Name: Chas Andres
Screen name: I don’t have one all-encompassing screen name. On most forums, I just use a variant of my actual name. I’m SeaTroll on MTGO and Dr. Moon Cactus in a bunch of places, too.
Avatar of choice: Again, this depends on location. If you’re talking an image I use next to my name as a signifier on social-media networks, I’m rocking Calvin and Hobbes right now after a long time as the Ice King from Adventure Time. If you’re talking my favorite player-made character, that’s Velethanuir, my Night Elf Druid from World of Warcraft.
Years gaming: I got my first computer—a Mac classic—when I was five or six years old. It never quite worked right, and you had to hit the side of the machine just right or it wouldn’t recognize the hard drive. I had thirty or forty games that my dad brought home on pirated floppy discs from work. Some of them were just demos that I played over and over again. It was a wonderful piece of technology, and I loved it. I’ve been gaming since then.
Gamer idol: Wil Wheaton. He always seems to be having a pile of fun producing gaming content with his friends.
How much time do you spend gaming in an average week? I don’t think I have an average week. I’ve gone a month or more during which I haven’t picked up a game at all. Other times, I’ll game every night after work and half the weekend.
Favorite male game character of all time: Roger Wilco from Sierra’s Space Quest series. These old adventure games were hard and bitingly funny—not only did you have to solve stupidly hard logic puzzles like in text-based games, but they had thankless visual-timing puzzles that killed you a thousand different ways. I played through four or five of these with my dad in the evenings when I was eight, nine, and ten years old, and I still remember having to call the $1.99/minute help line because we couldn’t find a way around the acid drip in Space Quest III. The help line would scroll through a prerecorded message describing each puzzle in the order you encountered them, and you would press pound when it made it to the one you needed help with.
At any rate, Roger was a janitor on a space ship who kept unwittingly becoming the hero of the galaxy. He never looked down on anyone, always wanted to help, kept cool when he had to, and freaked out when appropriate. I loved him.
Favorite female game character of all time: This is a much harder question. I don’t think I’ve played many games with female protagonists, so we’re looking at supporting-role characters like Peach and Zelda. My first instinct was to say Lucia from Lunar II, a Japanese RPG in the Final Fantasy vein that I played through twice in college because I was lonely and wanted those characters in my life. I can’t even remember what her powers were in that game, though. Was she a healer? I think so, but I know another guy in my party was the main healer. I’m pretty sure she was underpowered for most of the game until she regained all of her powers and then became the best member of my party. That’s pretty cool.
Right now, though, I’m going to go with Elspeth Tirel from Magic: The Gathering. Jace may be the face of the game, but that has a lot more to do with the power level of his cards—his character is far less interesting. Chandra, too, is kind of one-note. Elspeth—as we learn in the comics and promotional material—has had a heck of a journey even getting to Theros, and the story there mostly revolves around her quest. She’s tough, loyal, and kind-hearted, and she has had to struggle through so much to even get here. I admire her.
First gaming console you ever owned: When I was seven years old—1992 or so—my family had just moved from a house in San Jose, California to an apartment in Lowell, Massachusetts. My dad had a new job in New England, and my parents were still looking for the right house. I didn’t have any friends, so I spent half the time annoying my sister and the other half reading comic books. One day, we went to the Toys R Us, and my mother bought us an SNES console with Super Mario World, Super Mario All-Stars, and Mario Kart. Over the next two years, I played all of those games over and over again.
To what game have you been most addicted lately? I’m kind of between games right now, looking for my next thing. I’ve been meaning to play the Mass Effect trilogy for years, so that’s probably going to be my next game. The last one I was totally addicted to was Portal 2, which I finished up a few months ago. It didn’t take me long, but I loved every minute of it.
What game have you played for the longest time, and what about it keeps you playing? Magic: The Gathering is the game I have logged the most hours playing by far. I actually picked it up later than most—I only played a small handful of Magic games before my sophomore year of high school, having preferred Decipher’s old Star Wars CCG in elementary and middle school. Since then, I’ve played it constantly save a nine- or ten-month hiatus in 2007. I consider Magic to be the greatest game ever created. The design, depth of strategy, flavor, and evolution have kept me interested my entire life. I can also become lost in a game of Magic and enter the zone in a way that I’ve never been able to do with any other game. To me, Magic transcends gaming.
What game did someone convince you to try that you just hated? I feel that this happens to me all the time, especially with board games. I really can’t stand multiplayer games that feature random griefing and long spaces of decision-making between turns. Commander is fine because I can build my deck to avoid most of these situations, but in games like Bang!, I end up spending a lot of time trying to silently will my opponents to not make a move that will inadvertently screw up a thing I want to do while I stare at them as they’re trying to make decisions. Games like that aren’t fun for me.
I also have zero patience for games once the outcome is known. One time, I played through the first level of the classic game Hero Quest with a few friends who wanted to introduce me to a childhood favorite. The game is a D&D-themed board game with simple character abilities and drawn-out, die-based combat. Thirty or forty minutes in, it was clear that we were way more powerful than any of the NPCs we were fighting and that it was just going to be another hour of inevitable and boring combat before reaching the end. Wanting a challenge, I took off running in the other direction and ran straight into the alcove where I knew the boss was hiding. It ended up taking all of our abilities and most of our hit points to take him down along with all the other enemies I ran past and alerted on my way. It was an awesome and memorable time—one of my favorite board game memories—but my friends were super-angry at me for almost wiping the party. They declined to ask me to play Hero Quest again, which I was fine with.
What game causes you to rage or tilt the most? Magic causes me to tilt the most simply because I play far more Magic than any other game. Nothing makes me rage harder than drafting in a Friday Night Magic pod where table talk is allowed (my LGS is lax), with people bragging about their foil-mythic rips, while I’m sitting there silently being cut out of all my colors. My pulse just doubled even writing about it.
Do you have any gamer regrets? Maybe it’s a misplay or a chance not taken. I regret choosing the Star Wars CCG over Magic in third grade, when I discovered card games and started spending all of my money on singles and booster packs. I had complete black-bordered sets of all the original expansions and multiple copies of all the rarest cards. If I had picked up Magic instead, I would have had a six-year head start and would have multiple copies of the Power Nine in my collection, without a doubt.
Trash talk: mandatory or unnecessary? Trash talk is a lot of fun when it is among good friends. If I know you well and we’ve played a ton of games together, trash-talk me all you want because I know it comes from a place of mutual respect. What I dislike is trash talk from someone I don’t know all that well or against whom I haven’t played before. At that point, you are using actual emotional manipulation in order to gain an advantage in an activity that is supposed to be fun. I have no problem with some trash-talking in something like professional sports, where there’s a whole lot of money on the line, but I couldn’t tell you where that line should be drawn. The whole Richie Incognito story is exposing a lot of so-called trash talk for what it actually is: bullying.
Which one do you prefer? Video games, TCGs, or board games? I think video games are the most interesting platform, followed by board games, with TCGs coming in last—other than Magic, they don’t interest me as much. However, I probably play the most TCGs (thanks, Magic!), followed by board games, with video games coming in last.
If you could go pro in any game, what game would it be? Baseball. I don’t think I’d enjoy being a professional Magic player—there’s just no staying on top without an endless grind, and the rewards are so minimal. You’re basically playing for the chance to make enough money to survive while grinding your way across the country, always a day away from falling off the gravy train. Sounds like a horrible way to play my favorite game. (Designing Magic on the other hand? Sign me up, Wizards! I’ll move to Seattle tomorrow.)
I’d rather play baseball professionally. Sign me up for the life of a crafty left-handed relief pitcher. I’d clear ten or fifteen million bouncing around the league, trying to strike out big, lumbering power hitters in the seventh and eighth inning. No pressure to be a star, and there’s always another team willing to take a chance on a guy like that. After I made enough money and memories, I’d hang ’em up and go write out in the countryside somewhere.
Tell me about the game you would create if I gave you unlimited resources. Emma and I just finished a week-long road trip through the Southwest, and one of the things I wanted to do while we were driving was introduce her to one of my favorite books: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The book focuses on a “game” called the OASIS, a virtual world that encompasses everything you’d want in a virtual world or holodeck combined with the sensibility of a great MMO. The world is fully immersive and basically contains the combined work of fiction within it—there are quadrants of the world that recreate the Firefly universe, Star Wars, Azeroth, Tolkien . . . all of it. Give me unlimited resources, and I’d like to try to create a true VR multiverse like that.
Whom do you consider one of the most sexually attractive characters (male or female) you have ever played? Was this based on pure artistic design of the character or overall character traits? When you’re a nerdy kid going to an all-male middle school, you’re pretty much gonna be attracted to anything female-shaped that shows you interest. Video-game women who fawn over your avatar for saving the world certainly fall into that category. When I was that age, though, there weren’t games where Ellen Page’s essence was rendered in startling detail. I played games like Escape Velocity, wherein you had a tiny spaceship you flew all over the galaxy. Any women in sight—and there weren’t many—were 32-bit sprites. Most of my childhood fantasies were from movies, TV shows, books, and comics instead.
I’m sure there are a lot of attractive women in games now, but I don’t play games as much as I did when I was younger. I’ve also been in real relationships for more than a decade, so I’m less likely to “bond” with an AI character than I was when I was desperate and hormonal. I don’t think I could be as attracted to a video-game character now as I was when I was a teenager simply because being attracted to someone has a far different meaning to me now, even if the writing and animation have both improved wildly. I guess I’ll pick Lucia from the aforementioned Lunar II because she did stick with me. Physically, she’s a pretty generic anime character. Characterwise, she’s sheltered from all human emotions and basically learns what it means to be human through the course of the game, eventually falling in love with you. Then she dumps you after the final boss and you have to run around the finished game—spending more time than the game took, I might add—finding all the stuff you need to join her on Earth. I think it says more about who I was and the relationship I had just come out of at the time that I was attracted to her than anything else, though.
If you could be any character from any game, whom would you morph into? This is by far the hardest question here, and it bears a bunch of follow-up questions. Do you become this person only physically, or do you retain his or her thoughts and emotions as well? If so, do you still remember being you? If you become a manifestation of this character in this world, do you get to be a real-world version of the character or are you stuck being rendered in 8 bits if you pick a classic character? Or do you get to be the character in his or her world? If so, can you assume that the world has expanded beyond the confines of the game to create a reasonably livable universe, or will you be stuck fighting through the same dungeon ad infinitum? Would you be stuck as this character forever, or would you just be able to play as him or her for one awesome run-through of the game? If you die in the game, do you die in real life? My answer would vary wildly depending on the answers to these questions.
The Magic universe seems to be a decent place to live compared to most games. Planeswalkers are super-powerful and close to immortal, though they do tend to fight each other a lot, and I find a lot of the males to be insufferable. I’m not really that into power, honestly, so I tend to identify more with scientists, teachers, and guardians, a lot of whom are older or female. I love both Venser and Teferi, but they’ve had undeniably tragic lives, and Venser is dead. I would not mind being Elspeth—I relate strongly to her quest for stability and community—assuming I didn’t have to live through her horrible upbringing. Given other games and conditions, I might choose Link, Ash, one of the Jedi I don’t really remember from a Star Wars game, Jaina Proudmoore from World of Warcraft, or Mal Reynolds. Is there a Firefly game somewhere? Can I just choose Mal?
Do you see an issue with the portrayal of women in games, and why? Yes, but it goes far beyond games. Games are mass-marketed, much like movies and TV shows, meaning they’re carefully designed to appeal to a specific target audience. Other art forms—paintings, poems, and the like—are simply put out there and either find an audience or don’t. The problem with aiming something like a game at a demographic is that you get a lot of people trying to tweak whatever you’re doing to have the most appeal to this specific crowd. Video games have long been targeted at adolescent boys, which means you get a couple of different female tropes, usually as attractive NPCs. This is changing, but it’s a slow process.
Describe what makes a central character in a story-driven game appealing to you. A good central character is nuanced and relatable, with enough of a tabula rasa for you to bring your own expectations to but not enough of one to seem boring. As a misfit who dreams of glory, I like to play games where misfits achieve glory. Luckily, so do most video game writers.
Have you ever cosplayed a character or could ever see your future self cosplaying a character? I haven’t. I suppose I might on Halloween at some point, though. Honestly, I’ve never had a good relationship with cosplay or costumes. I think most people approach them as an escape—a chance to be someone you couldn’t be in real life and pop into another persona for a while. This certainly has appeal to me, but I think my low self-esteem gets in the way. Like, what business do I have pretending to be a big, muscle-bound hero? I’m an overweight nerd with glasses and acne scars. And I’m going to put on some felt and pretend to be the defender of the galaxy? Really? Yeah, people are sure gonna take me seriously if I do that. I tend to dress up as fairly nonspecific things like pirates because anyone can be a pirate, so why not me?
Have you ever related to any characters from a game you have played? Of course I have—all the time! Most games are designed to have everyman protagonists that are designed to be easy to relate to, and any story-based game has someone I’ll try and latch on to. As a geeky white male with a suburban upbringing, I’ve got my pick of the litter.
If able to choose a gender during gameplay, which gender do you usually choose? I almost always choose to play a male character. I had a few female alts in World of Warcraft, but I didn’t play them much. I don’t think that had to do as much with gender as it did with the fact that I never really bonded with anyone except my main in that game. I generally pick the male character out of habit and expectation I think.
As a male, I do think I judge men who only play female characters. I guess that’s because I think their selections have to do with watching digital breasts bounce up and down. These tend to be the same men who are weirdly open about watching hentai, which fine . . . okay, but I don’t really want to know about it. I think I would play female characters more if I didn’t feel kind of weird about it, as though I walked into the wrong bathroom or something, but I’d still probably play male characters more. Playing a female avatar as a guy can feel more alien than whatever strange videogame world you’re in, depending on the game. That can be kind of thrilling and liberating. Other times, it’s a distraction or it doesn’t matter much, like Chell in Portal.
What book or series not already made into a game do you think would just kill it? I want a series based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Each stage would be an era in Terminus’s attempt to forge a new galactic empire, and you could stick to the psychohistory prediction or not. The things you did in one era would greatly influence the next, creating a massively arcing game over many millennia.
How have your friends and family supported your gaming or tried to change it? Several of my friends wish that I gamed with them more. That’s what happens when you’re engaged to a bigger gamer than yourself. I will often choose an evening of writing to myself over playing games, though, and I sometimes feel pretty guilty about this.
The only time I was worried that my gaming was a problem was when I was way, way into World of Warcraft, but I still kind of miss the escape of that game during the early vanilla years. It did kind of ruin video games for me, though, and I’ve never engaged with another game on that level since. When you play one game for so long, I think the interface just kind of becomes burned into your mind and nothing else feels right, kind of like how Mac people hate using PCs. I want all of my other combat games to be like Warcraft, and they’re not. Of course, Warcraft isn’t like Warcraft anymore either, so I’m sort of stuck.
Did your family every have game nights? Do your parents like any type of games? We only had a few game nights growing up because my mom was just too competitive to really enjoy them. If she lost, she’d feel bad, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t like beating her kids either. It was a lose–lose situation for her. She did pick up the SNES from time to time, usually after my sister and I had gone to sleep.
My father played computer games with me all the time when I was younger, but he only liked adventure games, not shooters or platformers. He was also the one who pulled board-game duty with my sister and me—countless games of Monopoly, Risk, and the other tabletop classics.
Can you play games with your significant other or do you find it ends up being too competitive between you? Absolutely. Emma is a way bigger gamer than I am and usually plays double or triple the number of games that I do. I tend to be too burnt out for weeknight gaming, but she’ll go cube or put in four to five hours of board games any given night if the opportunity is there.
I went easy on her in Magic when we first got together, but that ended a few months into our relationship. I’m pretty sure I’ve won against her in Magic more often than not, but that ratio is much closer to fifty-fifty now. She is the better pure drafter—far more instinctual, and she ends up with better decks than I have almost always—but I am more efficient with my spells and have a better understanding of combat. In most other games, we’re evenly matched, and in some, she’s the better strategist. I have no issue losing to her.
Do you play any cellphone or Facebook games regularly? I’ve become kind of burnt out on them recently, but I’ve played through all the big ones—Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Temple Run, etc.
Plants vs. Zombies was my favorite, although it was far too easy—could they not have included a hard mode that required precise timing? The correct sequencing was usually the same unless I tried to give myself weird challenges. Jetpack Joyride was another fun one—I unlocked everything in that game out of obsession. I also spent way too many hours trying to power up at Flick Home Run, the dumbest and most addictive game in the lot. Do not play this game. Play Bejeweled instead, preferably the butterfly mode. It lacks the timing aspect of the other Bejeweled levels and is a great mental puzzle.
What was your favorite game to play as a child? It can be any type of game, such as red rover, marbles, tag, or the like. Before my first computer, I mostly played games with my younger sister. She was four years younger than I was, so physical games were out, and so were most mental ones. Instead, we simply made up and acted out stories for hours. She had hundreds of stuffed animals, and we made a whole world out of them—mostly surrounding the exploits of several Beanie Baby cats that went on adventures together. The lead cat was a jerk and a cad, but a lovable one. He either dragged the other cats along on his adventures or he did something stupid and they had to fix it and talk him down.
I also played a lot of Pogs once those came out, but the actual playing of that game (not great) took a back seat to collecting and world-building. I had the best Pog collection in school, but I didn’t want to risk any of my good ones to ante. Eventually, I forged a genius workaround: I went to the flea market and bought a bunch of crappy Pogs at $10 per 1,000. Seriously, they were horrible Pogs with random animals and corporate logos on them. Then I used those exclusively at school in order to win everyone else’s good Pogs. I also had the best slammer you could because that was a stupid competitive advantage. It was like bringing a cricket bat to a baseball game.
Ultimately, I stopped playing entirely, but that didn’t stop me and a couple friends from dubbing my back woods “The Kingdom of Pogmania,” a magical land that quickly gained an elaborate backstory with warring kings. Other than the name, it wasn’t really Pog-related at all, though.
What kind of impact do you think MMOs are having on society? Would you change anything? The future is ripe to become one giant MMO. Once we have heads-up displays like Google Glass—it’ll be the smartphones of the next decade; everyone will have them—gamification becomes that much easier. Combine that with true VR (Oculus Rift?), and there will be a blurring between reality and virtual spaces. We’re just going to have to accept this and embrace it as a society. I prefer MMOs that encourage cooperation and social interaction, bridging gaps between likeminded people, rather than mindless places filled with nothing but PVP griefing. Ultimately, though, gaming brings people together and a good MMO most of all.
Do you believe there is a correlation between violence in videogames and violence in society? Yes, I believe there is probably a negative correlation. Video games, much like sports, help reduce the need for actual violence. Humans seem to have a biological need for aggression (have you ever known a kid to pick up a stick and not immediately use it as a sword?), and video games help give them a safe outlet for that aggression. Of course, who hasn’t started looking around for cars to jack after playing too much GTA?
Once someone has been proven a habitual cheater, do you think he or she should be allowed back in professional gaming? The punishment should fit the crime, and all cases should be handled individually. Everyone—even you, reading this—has cheated at a game. Maybe you didn’t do it blatantly, and maybe you didn’t do it maliciously, but we’ve all peeked at a card and not said anything, let a misunderstanding that benefited you slide, or otherwise done something against the rules. So before we talk about cheating, let’s get off our high horses. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake, learn from it, pay a price, and come back to the game after rehabilitation. (Of course, in some cases, the initial crime might be large enough to warrant a lifetime ban straight off.)
What should not be tolerated are people who have clearly shown time and again that they are poisonous to the player base. Unrepentant cheating, treating opponents poorly, trolling other players on social media . . . if there is a pattern of behavior like this evident in someone, that person should absolutely be banned for life. Playing a game with other people is a privilege, not a right. I would also issue a lifetime ban to anyone caught stealing physical cards at a tournament venue.
Can you rank what you would consider the top five games you have ever played? This isn’t asking about my favorite games, just the objectively best that I’ve played, right? I’d rank them like this:
- Magic: The Gathering
- World of Warcraft
*This is the game in which you and nine or ten friends sit around a table with stacks of paper and pens. You write a sentence (timed to sixty to ninety seconds) and pass it along to the person on your left. That person has sixty to ninety seconds to draw a picture encompassing that sentence, and then the stack is passed to the next person, who has to write a sentence about what’s happening in the picture. With the right friends and the right beer, this is my favorite social activity.