Last Friday, I got a message from occasional commenter and one-time poster (literally, just one post), Frank Lee, with a request to do an interview of... well, me. I consulted with my trusty external advisory board and they agreed it was a decent idea and maybe even a good one; they also allowed a slim outside chance that it could be great.
First I'll give some background on Frank. Frank is a console gamer that blog founder/first author Charles F. Oxtrot encountered during his own console gaming, primarily in racing games. Frank is a relatively skilled player of the RedLynx games Trials HD, Trials: Evolution, and Trials Fusion. He is quick to tell me that he's put in lots of hours and progressed slowly, and is --in his own words here-- in no way a Trials Ninja.
What he is, though, is a critical analyst about games, what games are good for, what they are neutral about, what they are bad for. As his solitary post shows, he is not a button mashing gamer and does not think highly of games which rely only upon memorization of button combinations for attaining an average-level in-game performance.
More of his personality and/or views may be suggested through this discussion we had. But his aim was to find out more about me and my views, apparently. At least, that's what I and my advisory board considered when agreeing to let Frank conduct this little interview.
-- Chet Redweld
Frank Lee (FL): Chet. Good to finally meet you. Not an easy task, that blog defense you put together. I half-expected this place to get shut down. Thanks for letting it stay alive, or at least half-conscious.
Chet Redweld (CR): Hello Frank. I hear you're a console game ...what would be the term? Fanatic? Would you use that term to describe yourself?
FL: Sure. It's no secret I play video games. I even think about video games when I'm not playing them. But I have a life outside video games and I make my income from things that have nothing to do with video games. It's just a big hobby, I guess. It's not even like a moonlighting gig, I don't even get a free game thrown my way occasionally or anything.
CR: I hear you're pretty skilled at those trials games. Did they come easily to you?
FL: Hell no. Let me tell you -- it took a long time just to get a Silver medal on half the Easy tracks in Trials HD. A hell of a long time. And all that time, I'm thinking about how playing this game is a lot like learning those kinds of trials skills on a bicycle or motorcycle. And I'm thinking about whether I'd rather the game be simple and dumb, easy to win, easy to quote-unquote master. And I'm wondering why a game would be made that could make its player stupider, sloppier, more inattentive.
CR: Doesn't sound like you got tired of the trials games and wished they were easier though.
FL: No that's right. That's why I wanted to keep playing. Because it wasn't easy. And I think that's why you took that case defending this blog. Because in today's world, in America, that's not an easy thing to defend.
CR: Why is that, Frank? Why do you think it's not easy to defend something like this blog?
FL: Because it's like a trials game. You don't get it until you put in lots of work understanding the world of the trials game, how the controller represents a motorcycle or bicycle piloted by you. The game doesn't make sense until you feel like a move on the controller is you on a bicycle or motorcycle. If you just think of it as a pellet chasing down a platform obstacle track and mash the throttle because you want to get there in a hurry, the bike's going to get thrown all around and you'll probably crash all the time. Then maybe you figure you can go easy on the gas sometimes, but still you're overshooting things, running into walls, stuff like that. There's a brake on the controller, you try the brake, the bike does something abrupt in the opposite way from the gas pedal. It's not like one of those arcade games, Tony Hawk stuff where within 15 minutes you blast 50 foot airs and do a triple-whatever-flip with two different twists and a Flying Jesus thrown in for good measure.
CR: Did you ever try one of those arcade racing games like Burnout something or other?
FL: Yup, mash the throttle, car's practically on a railroad track, steering's vague as hell but seems to keep you in the right place, and the point of the game is gigantic crashes or some other ridiculous non-driving-skill agenda. Not the kind of game I want to play.
CR: Is it embarrassing being an adult who plays video games?
FL: Not to me. No more than being an adult who sits inside to watch someone else play a game. American culture seems to approve of people watching college and professional sports and certain amateur sporting events, more than it approves of people playing those sports. It is a little weird how people give up athletics when they stop going to formal schools like high school or college. It reminds me of how people stop riding bicycles when they get a driver's license.
CR: There are places in American society where adults riding bicycles are stigmatized on all sorts of issues, at different levels. A common assumption I've heard from nearby humans who weren't friends or acquaintances, but I've heard often enough to say it's common, is the idea that any adult who is riding a bicycle is a felon who had driving privileges revoked after being convicted for a violent crime, or someone who had multiple DUIs and lost their license. And it's almost always followed by a strange-toned laugh. Can't really put my finger on what the tone is, though. But it almost doesn't suit the idea of laughing, that's what I mean.
FL: Mountain bikers are bottom of the totem pole when it comes to most state and federal lands with recreational management authority governing who can recreate, with what equipment, and where. Even IMBA, the advocacy organization that says it works for mountain bikers, stated that bikes always must yield to hikers and horses. Always. What this has created is a mindset among other trail users that bikes are bad and wrong and don't belong. And we also see horse people who don't belong on a multi-use trail getting pissed off at bikes when the fault is theirs for not developing horse skills and horse/other user interaction habits before coming to multi-use trails on their horse. Runners now barrel down trails yelling at you to get out of their way, assuming that a descending runner has priority over a climbing bicycle. Historically, before IMBA made its "Rules of the Trail," ascending trail user had right of way no matter whether on foot, bicycle, horse, or engine-powered machine. Any trail you'd hike or run or ride a bike on before IMBA's Iron Law was created, people yielded this way. Uphill has right of way.
CR: What do you make of this change you're describing, Frank? Where do you think it comes from?
FL: When I was younger we called people who acted like what I describe -- assume they have superior rights to such an exclusive extent that their actions' impacts on others don't matter -- we called these people "spoiled brats" or "arrogant pricks" or stuff like that. In the 80s we called them Yuppies. In the 90s they were the Clintonistas at the start of the decade and Pragmatic Progressives toward the end. In the 00s they were the dot-com billionaires/millionaires, people like Mark Zuckerberg, Jimmy Wales, people who made ridiculous coin for sketchy reasons, or questionable motives. Now they're just the majority of people, apparently. At least where I live. I don't know about anywhere else in America. Where I live they've overrun the place.
CR: But what do you call them in this decade?
FL: Assholes. Because that's the most polite term I have for how they strike me, how their behavior affects me. They shit on me, and don't mind. You think the asshole apologizes to the toilet? No, that's where the shit goes, man.
CR: Now tie that in to the mountain bike problem and to the video game conundrum.
FL: What video game conundrum?
CR: Whether a game should be easy to master or tough to attain average status.
FL: Oh okay. Well, that one first. Lazy people don't want to work at anything, they want it all given to them, and they behave as though everything is theirs. By lazy here I don't mean to say they don't exercise. Many of these lazy people I'm describing are well trained athletically. I'm talking about character, lazy character. A lazy character expects instant expertise, and expects everyone to make concessions toward him. Or her.
CR: Can't a video game just be a diversion? What's wrong with it not being challenging, it's just a diversion to pass the time.
FL: What if the diversion makes your mind mush, your reflexes dulled, your expectations lowered?
CR: Good response. Not a deflection, but rather a clarification. This perspective you're describing, would you say it applies to your progress in the trials games?
FL: Absolutely. And in every other game that I played longer than an hour or two. I've tried games that I've turned off as quickly as 15 minutes in. For easiness/dullness. I've turned others off after several hours because they were at the other end: too difficult or too much of a button-masher.
CR: I heard about your button-mashing thing. But from Karl or Chuck. Last time I talked about games with you was here. The time before, you issued a challenge regarding Trials Fusion but your opponent apparently did not follow through. But neither time the button-mashing issue arose.
FL: The button-mashing issue came up after I talked with Hal about this post. I sent him a message saying I agreed completely and it's true, there's no type of game design I hate more than the one which presumes button-mashing combo memorization is a useful way to divert your mind.
CR: Why's that?
FL: Because memorization of those combos takes work, repetition. It has no analogy to a useful skill. What thing did you ever learn anywhere, Chet, that was simply memorized and then it became useful by the fact of it now being in your memory? Don't you have to know how to apply those memorized things in a useful way? These button-mashing games remind me of subject tests in school where you'd get True/False or multiple choice and you had to pick one supposedly right answer but none of them really is completely correct.
CR: Lost me. At least I think you did. Let me see if I get it. You're saying that the subject would be one that should be examined through explanation, rather than memorized trivia or factoids? And if mastery of the subject is tested with True/False or short form multiple choice, it's not testing mastery at all?
FL: BINGO. Damn. Hal said you were sharp.
CR: As a marble, maybe.
FL: No you said what I was trying to say, but you said it much clearer. You understood what I was saying. Here's what I think: you have energy to spend when you recreate. That's what recreation is for. Re-create yourself with this experience. And so if you choose to do something that makes you dumber, or lowers your skill, or dulls your reflexes or somehow teaches you to not be as observant or able to distinguish differences, I don't think that's doing a very positive form of recreation. It's a little like drinking so much that you're way too sick, literally puking and having a hammering head, to go to work the next day. Was that a "fun night"? A good diversion?
CR: Judging from myself and my peers since high school, I'd say most would agree that sort of "fun night" stops being fun around 25, maybe 30.
FL: Like the good diversion of athletics, "fun night" debauchery is expected to end whenever you finish school, at graduation from high school or college. After that, heavy drinking and drug use take place more behind closed doors.
CR: Or, in certain lines of work, throughout the day and out in the open.
FL: Well, bartenders, waitresses, strippers, drug dealers, sure. Rock stars. Actors. Pro athletes sometimes too, I guess.
CR: You ever work in the big financial circles, or in the entertainment industry?
FL: No, but I've watched computers, computer-based commerce, computerization technology's effects on American society, and massive leaps and bounds of sophistication in game environments and graphics and physics used in controlling the player/object. I don't hang out on reddit or any of those discussion places where nerdy gamers gather to discuss transhumanism and other twee forms of liberty thought, but I see their attitudes on display in how games have shifted in focus and style over the past 15 years. No, make that 25 years. I remember playing some simple games in the early 90s. From the big changes I've seen I know there's big money flowing around what used to be a cottage industry started by shut-ins who lived, literally, through the computer code they wrote. Now there's just "idea men" who make millions in a top-down, make this kind of game you coding morons, be happy with the foosball table and casual dress code and quit bitching about being here 14 weekends in a row sort of approach. I don't know whether these clowns are former coders who just grew vampire fangs through a random attack against their will, or they're willing to turn vampire themselves and invited the Master Vampire into the coding den in order to gain Eternal Vampire Life as the Undead.
CR: You play Skyrim? Morrowind? Oblivion?
FL: Not really, too dungeons and dragons and mythology oriented for me.
CR: What about that Trials Fusion game you reviewed here. Any new thoughts on that?
FL: It's a little short-shrift to not give the last expansion pack to Xbox360 players. What was that, a deal with Microsoft to sell more XboxOne consoles? Also, I still think the effect of Ubisoft affiliation, and the way the theme and settings often look like they were lifted from the Mass Effect series of games, is a step back from Trials:Evolution. The bike physics of the Evo game is better in some ways, to me at least. I still have a really hard time on the Extreme tracks in Fusion.
CR: Do you think there's a dumbing-down from Evo to Fusion?
FL: Yeah, but I said that in my review here and I don't have anything to add now. The multiplayer aspect I've played more and started to enjoy. The FMX and Panda 4-wheeler still are stupid arcade things in my opinion. I'd rather have more Evo less Fusion but I'm not calling the shots. I think they did a good job on the 6 expansion packs I was able to get for Xbox360.
CR: You have any other questions for me?
FL: Nope, just thanks again for saving the blog.