DID YOU READ

Author Harold Goldberg Explains How “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”

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There’s no denying the level of cultural impact video games have had in the last decade or so. Movies ache to look like them, businesses want to ape game mechanics for loyalty and profit and even book publishing‘s trying to tap into the creative energy of a medium once derided as disposable.

So, how did video game get to be such an electric vector in our lives and imaginations? That’s exactly the question that Harold Goldberg sets out to answer in his new book, “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” Goldberg’s worked on both the game-making and critic sides of the medium and he digs deep into video game history to draw out the personalities responsible for the culture’s seismic shifts. Whether it’s the brashness of the early Atari days to the many unsung teenage geniuses that turned ideas into experience to the MMO revolution, Goldberg shows how the incandescent passion stoked by video games can warm hearts and burn lives.

Goldberg–also a music journalist and poet–answered some question about his book and how video games’ past may influence the medium’s future.

Do you think there’s more or less hucksterism than in the early days of the medium? Or is it just that the nature of the salesmanship has changed? Do you hink video games as a medium still need people like Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell or EA founder Trip Hawkins to proselytize about video games?

There’s much more hucksterism in today’s industry. But it’s far more refined, savvier, sometime subtler and occasionally more insidious. In the early days, there was bloviating on the parts of a handful of wild-west-style, self-made entrepreneurs. They’d stretch the truth. They’d lie. Those who worked for them said they sold their souls. Today, the hucksterism trickles down to journalists and fans from the producers who demo games, from the tightly controlled release of snippets of games, like trailers. And tweets, too. It’s somehow less soulful that the supposedly soulless snake oil salesmen in the early days. Yet it’s more informative and more effective and often more annoying.

Harold Goldberg book cover.jpgIt seems like part of your goal in “All Your Base” is to illuminate some of the personalities who’ve created and continue to create powerful gaming experiences. Do you feel like perception of the medium would’ve been different if names and faces were attached to the early systems and games?

I think it’s always important to attach a human face to a creative work. Marketing departments made Bill Gates the creative genius behind something as boring as an operating system. Nintendo did bring out Miyamoto to talk about Mario and Zelda games. But they brought him to gaming magazines, not to general interest magazines. And, while he tells a brilliant story, there was a language problem as well. The medium back then was considered one step up from being toys. That’s changing only now. And it’s still a long hard slog. Anecdotally, as a journalist, it’s much easier to get an assignment about music or movies than it is about games. Games still frighten the media elite just as comics did a couple of generations ago.

What was the most surprising anecdote or bit of research you came across in working on the book?

There were so many. I loved the fact that “Crash Bandicoot”‘s working title Sonic’s Ass. Oh, and Dan Houser almost came to blows with Burt Reynolds during the taping of an audio segment for “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” But what was most surprising was that Ralph Baer, the maker of the Magnavox Odyssey, envisioned nearly all the kinds of games we have today, including downloadable games and wireless gaming — back in the 1970s.

Even today, in an age where creatives of all stripes are so media-savvy, lots of game designers eschew the spotlight. Why do you think that is?

If you’re the sensitive type, what people might ask you and what people might say to you could be devastating. It could cause a block, the inability to finish work on a project. It’s important sometimes to let the work speak for itself.

Is it fair to say there hasn’t been a lot of mentorship in the games business? Why not?

I think I do see mentorship. I certainly saw it when I worked at Sony Online. Jade Raymond and Ben Bell and I learned a lot about games from the people who had been in the industry before us. Of course, there were some real jerks there, too. There always are jerks. But the powers that are need to do more to mentor. They need to get into the schools. At the very least, they need to tell kids of the opportunities. Even making the informative videos on the Game Developers Conference site known to far more people would be a step in the right direction.

Do you think it was Shigeru Miyamoto’s fascination with the natural world that fueled his creativity?

He was influenced by manga, films like “Alice in Wonderland” and cartoons like “Popeye.” But he was utterly entranced by the wonders and curiosities of nature–lakes, caves, mountains, insects, horses, all animals. He retains that childlike sense of wonder to this day.

I’ve always felt that Rockstar Games is one of the few auteurs in the video game business. What do you feel it is about that particular collective of people that makes their games feel so well directed?

They seem to care passionately about every detail. And they care about putting a lot of game on a disk for the $60 you spend. Certainly, Sam Houser does. And it trickles down from him to the rest of the company. Even more, they have a deep curiosity about all other forms of culture, low and high. You can see it in “Red Dead Redemption.” In the New York Times, Fred Armisen called “Red Dead” a form of art. I have to agree. I was recently called ‘illiterate’ by a writer for espousing that point of view. But if you can call some film art and if you can call some forms of pop music art, why can’t you call “Red Dead” or “BioShock” or “Mass Effect 2” artful? They certainly capture the very essence of film and music — and give you much more.

Harold Goldberg.jpgWhat lessons do you think game creators and larger business entities have learned about the medium? What do you think they’ve ignored at their peril?

After 1983’s great gaming recession, game makers and game publishers learned to be more agile. They’ve learned to make games that are easy to play but hard to master. But some still haven’t learned that licensing a product from another industry won’t necessarily guarantee success. A great game may guarantee success. And sometimes, even that isn’t the case. Finally, there’s publisher hubris. I have yet to see a publisher that also makes hardware that was on top of the heap that didn’t somehow believe that they could never fail. And once they believe that, the fall is often quick and painful.

Do you see any links between the explosion of the games industry into the home and arcade markets of yesteryear and the proliferation of indie games hitting mobile devices today?

Yes! I see the same entrepreneurial spirit and the same genius and creativity in games like “Papa Sangre,” “Angry Birds” and “Infinity Blade.” And there are so many more, as you well know.

At 50 years old, video games still struggle at tapping into the psychic energy around big existential motivators like death, sex and parenthood? What games do you feel tackle them in interesting ways?

I think they do deal with them. “The Sims” does. “Undead Nightmare” DLC for “Red Dead Redemption” dealt with death through a lowly Sasquatch, a fantasy beast, in a real way that nearly moved me to tears. And I bet the people who cared about “Babysitting Mama” (it wasn’t me), would say that was a kind of semi-salient parenting experience. But I know what you’re really getting at. Games deal well with emotions that are black and white. It’s the grey areas, the subtleties of relationships and daily circumstances that are more complex than merely comic or tragic, that they really need to work on.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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