The next interviewee from the field of gaming in my Games & Books & Q&A series is Anastasia Salter, an assistant professor of digital media at the University of Central Florida.
Anastasia has two books forthcoming in 2014: What is Your Quest? From Adventure Games to Interactive Books (University of Iowa Press) and Flash: Building the Interactive Web (MIT Press), co-authored with John Murray. She also writes for ProfHacker, a blog on technology and pedagogy hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and is currently chair of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association and a member of the THATCamp Council.
CB: What do you remember about the first video game you ever played?
AS: I got into video games for the first time with my parents, playing on our DOS personal computer. The game we started out with was Rise of the Dragon, an adventure game by Dynamix with grainy images surrounded by black frames. Now that I think about it, it was a pretty violent game for a kid — it’s set in a cyberpunk world where we played as “Blade Hunter” fighting against an evil plot to destroy everyone with a mutating water-born virus, I think. I mostly remember drinking from a water fountain every time we failed and transforming into some sort of pink reptilian monster.
It was good preparation for the Sierra adventure games I would play soon after, with their many arbitrary death sequences. One of the best things about the game was its bundled manual — a comic books with a guide to being a private investigator, which I kept. This was back when games came in awesome boxes with lots of great printed material, definitely a golden age for game stories.
Adventure games cemented my love of PC gaming. I played a little on early consoles around the same time, but none of them stood out like Rise of the Dragon and the many games that would follow — Maniac Mansion, King’s Quest, Monkey Island, Doom, and so many more. PC games seemed like a lens into the grown-up world, and not just because of the “adult test” (a series of questions like “Does a pair of queens beat 3 deuces?” and “Which of these drinks is non-alcoholic?”) before Leisure Suit Larry. My parents did bring home educational games, but they mostly couldn’t compare.
CB: What did you like to read when you were a kid? What did you love about it?
AS: As a resident of my own imaginary world, I pretty much lived on fantasy novels. Anything that offered me lots of books in a world I could get lost in made it on my shelf for endless re-readings. My childhood hero was Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance novels, with his perfect sarcasm and outsider image. Magic users (fantasy’s academics, appropriately) really appealed to me, particularly the nine-lived Chrestomanci of Diana Wynne Jones’s novels, the too-proud Sparrowhawk of A Wizard of Earthsea, and the sword-wielding seers of Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.
I was completely devoted to the works of Piers Anthony, even if I didn’t quite get all the humor until later. My favorite elementary school librarian gave me a copy of Man from Mundania, which featured a story of an apparently average guy getting to cross from real-Florida to Xanth, and I loved the concept even more than Alice’s rabbit hole. It got even better a few years later, when Piers Anthony released Demons Don’t Dream, a novel about a game that allowed players to transport to Xanth — which was bundled with the computer game itself, Companions of Xanth, coming full-circle.
CB: What book that you read while growing up had the most influence on who you became as an adult?
AS: I’m on my third copy of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book of a quartet. I reread my previous copies so many times that they fell to pieces. The four novels tell the story of a girl who switches places with her twin brother in order to go into training as a knight, thus avoiding the fate of growing up to be a “lady.” The quartet should have been one novel, but this was before J.K. Rowling changed the standards for what could be marketed as a kid’s book. It deals frankly with things that never got discussed in any of my other books: having a first period, birth control, and sexual agency.
Great, complex women were in short supply in most of the media I encountered as a kid. Alanna stood out as a truly powerful character who wasn’t just a “strong woman” written for the masculine gaze. None of her story falls into the traditional happy ending traps that most fantasy women from books and games seemed destined to land. Most importantly, Tamora Pierce’s novels included greater diversity than any other fantasy novels I’d encountered, offering a fantasy world truly worth finding a rabbit hole.
I expect to continue this series through the October publication of my book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet. If there’s anyone in the gamer or kidlit camp that you’d love to see me feature in upcoming posts in this series, please drop me a line or tweet at me or just leave a message in the comments.
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