, like Sudoku and crosswords. Those are easy for me to turn away from. Even things like Tetris or Candy Crush, notably, I have a lot of trouble with. Candy Crush is one of those games that’s set up to make you want to spend money on it, and it’s incredibly effective at achieving that. After I spent something like $25 on it in one day, I thought, “This is not a road to anything productive or sane in my life.” And I deleted it.
With Plants Vs. Zombies, that was even more dramatic. I don’t even remember why I downloaded it. I think someone recommended it. I played through the full game once and then again. And then I think I was starting my third go-round, and I kind of thought, “I have spent probably 20 hours a week on this thing for the last couple of months. This seems problematic.” My husband is a computer guy, and after I had deleted it from my computer once and then downloaded it again, I made him delete it from my computer. And then I downloaded it again. So he had to fix my computer so that I would never be able to download it again. I don’t know what he did, but now I’m unable to install Plants Vs. Zombies.
Gameological: You know, there’s a second one now.
Brill: I know. My husband was out of town for a week earlier this summer, and I thought, “I’m going to be incredibly wicked and download it and play it and delete it before he ever gets back, and he’ll never know. That way he won’t have to be disappointed in me.” So I had heard about it, but it turned out it wasn’t out yet, so I missed my interval. I know it’s out now, but I’m sure I’ve got myself under control.
Gameological: You mentioned that you like to play Sudoku, do you have your own method or strategy for tackling those puzzles?
Brill: Not really. As serious players of number games go, I’m probably a pretty bad case. I like to play them while I listen to podcasts on my morning commute on the subway. It’s just a lovely, mindless thing I do with my hands and the part of my brain that doesn’t process language. Otherwise, I get sort of antsy just sitting there listening to my podcasts. I’ve turned into one of these people who needs to be doing 400 things at once for entertainment. So i’m not devoting my whole brain to them. I use them more as a soothing mechanism then anything else.
Gameological: I know what you mean. I play games on the subway while listening to podcasts because I’m afraid of looking at other people and them catching me staring.
Brill: Exactly. It’s very comforting to have your little smartphone that you can just stare at so you don’t have to deal with other human beings. I think people who don’t live in New York don’t get how important that is. It’s vital.
Gameological: What’s it like editing graphic novels and comics?
Brill: It’s really, really fun. I love my job. Mostly what it’s like is you just end up constantly being delighted and amazed and awed by the talent of the people you work with. I love comics. I’ve always loved comics. I will always love comics. It’s a form I feel really strongly about. My favorite thing to do in the world is read comics. I’m not a terrific artist. I can doodle, and I can put together a page of comics, but I’m never going to be near the level of the people that I work with. It’s really great to be able to have a way to contribute to the industry and [a way] of helping to make these books come into practice. I have a lot of talents that make me well-suited for the life of the editor, and it’s just really nice that I’m given the opportunity to work on these books to see them come to fruition and help and offer suggestions where I can.
Gameological: If you could turn a First Second book into a game—any kind of game—which would it be?
Brill: There’s a few of them that leap to mind. We have a book coming out this winter called The Glorkian Warrior Delivers A Pizza. It’s for kids. It’s by this guy James Kochalka who has a long-running autobiographical comic strip called American Elf and has also done a lot of really great kids’ comics, including a series called Dragon Puncher. He’s actually making Glorkian Warrior as an 8-bit video game, and it’s being released, in a sort of limited way, pretty soon. I think this fall.
We also have this amazing book coming out this fall called Battling Boy by Paul Pope, who is a legend of comics. He did Batman: Year 100 and an incredible book, Heavy Liquid. Battling Boy is a book that people have been waiting for for a long time, so there’s a lot of excitement around it. It’s about this young demigod who, for his coming-of-age quest, is plopped on this planet that’s under siege by monsters. He’s told, “Clean up the planet, and don’t even think about coming home until you’re done.” The book itself is almost structured like your classic, conventional video game structure, where he has to work his way up the bottom echelon of these monsters to the big boss who’s running everything from behind the scenes. The world that he’s occupying is really beautiful and interesting and entertaining visually. It’s kind of a riff on 1940s and 1950s America but with this twist. The only weapons he has are these magical T-shirts. Each T-shirt has a different animal on it, and when he puts on that T-shirt, he gains the attributes of that animal. This book is already half of a video game. It would be so much fun to play it. The world is also really elaborate and complicated with a lot of little backstory here and there that could be evolved in a great way.
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.