Earlier this summer I had a conversation for Unwinnable with a teenage boy who is actively playing and loving videogames. I realize, for some, I could have ended the sentence at “boy” and you would have assumed the rest.
The fact is, for however mainstream it might seem videogames are – they aren’t. They’re getting bigger and continue to change. Whether they’re mainstream is immaterial. What matters more is the bigger picture.
And for that picture to be best understood, it helps if it’s complete.
The types of people who are driven to talk or write about videogames online are not representative of anything other than the types of people who are driven to talk or write about videogames online. They are not ambassadors. They are individuals. Some of them are adults.
But adults aren’t the only ones who play videogames. And so while it’s silly to preface this with a lot of words from an adult, it’s just a gentle reminder of exactly that.
In this outing – the second of what I hope will be more – I gave a call to Cordelia, a 13-year-old who lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. She starts high school in 2016.
I’ll let her speak for herself.
So, what do you make of this? A grown adult scheduling time with you to talk about videogames?
I think that’s actually pretty cool.
I feel special.
I’m glad I can do that for you. Well, I will tell a little bit about myself. I am 32, which I don’t know how old that seems to you –
I know. I was expecting that. But I grew up around videogames like you are.
To start off, what do think people should know about you?
Well, my name is Cordelia. I am 13 years old. I love videogames. Videogames are almost everything? Well, no. I also love food. Food is also something that I love.
Besides videogames, though, things that I do to keep myself busy are I just kinda walk around and read comics and make lots of art. I love making art and all sorts of other fun, cool stuff.
Just so I have the hierarchy right, it’s videogames at the top, then food.
Then food, yeah.
Then walking around, and after there is comics?
No. It’s more like: videogames, food, comics, art and then walking around. The outside is scary.
[Laughs.] What year are you in school?
I am going to be in eighth grade. Very scary. High school. [Shudders.] Not gonna be fun!
Oh no! What’s scary to you about high school?
The people are gonna be so tall. I’m short. They’re gonna be like giants.
Well, but you know. Girls mature faster. I’m sure you’ve heard that.
Yeah. True. But I am short. I am going to be short forever and it’s going to – but that’s okay because all those tall people are going to be bonking their heads into the branches, so.
All joking aside, are you worried about high school?
Not too much, actually. Because, well, I think that I can get in just fine but it’s just really gonna be hard, you know? Because high school. That’s difficult. Gonna have to get a job and that’s not gonna be fun: I can’t play as many videogames as I used to.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask this, but do you have a feeling of what you want to be when you grow up?
Yeah. I kinda want to be maybe a math teacher. I love math. Or a baker ‘cause who does not want to be around donuts all day?
[Laughs.] I’m a writer for a living and was talking to a friend of mine who makes games about how we both wished we had worked in a bakery instead.
Who has ever had a problem with their baker or with their bakery?
No one. That’s who.
You mentioned comics. You play games. Is there anything else you spend your time on when not in school?
Sleeping. Annoying my sister.
Is she older or younger?
She is younger than me by four years, so she’s nine.
Is she trying to be like you? Or what does she do to annoy you that makes you want to annoy her – because obviously she started it.
It’s kinda hard to tell. Honestly, we just constantly bug each other. It’s just a love/hate relationship.
So you had mentioned you had spent this afternoon or “like four hours” playing Minecraft just before this call.
This may sound like a silly or an obvious question, but why do you play videogames?
I play videogames for the fun out of it.
And honestly, I don’t have too much other things to do but honestly I just love videogames. I’ve been raised with it. It’s in my blood.
Well, yeah, your dad makes games.
Is that ever embarrassing or weird –
Do you have conversations with him about games?
Yeah. All the time. We usually, like, talk about games or he asks what I’ve been doin’ on videogames lately and stuff like that.
I’ll ask you a similar question, then: What did you spend the last four hours in Minecraft doing?
I spent the last four hours in Minecraft trolling people – well, not really trolling people, but me and my friends, we’re big trolls. We like just rolling around and sometimes messing with people. But otherwise I was kinda just farming in Minecraft or hanging out with some friends.
Who are your friends you’re playing with? Are these people you know from school?
One of them is someone I’ve known my entire life. Her name is Nora. She is – yeah. Well, she’s like the whole story herself. She’s, like, awesome.
But anyway. I also have a couple other friends. One of them is named Kai. He’s pretty cool. But I only just met him, but in the couple days I’ve spent – in the, like, eight hours that I spent talking to him over Minecraft he is pretty cool.
When you and your friends go around trolling people in Minecraft, what do you do?
It’s not too much. It’s mostly just kind of running around and just poking them or something like that.
So you’re just being goofy?
Yeah. Just crazy. Like usual.
You’re playing with boys and girls. Do you feel like you get along with boys who play games?
Yeah. I get along pretty well with them.
Do you feel like the things you have to say, they’re just as important as the things they have to say?
Yeah. Like, I do say something totally random and they just kind of give me a look, like, “What are you talking about?”
Have you ever had a boy tell you that you weren’t as good at games as him?
No, actually. In other cases – there’s always been my sister. She’s just gonna come up to me and be like, “I’m better than…” But never really boys. No. Not necessarily.
Are there games meant for boys and games meant for girls? Do you think there’s a divide?
There is no divide. Everyone’s a person, or at least hopefully everyone’s a person.
Are you the only one who feels that way in your friend group?
I have no idea. I never really – I’m only really friends with gamers because I can usually relate to them. I’m not really friends with people outside of the gamer group. I know a couple people who don’t game too much.
The people who don’t game too much, what do they think of your playing videogames? Do they have an opinion at all?
I think they could not care less.
[Laughs.] Do you think games teach you anything?
Oh yeah. Those – gaming stories stay with me for a long, long time. Like, Pokémon.
Pokémon’s one of my main games. I mean, I’ve been playing that for years. I would spend hours of my childhood – when I was like, four, even just opening a Pokémon handbook and studying it for, like, hours into the night.
What are you learning?
Part of me thinks I’m kinda learning about, like, physics.
You know, water defeats fire and grass absorbs water and is strong against it. Kinda like stuff like that. Physics.
What got you into videogames in the first place?
I was just kinda raised with them, y’know? It just runs – [Sighs.]
My mom and dad, when I was little, they would constantly be playing videogames around me and I would just kinda grab for the remote and just smash down on the buttons.
Do you remember what your first videogame was?
World of Warcraft.
Okay. Tell me about that.
When I was little, my mom and dad would play World of Warcraft a lot and I would just kinda sit there in their lap telling them to go kill something. “Kill the piggies!”
I would constantly be wanting to play my own characters so I could run around and kill all those things myself.
You mention characters in games. Who are maybe your three favorite videogame characters?
Is that too few? Do you need more than three?
No, that should be good.
Probably, like, do – let’s see. My favorite character in Pokémon – does it count if, like, it’s the TV show? Or is it just the videogame.
I think either is fine, because it’s part of that same world. Right?
Probably my favorite Pokémon in the Pokémon universe, though, would have to be Eevee. It’s just so cute and cuddly.
[Laughs.] Okay. Who else?
Um. In World of Warcraft, my favorite is the Lady Sylvanas. It’s like the lady of the undead. She’s, like, the ruler of all the undead people.
She’s pretty cool.
And who else?
Hmm. It’s kinda hard to decide.
Are you having trouble thinking of three? You know, when you get old, they say the memory’s the first thing to go.
But honestly, I hate these sorts of questions too. I would be so bad at answering this, myself, though. How can you just pick something and have a favorite? You can like a lot of things.
Are you saying you can only get to two?
I can probably get to one more. Let’s go with creepers from Minecraft.
Okay. And what do you like about these characters?
All of them, I could just kind of – I just really like them all. They’re all so cool and interesting to me. Either that or they’re just cute and fluffy.
Is there anything in common with the characters and stories that tend to be in videogames? What do you notice that keeps popping up in everything you play?
In every single videogame that I’ve played – it’s the same thing with stories. There’s always an obstacle in the way of your goal. Always.
Like, in Pokémon you want to be a Pokémon master, but there’s these constant gym leaders and trainers getting in your way from finally trying to defeat the main guy.
Same thing in World of Warcraft. It’s like you’re trying to get your quests done, but there’s always these monsters or some menial task that you need to do.
Well, wait, are you saying a lot of videogames are kinda the same?
Overall, most videogames aren’t kinda the same, but they all have the same obstacles and goals relationship.
How about compared to books? Who are your favorite two or three characters in books?
In the Lightning Thief series, I really liked Percy Jackson.
Okay. How come?
I always thought he was kind of funny and had this always awesome attitude around him and is, like, a leader.
I also like from the comic-book series Amelia Rules!, the main character Amelia. She’s kind of a stubborn, never-give-up person but also very caring, which I can also relate to.
Do you feel like there are characters in videogames you can relate to?
Like who, for example?
Probably all the goblins from World of Warcraft.
[Laughs.] Are you joking or are you serious?
I’m joking and kind of serious, because they’re just so rude sometimes and it’s hilarious.
Some people talk about relatability in videogames, and sometimes that’s means for girls you have the option to play as a girl or a woman and if you’re a boy to have the option to play as a boy or as a man or whatever. Do you like seeing that option to play as a girl in games?
How often will you choose to do that?
Most of the time. Every once in a while I’ll choose a guy if I don’t like how the girl – eh, I mostly play as a girl most of the time. But I also play as a boy every once in a while.
What’s different about playing as a boy compared to playing as a girl?
Not too much difference. Typically they’re the exact same game no matter what you choose. Yeah. There’s not too much of a difference. It doesn’t really matter, actually.
Do you play games at school? Do they use games in the classroom?
Every nice once in a while.
[Laughs.] When’s the last time that happened?
The last time that happened was I took a coding class during the school year and we were allowed to playing coding games. And that’s really it.
Were there other games that got used in non-computery classes?
In math, there would be, like, math board games.
Yeah. Do you feel like those are a good way to learn?
Oh, yeah! It gives you the joy of learning it because you can have fun while you play, and learn to do that certain task.
Do you feel pressure to play certain types of games?
Yeah. I have these two friends and they’re just constantly talking about Destiny and I’m just kinda in the background going, “That has something to do with guns, right? Right?” I usually have no idea what they’re talking about and I feel, like, this need to go and buy the game and buy all the upgrades and play all the story but I never do because Minecraft.
Minecraft is better.
[Laughs.] Do you not like games with guns? Is that what you’re saying?
I find them really difficult to play.
What’s difficult about them?
There’s two joysticks and you have to look around and walk at the same time and it’s difficult.
Yeah. But it has nothing to do with the fact that there’s guns in it?
No. Guns are easy to shoot. You just kinda press a trigger and it shoots things. All you really need to do is aim it.
Who are these friends who are really into Destiny? Are they into a lot of gun games?
I think it’s mostly just Destiny. They’re also into Minecraft and Doctor Who. Nerdy things.
Doctor Who is awesome.
[Laughs.] Where do you get your information about videogames?
Online. I usually go to YouTube and I watch, like, Markiplier and Smosh Games and I watch and see what they’re playing and every once in a while I’m like, “Oh yeah, that looks like a pretty good game.”
And then I usually go and try and find out where to get it and I usually try it out to see if it’s a good game or not.
What makes for a good game video on YouTube? What do you really really really like?
My favorite games that I like to watch are, like, funny but scary. So scary games like the Five Nights at Freddy’s games. I like watching people play those because it’s scary but also amusing at the same time because you’re not being scared alone.
[Laughs.] How do these videos influence maybe the way you play? Do they have any impact at all?
Yeah. Every once in a while I’ll get stuck in a videogame and I’ll go online and I’ll, like, look at a video and I’m like, “Oh, so that’s what you do!” And then I’ll go back and do what I saw in the video. And if it works, then I’m just gonna keep doing that.
Do you feel like that’s cheating?
I mean, because it’s not your original idea, but it depends on how stuck you are. It’s kind of like a last resort.
That’s my attitude, too. That’s part of the game and part of the fun, sometimes, is just trying to figure it out and problem-solve.
That’s the whole point about problem-solving games.
Are there games you play that you don’t talk about with your friends that much?
No. I like playing games with other people most of the time, because it’s lonely if you’re kind of huddled in front of your videogame screen all alone. Except for Pokémon.
What’s so different about Pokémon?
Because you have – like, you know, all these little monsters that you just carry around with you and it makes you feel a little bit warm on the inside knowing you have, like, these little pocket monsters that love you and do what you command them to do.
[Laughs.] What do you like to play and why?
I like to play games where I can just freely run around and do whatever I please and play and plan out what I’m gonna do. That’s something Pokémon, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft all have in common. You can just kind of run around freely but still kinda on a storyline.
What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
[Laughs.] The worst game I’ve ever played. I’d say the .EXE games, like, the really frightening, just gotta run in one straight line games. Yeah. I do not like those.
Because it cuts down on the whole you have options to do whatever you want. It’s just: Run forward in one straight line.
Oh! I also don’t really like Slender. It’s fun watching people play Slender but it’s not fun actually playing it.
Are you into Twitch at all? Do you like watching people stream games?
Not too much. I’ve never gotten too into that.
Do you have friends who are really into that?
My dad was really into it, but otherwise, no, not too much.
But that’s what I had always heard, is that it is much more for people your age. Not for people as old as me or as old as your dad. Why doesn’t it interest you?
It just feels kind of boring. If I’m gonna play – I’d rather watch people on, like, YouTube playing. It’s already been done. Actually, no. Twitch and YouTube are technically kinda the same thing a little bit with the whole videogame-filming system.
But I don’t know. I don’t really like going all the way to Twitch and just watching it. It doesn’t interest me as much.
What other things about videogames or the things associated with them are you not that interested in?
Having to – in all those darn mobile games where you have to wait, like, five hours to finish your, I don’t know, batch of cookies in your baking sim or something like that.
Wait a minute. If you were going to work in a real bakery, don’t you think you’d have to wait longer than five minutes for stuff?
True, but you’re supposed to be playing for the joy of the game. It’s just so aggravating when they cut down on the fun and the joy of the game by making you wait, like, a million years.
Do other games that aren’t on mobile – do they do things that also get in your way of trying to have fun?
Yeah. A little bit.
What do you run into?
I run into really hard puzzles or things that just aggravate me so much. Like, that one boss fight that you cannot defeat no matter how hard or how many times you try. Or that one darn block puzzle where no matter how many times you try and push the blocks into the right order, you can’t get the right order.
Touching back on YouTube real quick: Are there some games you would like to watch but never actually play yourself?
Do you have examples?
What do you see as the difference between people your age and people my age or your dad’s age who play games?
There aren’t too many differences. Everyone just plays videogames mostly for the fun of it or to just kind of waste time or to avoid an awkward situation or something like that.
Do you ever see videos or articles that analyze games that are like, “Well, you think it’s about this, but if you really think about it, it’s about this.”
Oh yeah, yeah. I actually watch a couple of those videos on, like, YouTube. It’s called Game Theory. It’s pretty cool.
What do you think about those videos?
I think it must take a long time to get all that information. I don’t really care if it’s real or fake. I’m just kinda in it for another story.
Do you see the appeal in games that were made before you were born?
Yeah. Like, in, I think it was Super Mario 64, I could see why people would enjoy that a lot. I mean, it looks like a lot of fun. It’s all bright and colorful and happy.
Does that sound like games today?
Yeah. Yeah it does.
Like, one of the newest Mario games, Super Mario 3D World, I enjoyed that a lot. It was a lot of fun.
How do games seem to have changed from before you were born to what you’re playing now?
Graphics. Graphics have definitely changed.
Story plots a little bit.
It’s lately more action-packed. Like, Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty and all of those kinds of games.
Have you played those games?
I have watched my mom and dad play Left 4 Dead 2.
What did you think of it?
It scared me a lot.
But it was also really action-packed and really heart-racing and it’s, like, “Oh no! What’s gonna happen next! Is a zombie gonna come out of nowhere?”
What’s the oldest game you’ve ever played?
Does it hold up well? Is it still fun?
Yeah, it was still a lot of fun.
Are you curious about games older than that at all?
Yeah. I’d like to see what it used to be like, kinda like what my mom and dad grew up.
I mean, you could ask me about some of that. I’m a little younger than them.
What did they used to be like?
There used to be arcades. They were places you would go to outside of your house –
I’ve been to an arcade before! [Laughs.]
What do games from back then seem like to you?
Puzzles. They seemed a lot more puzzly. You could any word and “ly” to them and it immediately becomes an adjective. They seemed very puzzly.
Yeah. That’s actually a very good point. For me growing up, adventure games were very popular. I don’t know if you ever played any of those, but the Sierra adventure games, LucasArts adventure games.
Not really. I don’t think so.
Videogames, they were not nearly as popular as they are today. There was no Internet then, at least nothing like it is today. You had to hear about stuff through magazines or through friends. There were some action games, but I think a lot of people felt there was a wider variety of things that could be more easily seen at a glance.
I don’t know how much variety you feel there is in videogames today. I’m sure you feel like there’s a lot.
I think it’s just changing.
What sort of variety – like, what do you feel like there’s a lot of in games today?
There’s a lot of strategy and, like, role-playing games. Or at least it feels like there are.
What do you feel like there’s a little of but is actively being explored in games?
I would say things are changing with, like, the Oculus Rift. You know, the thing that put your faces in. It feels like you’re actually inside the game. I would like to try out one of those. They seem cool.
What sort of experiences do you hope you will get to have in virtual reality that wouldn’t be possible otherwise?
Uh, running around Pokémon.
Being able to fight all kinds of monsters and just having all sorts of awesome adventures that you can’t have in real life.
Do you see yourself playing games as an adult?
Have you ever thought of wanting to make your own games?
I’ve thought about joining, like, a coding corporation or something like that.
What sort of games would you make if you could?
Probably, like, games kind of like The Sims. Like, do whatever you want to games. Just kinda plop you into a blank world and all these words appear and it’s just like, “Do whatever you feel needs to be done.”
Kinda like Minecraft.
Is there anything else about videogames you’d like to talk about?
No, not too much. I mean, we’ve technically kinda poked at every subject.
Every single subject.
I now know everything.
Yes. Yes. You know everything there is to know. No gaping plot holes at all. At all!
So are you just gonna go back and play Minecraft now or –
David Wolinsky has opinions about videogames. He’s the creator of don’t die, a videogame-industry confessional forum and the co-producer of The Electric Cybercast II: Online, the world’s only podcast about videogames. Support his Patreon and follow him on Twitter @davidwolinsky.