Interview With A Gamer March 2011, Part One: Daniel From Norway (Who Is Not Really Norwegian) On What Makes A Nerd, Voice Acting, And Keeping Fans Happy
This month on Interview With A Gamer we meet Daniel from Norway and talk Final Fantasy, Uncharted, Zelda and more. Daniel's a long-time reader and member of the forums. Since I wasn't able to fly out to Norway to conduct this interview we did it on Skype. So, we very quickly get in to what it's like to live in the future, and what big nerds we are. But don't let that fool you - Daniel's as handsome as he is smart. And hopefully his burly Scandinavian husband won't beat me up for saying that...
Read on, after the jump!
GayGamer: So, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview for GayGamer.net.
Daniel: No problem.
GG: As with Carlos, our last interviewee, I met you on our forums. So, I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about what brought you to the site?
D: Sure. I had just gotten a Wii, and on one of the sites where I browse for news I saw that on the cover of the first Super Mario Galaxy there are little stars on the title and if you take those letters it spells out "U R MR GAY".
GG: [laughs] I didn't notice that.
D: No? It doesn't work with Super Mario Galaxy 2, but with the first one it spells it out.
GG: [checks out personal copy of SMG and laughs] Yeah, that's right.
D: So I saw an article about that and when I wanted to show [my husband] I couldn't find it. While searching for it on Google I found GayGamer. You know, "gay", "games"...it just brought me right there. I would never have thought of looking for it. And, that was in 2007 while I was active on other forums. So I read a little, and I liked the main site and the articles, and when I moved to Norway I had a loooot more free time. So, then I registered.
GG: So, what's kept you on the forums? Is it just that you have a lot of free time?
D: No, now I have less free time so I'm perhaps a little less active than I was in 2009, but I'm still there at least every week, reading what's new and whatnot. But some topics are a bit hard to follow because things evolve so quickly from one day to the other. You know, some people are on all the time.
D: But I like it because I get to read not just about gaming, but it's like a gay nerd community in a way; and that's kind of nice because there's stuff that's interesting there that doesn't necessarily have to do with gaming, and you would have trouble finding it anywhere else.
GG: You know, it's funny you say that because our last interviewee mentioned exactly the same thing. You go to the forums, and you expect to be talking about video games, but there's a lot of other stuff because, as he described it, were all geeks, and we're all gay, so when we find each other we sort of huddle together.
D: Yeah. I find that's fantastic because, when I was in high school in the first half of the 90s, being gay was not very popular, and being geeky was not very popular either. [laughs]
D: So, it's actually really cool that a site like that exists now. I mean, basically it comes down to the internet, which is fabulous because it brings people together that before would have thought they were pretty much alone in the world. You know, if you come from a small town and you're a gay geek, well what are the chances of finding someone else like you?
GG: Exactly! Now that you bring it up, I want to ask you: Some people have said that now it's cool to be a nerd. What do you think about that?
D: I think that there's some truth to that, yeah. Because, technology has come in to most people's lives - going back to when I was in high school, some people had computers, but the internet was a very new thing. Now, everyone has a computer, most people have smart phones, and that kind of communication technology is around all the time...and it's very cool. People have realized what it allows them to do; whereas, at one point in time, fifteen or twenty years ago, if you were interested in computers you were a nerd. Then, you had to be really interested in computers to do much with them; now, you have 75 year-old grandmothers emailing their grandchildren, and using Skype with them. Technology itself has become a lot cooler, so being interested in it has gotten a lot cooler.
GG: Do you think that's just because everybody's doing it now?
D: I think so, and I think that a big part of what dictates what is and is not cool is what's happening in the US. Because they're what's driving capitalism, and that's the system we live in. So, if you're living at home and programming apps for iPhones and you become a millionaire, there's some kind of collective realization that people who are doing that can be really powerful. That was the case [twenty years ago], but now there's a bigger awareness of it, I guess.
GG: Yeah, I remember being in high school and making a video call to a friend of mine who was on exchange to Australia. It was a big deal to do it back then, and I thought it was awesome - but setting up a video call with someone on the other side of the world was the height of being a nerd at that point in time. I know I told some people and they were like "Uhhh...why didn't you just pick up the phone?"
GG: And then I'd gone way out of my way to do it, but now these things are so easy. You can just double-click and Skype with your friend in...Zimbabwe or whatever.
D: Yeah, and I think it opens up things for kids these days. I don't think younger people these days think the way they did fifteen or twenty years ago because they're on the internet, and on forums with people from half way around the world and they realize those people are not really that different. And now you see many more young people who are interested in going to university far away, in Tokyo or Paris. Sure, people did that before but now...like, I talk to my nephews and nieces and it's really wonderful because they're not just talking about going to their neighbourhood university, but they're really interested in discovering the world.
GG: So if everybody now is a nerd, according to a 90s definition - everybody's got a smart phone, a laptop, and everybody's connected to the internet - then, what's a nerd now?
D: [pauses] That's a good question. I think that a lot of people who were called nerds, depending on your definition, they weren't necessarily nerds...[laughs] though I'm kind of defending myself there...
D: I have a memory from this exchange program we had with another school. I come from New Brunswick where there's the French community and the English community, and there was a program to twin schools and to twin students. The teachers would decide who was twinned with who, based on what they perceived as potential affinities. And because I was interested in computers more than the average student I was twinned with this guy who was like the stereotypical movie nerd: He had trouble interacting socially, and was clumsy even. So I think there was a time when people would put you in that category, whether or not you belonged there. But now, you ask me what is a nerd, and I think we have to find other criteria. I don't know if I'm being optimistic here, but I think people are genuinely more accepting, and those categories are perhaps not as popular as they used to be.
GG: I tend to agree. I think that one of the benefits of the internet is that you're getting constant exposure to people who have different ways of life or different opinions on things, and one of the benefits of that is that it's opening up some people's eyes. I remember in Canada when we were trying to get equal marriage laws across the country, one of the things we heard about the people opposing it was that they were very upset with all the media and internet images of normal-looking gay people getting married and raising children. They were upset because those images didn't look scary or stereotypical, didn't play in to their story.
D: They didn't look freaky enough?
GG: Exactly. They wanted the media image to be drag queens spitting on the cross, at the altar. So with the internet, I think you get a lot more of this showing people for who they really are. Anyway, here I am the interviewer and I'm rambling.
D: [laughs] Yeah, I think the fact that we are in communication with each other on those wonderful forums where people with similar interests gather. And when you find ones that maybe you're not interested in, that opens your eyes. Yeah, there are a lot of people interested in South American butterflies. So what is weird, or a very specific interest is shared by many people.
GG: So, there are enough people interested in something to make it normal?
D: Yes. And another thing that I love about GayGamer is to see the human experience of other people in other countries, and the stories they come out with sometimes are really hilarious, and sometimes really touching too. Coming out stories are sort of a dime a dozen, you know, but when you read them in context you see how important where you're from is...and not just where you're from geographically, but also what kind of family you have . I remember reading about this one kid who was almost jealous of others because his mom was so accepting and so in-your-face about it that it was annoying for him. Like he would have loved her to be a little ashamed at least. [laughs]
GG: [laughs] Yeah, the "only gay in the village" feeling. I know when I came out I had built it up to be such drama, but my parents were like "Yeah, it's about time."
To shift gears a little bit, it's interesting that you talk about coming to the site and paying attention to people all over the world, and I'm wondering: As a transplant to Norway, what should non-Norwegians know about gaming life in Norway?
D: I don't know if what I'm going to tell you is very different from what you should know about gaming life in...Florida. But what I've noticed is that many people who have a current generation console have it to play football, you know...FIFA. So they might have that game and maybe one other. So they are gamers, but maybe not in the sense that we might think about it on the [GayGamer] forums. Cause I don't think there are that many people on the forums who are that interested in only playing sports games.
Online gaming is also very popular here, but I think that comes down to is it's a rich country with a good communications network. Also, I've noticed that basically all the children here have a DS. It's crazy. They're even making games that are specific to the Norwegian market that I don't think could be sold anywhere else. They're based on Norwegian kids movies, like Flåklypa which is a stop-motion movie from the 80s made by an Italian who was very popular in Norway. And there's a whole line of DS games specific to the Norwegian market, which is amazing for a country of 4.8 million.
GG: It's interesting you brought that up because I don't see games made specifically for the Canadian market, so I've always wondered if elsewhere they just get translated and there's nothing else...
In fact, not many games are translated at all. The ones that are translated are directed at small kids. Super Mario, obviously, and it's quite easy to do because it's not text based. But as soon as you get in to more fancy stuff with a lot of voice acting it gets a lot more expensive to translate. So they'll either just use subtitles or go with English. I don't want to say all Norwegians have good English, but I think they prefer subtitles to dubbing. Some of the acting disappears when it's dubbed. But obviously, if you're playing Black Ops with your friends it'll all be in Norwegian.
The instruction manuals and the box art get translated, though, so you're not completely helpless if you don't speak English.
GG: That's interesting because I just sort of assumed that one of the reasons for the delay in releasing games in Europe was just that there are all these different languages that a game would have to get translated in to.
D: Well, if you look at a game like Civilization, which has loads of text, and a whole encyclopaedia inside of it, that's going to take a while to get released everywhere because it'll take so long to translate it. But I actually don't think [Civilization V] is translated in to Norwegian at all. They'll focus on bigger markets like France and Germany, with bigger languages.
GG: I'm not asking you to profess an allegiance or anything, but do you prefer games with text or voice acting?
D: If you asked me the question five years ago I would have said "text" without hesitation. But to be honest, the reason that text is there is that in the beginning it wasn't an artistic choice. It was a necessity. So now the ones that still do have text, like Zelda, it is an artistic choice. And Zelda would be weird with voice acting. I'm scared about how many ways there are in which it could go wrong. Same for Mario. He does utter a few words, but I think it's better to leave it that way.
GG: Leave him the silent hero...
D: Yeah, some games have hilariously bad voice acting. But at the same time there's a trashy quality to it that makes it kind of fun.[laughs]
D: But, the voice acting in Final Fantasy XIII, which I know is not the favourite iteration of the series, is quite good. I know that a lot of hardcore fans of the series (of which I'm not one - I just played it because it looked cool) were critical of the game, and the story is a little...predictable. But I think the gaming companies have made a lot of progress with the quality of the voice acting.
GG: So you would have said five years ago hands-down that text was preferable to voice acting, is Final Fantasy what changed your mind?
D: Well, that and others. And voice acting makes things feel more real, which is the whole point of having the game in HD, and having these super powerful systems like the 360 and the PS3. They're striving to make things look as real as possible, so one natural evolution is to have voice acting, and it's gotten a lot better because people are taking it more seriously now. Take Uncharted, which has really good voice acting, and it's almost like you're watching the game. My husband was sitting next to me watching me play, and telling me to hurry in the fight scenes so we could get to the plot. It's almost like Indiana Jones, which I think it's loosely based on.
So now I don't have anything against voice acting. But I think that certain franchises that have done very well without it , like the Zelda or Mario series, if they wanted to bring it in now they would have to do it really, really, really well. Because they could have a million fans angry at them afterward.
GG: Honestly, I think that any decision Nintendo makes about Zelda at this point is going to be controversial. Whenever they don't change things they get flak for it. But as soon as they change something, they get flak for changing it.
D: I think that's just proof of how popular the series is. It's like Final Fantasy. It's got such a following that some people describe it as a religious experience. So when you have fans who care that much about the product they feel like they own it to a certain degree and will get upset if they don't think it's going in the right direction. But I think that's a testament to how good the product has been. You know, people won't get that upset about a new concept. Heavy Rain didn't get that kind of criticism when it came out because it's new. But when the second one comes out...
So it's got to be a headache with a big franchise. How do you renew it enough so that it's not the same thing over again, but not so much that it's unrecognizable? It's got to be a real pain to design those games because you're damned whatever you do.
Be sure to check out part two tomorrow, when we talk about whether games should emulate movies, Zelda's 25th anniversary, and what's next for console gaming.