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.
Ezra Furman is a singer-songwriter hailing from Chicago, and his intimate solo album The Year Of No Returning was recently reissued by Bar/None. Last week, he made an appearance on A.V. Undercover with a cover of Wilco’s “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Furman spoke with The Gameological Society about his intermittent competitive streak, getting sucked into Diablo, and the importance of the music in Nintendo’s early Mario games.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Ezra Furman: The thing I’m most likely to play is Settlers Of Catan, a favorite board game of mine.
Gameological: Is it the original version?
Furman: It’s pretty close to the original. I think the robber piece used to be black, which they felt had racial implications, so now it’s gray. I think in that way it’s the not the original.
Gameological: There are a handful of expansions that change the game.
Furman: I’ve played those occasionally. The one I have is the old-fashioned classic. The thing I like about the game is the randomness, the change that’s introduced when you play it. There’s a board you have to build from these pieces, and it’s laid out differently every time. Different resources are more or less common. I like the element of the landscape changing. There are some other games I enjoy that have the same elements.
Gameological: How do you fare when you play Settlers?
Furman: I think I’m pretty good. I find that game is always pretty evenly matched. As long as you’ve played it a couple times, even if it is your first game, you have a pretty good chance of being competitive. A few friends of mine will get really into the game, and leave everyone in the dust. I’m cutthroat when I need to be, but I’ve never been a very competitive person when it comes to games. When it comes to music, I might be privately more competitively minded, but I don’t really care who wins.
Gameological: What’s fun about it if you’re not trying to win?
Furman: I like watching the landscape change. My favorite part of the game is setting it up and seeing how things hash out. I found other games have that element too, like Diablo. I have been, at various points in my life, cripplingly interested in Diablo. Every time you start a character, the world is kind of same, but kind of different. Things have been altered.
Gameological: You recently covered a Wilco song on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel in Chicago for an A.V. Undercover video. When you were there, did you try your hand at any boardwalk games?
Furman: We kind of came in, got on a Ferris wheel, got a cold lemonade, and got out. That place has some kind of stench of death to me. [Laughs.]
Gameological: I almost died there when I was 12. I got knocked off my bike into an extremely busy street and somehow didn’t get hit.
Furman: Yeah, there’s a terror that surrounds that place. It’s high-priced, and parents take their kids thinking, “The kids will love this!” and the kids are there like, “What are we doing here?” That’s how I felt when I went there as a child. The place is so made for kids, but in a horrible way. I could sense it as a child. There was kid-directed stuff that was very toxic. Amusement parks, they could suck out a kid’s soul.
Gameological: I was just at Coney Island and saw this mom win one of those water gun races where you shoot at the target. As soon as the bell rang, she stood up and screamed, “Gimme my shit!” in all these kids’ faces.
Furman: I kind of like that. The adults are brought down to kid level, like an equalizer. I like equalizing games. You can never really master a game like Catan too much. There are some games you can just—like Mario, people get so good at Mario. It’s amazing. Mario just has the music, really. I love playing those games, but I feel like without music, I wouldn’t be interested. The music is so great, catchy and beautiful. I’m amazed that one guy composed all the music for the Mario games.
Gameological: Why do you think the music is so important for games like Mario?
Furman: Listening to looped music while doing something creates this trance-like effect. Like, “I’m going to keep doing it.” And the Mario music is particularly beautiful. That guy’s like the Mozart of the 1980s. I think it was important for pop musicians, too. That technology being in the hands of kids growing up all over the world, they heard Mario music a lot. People maybe aren’t even conscious of it, but they’re trying to make something that reminds them of playing Nintendo at a young age in their own way.
Gameological: If you had the opportunity, would you score a game?
Furman: Oh, I would take that offer. I’d be up to that.
Gameological: What would it sound like?
Furman: My instincts of what I’ve been playing on guitar lately—I’ve got this vaguely Hawaiian-sounding stuff. I’ve been very into “Sleepwalk” by Santo And Johnny lately. The song itself is way more famous than its name. It’s been in a lot of movies. But I’d do something like that. Something hypnotic—kind of slow electric guitar music would be good. But it would depend on the game, I suppose.
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.
(Photo: Rosie Wagner)