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.
Ben Dolnick is the author of three books of fiction—Zoology, You Know Who You Are, and the just-released novel At The Bottom Of Everything. This latest concerns a pair of former friends who have grown apart over the years but still share a strong connection, albeit one that both of them could do without. The Gameological Society spoke to Dolnick about his childhood game habits and the difficulties in giving an articulate off-the-cuff interview.
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Ben Dolnick: My wife and I have been playing a lot of this card game 500. It’s kind of addictive.
Gameological: I’m not familiar.
Dolnick: I think it’s a variation on some more famous game, like Crazy Eights or something, but I have a real sort of serial ineptitude for card games, so I don’t really know. I just lose at it perpetually. But it’s one of these “create a run of three cards of the same suit or color” [games], and we have a sort of two-year-long endless game going.
Gameological: Do you and your wife get competitive? Does bowling end up as a bloodbath between two pin-wielding maniacs?
Dolnick: [Laughs.] She would say that I’m extremely competitive. I would say that I’m extremely fun loving. But yeah, I guess it’s probably not wise for us to compete in too many endeavors. Cards we can more or less handle, because it’s clear that she’s the dominant party there. Truly competitive things, I think we kind of avoid.
Gameological: Your book’s two main characters, Thomas and Adam, were extremely close in their formative teenage years, but then they drift apart. What were you playing when you were their age?
Dolnick: There were a bunch of distinct little eras. When I was in elementary school, Nintendo, obviously. We played Punch-Out, and Metroid, and Kid Icarus, and all of the Super Marios. Adventure Island. My brother and I were devout readers of Nintendo Power. And then in middle school, we got a Genesis, which was mostly Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat 1 and 2. My friends and I would devote hours to figuring out the fatalities, and I think we somehow got the misimpression that if you win a thousand times in a row, you get to play ping-pong with the characters, or something.
Gameological: That was one of the pre-internet rumors, wasn’t it?
Dolnick: Right. And it is not true.
Gameological: It’s interesting how those ideas would sort of spread among kids, you know? There’s no direct source, and no obvious way of it being promulgated, but they would circulate widely.
Dolnick: Right. And it’s very much, as you say, a pre-internet problem. And now you could debunk that with four seconds of searching.
Gameological: Simpler days…
Dolnick: Yeah. In high school, I spent a lot of time playing Nintendo 64 at a friend’s. Mostly GoldenEye and MarioKart, were my main games. Both of those were sort of the perpetual background noise of my high school years. You just sit there until three in the morning playing hundreds and hundreds of games. And now, as an adult, I own a PlayStation 3, which I very occasionally use to play Portal 2.
Gameological: Good choice.
Dolnick: Yeah. I tried to get into Skyrim, but I don’t know if I’m too old, or games have gotten too confusing. But I just realized early on that I was either going to have to give up novel writing or Skyrim. So my present video game life is pretty chaste.
Gameological: Earlier this year, you wrote about how you’re fascinated with reading author interviews. Is it weird to be on the other end of that? Like right this second?
Dolnick: I guess so. Those authors seem to have that kind of miraculous ability to kind of uncork these beautiful Paris Review-worthy things that you carry around in your head for the rest of your life. And I definitely don’t find myself doing that, so it feels like a little bit of a different species. But sure, I definitely still, while I’m in the shower or something, “Man, this would be a great thing to say to The Paris Review if they ever get around to calling me.”
Gameological: These brilliant responses have to be at least a little premeditated. They can’t come out fully formed, right?
Dolnick: Right. And I think some places, including The Paris Review, let you get the transcript and then edit it. So Philip Roth is making himself look a thousand times more eloquent than even he is.
Gameological: I saw some cool and eloquent thing the other day that Susan Sontag had allegedly said, and I thought to myself, “Who talks like that?”
Dolnick: [Laughs] Right. It’s like perfect paragraphs, and a theme carried through. Yeah, any time I actually see my verbatim words transcribed, I want to bury my head in shame.
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.