In her new novel, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin presents playing video games and understanding each other as kindred activities. “There is no more intimate act than play,” states one character states during a fictional interview with Kotaku, “even sex.” For those who will struggle to square this conviction with the image of teenagers screaming into their mics as they firebomb enemy soldiers, the book acts as a kind of corrective. In telling the story of game designers Sam and Sadie, Zevin probes at many of the themes that energize video games as a medium: their narrative depth, their therapeutic value, their casual violence, their toxic industry. And the possibility of living a better life in a virtual world.
To go even deeper, WIRED spoke with Zevin over Zoom about her book, the public perception of gamers, and the problematic brilliance of Metal Gear Solid. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WIRED: Why did you choose game designers as your protagonists?
Gabrielle Zevin: It’s funny, you write a big book, and you have about a million answers to this question. But you’re kind of encouraged to give a concise answer. So I feel silly when I’m talking to somebody who writes about games and understands games, making it so reductive, but I’ll give you the reductive version first.
The first generation of people to play video games as children were born in the late ’70s, and early ’80s, in America. We call them the Oregon Trail Generation, because they were likely to have encountered Oregon Trail in a computer lab and in a school. And what was interesting to me was if you had played video games, and consumed video games as a narrative experience for your entire life, how that would kind of change your expectation of life itself.
We’re very affected by tech, we know this, but there are very few places where you can visually see the evidence of this change as easily as video games. Look at Pong in the ’70s, with the extreme minimalism of two lines and two dots, compared to where the book ends in about 2012: You get to games that have really cinema-quality graphics and storytelling experiences, something like The Last of Us.