“I think being old enough to enjoy fairy tales again is being mature enough to know what makes you happy, and to do it without worrying about what society says you “should” be doing.”
Thanks for stopping by, NPCs! Today I bring you a paragon of both critical and balanced thinking for our dozenth blogger interview: none other than Athena Veta, aka the AmbiGamer of AmbiGaming. Being named after the Grecian deity of wisdom and craft must’ve paid off, because this is a blogger who treats the subject of gaming to the intense scrutiny of her intellect. We became embroiled in a discussion of hot topics concerning gender and gaming, and yet came out unscathed with our separate opinions in tact. Miraculum! You will not find many moderate and fair-minded writers who take gaming seriously like Athena, who are able to touch on touchy issues not with the force of a glass hammer but with the distinctive precision of a writer, so I hope you enjoy our conversations as much as I did.
If you’re interested in jumping on the Well-Red band wagon, you can sign up for an interview by first checking out the post “Introducing Blogger Interviews”.
“Thanks for being with us today for this interview!
Let’s begin by talking about ze childhood. How long have you been a gamer?”
“Thanks for having me! I’ve been looking forward to this interview! I’ve been playing video games for about as long as I can remember. My brother and sister got an NES for Christmas way back in the early 90’s, and I was about four or five. It lived underneath the television in the living room, and so as soon as I was old enough to hold a controller, I wanted to play like my big brother and big sister did! I remember even asking Santa for a game all my own one year, because the games were all technically “theirs,” whatever that meant.”
“Cute! Do you remember which game you asked the big man for?”
“Nope haha. We had things like Mario and Zelda II, maybe Mega Man II and Winter Games, and a few others by that point, so I just asked him for “a game.” I remember he brought M.C. Kids, though! haha I fared a little better a year or so later, when he brought me Kirby’s Adventure.”
“He brought M.C. Kids?! That’s how you know Santa is the Anti-Christ right there.
Kirby’s Adventure though, they must’ve fired the Santa from the year before. So what were some of your favorite games for the NES? Have you revisited them again as an adult? If so, do they still hold up in your estimation?”
“Haha! Well he tried. I think the thought process was that it was “child-friendly” and had a two-player mode so I could play with my siblings. Santa didn’t know a lot about gaming yet, I suppose!
“Gosh, I sank so many hours into that system. Of course Super Mario Bros. and Kirby’s Adventure got a lot of love, as did Zelda II and Winter Games. I remember playing this volleyball game with my brother all the time, and we were a great team! I’ve revisited a few. My sister has the original machine now, and the one I got to replace it is… sort of wonky. But when it was working consistently I had a blast replaying the old games I’ve been able to purchase again! Really knocked my ego into check, too. They’re just as hard, now! So yes, at least the games I’ve picked up again definitely hold up.
“Also, speaking of Santa, he brought me this terrifying Sesame Street game that I played out of obligation. I remember asking my parents if Santa would be offended if I stopped playing it, and they – having seen me play the game – unanimously answered “no.” Thus, Kirby came haha”
“Kirby > Sesame Street.
Those classic games are hard and of course the definitive example is one you named: Zelda II. I know we’ve gone back and forth on it before, but we’re talking about one of the least popular games in that franchise. Zelda II is the hardest game that I can personally think of. Have you beaten it? Any tips for us? What makes it worth playing?”
“I actually haven’t beaten it! So I suppose I shouldn’t keep saying how much I love it since I’ve never quite saved that iteration of Hyrule (haha). I think it’s sort of like Dragon Age II. The people who played that game first maybe like it better than people who played the original first, because they didn’t have anything to compare it to. What drew me to it was the open landscape. I had a hand-drawn map (remember doing those??) of the places I had visited because I was always getting lost, but… I think I just loved how you never knew what was coming next. I remember one of the towns was really weird because the people would sometimes turn into keese. It was the right amount of horror for younger me! Haha! My sister and my brother used to play it, too, so I think that I originally wanted to be as good as they were, and now I remember the three of us sitting around trying to beat “Link” (what I used to call Zelda II, because that was the biggest word on the cartridge), so even when it’s hard I have a lot of really good memories to keep me going.
“Although now that I’m thinking about it, maybe its draw is the same as the folks who play Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls…. it’s not a game you finish, it’s a game you *beat*!”
“Haha! I remember doing those in the days before the internet!
I’ll have to get around to beating that game some day. That’s one of the reasons why I love retro games, though. I love that difficulty. Where do you personally draw the line at retro and modern? When did the retro era end?”
“Oh, I think there are a number of people much more qualified to answer that question that I am. But for me, I would probably draw the line around the GameCube/PS1 era. Although the N64 had amazing graphics for the time, I think (in retrospect) the rise of Sony marked the beginning of a new era of gaming. And the GameCube, as far as I understand, was a pretty big deal for Nintendo, as well!”
You aced that question (mostly because I agree with you! Haha!)! Taking a bit of a step back now from the retro years, do you have a favorite console out of them all? If this bridges into your top 5 games of all time, then feel free to answer that as well!”
“Ha! The short answer is no to the console portion. I tend to go for consoles because of the games. I wrote a post a while ago about my favorite console, and it was a page of me waffling around talking about pretty much every console I ever owned!
“Games, now that’s a different story! I’m sure no one will be surprised to find out that Dragon Age: Origins is my favorite game ever, but otherwise… Top games include (in no particular order) Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Mega Man II, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and… I want to say Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask, but that seems so stereotypical, so… you know, Mass Effect 2 is vying for one of those top spots, so I’ll go with that!”
“Tremendous list of definitive titles! Is that hyperbolic? Oh well.
What is it you look for in a video game? What elements appeal to you the most which make you say: by golly I’ve got to play that?”
“I’m a sucker for a good story and love well-developed characters. With the exception of Mega Man II (possibly), all of my favorite games tick those two boxes. Usually when I find a game that really does a good job, that’s when I’ll start thinking, “If another one comes out, I *have* to play it!” Haha I know what I’m getting in to. Like we just saw with Mass Effect: Andromeda (and will see again if another Dragon Age comes out), I usually only “hype” for games/series I’m already in love with.
“But I’m actually very open to recommendations, since I know I tend to get stuck in my rut of familiar games/genres. That’s led to games like Spec Ops: The Line, Destiny, Journey, Folklore, and Shadow of the Colossus being added to my library. In turn, liking or disliking the game influences my “must haves” for later (like I still want to play Abzû and The Last Guardian, but probably wouldn’t have looked at them twice if I hadn’t played Journey and Shadow of the Colossus and loved them so much). I’m not sure if that answers your question!”
“It certainly does! Now that Andromeda is behind us,
what’s a game you’re really looking forward to that’s still due to come out?”
“I can’t believe so many huge titles have already come out this year. I’m not sure I can be as excited for any other game, now that Horizon, Zelda, and Mass Effect have all dropped.
“Erm, it’s not upcoming, but it was overshadowed by Mass Effect. I sort of want to play Everything, which looks fascinating and mundane all at the same time. Otherwise, the usual suspects like the new Mario Odyssey game will be interesting to see, and Yooka-Laylee…
“Oh! Little Nightmares and Rime are coming up! I’m looking forward to those, even though they seem to be much smaller games. And when Middle Earth: Shadow of War comes out, I’ll eventually get that, even though I’m already bracing for a major deviation from Tolkien lore…”
“Nice! I’m looking forward to Rime as well! Nintendo Switch, woo hoo!
So how long have you been writing/blogging for?”
“Woo! Haha! Yeah I still haven’t picked up a Switch yet, so that’s something I’ll still have to wait to play.
“I’m fairly new to the blog scene. I started AmbiGaming only at the end of August last year, if you can believe that! That was a crazy idea I ran with – I had ideas for maybe three posts, and decided to start a whole blog.
“Writing in general… I’ve been writing short stories as long as I can remember. I wrote a play in high school that went up as the senior production, and now I’m currently editing it (or will be editing again once my thesis is over). I hope to have go up in a community theater some day. And of course I dabble in fanfiction a bit haha!”
“Awesome! Tell me a bit more about your writing projects beside the blog
and then we’ll come back to it. What’re your short stories? What’s your play? Fanfic?”
“Sure thing. True to my interests, my short stories are usually very – shall we say – character-heavy. I like focusing on only a few characters and their interactions with each other, the environment, etc. One I’m writing right now… well there’s a young woman who checks herself into a mental hospital because she’s seeing people who aren’t there, and she makes a really good friend there. But (I guess I’ll spoil the twist) eventually she wakes up and sees the hospital has been closed for decades. The furniture is all covered in sheets and everything, you know? It turns out it’s really been ghosts she’s been seeing. The story is “about” not realizing the things that really affect you until something really slaps you in the face and you have to deal with the real problem. That’s turning into a novella, though haha. It was only supposed to be about 10 pages long and then I kept discovering new things about the characters that needed to be unpacked!
“My play is, at face value, about two sisters who are overcoming the loss of their parents. The older one had to sacrifice a lot growing up, and the younger one benefited from those sacrifices at the end of the day. What it’s “about” though… well, the sisters are actually two sides of the same person (someone I know, actually), a person who is maybe resentful of the things they lost, and then they get stuck in that anger and don’t see all the things that are still waiting in the future for them.
“The fanfictions are easy haha. I’ve written in the Harry Potter universe, and wrote one for Twilight Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and most recently Dragon Age: Origins (which I’m posting on Archive of Our Own now!). You can take out the plug if you want haha. But I’m usually exploring relationships between the characters – nothing *incredibly* deep.”
“Plugs stay! Congrats on filling up enough pages to create a novella!
I love that you’re very story focused. This is one of the main things which draws me to video games as a platform for storytelling. Can I ask what some of your favorite stories of all time are, whether they’re tied to games or not?”
“Thank you! It’s been fun to write 🙂 And that’s definitely a draw for me, as well, when it comes to video games.
“I love The Chronicles of Narnia! It’s my favorite series, and definitely what got be interested in fantasy novels. I also love the quote from C.S. Lewis’s dedication to his goddaughter that one day she will be old enough to enjoy fairy tales again. I really like that idea of being “old enough” to enjoy fairy tales, for a lot of reasons that are long and probably boring to anyone but me haha.
“Of course, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are books that have gotten a ton of re-reads, but… probably my favorite story is Beauty and the Beast. It’s had a lot of iterations over the hundreds of years its existed, but in its current form, it’s a story about two “misfits” who find each other – it’s not about how they look or act in relation to society’s standards (either being “peculiar” like Belle or, well, an animal like Beast), but about who they are as a person. There’s something very simply yet profound about that. I saw the movie when I was around four and it’s been my favorite story ever since.
“It hasn’t been until recently that I started actually analyzing video games as a storytelling medium, if you can believe that. I was always drawn to more story-driven games, but I never really compared their stories to books or even movies. I think it’s harder for video games to tell as in-depth a story because the text and dialogue is so limited (which is a void that fanfictions happily fill haha), but barring games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, which I would talk about ad nauseum, I actually really liked the twisting story of the Metal Gear Solid series and spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure everything out, especially before MGS4 was released. Especially after it was release, too!”
“It sounds as if we are very much alike!
I love the work of C.S. Lewis, and of course that quote is one of my favorites from him. I think it encapsulates my personal approach to video games. They seem like they’re for kids and “man-children”, and there was a time in my life when I thought as much, until I realized they’re a viable medium of art and storytelling. A lot of my favorite stories come from video games that are very story heavy and it seems like the older RPGs were very text heavy indeed. Sorry I guess I went on about those “boring reasons” haha! Are there any of those “long and boring reasons” you’d like to mention? As an adult, how do you reconcile playing video games with adultishness? What’s the value in it? What do you say to those people who think it’s childish? I think you’ll find people are more interested in what you think than not.”
“Well, since you asked… (haha). I heard a fabulous quote once that said we don’t stop playing because we grow old, but rather we grow old because we stop playing. I think as a society we look at “playing” as childish. That includes playing video games (but not card or board games), swinging on swings, playing wall-ball, or playing Star Wars with empty wrapping paper tubes. Adults are “supposed” to do things like… I don’t know, play golf and go to book clubs or something, and that’s fine, but what’s wrong with wanting to “play,” too? I think being old enough to enjoy fairytales again is being mature enough to know what makes you happy, and to do it without worrying about what society says you “should” be doing.
“Regarding “having value,” I think anything you enjoy doing has value. My friend’s girlfriend loves playing basketball, and I can’t stand even watching that sport (sorry, basketball fans). She, however, isn’t really into video games or anything fantasy-related. Is one more valuable than the other? No. They’re just different. It’s a hard sell, but it’s okay to have fun as an adult doing something that you did when you were a kid, too. You’re still an adult taking care of your adult responsibilities (If you’re not, that’s a completely different issue!).
“Otherwise, I think video games are another way to examine a facet of our existence, as with any creative medium. We can experience things that we never would have before (being a soldier, exploring the ocean, etc.), or look at, well, the real-life themes that come up in virtual worlds (cough cough). But seriously, Mass Effect deals with racism and classism (among other things), Final Fantasy takes on religion, Dragon Age takes on politics and extremism, and indie games examine a variety of themes, from Journey’s existentialism to a game like Inside, which may or may not relate to our world being controlled and monitored by technology. For me, anything that makes you feel something profound or think about something deeply has value, and video games check those boxes.
“Well, that was long. But hopefully not boring! I agree with you that there are a lot of stereotypes floating around that can make it hard to really justify playing video games as an adult, but hopefully as we keep having these conversations with people not as enthusiastic about games, those views will change!”
“Yes! Long answers are more than welcome.
Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on that subject! You mentioned the trigger word stereotypes (lol) so let’s get into something that you and I recently had an enjoyable discussion about gender and games. Drop the mic here and give us your thoughts on that subject in as nutshelly of a way as you can!”
“Oh boy. Here we go! Haha! After the article that you linked, I wrote another one that tried to unpack the can of worms that I kicked over (haha), but it’s a really complex issue! I don’t think it’s a matter of “put more women in games,” or “put more [insert minority here] in games,” because then you just wind up with stereotypes.
“On the one hand, you have the majority of society (e.g., straight white male), and the rest of society is used to that being what they see. I have no problem (repeat: no problem) playing as a straight white guy with brown hair in the majority of games I pick up. So in that way, representation doesn’t matter (ducks for cover)
“But representation also *does* matter, because it’s through media that we experience things outside of our own existence. Through media, we don’t just see what we *are,* but also what we *could* become. And I think that’s important for minorities, especially, who tend to not be show empowering pictures of themselves.
“If all the women I see are damsels in distress who need to be saved by big strong men, and then that woman immediately falls in love with him and wants to sleep with him, the information being sent is that women can’t achieve things without help, and men should expect something for helping. If a majority of black or African-American person I see in a game or on TV is a criminal… and so on and so forth. If that’s the information available, that’s how people will make their judgments, both of themselves and of others. Media influences society, and society influences media. But if you start to see better media representation, things might start to change because there is “new” information for us to process and apply. I don’t know if you want an example, because this nutshell is pretty enormous already!
“Of course, my enormous caveat is that on a case-by-case basis, these things may not be true. But on a macro topic like “gender and games,” I think we need to take a macro look at society at large. And at that scale, appropriate and realistic media representation matters.”
“It is a complex issue!
I was rather unfair to you just now when I asked you to sum it up in a nutshelly way. In all seriousness, folks, go check out these fair-minded posts on the subject. I believe the best way to handle this situation is more people getting involved to create more games with variety.
“Athena, so the secret question I had for you is thusly: Do you think that the glory days of gaming did a better job of avoiding this subject of gender and representation and so on because they were simpler and more childlike games? Compare the early days of Nintendo with less realistic stylized adventures and worlds to the hyper-realistic worlds occupied by all of the Nathan Drake-looking protagonist clones. Do you think that the step toward this kind of realism has made the issue more apparent, nevermind that it’s a hot topic in our culture but we’re talking specifically in terms of gaming?”
“That’s a great question! Short answer is no, I don’t think the step toward realism is to blame. No medium exists in a vacuum. All types of media – movies, books, music, video games – are products of the times they were created. When video games first came into being, this issue of gender and race representation was not happening as fervently as it is now, so games maybe didn’t have to worry about these questions as much.”
“I guess what I want to know is if the themes of that era
were less gender specific in your opinion? Are retro games thematically simpler and therefore less specific? I think of Yoshi, Pokémon, Mario, Metroid, Donkey Kong and the like.”
“Oh I see what you mean. In that case, yes I think retro games sort of dodged this whole issue! Although it was quite a shock when superhero Samus was a woman… haha!”
“Sorry I tend to try to over-explain what I mean,
which just makes it less intelligible. Thanks for your answer! My final question for you on this subject is what do you think a good solution is, beyond heavily regulating the content of video games, which I don’t think you advocate?”
“Honestly I think the solution is just trying something new – have a little faith in the gaming audience. I think in general, if the character is well designed, players won’t mind playing as a minority, whether that minority status is due to race, gender, sexual orientation, or what-have-you. So I don’t think anyone will lose sales from stepping away from the stereotypical hero (Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Aloy is a great example of this). We live in such a diverse world with so many different stories that can be told and so many points of view to explore, I think it’s just a matter of taking a chance on something different, and then trying to do it *well*.”
“Hey, we made it through that. It wasn’t so bad! Haha!
Next I’m curious about how you came up with your blog name and pen name. We’re talking about the Greco-Roman goddess of wisdom, right?”
“Whew! Haha! The blog name was something I fussed with for a long time. I have about a page of scribbled-out possible names, because I knew I wanted to focus on taking an in-depth look at video games, but nothing I came up with sounded “right.” I kept coming back to wanting to talk about the real-world concepts in video games… two sides of one reality. Eventually I hit upon the word “ambi,” which is from the Latin word meaning “both,” and “gaming,” because…well.. video games.
“My username… well that’s a fun one. Long story short, I was thinking “A to Z” on topics that I’d cover, so the second name was originally “Zeta,” the Greek “z” (even though the last letter in the Greek alphabet is omega, but… details!). That went through several iterations only because of trying to sign up for a PlayStation account haha. Athena not only was a name that began with “A,” but it was also the name of the goddess of wisdom (because the blog was going to be an “intellectual” look at video games). So, short answer… yes haha!”
“We’re talking about an industry that could use a lot more balanced,
in-depth discussion and analysis, stuff which isn’t the equivalent of ridiculous game theories at least, so I must say thank you for your service to the gaming world. How long have you been blogging and is AmbiGaming your first blog?”
“I’m glad you find the topic(s) interesting! I was a little nervous that there wouldn’t be an audience for things like this, so that means a lot. AmbiGaming is, I suppose, my second blog. I started two around the same time, and this one had a lot more potential so I stuck with it longer haha. At any rate, I’ve been blogging for about seven months, now!”
“Hey then you’ll be coming up on a year sooner rather than later!
I actually was perusing AmbiGaming right now and I stumbled across a theological post. I’ve a degree in theology so I was immediately drawn to the post, which I’ll have to remember to read in entirety very soon! Are you ever intimidated or daunted by writing about what are some times hot topics like society, gender, and religion?”
“Oh wow! We should talk off the record some time, then! No, I’m not really intimidated by the hot topics I choose, which is surprising. I want to do the topics justice and come across as objectively and fairly as possible, because above all else I want to start discussions. If I state an incorrect fact, I’ll certainly own that. And if you have a different opinion than me, that’s cool – I would love to discuss it with you! People respond to that sort of respect and consideration, and it keeps everything pleasant, even when something is being hotly debated.”
“I couldn’t agree more.
I think that people inherently respond to integrity or disingenuousness, so being respectful as you are frames the conversation very well and helps guarantee that the ensuing discussion goes well as well. I’d love an off-the-books chat! As I understand, you’re also big into music? Do you play any instruments?”
“I am into music! I actually have two degrees in music (specifically music therapy), so I am *very* big into music! My primary instrument is violin, but I also play viola, guitar, and piano reasonably well. I can also pound out some respectable sounds on the cello, electric bass, drum set, and accordion… because why not?”
“Wow! You’re quite accomplished!
I think we’ll have to have an off the record discussion on music jargon as well! Maybe a piano battle between us is coming some day in the future? Lol! I’ve just got a few final questions for you, if you don’t mind. If you had to say as much, what’s your favorite post you’ve ever written on AmbiGaming and why is it one you’re particularly proud of?”
“Sure thing! And thank you for your kind words. Oh my goodness. I feel like I’m being asked to choose my favorite child haha. Even though they’re not as “flashy” as some of my later posts, I really like the three-part series on choices I wrote way back at the start of the blog. Part one still comes up in my stats every few days, and it’s one of the top ten most-viewed posts “of all time” (and it’s gone up against some heavy hitters, like my “interesting cases” posts, my music post, and of course my “play like a girl” post). The fact that I had no idea what I was doing, and yet it’s still one of my most viewed posts, is pretty flattering!
“On a personal level, that post (and my storytelling post) were the foundational articles that I’ve built the blog on. I literally went into this venture with an idea for a post on storytelling in games, and a post (which turned into three) about choices in games. So… I guess I’m proudest of them because they were very hard-working articles and were the ones that really showed me that this blog’s direction was a viable one.”
“What is something you’d like to see your blog achieve?
Is there some goal you’re working toward?”
“In my wilder moments I’d love for it to become a standalone, recognizable site dedicated to analyzing video games through, as a blogging friend put it, a “lens of reality.” In even wilder moments I wouldn’t mind it becoming a job, but unlike my favorite video game characters, I live in reality and know that’s probably not going to happen (haha). So my real and attainable goal is to keep posting quality articles that start discussions with the amazing people I’ve met since joining the blogging community. I’d love to make it to the two-year mark, honestly, so that’s something I have my sights set on.”
“Reach for those wildest moments!”
“Thanks! I guess you really do eat an elephant one bite at a time, right?”
“I love elephants but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.
In conclusion, do you have some wise and inspiring words you might leave your fellow bloggers and writers with? Your namesake is the goddess of wisdom, after all!”
“Ha you flatter me. When it comes to writing, I would encourage people to write what they know, as the saying goes. Find what you’re passionate about, and write about that. I would also encourage people to simply *write*. Get your ideas down on paper first and then critique later. And while I certainly would never want to put pressure on someone who was really struggling with something, I would also say that nothing worth doing is accomplished by only working on days you “feel good.” If you have a project that you really want to finish, you need to work on it even when conditions aren’t optimal. But above all, love what you do. Love what you write. You’ll be glad to put in the time, and your readers will thank you, too!”
“Well this mage thanks you very much for your time
and for sharing your thoughts with us. Thanks for participating in the interview!”
“Thanks for having me! I had a great time talking with you!”
“The feeling is mutual!”