Who is the Naked Gamer? Is he really naked? Is he really a gamer? After more than a year and a dozen editorials, it’s high time those questions were answered. Don’t you think? You’ve seen my photograph, you’ve heard me rant, rave and plea, but why am I here? What’s the point of this ‘column’? Well, let me tell you. Let’s take a little trip, you and I. Allow me to escort you back…to 1969. (cue Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida).
I am four. It’s a late summer afternoon and it’s unbearably hot outside. Frank Messer’s calling the Yankee game on the radio. My grandfather is dealing pinochle. He’s teaching me how to play. Everything. In one day. Poker. 21. Gin Rummy. Spades. Hearts. Euchre. War. Crazy-8’s. I am thrust into the world of cards. I am smitten. I am bitten, by the bug of chance and the thrill of the unexpected. I learn how to watch. I learn how to recognize patterns. I learn the nuances of the human face as it lies, cheats, taunts and bluffs.
Fast forward to 1972. I’m seven. I’m sitting in my father’s den bent over a chessboard. My father is destroying me. He’s taking me to town and I’m dizzy, I’m high on it. The pieces. The moves. The savageness of his attacks. Click, the timer goes. Click. He moves. I move. We slap the timer like a couple of old masters playing in the park. We develop a rhythm. I learn the art of war.
It’s 1974. I’ve just played Pong. I discover that you can position the two paddles in such a way as to create an almost perpetual volley. The white blip ghosting back and forth across the screen. I’m hypnotized. Pixels. A simple virtual world.
It’s 1977. My world is dominated by Monopoly, Scrabble, Parchesi, Sorry, Trouble, Life, Stay Alive, Stratego, Risk, Strat-a-matic Baseball, Othello, Backgammon, Clue. Rule sets. Self-contained cardboard and plastic worlds. My game shelf is more important than my TV.
1980. I’m fifteen. I get up at six in the morning every day to deliver the Newsday door to door for a lousy thirty bucks a week that I instantly convert into quarters that I line up behind the other boy’s quarters down at the bowling alley so I can play Space Invaders and Asteroids and Pac-Man. Mom, that was not money down a hole.
1981. I do a complete 180. I’m filling notebooks with hand-drawn maps and room descriptions. I’m hiding treasures, placing monsters and planning huge campaigns. I’m set up behind a screen of charts and tables and graphs that tell me, and my band of hapless adventurers, who lives and who dies. I’m a dungeon master. And I rule my world like a golden God.
Fast forward ten years. I’m sitting in Drew Huffman’s living room with my jaw hanging open. We’re marveling at the genius of Spaceship Warlock. The following day we’re feverishly working on the design of Iron Helix, a CD-ROM adventure that went on to sell close to one million copies.
It’s 1995 now and I’ve just designed, produced and directed my first game as a project lead. It’s called Bad Mojo, and it’s about a man who gets magically transformed into a roach. Kafka meets David Lynch. The game, re-released nine years later, wins the 2004 Adventure Game of the Year.
1997. We spin off to form our own studio and we call it Jinx. Our first, and last, game is the B-Movie inspired Tomb Raider spoof, Space Bunnies Must Die! I learn failure. I learn the meaning of the word slog. I learn that sometimes, technology, game mechanics do trump story and art. I no longer want to make games for trigger-happy boys.
The millennium rolls around. I become a father. I lose my job. I become a stay-at-home father. I learn to entertain, to create fun, to plan simple activities, to see again through the eyes of a child. I am no longer a creator of games, I am a teacher of them. I am reborn.
2005. I discover casual games. I play Diner Dash and Luxor and Jewel Quest and thousand light bulbs explode in my head. THIS is what it’s all about, I say. This is what gaming should be – simple, smart, engaging and accessible to everyone. No killing, no violence, just fun. Small games. Small teams. Low budgets. How do I get back in?
2006. iWin comes a knockin’. A door opens and I leap through it. I become the content producer for a casual games portal and my job is to play games, to review games for a living. I play and analyze more than five hundred. I produce Snapshot Adventures: The Secret of Bird Island with the industry’s smartest studio. I get a college education from iWin and Large Animal Games.
2007. Now. Here. Today. I evaluate and recommend games for Shockwave, where to date I’ve reviewed over two hundred. Shockwave is a great place for a gamer to work.
So as you can see, I’m interested in games. In fact, I love games. And, I’m drawn to the human behavior that surrounds them – the psychology and sociology of games. THAT is what the Naked Gamer is about. The name itself is a play on Desmond Morris’ 1967 classic The Naked Ape, which is a euphemism for mankind. A hairless ape. A naked ape. An ape that has evolved. So here I sit, the naked gamer, and I assure you I’m fully clad.
The business and politics of casual games was never my primary concern and I certainly do not want The Naked Gamer to be a venue for criticism or negativity. I’m not a critic. I don’t wish to pass judgment on people, or business models. I want to write about games. So that’s what I’m going to do. Over the next year I hope to bring you insightful, thought-provoking articles on games from the perspective of someone who loves how the mind works, who loves how art and technology combine to create virtual spaces and who loves the simple joy of playing a simple game.
Your thoughts, suggestions and opinions. Send me comments.