That was the thing I wanted to explore with Solution. Also just thinking: What could an enterprising undergraduate in 1995 make? What’s the other aspect of that game? The tech throughout the book was the driving force. I spent a long time looking at what were the top 20 games of any given year. Just to get a sense of what people were playing and what the games could do at that time.
It felt very much like Sadie worked through trauma by playing the game Pioneers. It was a reminder of the therapeutic value of games. Do you feel that well?
I do. I remember playing Stardew Valley for the first time during the pandemic and just being really impressed that one guy did it, and that’s great, but also this sense that you can get peace in a virtual world that may not exist in the real world. It had this sense of This world is beautiful. It might not be real, but it’s beautiful.
It’s so funny because, for me, Pioneers was just as much thinking about what they call “muddy dress movies,” where you have a sort of torrid lesbian affair of some kind. I think it’s funny that if you tell people something is a game, they won’t necessarily see the arthouse movie that it actually is, at some level.
I believe in the possibility for real human connections in virtual spaces. I also believe that the virtual version of yourself might very well be the best and truest version of yourself. If you look at the character of Sam, I don’t think he feels comfortable in his body. I don’t think he feels comfortable as a human.
We don’t have to necessarily be the worst versions of ourselves behind the mask of an avatar, although it often seems as if we are. People think we have it all figured out in certain ways, but in fact we’re just babies and toddlers when it comes to all these issues. We haven’t figured out exactly the best way to be good citizens, good humans online yet, and that’s OK. Because all these things are really young.
And for Sam, virtual worlds provide an escape from the judgment he feels he receives for his identity.
I mean, and a physical body that doesn’t work perfectly. I think being a game character, or in a game, he feels more at home than in his life. I think there are people for whom that is true.
All right. Well, those were all the questions I was going to ask. Thank you so much for talking to me.
If I could leave you with one thought. People often ask, “Why talk about games?” But the reason to talk about games is that they are the preview of so much of what is to come. If you look at something like Roblox, you get a little preview of what the metaverse is going to be like. If you look at something like Facebook and Farmvilleyou get a sense of how powerful games actually are, because the majority of people that play games are not necessarily a 14-year-old boy on Fortnite. This is why, as a subject, video games are so powerful, because I think they are in everyone’s lives.
I totally agree.
I mean, one of the most effective ways to get data on people is probably to watch them play a game—especially those who don’t know that they’re playing. But the real reason I was attracted to gaming is because it’s a subject that’s like a magnet, it’s like this great big bowl. If you look at the last 30 years of gaming, you see the history of pretty much everything, of what it was to be an artist and a citizen. I think the reason I liked gaming so much as a subject was because it has all the subjects in it—it’s a grand subject.
Contains all the mediums before it, etc.
They have everything. We all live at that intersection of art and technology. That’s where games live, in a really easy way to see.