Back in September 2017, Alice Bell interviewed the twitter man Nate Crowley, ostensibly for a light piece on his new book of fictional video games. It started off as a fairly standard operation. Somewhere during their discussion, however, a dark pact was formed. Nate challenged Alice to repeat the interview in exactly one month, and see what would happen.
Not being one to shrink from a feat, Alice went one better: they would conduct the interview once per month, every month, until the end of time. And so the months went by. After an eerie start to proceedings, Autumn turned to winter, and they found themselves discussing the self-esteem of skeletons, worm facts and deep PUBG roleplay.
As 2018 lumbered into view, its fur caked in frost, they ruminated on the orcish conception of menus, the poetry of Wario, and the fruitless search for bumcloths. By the time the beasts of spring began crawling from their icy graves, the interviews had long left behind any mention of Crowley’s book, or indeed any semblance of journalistic form. They had taken on a life of their own, like a sort of crap digital Frankenstein, and Alice was happy with her creation.
But everyone knows you can’t keep a leopard in a shed forever. It gets growly, and starts hurling itself against the door when you come to bring it mince in the night. You begin to hear it pacing at ungodly hours, and start feeding it sweets from the end of a rake for fear of its claws. Sooner or later, you will slip when opening the door a crack to hose it down, and the leopard will enter your world.
And so it was that on May 18th, Alice answered her phone with a quavering voice, and found that Nate was interviewing her. In fact, he’s writing this article right now. In a way, he’s interviewing you.
He had been lying low in the early summer heat, thinking about games; slowly winnowing down everything in his head to a list of ten questions whose answers would define the current state of the art. Like Liam Neeson confronted by a load of wolves after a plane crash, Alice had to think fast. But there was no backing down now. Taping the smashed vodka miniatures of reason to her nimble fists, she entered the fray – it was finally time to conclude the interview.
These are the Ten Big Questions About Games, along with her answers:
You have been cursed to spend a week-long caravan holiday with an enemy from a platform game. The weather is bad for the whole week. Who do you choose?
ALICE: My initial thought was the female goomba from Super Mario Galaxy. She was tricked by Mario into thinking he was a handsome goomba with a moustache. Deceived, she gives the player a moon fragment, but when you turn back to Mario, she’s horrified to be confronted by the man who has murdered thousands of her people. I think she needs some time to get away after that ordeal, and probably someone to talk to. I’d like to offer her that companionship. Who would you choose?
NATE: The crab off of Sonic 2. Seems like a reasonable bloke. But you won’t trick me into being interviewed that easily. Next question.
A gorilla gives you fifty million pounds, but you can only use the money to commission a triple-A game adaptation of any film or TV property. What would it be?
ALICE: Is the gorilla a gorillionaire?
NATE: Yes it is.
ALICE: OK. Well, I’d love a Wes Anderson film to be made into an indie game, where everything is symmetrical and all the voices are done by Wes’ mates. You could do a management sim based on Grand Budapest Hotel – a bit like Theme Hospital, where you’re running the hotel and have to look after the guests’ quirky needs. The tutorial advice-giving head thing would be Owen Wilson. Not his character, but Wilson himself. Or maybe a Life Aquatic game, with a hybrid of exploration segments and RPG bits where you have to manage Bill Murray’s developing existential crisis.
Casting an occult rite using Uwe Boll’s heart’s blood, you can enchant any one game-to-film adaptation, and make it a resounding critical and commercial success. Which game deserves it?
ALICE: The problem with the terrible adaptations over the years is that they try to be too faithful to the source material. But I think the key word here is ‘deserves’. It would have to be something based on a little indie title – something like What Remains of Edith Finch – because all the big triple-As are making money hand over fist anyway. Or go even smaller, and do something that’s being given away for free on itch.io.
NATE: Like, some sort of elbow fetish twine game?
ALICE: Yeah exactly. That, with Michael Fassbender looking directly to camera over his elbow and stuff. It would be really interesting to make something like that a huge commercial success, because how would the creator deal with that? Would they get power over casting decisions? What if it turned into a knee fetish thing, and they got really angry as it wasn’t true to the original vision? And if it got really successful there would be millions of ripoffs, loads of janky knuckle fetish mobile games and tons of legal action. An entire range of joint fetish games, livestreams explaining elbow modelling mechanics; the lot.
NATE: Can’t argue with that, it’d change the world.
You have to live inside one game for a year – which one?
ALICE: I’d wanna say one of my beloved fantasy RPGs – I’m a big Dragon Age nerd – but only provided I was awesome, with magic powers and stuff. If it was just me I wouldn’t want to live in a high fantasy or medieval setting because those times were a bit shit. They didn’t even have windows. No; I wouldn’t want to be a regular 21st Century girl in those settings unless I had the power to obliterate everyone.
NATE: I mean, they did have windows, but they were made of scraped horn and they were a bit rubbish.
ALICE: Well, there were no windows in Dragon Age. I reckon I’d want to live somewhere like San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2, just watching shit go down. But I suppose it’s a bit like self-insert fanfiction where modern people just appear in game settings – that’s often written by people, especially young women and LGBTQ+ people, who don’t see people like themselves represented in settings, so they put themselves in.
NATE: Where do you reckon you could go where people like you are under-represented?
ALICE: Something with massive space marine goons. I’d put cool stickers all over my armour. It’d be great, just normal women in gigantic armour. That’s something we can all get behind.
Dracula grants you a magical whip. Using it, you can go back in time to a studio working on an incredibly promising game that turned out to be an utter dog egg, and force them to start again. Which game would you choose?
ALICE: Maybe it’s just because you mentioned Dracula, but I reckon Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. I mean, the game’s playerbase has basically been trying to achieve this in the 14 years since it came out, as it was the jankiest piece of shit imaginable on release. It’s still being added to by the community now, with new features and bug fixes all the time. I reckon I could save them a lot of effort. Also, I’ll put in a mention for Fallout 3, which I just would have made a top-down isometric effort – can the whip do that?
NATE: Yes, the whip has that power. Next question now, and I have to warn you: it’s hard.
This is a question posed by Wario. He says: “Can you please come up with a haiku encapsulating the sonic the hedgehog series? Wah.”
ALICE: Can I text it to you later?
NATE: You have one hour.
ALICE (By text, after one hour):
Flowers on Green Hills
I took ages working out
Tails’ name is a pun
After drinking a haunted panda pop, you find yourself in the year 870AD, in the court of Emperor Basil I of the Byzantine empire. You have brought a single game and the means to play it. What game have you brought?
ALICE: I’m probably quite likely to be burnt as a witch, but if I’m safe… maybe something like Overcooked? I think I’d like to introduce the Byzantines to couch co-op. Just let them take a break from intricate religious wars, chill out and play some games. Games like that would be good too, as they overcome the language barrier. I’d like to offer them a big RPG, but none of them come in medieval Greek.
NATE: It might even warn them about the frenetic nature of short order cooking under late stage capitalism in time for them to avert it, right?
ALICE: Right! And the effect on history could be all kinds of weird – it might create a sort of chicken-and-egg loop where they start making intricate mosaic fanart of Overcooked. Then a modern dev would be inspired by that, and would create Overcooked. Maybe I would become a pseudo-religious mythological figure in the process, too.
If games are art, then who is Michelangelo? And who is Damien Hirst? Who is Turner? What about Banksy?
Banksy. Hmm… everyone thinks he’s great, but his ideas hold up to very little scrutiny. David Cage, I reckon. 'We are asking the questions nobody has asked before… can a robot have feelings?'. Deep, man.
Hirst is a bit controversial, a bit of a pisstaker – he’s also a bit of a prick, but there’s something to him. Also, he gets people to work under his brand… so maybe a Cliffy B? The bro of the art world.
Michelangelo is tough. With the secret brain image in the Sistine Chapel, I guess he was using conventional, big budget art to smuggle in subversive ideas. Maybe Kojima, then? I mean, he’s now gone full weird, but he spent a long time at Konami working in the constraints of the big game structure.
As for Turner… well, his work looks fairly conventionally figurative, but in his later stuff particularly there are some subtle abstract elements. Actually, shit, I’m going to say Kojima again. This question makes me realise we don’t have many big name auteurs in games any more – but that’s a good thing, as it means we’re recognising this is largely a collaborative art form.
Please assign the major consoles of the last thirty years to the classic pub food dishes you think best represent them. You have 2 minutes; go.
Xbox One X – something really heavy and dense. A pub brownie, warm, with ice cream? PS Pro is a club sandwich. PS4 is scampi. PS2: still fried seafood, but this time fish and chips with mushy peas. PS3’s a fish pie, and the Xbox 360’s a roast: a good all round machine. Original Xbox – steak and kidney pie. Original PlayStation – gammon, but with pineapple, not fried egg. GameCube is sausage and mash, N64 is probably a treacle sponge. The Dreamcast is a beef wellington because it’s meant to be great but nobody orders it. The Wii is tomato soup, because everyone and your nan has it. The SNES is leg of lamb, the weekend roast special, while the Mega Drive is potentially salmon with a very alcoholic glaze.
Final question. A wizard gives you the following power: tomorrow morning, when every games developer in the world goes to tuck into their breakfast cereal, they will see your face in the milk, offering them one clear piece of advice. They have to listen. Because you would, wouldn’t you, if a lady started talking to you out of your milk. What would you say?
ALICE: Stop telling the same stories over and over again. Please tell me something new.
And that was that; it was time to stop telling this story. As the last question was answered, a click on the line told Alice that Nate was gone, released from the curse at last. The leopard had left the shed, at least for now. Alice, too, was free – but at what cost? Only time would tell.