Our Journey As Female Gamers Part II - Featuring Charlotte Merritt & Stephanie Watson

What would it be like to have an extensive gaming experience that spanned forty years? What kind of evolution would be experienced over the course of an entire generation? 

I had the honor of talking with two of our Replayers who have been gaming in one fashion or another for around forty years. I started gaming from a very early age, but I was very curious about what these ladies’ experiences were, considering they had more background knowledge of the earlier systems and have played significantly more video games than I have. 

They have seen and experienced the evolution of the online collective community of video game players. What kind of environment did those first communities foster, and how have they since changed? 

Let’s start with a little history from them to see how things have changed from the early days:

How did you become a gamer and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

The Commodore 64 was introduced in August 1982.

Charlotte: My father bought a floppy drive for our Commodore 64. Dad liked some games, but he really didn’t lead me to them. It’s more that he introduced them.

Stephanie: I was about 7 or 8 when Pac-Man, Galaga, and other early arcade games started appearing in local restaurants. My parents bought us portable Pac-Man and Donkey Kong games to play at home. It started as something to do at restaurants while my family was waiting for a table or socializing after eating. Later, I started asking if I could ride my bike to the arcade and play. Friends and cousins had PCs with games and Atari 2600 consoles, and I'd try to visit them so I could play there too. Back home, though, my parents didn't buy anything until I was around 15, and it was a Nintendo NES for my brother. I played it a lot, but it always meant having to hang out in my brother's room. 

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to it? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Charlotte: Some of the games I grew up playing were Police Quest, Doom (1993) specifically, and Twisted Metal. At-home gaming was just coming in when I was a kid. I would say I am an eclectic gamer. I love the social aspect of video games. RPG’s are grand (Ultima Online & SWTOR). Puzzles are my favorite. Uncharted, the entire series is my absolute favorite. I think my preference has evolved as games have advanced.

Stephanie: Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were always favorites, and I got a lot of Super Mario Brothers playtime. I fell in love with The Legend of Zelda on my brother's NES. He got the Nintendo Power magazine for a while, so I would dive into the guides for specific games so I could get past the sticking points that made me rage quit.

I like a combination of puzzles and story-driven missions, and I usually play on story or normal modes. A story will keep me playing if I was really compelled by it or if there are different options for playing the story on repeated runs. Thus, RPGs are often a big draw. I also love achievement hunting and team challenges when I can play with other people. I love going back to play games like Destiny and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Charlotte:  For sure. Growing up, my generation's games were marketed to boys. Girls who played them were weird. Thanks go to the younger generation of gamers and streamers who have really helped try to normalize us. I remember so many times in UO (Ultima Online) other players not believing that I was a woman. “Women don’t play games” or “Women don’t know how to do RPG’s.” I was judged a lot by other girls as a teen because I would go home and throw on Doom, instead of reading Cosmo and learning the new makeup tips. Now it’s so nice that thanks to Retro Replay, I have this fantastic group of female gamers around me.

Stephanie: When video games first came out in the late 70s and early 80s, toy stores had no idea where they should put them. At the time, stores segregated toys by target gender (boy and girl). They chose to put them in the boy section and market them to boys. Many girls like me have felt the results of that marketing decision for three decades. Even today, people assume I'm a "he" in online games, even if I'm playing a female character. Fortunately, girls are really starting to come into their own now in ALL KINDS of games, and gaming communities are starting to outright reject people who discriminate against female gamers. I'm all for that, and it's great to see more females proudly calling themselves a gamer without feeling like they have to qualify or distinguish their gender.

Have there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Chloe & Nadie don’t look like they need rescuing.

Charlotte:  Lara Croft was a big one. Tough, strong female character. This has now grown to include Elena, Chloe, and Nadine. They don’t need to be “rescued”. They hold their own.

Stephanie: I admit I've mostly played games in which the lead was male just because I found the story intriguing. That said, I love how Star Wars: The Old Republic wrote the female versions of each character class to be equal to their male counterparts in the main plots of the story.

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Charlotte: For Sure. They’ve been insanely underrepresented AND over-sexualized when they are in a game. Yes.

Stephanie: We've absolutely been underrepresented as leads. There has been an effort in recent years to have a female alternative lead in games, but most of the marketing and labels use the male lead. I suppose that's because of their demographic, with males still being the majority of gamers in certain game categories. I appreciate the move that RPG games have made to ensure that the female characters had just as compelling of a story as their male counterparts. And the game stories are also bringing in a lot of diversity.

Some of us are streamers: 

 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Charlotte: It’s been fun. I recently became a Twitch affiliate. I have my first subscriber (Thanks Adam!) People have been very welcoming and supportive.

Stef's new setup

Stephanie: It's a fun hobby, and it's given me an excuse to improve my gaming setup at home. It also helps me accept that I'm not perfect (I can't just edit out the rough spots) and that's okay. My streaming schedule has been incredibly limited since 2021 started, though, as I now spend most of my hobby hours editing articles for a website or producing a podcast.

 

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things? 

Charlotte: I love seeing my friends interacting in my chat. I hate seeing a new name and hitting that second of panic of….are you here to troll or are you here cause I’m playing a game you like? Luckily, I’ve only had to deal with a couple of bots. So I’ll claim a win, so far.

Stephanie: My favorite part of streaming is seeing people who come in regularly, people who have been supporting me and the channel from the start. I love that I can talk to them while I'm playing or cooking or whatever I'm streaming that day. That social part is even better when I can stream with friends, too. 

Back to gaming:

 

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Charlotte’s family resulted from her playing an online game and meeting her Prince Charming. Now she is living her “Happily Ever After.”

Charlotte: My 15-year-old son, Troy. I met my husband on a video game (Ultima Online) back in 2002. We married in 2003.

Stephanie: My favorite "old school" achievement is finishing The Legend of Zelda on NES. I've even replayed the game multiple times in the years since when I could find it. My favorite current achievement is hosting an Extra Life team and charity stream. We raised almost $1500 for children's hospitals and the whole team brought so much energy, enthusiasm, and support for each other. It was a joy to be able to host, and I hope we can do it again in 2021!

https://www.extra-life.org/

Charity Streams are a great way to pursue your hobby and give back to a great cause! 

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Charlotte: Would love to see even more diversity, gender, and race. I would also like to see schools promote the E arts to female students. It’s sad how much more the boys are pushed to them. I feel like if girls had new opportunities in jobs available they would go for more of those classes.

Stephanie: We've already come a long way with female leads and gay representation. I'd like to see more story writers and game producers take that to the next level by having characters who are bisexual, polyamorous, transgender, transvestite, and non-binary. I'd especially like stories to not assume every romance is going to be hetero or monogamous.

 I had a lot of fun discussing these questions in further detail in a Zoom chat with six of us female Replayers.

I learned a lot from Charlotte and Stephanie. From the early days of gaming to our current era it seems we have come a long way already in a short period of time. There have already been great strides in diversifying stories and gameplay. In recent years we have seen a significant influx of strong female leads giving us women gamers someone to finally relate to. You can look at a past interview of female replayers here.

Thank you again Charlotte and Stephanie for chatting with me and sharing your experience with the rest of us.

Check out their socials!

Charlotte - Twitter: @snapefantasy Twitch: twitch.tv/snapefantasy Instagram: snapefantasy

Stephanie - Twitter: @StephanieDoesVO Twitch: twitch.tv/Jicori Instagram: stephaniedoesvo

What other kinds of diversified roles would you like to see in video games? 

Talking Zombies, Hobbits, and Mocap with Nicole Tompkins

Over the past few decades, gaming has evolved from readable text to 8-bit sprites to a cinematic experience. Video game titles now have the same or more depth than a Hollywood Blockbuster. Nicole Tompkins has taken part in the evolution of performance capture or the recording of an actor’s movement, voice, and facial expressions to bring an animated or virtual character to life. Her first role as Idril in Middle Earth: Shadow of War was just the starting point. She also has taken on the lead role of Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil 3 Remake. And currently as Daniela Dimetrescu and Elena in the new Resident Evil Village.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole to talk about her career in performance capture, gaming, and maybe we played a game or two to pass the time!

Can you tell us about your acting journey from your beginnings in Middle Earth: Shadow of War to now?

I did a lot of film and TV and started to do voice-over work because my agent told me I am good at doing this. I like to be in the booth and be a silly actor. I submitted 4 lines for a role of a 16-year-old British girl for some sort of fantasy game for an audition. I got a callback afterward in the Warner Brothers lot and thought, “This is the coolest thing ever!” Little did I know it was Middle Earth: Shadow of War.  This was my first time doing motion capture. It was a cool experience because I was surrounded by great people to work within the gaming world on the acting side. And I had a great introduction to how the gaming world can be.

I went back to more movie gigs and got the Jill Valentine role in the Resident Evil 3 Remake. I went through the casting process and found myself in Tokyo playing a lead in a Resident Evil game which was a very cool jump. I had so much fun and had the time of my life getting to do that working with Capcom. 

The cinematics and motion capture director for Resident Evil Village, Steve Kniehibly, approached me to be in Village since I worked with him previously on the Resident Evil 3 Remake. And he also brought in all the actors who were previously in Resident Evil Biohazard, and Capcom agreed with bringing them in. We came in and worked hard to make something new. And here we are, at the Village, and it was this chaos of an amazingly huge cast of interesting characters, and I am grateful to be in the middle of it. That’s what’s happening in the game world and in my life right now.

Tell the Replayers about a career highlight that you’re proud of from day one to wrap.

I have so many! Definitely being part of the Resident Evil world at all is a massive career highlight. I get to work with such a great company and interact with such an incredible fanbase. I am surrounded by so many talented and inspiring people working in both Resident Evil 3 and Village. It’s always the people that you’re with that define your experience working on a project. 

And everyone who works there wants to be there. That’s one of the favorite things I love about working in video games in general. The crew is a fan of the Resident Evil games, the video game industry, and love what they do. They are passionate about what they do, and there’s nothing like that!

What is an obstacle that you’ve come across in your acting career?

I say this all the time when people ask me for acting advice: You get so many No’s in the industry, and you learn to not take it personally. You will eventually get a yes if you’re meant to do this and you’re passionate about it. It’s never personal. They never are. And that’s interesting since any artist knows how personal their work is to them. And yet, the decisions behind the scenes are never personal. It takes a lot of persistence. 

I think one of the challenges I have to overcome is to continue to show up authentically and with optimism, passion, and excitement, knowing there’s a chance you will, or you won’t get the job. Even when you do get the job, the project may even not see the light of day. Projects shut down for all sorts of reasons. So knowing there’s always a unique challenge, roadblock, or setback and just continuing to show up alive and not letting those obstacles bring you down or be cynical. Let it continue to fuel you and what it is you want to do and strengthen you.

Who is an inspiration or an influence in your acting career that you’ve worked with?

I feel like everyone I’ve ever worked with grows on me in some way, and I love that about acting in general. I can point to any person that I’ve worked with and know what I’ve learned from them or what excites me.

I have so much love and appreciation for Jeff Scheine, who played Carlos Olivera in the Resident Evil 3 Remake, and Chris Redfield in Resident Evil Village. He’s such a talented human. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other and enjoyed working together. We have similar values of approaching the craft and in life: showing up with as much humility as possible and always doing your absolute best. I respect him a lot, and there’s a lot of ways that he inspires me.

I am also super inspired by Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and Ike Amade on Shadow of War. I was super young at the time, and they just took me under their wing and taught me how to fly. And I did! Troy also directed and acted in Shadow of War and a lot of that dynamic inspired me and that’s super cool! These people are incredibly talented. 

You can’t look at someone like Laura Bailey with her career, personality, and the way she shows up and not be inspired by her. She is also one of the women in video games that made me realize that this is a career that can be rewarding. And more recently, Maggie Robertson, who plays Lady Dimetrescu in Village. I love her so much! There are so many people that inspire me. And that is just on the acting side!

There are producers, writers, producers, booth directors, and all the behind-the-scenes people. And it always takes a village behind any person that has any success or performance that you like. There are so many people that have contributed to who and where I am, and I am indebted forever to just look back and nod and be excited to watch everyone else’s success in all sorts of areas in life. That’s one of the best parts of doing this.

We took a little intermission and played a game of word association. I used words and characters that are associated with the Resident Evil franchise and here is what Nicole says the first thing that comes to mind:

Zombie

Apocalypse

Nemesis

Neil (Newbon)

Leon

Nick Apostolides!

Ethan

Hands (with a giggle)

Daniela

Having a good day!

Back to our regularly scheduled article!

How are we doing so far? How am I doing so far?

Dandy! We’re doing great! We’re chilling so far!

We dabbled into performance capture a little. What’s been that experience so far compared to traditional film, stage, and screen?

Performance capture is a beautiful marriage between film and theater in many ways. There’s physicality involved. You end up doing long takes or full scenes because we’re not waiting to move the camera or get a specific angle because any take could be your close-up. In so many ways it’s like theater. You’re doing a lot of pretending. You’re with objects that don’t look the way that they will. It takes a lot of imagination. 

Simultaneously, there’s something incredibly cinematic and technical about performance capture. We’re wearing an incredible amount of technology on our actual persons. And there are specific marks and places you end up having to hit. Or ways to look or be there at this moment. So timing becomes a thing. Starting and stopping positions. Doing your T-Pose before and after a scene. Much like a film set, it can get really technical when it comes to how it operates 

I have been very lucky to just be in a lot of sets that value the story enough to feel like we’re actually making a movie. Every performance is important and has this grounded naturalism. These games are turning into playable movies with incredible cinematics and emotionally driven stories and concepts. And I think it’s really cool because it gives us that much more material and depth to work with and dig into.

Check out the video below on how a performance capture session can turn into a cutscene in a video game-like in Resident Evil Village:

What are some memorable moments to share when you did performance capture?

I definitely have some fond memories of when we do our ROM (Range of Motion) in the morning. That is when I get my suit, connect the dots to our character, and track all the dots for the day on our person. We had some ROMs where we would end up doing a little dance to get the dots all lined up. There’s music on, and all of us do the motions at the same time. It’s a hilarious adventure of joy and silliness of us all in these wetsuits with velcro everywhere just jamming out to some intense song.

That and freaking mocap heels are a thing! There are always mocap shoes. But we had mocap heels because walking on heels changes how I physically walk. So for Daniela, Alcina, Cassandra, and Bela Dimetrescu, who are the witches in Village, we had to wear heels for the whole day. One because they’re very tall, and two, there is an in-dresses kind of movement. And that was kinda fun. My feet are done by the end of the day for sure! I would be like, “All right, cool. Kick ‘em off. I’m done! I’m out!”

Tell us about how you approached the role of Daniela as you do your performance capture during Village.

I felt like we were deciding on the day what these characters were going to sound like and how they walked. These ladies are very flirtatious and intentional on the part of the writers. For Daniela, it was pretty easy. She’s clearly kind of disconnected from reality, and like I said: She’s having a good day! She’s incredibly flirtatious and wants the player’s attention, not desperate for it.

There were days where I coordinated with Bekka Prewitt, who plays Bela, and Jeanette Moss, who played Cassandra. We wanted to show up as individuals but also as a cohesive thing because they look similar. A lot of people got them mixed up based on how they looked. But we knew our subtle character differences, and we had room to work with. Along with Maggie Robertson as Alcina, the head of the house, it came together as a cohesive unit. In the game itself, the team did a fantastic job of adding Easter eggs throughout the entire castle that teaches the player more and more about who they have been throughout time.

You’ve been part of legacy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and now Resident Evil, is there a wish list for future roles or a particular studio that you would like to work with?

Let’s be real: I would like to work with Naughty Dog! I played all of the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. They are just so groundbreaking in everything they do. They have fantastic talent, artists, and people. They find ways of evolving their games and create compelling stories and, specifically, interesting characters. Whether it’s a light, levity-filled character like Nathan Drake or super serious like Ellie, you can’t look at a character in a Naughty Dog game and not say, “That’s interesting.” The worlds they create are deep, layered, and emotional as well as entertaining. They’re a fantastic studio and I would love to hang out with some close people at some point.

I would also love to work with new, original IP’s. It’s fun how original IP’s start, and there’s something compelling about it like The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, and even Control. I love how a new world is created that is unique. I have had the pleasure of working on legendary IP’s. And there is something so satisfying about that because I came from an established world and fanbase. I throw my best at it and be like, “Hey, this is my version of this thing!” And, thankfully, I am warmly welcomed by everyone who enjoyed those games. But as far as being part of a new IP, that would be satisfying and cool for its own reasons. There’s something in my future and I don’t even know what it is yet!

Which franchise made you nerd out more: Lord of the Rings or Resident Evil?

Jill Valentine is the coolest role I’ve had the joy of playing, let's be honest. However, I will throw it to Shadow of War. There’s nothing like walking in your first video game role being a Triple-A Lord of the Rings game. I was like, “I’m sorry, what? That sounds amazing! Really?! Is that what we’re doing?! Okay, cool!” There’s something about it that made me so giddy inside.

Even with Resident Evil, I knew it was a big deal when I booked the role (for Jill). I was super excited to take it on and be part of it. But I didn’t have much context of how immersed I would end up with the Resident Evil community and the fans and how expansive that would be. Especially when Resident Evil 3 came out, we were heading straight into lockdown for COVID. So I ended up with all this time connected with all these humans online that were playing this game and enjoying it! The age range of fans is incredible, from nostalgia players who loved the games from the ‘90s to new players who are discovering it for the first time. It’s an incredible diversity of people, and I think that’s really special.

What have you been playing recently that you have enjoyed?

I’ve been playing a lot of stuff on Twitch. I love bringing the other cast members from Resident Evil Village and playing along with them on Twitch which is super fun! I play them because I want to see our performances and celebrate with the people that are involved. Also, people online suggest games I can play and make a list out of it. I also played the Tomb Raider trilogy on stream but out of order accidentally! Someone gifted me the third game (Shadow of the Tomb Raider) thinking that it’s the first in the series. It was the person’s favorite game of the trilogy. As I was playing it into Act One, I told my chat that I feel like I might be missing some context! Chat replied, “You’re playing the third game, Nik!” I was like, “Oh. Okay, cool.” So I played the third one, then the first one (Tomb Raider), and now I’m playing the second one (Rise of the Tomb Raider), and I’m enjoying the second one. I love the Japanese island of the first (game). But it felt claustrophobic and that was their intention.

What do you want to share with the Replayers what you’re currently doing and where can we find you on socials?

If you want to come hang out on a stream sometime, I have been streaming Resident Evil Village and bringing a lot of the cast members from that particular game lately. You can find me at www.Twitch.tv/nicoletompkins.

Or come say “Hey” on Twitter or Instagram: @nikileetompkins on either. That is where I get to post new projects and exciting things when I can do that. Until then, Love will be there and you’ll find out when the time is right!

During the interview, we added one more game to close out. Fellow contributor Daniel Morris and I wrote suggestions and put them in a hat. Nicole acts out the scenes based on those suggestions. It’s reminiscent of the segment on the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The suggestions are Resident Evil, entertainment, or pop culture related. Let’s see how she did:

Thanks again Nicole for interviewing! Also huge thanks to Daniel Morris who helped facilitate this interview.

Have you heard of Nicole Tompkins before this interview? What stands out from her growing career in gaming? Let’s hear them in the comments and talk about it!

8"x10" Daniela Dimetrescu print signed by Nicole Tompkins.

Also here's your chance to win an 8"x10" Daniela Dimetrescu print signed by Nicole Tompkins (valued at $50)! Enter below.

Nicole Tompkins Signed Print Giveaway

Bruce Greene: From Camcorder to Content Creator

A few years ago, I came across a YouTube channel that showed up on my suggested feed. It was three guys who made fun of poorly made game titles like Chaser, Ride to Hell: Retribution, and SiN Episodes: Emergence. They created memorable characters while playing The Sims and made entertaining Grand Theft Auto V videos with their subscriber community. That channel was Inside Gaming. The same crew who ran this YouTube channel moved on to Rooster Teeth, started Funhaus, and helped relaunch Inside Gaming at Rooster Teeth. 

Bruce Greene is a founding member of both Inside Gaming and Funhaus, and he now streams full-time on Twitch with multiple side projects in the works. I had the privilege of speaking with Bruce recently about his early career creating content, his gaming background, and everything in between. 

You had a background in radio, and then you delved into G4. What was the path that led you to be a content creator? 

Bruce (top right) before the beard!

Honestly, it's been content creation since I bought a video camera off eBay when I was 15-16 years old and was running around with my friends shooting videos that were like Jackass, because we watched and we loved Jackass. We would go out and shoot those videos, and I would bring them home and edit them. And this was years before YouTube, so I would just edit them, show them to my friends, and didn't do anything else with them. I was just sort of like, "Well, that was fun." 

Then I started being a radio DJ when I was 18. I created content on the radio for about five years. Then I moved to Los Angeles, got a job at G4, and was slowly creating content there in a lot of entry-level jobs. Eventually, I worked my way up to a producer role at G4, which took a few years. From there, I moved to Machinima and did the Inside Gaming stuff, then to Rooster Teeth with the Funhaus stuff. So I've been making content for 20 years. Long time.

Check out Bruce's video on playing around with a potato gun with his friends:

What was that career moment that made you say, “I want to just take the leap into content creation.”? Or was that something that you've done since you started editing videos on your old camcorder? 

So there isn't really that moment, because, like I said, I've been doing it for a long time. And I bet I would be making my own YouTube videos even if I didn't work in a content creation career. So I bet I'd have my own little YouTube channel to screw around on even if I wasn't making YouTube videos and Twitch streams for a living.

Bruce’s time on G4 sure was colorful!

But, back in 2004, I applied for a job at EA as a QA tester and for a job as a coordinator at G4. And they each called me on the same day, on my birthday, and said, “Hey, you got the job.” And I kind of knew that I had to make that decision then. I could either go into computer science and maybe into video game development, which is awesome and I would love to have done that. Or I could go into entertainment. I had done five years of radio at that point and enjoyed it, and I thought it seemed like the way to go, so I went with G4.

What would you say is your proudest career moment so far?

 I worked very hard at G4 as a segment producer and as a coordinator, production assistant, and all sorts of entry-level jobs in addition to being a producer. And I always wanted to be on camera; I always wanted to create the content in addition to producing it. So when I left G4 to go to Machinima, that was my only thing. I was like, “Hey, I would love to come to Machinima. But I would like to be on camera. I'd like to be a producer and host.” And they said, “Done!” 

And I'm proud that I was able to turn that into the job that I wanted because that was scary. Even in a tiny little network like G4, it wasn't easy to get on the air. Not just anybody could be a host; it took a long time. So when I went to Machinima, I thought, “Alright, well, if they give me the chance, I will convert it into something that looks, hopefully, a success.” And I did. So I'm proud of that.

Kevin Pereira hosted Attack Of The Show on G4TV.

Do you have any mentors or other creators that you look up to? 

In terms of on-camera mentors, Kevin Pereira was awesome, and he's still a good friend of mine. I would watch him host his live show every day. And he was just so good at it. He's been doing it for years, and he's always a consummate professional. When I watched him, he never got frustrated or upset. He just did the job and did it well. And he's also just a great guy.

So he wasn't so much a mentor as somebody who I looked up to and I was like, “Man, that's really cool. I'd love to do something like that.” I wanted to eventually get to that place in my career.

Let's flip the script: What are some failures have you experienced, and what did you learn from them?

I don't have a memorable failure so much as I have a bunch of little things I realized I'll learn from. That's the nice thing about YouTube and Twitch content: you could try anything. It's not like you went and spent $3 million to make a movie and then it bombed. Instead, maybe you spent a couple hundred bucks on a Twitch setup, tried it, and nobody liked it. And you're like, “Well, okay, I'll move on.” So I've had a bunch of those things, and it's a constant refining process. 

It was also like that when I was running Funhaus in terms of the channel on YouTube. I was always refining the video to see what the audience liked. So if I put a video up, and it did better than I expected, I'd be like, “Oh, we can make another one.” And if it did worse than I expected, I'd be like, “Okay, never mind, we won't make any more of those.” 

So there's a bunch of little failures and, in my opinion, they're all just learning experiences. “Failure” is probably the wrong word. It's more just something that doesn't do as well as you wanted it to. And that happens all the time in content creation. I was constantly producing segments on Attack of the Show that didn't air. I would spend hours, even days on segments, and the producers would say, “Nope, didn't air.” Because that's the way a live television show would go. So you don't grow attached to it, you just think of it as no big deal and move on. 

That's a part of content creation: you're constantly doing things that aren't going to be great, and that's okay. I honestly think that's part of being an artist: making things that maybe people don't like, maybe you don't like, and you get better at your craft that way. 

A real life portrayal of Tommy Steale from the Sex Swing animated series.

You mentioned ideas that don't work. What factors would you say lead to content that didn't quite work for you, like the animated show Sex Swing?

Those are things that we just wanted to try and we had the chance to try. There isn't one particular thing that you can point to and say, "Oh well, it failed because of this." That doesn't happen. There's a bunch of different things that lead up to why it did or didn't "succeed" according to someone's measure of success. There may have been a few people out there that really loved Sex Swing and still watch it. Who knows? But it just didn't catch on and, again, it's not not really about whether or not it was a success or a failure, just more of like, “Well, did it get enough eyes on it to warrant the cost?”  

That's what it always boils down to when it comes to productions: the money. And that's okay, that's not a big deal. I think this is something that I almost have a daily discussion about on Twitch, and it's the same with YouTube, and television, and movies, and everything else that you listen to or watch or consume. If I make something on Twitch and it either doesn't get a lot of subs or views (or both) or people or respond to it negatively, I have to take all of those into account and ask, “Do I want to do this again?” 

And probably the answer is no. If two or three of those things aren't met, if people didn't like it or responded negatively in the chat, and a lot of people didn't sub, I can't do it again. And it's the same with a movie or a television show: Netflix puts out 10 television shows a day, and, if people don't watch it, Netflix doesn't make anymore. That's no big deal. That's just part of it.

Bruce with wife, Autumn Farrell. Currently with 100 Thieves, Autumn is known for her past work as a video editor and screen talent for Sugar Pine 7.

Speaking of going to Twitch, when did you start streaming?

I started streaming in general back in 2017, so about four years, and exclusively on Twitch since 2018. I streamed for a long time when I was at Funhaus as a second job, doing it three or four nights a week in addition to working at Rooster Teeth. When I left in 2019, that's when I started doing it full-time.

What's a myth that you want to debunk about streaming?

It's the same myth that goes along with Funhaus: people asked, “Oh, you guys just sit down and make fun of games?” I thought, sarcastically, “Yes. That's all we do. Right.” And it's the same with Twitch: people ask, “Oh, you get on Twitch and you just play video games?” Oh, yeah. Sure. It's just that easy. 

I mean the answer is, "If you think it's easy, go do it." That's always my thing: the coolest part about being like a YouTuber or Twitch content creator is that anyone can do it. So I challenge you to go and do it because, for me, that's how you can debunk that myth for yourself of whether you're "just sitting down with your friends making fun of video games for an hour" or "just playing a game for three or four hours on Twitch." 

No, it's not that simple. There's a lot of pre-production that goes into the things that I'm going to pick and play on Twitch. I have to think about how I think the audience will respond, how I'm responding to chat, how I'm responding to all the support that's coming in, and what goals I want to hit in that stream or in that game. Or may I decide to do an entirely different stream, like a media share stream or a Pokemon card opening stream as a giveaway. 

Those are all things that I have to plan out in my head, see how they play out, and then make sure I've got the resources for it during the stream. All the work that goes into the pre-production and production of Twitch streams takes a pretty long time. So each Twitch stream could involve 8, 9, or even 24 hours of work.

Bruce pulling a rare Pokemon card on one of his Twitch streams

With YouTube, most of that work goes into the post-production. For YouTube content with Funhaus, we would sit down, write, and do maybe 8 hours of pre-production on something like picking a game to play. We'd probably have an idea of what section of the game we were going to play when we sat down and riffed on it. But then editing Funhaus videos took 5 days! So it was a lot of work on the post-production side for YouTube, and it's a lot of work on the pre-production and production side for Twitch. 

Going back a little bit in your career, how did you manage to ride that wave from radio to TV to new digital content?

Moving from radio to television at G4 was just changing mediums. That wasn't me trying to stay ahead of anything, it was just more of like, "I'd like to work in television." So I applied to a bunch of radio stations in LA like KROQ where I worked, and I applied to television stations and movies. I just knew I wanted to do something in entertainment, and those industries have existed for almost 100 years at this point. 

But the transition from G4 to Machinima was scary because I didn't know how people were making money on YouTube. I had no clue. I was watching Machinima videos in 2010 when I worked at G4 on television, and I knew that you could sell ads on a television show, and that's how a television show made money. But I had no clue that that's also how people made money on YouTube. Each time a person watches an ad, that content creator gets a penny. Then, if a bunch of people watch that video, it adds up. I was thinking that there's no way that these people playing Call of Duty could get enough views and ads sold on those videos for people to make money. I was totally wrong. They were millionaires in the making right then. 

Like that's the craziest part of Twitch... people saying, "You know what, I like to watch this guy, I'll throw him five bucks."

I was really scared because I didn't know how the business model worked. So it took a lot of research and time on YouTube before I thought, “Oh, I think I understand how this makes money.” So riding that wave from television to the internet to YouTube was mainly just a feeling I had because I had a lot of friends that were doing it there, a lot of friends who were going to the YouTube space and going to Machinima specifically. I thought, "There's gotta be something over there. They're hiring people. Like, what is it?" And I learned about it, I figured it out. 

It was a little different going from YouTube to Twitch because I had already been doing it for a few years. I knew how it worked. It blew my mind, and it still blows my mind today how people directly give you support. That's crazy to me. Like that's the craziest part of Twitch: being on Twitch and people saying, "You know what, I like to watch this guy, I'll throw him five bucks." That's fucking wild. YouTube didn't have that: with a YouTube ad, you have to go through a bunch of, you know, soulless corporations to get your cash. Whereas Twitch income comes almost directly from the viewer: it goes through Amazon, and they take their cut, but the rest goes straight to you.

Let's talk about gaming. What have you been playing on and off-stream? I know you recently did Pokemon Snap for 24 hours on Twitch. God bless you for doing that!

I beat the shit out of that game! I did. I literally beat it up and down. I beat the game and then I did all the Legendaries. I did all of it. So it's all done. I never have to touch it again. 

But in terms of games that I've been playing, that I enjoy, I've been playing Apex Legends a lot. They just came out with the new season and it's awesome. I've also been playing Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, which sets up two AI armies controlled by a computer, and you tell it what army to fight against another army. Then, on Twitch, we have people bet on who's gonna win. And it's fucking awesome! So I've been playing that almost once a week. Plus, I've been playing a lot of Subnautica recently. Subnautica: Below Zero is an amazing single-player game that's really fun. A lot of people like to watch and play on Twitch, too. And I'm getting ready for Battlefield 6, which I'll hopefully be playing a ton of. I can't wait. Very excited!

"Did you want to interject, Dan?" Thanks to Dan Morris (top right) for facilitating the interview with Bruce Greene.

How would you say that gaming has changed over the years you've been playing?

I think the most obvious way gaming has changed is that people watch it now. Before you would just sit at home and watch your friends play or you play with your friends. And, of course, I've been playing games online for 20 years now. I bought my first gaming PC in 2001, and that's had pretty obvious changes. 

When I'm streaming a game, I'll see a lot of people in chat say, “Oh, I'm glad you're playing this. I wanted to see if I wanted it.” That's something that didn't exist 10 years ago, and now it totally does. Before, you only had reviews, and even then it's like, “Ah, maybe the review is just all opinion-based.” Now you could just go on Twitch to watch any game you want, or any portion of the game, however you want to see it played, and it's there.

Where do you see the future for gaming in, say, the next 5 years?

Choose your own adventure: Twitch chat edition.

I'm kind of tunnel-vision on content creation for video games. But what I see in video games is something that's already happening now, and I've done it a couple times on my channel: the audience will interact with the video game as you're playing it. I control, but they interact. And it's great! Developers are gonna be building that into video games in the next 5 years. They already are in games like Borderlands 3, which had a Twitch extension and integration that was built directly by Gearbox. I think it's the coolest thing in the world when a bunch of people watching you can change the game that you're playing.

In Borderlands, you connect the game to a Twitch account. Then, if you found a red crate with loot, like a specific gun, then the gun would drop for you in the game. Then it would select a number of people that had linked their account to your Twitch in Borderlands who would get the same gun that you saw. The game also had mini bosses occasionally, and the Twitch chat could take control of one of those mini-bosses. The mini-boss would move around with the AI, but the chat could pick what abilities that character would use against you.

Vermintide (a Warhammer game) is another really good example. Vermintide has constant audience votes on buffs, debuffs, enemy spawns, and stuff like that. The Twitch chat just votes on each thing, and, once they vote, it drops that enemy or buff or whatever in your game.

Check out the video below on how Vermintide can change a game with chat:

I recall you did Super Mario 64 with Crowd Control, and there are clips upon clips of you flubbing on certain parts of Mario 64.

So hard. It's so hard. Crowd Control is different because people pay for it with bits. So the people pay to fuck with your game. And that's why I like that a lot, too. Not only is it good for content, but it's good for supporting the content creator.

My fellow Replayer Rohan Elliot wanted to ask what advice you have for streamers who are starting or who are on their journey and feel like they're either being drowned out or being over-saturated with their content.

My main piece of advice is always the same: be consistent. If you can only do it once a week, pick a day in that week, and then do it every single week. If you're doing it three times in, say, three weeks, and then the fourth time, you're like, "Ah, nobody's watching, I can't do it," don't do that. The reason is because Twitch and YouTube have algorithms, and if you are not feeding those algorithms with content, you're just gonna get bumped down further and further. The less consistent you are, the less those algorithms will help you, and the less people will help you because they won’t know how to rely on you. 

So suppose everyone knows I stream on Sundays. Then after I stream on Sundays for six weeks in a row, I'm like, “Fuck it, I'm changing to Mondays.” Then after I do that for five weeks, I change to Wednesdays. At that point, no one knows what I'm doing, so it's bad for my audience, and it's bad for the algorithm. So be consistent. 

"You gotta stay consistent."

There's another piece of advice that's counter-intuitive: if you really enjoy content creation, then there are going to be times that you're going to get on and you don't want to do it. But that's just part of it: if you want it to become your job, with aspirations of becoming a YouTuber or Twitch streamer, you have to power through that stuff. And you gotta do it when you don't want to. 

And I'm not saying don't take a break. I'm not saying don't take a vacation. I'm just saying that if you're thinking, "You know what, I'm not feeling it today," you're gonna want to give into that feeling a lot. You gotta stay consistent. And that goes for everything in life. Imagine if you were doing a data entry job and decide, "You know what, fuck it. It's Thursday. I don't want to go, so I'm not going." Your boss would say, "We have work that we need done. Where are you?" and you're telling them, "I don't want to go." It don't work that way! The same goes for content creators that have aspirations of making it their job. 

If you just want to do it for fun, though, then fucking do it for fun! Stream whenever you want! Who cares? Because you don't care, right? You don't care about making money, you don't care about turning it into your job. So just do whatever you want.

Check the video below for the latest clip show of Bruce’s streams:

Given your traditional backgrounds in producing, editing, and even camera and voiceover work, would you say that those help with someone who's looking into that digital media industry? 

It's really up to you. That kind of stuff will help you, but you don't need it. Twitch and YouTube are so bare-bones that as long as you got a webcam and microphone, you're fine. And it's more about whether or not you're passionate about what you're doing, and you like the content you're creating, and if then the content is entertaining. So I don't think you really need to worry about, "Oh, did I do voiceover?" or "Can I operate a camera?" or "Do I feel like I'm an actor?" Just try it! That's, again, the best part of Twitch and YouTube: you can just try it. And if you don't like it, then that's okay, go try another form of content creation. 

(Also see our article "Should I Start Streaming?")

What would you like the Replayers to know about what you've been working on lately?

Bruce Greene and Lawrence Sonntag collaborating on the Talk to the Internet podcast.

In terms of content that I'm pitching, we're kind of slowly coming out of the COVID haze, and Lawrence Sonntag and I have been pitching a couple of shows here and there just that we hope get green-lit. Slowly productions are coming back to person-to-person stuff—COVID really threw a wrench in all that big time. We had a bunch of grand plans, and I was pitching stuff, and then Bang! everything shut down. 

I've also been pitching to Twitch and a couple other places. But it's funny, I don't even talk about this stuff because I don't like to talk about stuff that people will never see. One thing that I can talk about is Lawrence and I just started the Inside Games channel and we're doing gaming news. We love it, and that's just for fun, but I would love to make something bigger. Lawrence and I were just like, “You know what, screw it. Let's just start it.” And that's something new in addition to Twitch streaming and other stuff like that. 

Thanks again to Bruce for the interview. Thanks also to Rohan Elliot for providing the supplemental questions and Dan Morris who helped facilitate the interview. 

Where to follow and watch Bruce Greene:
Twitch: twitch.tv/BruceGreene
Twitter: @BruceGreene
Instagram: @BruceGreene
Inside Games (Bruce Greene and Lawrence Sonntag): youtube.com/InsideGames

Are you a Bruce Greene fan? What parts of Bruce's career or advice resonate the most with you? Share your thoughts in the comments and let's discuss.

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part I - Featuring Amelia Brown & Cassandre Federowicz

I fell in love with video games when I was about six or seven years old. Video games at the time were a niche hobby and just something to pass the time. Not many people talked about them openly. Video games were what the boys played, but I was a tomboy, so I fit right in.

When gaming online was introduced, the online community was saturated with mainly male players. It was very few and far between when I would meet other women online. When I did, it was a feeling of sisterhood and banding together. It was as if there was an unspoken understanding of the challenges we have faced as female gamers. 

Things have changed drastically since those early online days. Women are now a large majority of online players. Since joining the Retro Replay community, I have become acquainted with many wonderful, diverse women gamers, and I wanted to highlight their stories and journey through their gaming life.

I sat down with ten of these awesome ladies and discovered that some of them had been gaming for close to 40 years while others just recently took to gaming as a hobby. Most of the ladies had been playing video games in one capacity or another their entire lives. Since the years of experience varied between the group, I knew that we would have a great discussion on the evolution of gaming and where we hoped to see that evolution grow. 

Our first segment will feature Amelia Brown and Cassandre Federowicz. Amelia is our youngest featured gamer from Wales. Her experience spans about eleven years. Cassandre, from Rhode Island, USA, started gaming as early as she can remember. Let’s find out a bit more about our fellow female gamer Replayers. 

How did you become a gamer, and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

Nige & Little Amelia bond in her early years playing the PS1

Amelia: “I would always watch my father play games. I was always so intrigued by what he was doing and always asking questions. Definitely going to have to say my dad was a big influence when it came to gaming as he was a big gamer himself. I also used to watch a lot of YouTube. At the time, a lot of big gaming YouTubers came onto the scene, and I fell into watching a lot of content on YouTube.” 

Cassandre:  “I probably became a gamer because of my mom. She liked games, so she got us playing some “retro stuff.”  It was on a PlayStation 1, but we definitely started playing the older games first. Then, she took me and my brother to Funcoland (which later turned into GameStop) to buy used PS1 games. As I got older and found out my friends also played games, I started playing more regularly. By the time the PS2 came out, I had a pretty decent size collection, and my friends and I would often play together.”

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to it? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Amelia: “When I was growing up, I used to love Simpsons Hit and Run for the PS2. That was probably one of my favorites! It was like a kids version of GTA cross with The Simpsons universe, which I was obsessed with when I was a kid, so it was like a match made in heaven! There was a series of games by the Bratz dolls that I adored when I was like 10 or 11, and I feel like I love these games so much because there was a sense of open world-ness to them and what I really enjoyed about this game was how it embraced creativity. You were able to make your own tee shirts and put on fashion shows, and it really did inspire me at one point to become a fashion designer; not gonna lie!

I love a fast-paced game with multiplayer aspects to it, such as battle royales and anything PvP. I'm big into shooter games like Fortnite, Apex, etc. However, when I like to relax, I wind down with slower-paced games such as Animal Crossing,  Pokémon, and Minecraft.”

Cassandre:  “I still have the first-ever game I got when PS2 came out. Britney’s Dance Beat (LOL) I don’t think it works anymore but I knew I couldn’t part with it. Besides that Legend of Mana for the PS1, which I also still have, and Final Fantasy X for the PS2. Those were games I played on my own. My WHOLE family would get in on some Crash Bash and Crash Team racing (both of which I also still have )  

 A year ago, I would have said I only play single-player narrative-based games. However, that has definitely changed. Pandemic allowed me to meet new people that I started playing online with. I also started getting into PC gaming which to me is something I never really did before now.” 

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Amelia: “I feel like a lot more young women are starting to get into gaming which is really good because it gives people a chance to find a new hobby as well as potentially make new friends.”

Cassandre: “Growing up, I was kind of the only girl I knew that played games. My friends watched me play a lot. As I got older, I came across more women gamers. More of the people I knew in person and online played games. Especially in the last year when I started going to school to make games. My program itself is pretty evenly mixed.”

Has there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Horizon, aka Dr. Mary Somers, a charming astrophysicist, voiced by Elle Newlands.

Amelia: “Abby and Ellie in the Last of Us 2, Chloe and Nadine from Uncharted: Lost Legacy, and so many other incredible stories that have female-focused characters. However, one that I really connected with when playing was Horizon in Apex Legends. Her Scottish wit and constant puns in the fast-paced battle royale always puts a smile on my face even if I’m losing! Not only this she shows a sensitive side in cinematics when referring to her past and her family before taking part in the Apex games.”

Cassandre: “As a young woman I was basically obsessed with Yuna from FFX and FFX-2. My grandfather drew me a picture of her that I have hanging up in my office. It's from 2004 when I was 11. When I FINALLY was able to afford to buy myself a PS4 it became Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. I put well over 300 hours into that game over a 3-year period. Since then, I rediscovered my love for Tomb Raider and Lara Croft, and found a new love in Ellie and Abby from The Last of Us 2.” 

Cassandre’s grandfather’s drawing of Yuna from 2004, which hangs in her office.

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Amelia: “I do not think women have been underrepresented at all. I feel recently there have been enough female leads in games.”

Cassandre: “When I was a kid, I feel like it was only Lara Croft and Samus. I still play as Samus when I play Smash games. She's my go-to for sure. I know there were more, but the games I was exposed to as being a mostly single-player gamer really only had those two characters as true leads for the longest time. As I said in my previous answer, the emergence of Aloy, the remasters of Tomb Raider, and the second Last of Us game has definitely given us stronger female leads. I also only usually play PlayStation games, so there might be more on other platforms that I don’t know about. I would like to see that change.” 

Ellie & Abby, both strong independent female leads, defied the general female stereotype in The Last of Us Part II, which has won the most awards in video game history.

Some of us are streamers: 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Amelia: “I have adored becoming a streamer. I love my community and everything about streaming in general!”

Check out some clips of Amelia streaming. She is a champ at editing her highlights: 

Cassandre: “I started streaming as a joke. After that, I started doing it more often, and before I knew it, I became a Twitch Affiliate. I kept up with it regularly on a set schedule for a few months. I haven't been able to as much because I work full time and attend school full time as well. In the future, I’d like to have more time to do it fairly regularly.”  

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things?

Amelia: “I absolutely adore streaming, and it's my favorite thing to do when I have a chance! I love being able to share my experiences with gaming with other people who share similar interests and sometimes being able to show my audience games that I enjoy that they may not have heard of. My least favorite thing has to be the stereotyping that happens across twitch when it comes to a quote-on-quote‘ girl gamer’.”

Cassandre: “My favorite thing about streaming is the fun I have while doing it. I grew up having my friends just watch me play games anyways so it's almost no different. It took a while to get used to being on camera for hours at a time but once I got past the initial anxiety of it, I didn’t mind it. My least favorite thing is how much money I’ve spent on the setup for it. I didn’t have to do that but I did want my streams to look somewhat different. I still get anxious streaming as someone who's never really been in the spotlight like that before.”  

Back to gaming:

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Amelia: “Well, I've got a few platinum trophies on the PlayStation for a variety of games but I have to say my favorite trophy that I've earned was my platinum for Minecraft for the PlayStation when I was about 16. My proudest achievement in gaming has to be being able to play at professional level for Apex legends at the age of 17. I may not have won all of the games, but I won one or two in a tournament and I was very proud of those considering I was going against very high-level players. I didn’t even know how to play a couple of months prior to it! I think my team placed about 4th out of 20 teams which we were proud of! Who knows maybe one day I can do it again and we could rank even higher!”

Cassandre: “I know it’s lame but I was so proud when I got my first platinum in a game that I spent 200 hours working on. It was for Death Stranding.  Since then, I’ve gone back and worked on a few other games that I found really challenging and eventually got it for them as well. I never thought about achievement hunting before since I was a gamer just for fun, which I still am but now I have fun going that extra mile.”

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Cassandre: “As someone who's eventually (hopefully) going to work in the industry I like what I’ve been seeing in regards to women working in the industry. I love seeing more and more on my Twitter timeline and in articles. It gives me a little extra push for me to work harder to make sure that I end up there as well. That being said, I think with more women in the industry as well as female streamers, female gamers in general, the shift is coming. The hate they receive, I can see, it fuels them. I know it does for me.”

 Amelia and Cassandre both had roots in gaming from influence from their parents at a young age which has led them to have a strong passion for the hobby in their current years. It’s inspiring to hear how other women have gotten into this wonderful hobby of gaming and how some plan on making game development their career to bring joy and excitement to the next generation.

 Stay tuned for Part II of this Candid Discussion, which will feature Replayers Charlotte Merritt and Stephanie Watson! 

Amelia - Twitter: @its_ameliabrown Twitch: twitch.tv/its_ameliabrown Instagram: its_ameliabrown

Cassandre - Twitter: @casswitch2319 Twitch: twitch.tv/casswitch2319 Instagram: casswitch

Michele Morrow Talks to us about Gaming, Healing, and Esports

After Michele Morrow visited Retro Replay, I had a wonderful chat with her about how our lives are impacted by gaming and whether esports is providing gamers with an equal playing field. She also shared her own story about how gaming helped her through a rough time. Check out the amazing stories and insights she shared with us!

In the spirit of retro games, since we're here at Retro Replay, let's go back to your own earliest memories with video games. What was the first game you remember playing, and what retro games still hold a special place in your heart?

The first game that I remember playing was called Tooth Invaders. It's a game where you fight off the evil cavities that are attacking your teeth. I must have been 4 or 5 years old, and I remember you get these big blocky teeth and you use a toothbrush to brush them off.

Michele's favorite retro game, Ghosts 'n Goblins. (Remember that beloved Level 1 episode?)

Retro gaming holds a very important place in my heart because that's how I grew up playing. I started on the Commodore 64 with games like Impossible Mission and Jumpman (not to be confused with Mario).

We also had an arcade pack that had Pac-Man, Moon Patrol, Galaga--games you would see more in the arcades. And going to the arcades was a big part of my growing up, too, either at a Chuck E. Cheese or at local malls. 

I got a Nintendo NES on my 10th birthday, and all the kids would come over after school and play it. Probably my favorite retro game was Ghosts 'n Goblins. You die a thousand times in your underwear! And of course all the Marios and Zeldas! 

I've heard you talk about how World of Warcraft has been a big part of your life, and your own personal story of how you got started playing is something I know a lot of Replayers can probably relate to: the healing someone can experience from gaming. For Replayers who may not be familiar with your story, tell us about what happened and how World of Warcraft helped get you through it all?

While an actor on an independent horror movie, I was asked to go on a behind-the-scenes day to film after we were done principal photography. There was a machine there called an air ram. It was optional, I just said that looked fun. It's like a trampoline on hydraulics: you step on it and it shoots you into the air.

And I did. And I landed on my head from 10-12 feet. And it hurt. Bad.

The injury resulted in a small neck fracture and removing my left cervical rib. It was called thoracic outlet syndrome. I had a neck brace on and couldn't really do a whole lot. It sucked.

I learned that gaming is really healing. It made me feel like I was accomplishing something.

I was depressed, gaining weight, and just feeling awful that I couldn't have my normal life. My boyfriend (now husband) and I, in finding things we can do together, started to play video games together a lot. He introduced me to God of War II, which I was obsessed with, and several other games that I got super into.

Then he introduced me to World of Warcraft.

Lady Sylvanas Windrunner from World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment)

It was great because it was a game that didn't end. I kinda had endless content. It felt like I was reading an interactive book! I'd never played it before 2007, coming in during the Burning Crusade. I was mesmerized at how much gaming had changed and how the storytelling had elevated to make you feel like you were in a choose-your-own-adventure.

In my first month, I was introduced to the character of Lady Sylvanas who lost her body and wanted to get it back. I totally resonated with that and wanted nothing more than the same for myself. So I got really into reading about her story: reading the books on it, novels, short stories that had been published online over the years. I loved it!

World of Warcraft really helped me through a tough time. I met so many people that were also going through injury or illness, and kids using it for an escape, who are in hospitals and can't see other people because their immune systems were so low. I'm still friends with a kid I met: he's in remission, he's doing great, and he's about to graduate from the University of Washington. We're still buddies.

I felt connected to other people in a time where I felt very isolated. I formed my guild around that time and it still exists, and some of those people I met in 2007 to 2009, are still playing with me to this day. It's kind of like a family. 

I learned that gaming is really healing, or it can be. I played the new God of War a couple of years ago when I had a knee surgery, and that was the best thing I could do to get through that. It gave me something to do. It made me feel like I was accomplishing something. I didn't feel like I was just waiting around. I loved it.

Speaking of WoW, and you touched on it briefly already, I'm sure many of us who have virtually indulged in BlizzCon saw your coverage as an essential part of the overall BlizzCon experience. How did that connection first develop with Blizzard and the BlizzCon event?

Michele voiced Alleria Windrunner in Hearthstone. (Blizzard Entertainment)

My first relationship with Blizzard was being hired to voice Alleria Windrunner for Hearthstone in early 2014. I about fainted when I got that role because it's the long-lost sister of Lady Sylvanas and a very cherry role. It was the first time she had been seen in the lore for a long time, so that was exciting!

That same year, they were auditioning people to be the new co-host with Geoff Keighley for BlizzCon 2014. It was the year Overwatch was announced to the world, and it was cool because I went from going to BlizzCon as a fan to now being invited into headquarters and shown all of the goodies. It was like opening Christmas presents before Christmas morning: I got to see everything, but I couldn't talk about it.

I hosted BlizzCon six years, 2014 through 2019. I really loved my time on the show.

The massive XP boost from your career achievements definitely shines through in The Game Diaries podcast, currently on a break after an inspiring first season. In the first episode, you define the podcast as a platform for stories from all kinds of people involved in gaming, focusing on how video games have made an important impact on their life. We've already talked a little bit about that already. How do you think that the media missed this opportunity and left this gap?

I don't know. I wonder that all the time. I think just now creators and producers are starting to see the value and educational part of gaming. I've seen documentaries about the history of gaming, and they all kind of focus on a very similar arc. Only recently have I seen shows digging a little deeper and showing the human interest side.

We've had a lot of people in gaming talk about the human impact. Jane McGonigal did a really great TED Talk about the impact of gaming. But I don't think the mainstream understands that playing a game and being a gamer is a part of an identity. It's part of a community. As our world is getting more connected, these communities can connect, thrive, and define themselves.

You can find Michele with missharvey sharing gamers' stories in The Game Diaries podcast.

I think that I got to see that with BlizzCon, specifically. Anybody who attended BlizzCon understands the convention is about this mutual love that people have for their games and meeting the people you play with in person.

Every gamer has a story about how gaming affected their lives, whether from a career level, or an emotional level, or a relationship level. My goal with The Game Diaries is to elevate those stories by taking some of the most important ones I'm aware of in my decade in gaming and bring those to the forefront. Most are stories that the mainstream just isn't aware of yet.

Since you're someone whose interviewing style I admire, I have to ask: How am I doing so far?

You're doing great!

It's clear that the positive impact of gaming has been something you've been passionate about for years now. In a post at Nerdist back in 2014 where you were covering an Extra Life event, you mentioned how gaming is the great equalizer: "It's participatory. It has no judgement. It sees no gender, no race, no age... and no disease." Do you see this equalizing effect coming through in esports? How are the different esports arenas doing with giving players an equal playing field?

Terribly. It's really disappointing because esports has so much potential to be just as inclusive as the rest of gaming. But it's an industry that requires outside funding, which brings non-endemic people to the table, and, at its core, it's highly competitive because that's what it's based on.

I have noticed there aren't as many female pros, as I'm sure you have, too. And the reason is because I don't think boys and girls are promoted to play together at young enough ages to get used to playing with anybody, any gender (it shouldn't matter). 

And I think that esports is putting in just enough effort to make something work. Esports requires a lot of funding, and it doesn't always have a return on investment. So I think they're going for the low-hanging fruit: teams that are already formed, guys that have been playing together since they were teenagers.

Here's the thing that frustrated me the most. I would ask, "Where are all the women?" Even from a broadcast standpoint (and it's only recently been changing), you would see on a placard of talent announcement 5 guys, 1 girl, and she's always the sideline reporter. There's nothing wrong with that role, by the way, it's an important role. I've done it. But when you're the only girl up there, and you're the one just talking to the pros, it makes you feel like you're the eye candy or that they don't trust you to do more than setting other people up to talk.

Where are all the women? I was told multiple times that it needs to happen when they're younger, in college. That's where we're really going to see a change: when women are joining esports at the collegiate level.

Okay, well... that's not happening.

There was an AP report in March that did a study on esports scholarships, and they found that 90% of the scholarships and 90% of the roster positions are going to men. When the AP reached out to the colleges to ask why, a lot of them responded that the esports program is not actually affiliated with the university. Even though it's a "varsity program," they're not paying for coaches, events, or scholarships. It's a different-funded situation, and it allows them to bypass Title 9 [in the U.S.].

And I don't think it's malicious. I think that it's just a bunch of kids in a club at a college trying to get something going. They probably have a handful of people they know and don't have the experience or knowledge to understand how to meet women where they're at. Or they're only picking games that maybe only them and their friends know, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), which is going to have a lot less women playing than maybe Hearthstone. They haven't opened their minds up to what other games women could be playing.

This is also an issue in the Black community where there aren't very many Black pros outside of fighting games. And there's a reason for that from a socioeconomic standpoint: a monster PC is going to cost you maybe $5000-6000, but a PS5 is going to cost about $700 (if you're not getting it on eBay!). It's just more affordable for most American working families.

The fighting game community also meets people where they're at. It's very local, very community-based, promoting you coming to participate at an event at a convention center or small venue in your hometown. It also lacks the gatekeeping barriers that we see in a lot of first-person shooters or MOBAs: it promotes you as an amateur to come prove your skill, to get into the ring.

Top Mortal Kombat 11 players from around the world in the inaugural WePlay Dragon Temple tournament.

It promotes that excitement to be like, "Could I be the one? Could I be a contender?"

You can't just pop into a game or enter a tournament in other esports because you need a sponsor, you need these certain rankings, you need to play this amount, you need to have this certain computer... there are so many requirements! 

Esports lacks a lot of accessibility for people who are disabled as well.

So there's just a lot of things that esports could be doing. It's a growing industry and there are a lot of good minds behind it that are helping it. But unlike sports where no one owns the concept of "baseball," someone absolutely owns Overwatch, CS:GO, or whatever. So you are dealing with a publisher who is usually using their marketing budgets to put on events instead of it being an actual sports league akin to what we're used to.

Based on what you've seen covering esports, how is the esports industry making a positive impact on gaming culture overall? Is there a specific arena that's making a positive impact or doing something specific to try to improve the culture. 

Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham, esports commentating pioneer and Twitch's Head of Creator Development. (Photo by Vincent Samako)

I think individual people, pros, broadcasters, personalities, and content creators in the space are taking that mantle. You also have esports organizations like 100 Thieves and G2 that are being inclusive and creating a lifestyle that invites people to want to be a part of it. Most of the effort is coming from individuals who are trying to steer this giant ship so it doesn't hit an iceberg!

SW: It's like an industry that's still inventing itself, still experimenting.

And that's why it's exciting, right? It has so much potential, and there are so many amazing people involved in esports who are literally pioneers. I think djWHEAT is a really great example of that over at Twitch. He was one of the first esports broadcasters, if not the first. He's created a profession that didn't exist before.

You continue to take your career to the next level: accomplished on-screen actor, voice actor, producer, host, journalist, commentator, and podcaster! What kind of career opportunities attract you and inspire you?

I'm at a point where I'm trying to really focus on whatever makes me happy, that makes me excited about life, that's promoting something good in the world, and will bring happiness to my home.I'm really grateful and lucky to be in this position right now, to be able to pick and choose. 

I used to take everything and anything that came my way, afraid of turning down work. But now I think it's much more about the quality of the position and elevating the content to add my own experience or artistic lens.

I'm in the process of developing a couple of shows that I believe in based on all the experience that I have in what I'm passionate about: highlighting people or events in the gaming industry, or educating the mainstream about them, whether it's in a scripted form or unscripted form. I want to bridge these two worlds and treat gaming culture as pop culture, because that's truly what it is. 

Finally, after the "Retro E-Sport" segment on the show, what advice do you have for Nolan North if he aspires to be an eSports commentator?

Michele and Nolan commentating on Drew playing The Legend of Zelda.

I think Nolan has a future in esports commentating! I'm not sure he needs to have my advice because he is a ridiculous person who is also extremely talented and will do quite well in this field. 

SW: So you're saying he's got what it takes?

I'm saying the kid's got talent!

Well, Nolan, it sounds like Michele will be a good reference for you!

Don't miss Michele on the fun esports-inspired YouTube Red series Game Grumps.

For more about Michele, visit her website at MicheleMorrow.com and follow @michelemorrow on Twitter and Instagram. Also check out the inspiring episodes of The Game Diaries on your favorite podcast platform (https://linktr.ee/thegamediaries).

Does Michele's story about how gaming impacts our lives resonate with you, too? Share your own story in the comments.

Talking with Desmond Chiam about Playing Games and Smashing Flags

Desmond Chiam is an actor from Melbourne, Australia, known for his roles in Reef Break and The Shannara Chronicles. More recently, you can see him as Dovich in Marvel's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS). Believe it or not, though, there was a time in his life where he thought that creatives (actors, directors, etc.) probably do this whole film business as a hobby next to their normal job. That may have been why he delayed starting his acting career until his mid-20s. But he is proving that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. I sat down with him to chat about games, movies and, of course, TFATWS

Since we are talking for Retro Replay, I have to ask: Are you a gamer by any chance? 

Yes. Firmly. I built my PC during this pandemic, put it together. I didn't do a Henry Cavill style video, unfortunately. 

You should have. Come on! 

I know, a fool am I! Huge into Xbox and PlayStation. I have on my Instagram profile "Xbox > PS," but I'm not trying to start fights. Get them all if you can afford it. I play cross-platform. 

I'm a huge gamer, man, since I was youuung--er. Gaming is what I have done mostly during this pandemic. It helped me keep in touch with a lot of friends and do something instead of just Zoom meetings. Zoom is nice, and you can hang out and have drinks with people, I’ve been doing that, too. Doing something, though, is, I think, an integral part of what we’ve lost in 2020. I think if you are a gamer, you've got to retain that to some degree. I'm just up on Apex Legends with my friends who I would have seen shooting shows and films. I’m playing It Takes Two right now with my wife. It's an amazing co-op game. It's taking up so much of my time. 

What is your favourite game then? Do you have one? 

Desmond Chiam, photo by David Higgs

Pretty hard to say. There are a lot of really good ones. Obviously Final Fantasy VII, I think the remake did a pretty good job recently. There is another game I played really recently that is FANTASTIC and hasn't gotten a lot of notice called 13 sentinels: Aegis Rim (PlayStation 4 and 5). It's like a tactical-RPG-mixed visual marvel. It's got a really convoluted time-travelly-twisty-wisty story that it actually handles really well. I was surprised because there are so many threads and it's a non-linear narrative. So, out of 13 characters, you can play any of them at any time in order to go through the story, and it all comes together neatly in a bundle in the end. Thirteen different strands of story. It's a really cool exercise. So check that out if you haven't! 

I didn’t even hear about it, so I am now very intrigued to play with this, too. 

It's a bit fanservice-y at some points, too. The guys who made it are the same people who made Dragon's Crown. There's some solid stuff there. 

Would you say that you are more into the RPG kind of games?

Yeah, but I’m a big shooter fan as well. I played a lot of COD (Call of Duty) growing up, and that was with all my actor mates, we all played it. Then we moved on to Halo, then went back to COD again, and then we went to play Fortnite for a second. Now, we are all on Apex, which is like hours out of our day. I also played some League of Legends. I won’t even pretend that the fanbase and community can not be incredibly toxic, and that’s what drove me away from League: the toxicity. When we were shooting TFATWS, I jumped back into a game of it with my stunt double because he plays League. Our first game out of the gate was so toxic, they were just… [he shook his head]

Oh no…

So I was like, "I remember why I left now." So I went to play Heroes of the Storm and that one is much less toxic. And it is easier, quicker and a little more casual.

Desmond Chiam and Lily K
Desmond Chiam and Lily K during the very fun interview, aka when 2 nerds come together.

If you would get the chance to be a voice in a video game, would you do that? 

Absolutely. Yeah, wink, wink. I would, in a heartbeat. Voice acting is a whole other barrel of fish, but it's fun because you can do stuff that's outside yourself, you know. Like, I have a particular timbre in my voice, I know that, and it lends itself to certain things on screen. But sometimes, you just "want to be the wacky gnome" [spoken in a wacky gnome voice]. And we get those auditions sometimes through my VO people where I’m just like, "I'm gonna swing for the fences 'cause I don't get to do this any other time." Oh he’s an underwater imp who resurfaces once every six years as a troublemaker? Oh yeah, we can do some crazy voice for this. So much fun. 

Any favorite voice actors out there? 

Troy Baker was one of the entries into the world of VO, the idea of being able to do it. He is a dedicated VO artist. Him and Nolan North were the two VO artists whose careers I was like: "Oh look, check that out." Far Cry 4 and all that. Shout out to them, really! 

Let's talk about your most recent high-profile acting role for a bit. How did you get the role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Did you know what you were auditioning for? You do such a fantastic job there.

Desmond Chiam and Erin Kellyman in TFATWS
Desmond Chiam and Erin Kellyman in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier

Thank you, I appreciate that. Not gonna lie, it's not a big part, but it's important to do the work: there are no small scenes, there are only small actors. Marvel brings a certain quality, and that requires even the smaller parts to really do the work. Having led a series before, there's no less work that goes into this type of part than being number 2 or number 1 on the call sheet. You have to bring it every time. 

I did know I was auditioning for Marvel, but we didn’t know what it was for. There were code names for the project and the roles. We had no idea what we were in for. There was a really real feeling to it all. I had an inkling of the sides being so real, and every day I'm thinking, "Surely, this must be the most human corner of the Marvel Universe, which is Cap's corner of the universe." Based on that feeling, I was very excited. 

Jason Stamey and Sarah Finn were the casting directors. I worked with Jason through it, and he provided a very open, very lovely room. They let you do your work, they don't pressure you. I don't like working with casting directors who are cynical about actors and the whole process. Their job is to find the best performance from the best actor, and a lot of them justify what they’re doing with "Oh, we just need to see if they can perform under pressure." No, no. Those people are just cynical at that point and they're not trying to help. Jason is the opposite of that. He lets you do your work and it’s effortless. You’re feeling the nerves walking in, but you don’t feel them walking out. 

Desmond Chiam, photo by DFree

So we did that, and then we just waited for a few weeks. It sort of fell out of my head, and then suddenly, I got a call at the gym, out of all places. I was there with my wife and I hadn’t told her that I was out for anything, let alone Marvel. 

My manager was like, "Hey, we have an offer. It's for Marvel. And it's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." 

I was like, "I KNOW WHAT THAT IS! YOU DON'T NEED TO TELL ME!" 

And she’s like, "Ok, hang on, I have to talk to casting real quick but I'll be back with you in a sec." 

We hung up and I was like, "Marvel called, Marvel called!" 

I am sitting there, freaking out, and my wife asks, "What are you talking about? Marvel called? You have Marvel on speed dial? They're just gonna call you? Yeah, sure man, sure." So then she starts freaking out, too.

And I'm there in the gym, on the floor, almost dying. I remember this so distinctively: these three gym bros, 6-foot Hemsworth bodies, they come over and they are like, "Dude, are you ok? You need to sit up, you gotta get your blood going, you can't lie down! Make sure you're alright." They’re giving me water. 

I tell them, "You guys are so lovely. I haven't injured myself, I'm good, I'm good.” It was a really nice moment with my wife being there and shoving it to toxic masculinity. Big gym bros can be lovely, lovely people, too. 

That is so awesome! Can you share a favorite The Falcon and the Winter Soldier memory for the Replayers? 

You know what? I will share an exciting one, and then I share a really fun one. 

TFATWS tractor-trailer fight scene
That memorable fight scene from TFATWS on top of two tractor-trailers.

The exciting one was—and I don’t think that made it into the final cut—there’s a scene, in episode 2 with the trucks that we were fighting on. There's actually a scene before that where we steal them. It's me and Matias. We break into this place, we pull this chain link fence apart with just our bare hands, and then we get under the trucks and lift them. And they did that practically. They set everything up on hydraulics and stuff and had us do the lifting. These were massive semi trailers. That was a moment where it just felt powerful. I knew that it was hydraulics doing it, but if you are ever feeling down about your physical ability, just have Marvel rig you up a couple of special effects trucks. You'll be like, "Yeah, I'm really strong." You're gonna feel good about yourself for the rest of the day. 

The other one was, honestly, hanging out with the Flag Smashers. We did film somewhere in Europe, and we just wandered the city for like a whole day. Just hanging out and having fun, chilling in the park. It was so nice to be with friends in a cool, fun place. I will treasure that. That's not something you get on every set. 

Thanks so much for taking time with us, Desmond! Now grab that controller, Apex is waiting!

Desmond and I talked a little more after wrapping up the interview, and I can honestly say that he's a shining example of "if you work for your dream, there’s nothing that can stop you, no matter when you start or you get in the game." He is a true geek at heart who enjoys the process of film making just as much as sitting down and watching a good movie or TV show or playing some cool video games. He wants to play a Space Cowboy and has a serious obsession with Firefly, and I completely understand both. It was an absolute honour to chat with Desmond, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. I am sure that he will do even more great things. 

Desmond Chiam with Alan Tudyk in Con Man
Desmond Chiam with Alan Tudyk in Con Man

Follow @deschiam on Twitter and Instagram, and don't miss his performance in Reef Break, where he plays a lead role. The Shannara Chronicles is my personal favorite performance from him, and his character, Riga, was created for the series (he wasn’t in the books)! If you share the Replayer love for Con Man, go back and rewatch Desmond as one of the auditioners in Season 2, Episode 6 "Gum Drop." And, of course, definitely check him out in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier if you haven't already.

What are your favorite performances from Desmond Chiam, and what would you like to see him do next? Let's chat in the comments.