Interview with James Portnow of “Extra Credits”

As I’ve mentioned in past articles, there are several forces increasing the sophistication of video games. “Extra Credits” is creating awareness of it. “Extra Credits” is a web series written by game designer James Portnow and animated by Daniel Floyd (with artists varying throughout the show’s history). The videos they produce create dialogue on issues relevant to games and game studies, especially the issues concerning game development and games as an art form.

Videos are presented in a lecture hall style, and address a topic each week with a variety of cartoony drawings. The series is generally funny and light-hearted, but always intended to educate the audience. Topics covered include poor narrative creation, level design, gamification, tangential learning, and sexuality and gender discrimination both within games and in the gaming community.

The Siskiyou secured an interview with James Portnow, who is not only the writer of “Extra Credits”, but a professor at the DigiPen Institute of Technology, and a developer of the “Call of Duty” series as well as “FarmVille”;

Why video games? Out of everything else there is to learn and study and play with; why did you choose video games?

James: Because games are the world’s first interactive mass media.  They’re the first place where the audience isn’t merely audient, where they don’t sit back passively and be receptive but rather act, be participatory.  This allows us to explore the human experience in whole new ways.

What do you hope to accomplish with “Extra Credits”?

Simply to help spur dialog around games.  I think the best way to see better games come to be is to get people, consumers, talking about games seriously and asking “what more can they do?” “how can they do that and still be AWESOME?”  If we can help create discussion, I’m happy.

What might the gaming industry look like in, say, ten years?

Anything I say here will just be sticking my foot in my mouth, but I don’t think there will be consoles in the current sense.  I don’t think we’ll see a 12th gen,  I also think we’re going to see a lot broader participation both in the industry and the fan base.  I think games will become ubiquitous and that they will lose their stigma as more people grow up with games.  Most of all I think we’re going to explore new avenues of what can be presented in a game.  We’re going to move past just fun and find other ways to engage.

What are some of your favorite games?

I might be able to give you favorite games in a genre in a particular year, but my favorites over all?  That’s probably impossible.  I will tell you that Final Fantasy 1 when I was a child was what made me realize games were for me.  Once that world opened up and my small self, who was restricted in where he could go or what he could do in the real world, had a whole planet to explore, I knew games were for me.  Magic the Gathering had a great influence on me as a designer, growing up in Seattle during Magic’s heyday.  Everquest also had huge impact.

Beyond that I’d say X-com, System Shock 2, Starflight, Brigandine, Uncharted Waters: New Horizons…this list could go on and on. Oh, and one of the few games I get to play recreationally these days is League of Legends.  I think there’s a ton there for any aspiring systems designer to look at.

“Extra Credits” is currently hosted on PATV, a distribution channel hosted by the creators of Penny Arcade. If you’d like to see more of James Portnow, “Extra Credits”, and the dynamic side of the game industry, please visit the “Extra Credits” website at http://extra-credits.net/.

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