How I Play: Vince Staples on 'Watch Dogs 2' and the Biggest Nerds in Rap

The Long Beach rapper speaks on his life with games, his ambivalence about surveillance, and who the biggest nerd in rap is

Vince Staples reflects on the role games play in his life. Credit: Getty/Tim Mosenfelder

Vince Staples is sitting in a pristine corporate boardroom, feasting on piles of fries, coleslaw, chicken, and an assortment of unidentifiable fried foodstuffs. The Long Beach rapper is here to talk about Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft’s open-world game (due out November 15) that takes direct cues from the post-Snowden, post-Trump dystopia we're currently living in. Staples has a song on Watch Dog 2's soundtrack, called “Little Bit of This,” and naturally, the 23-year old jumped at the opportunity to play the game prior to release and consume a mountain of carbs on the company dime.

Over the past few years, Staples has established himself as one of the funniest and most candid interviews in the music business. We talked to him about his personal history with gaming, his favorite Hitman kills, and that time Leonardo DiCaprio FaceTimed him while playing Halo.

What did you grow up playing? What are your earliest video game memories?
The earliest game I can think about would be Mortal Kombat. My dad would send me to his friend’s house to play with his kids and they had Mortal Kombat and Mario on Super Nintendo.

So you started with Super Nintendo? You didn’t jump into the 64?
Yep, started with Super, then the Nintendo 64. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter used to scare the shit out of me. For whatever reason, it just scared me. My mom got me Tomb Raider on PC. I forget which one it was, but there was a level where there was a tiger inside a cave, and I never got out of the cave because I was scared of the tiger. But once I killed the tiger, I climbed out of the cave, but I forgot to save, so I stopped playing it. Then I went full PS1– Crash Bandicoot, things like that.

What’s the greatest console of all time?
The first Xbox. It changed everything. I was a PlayStation player most of my life, but the Xbox was a different beast.

You mentioned once that your mom kept you pretty much stocked with games your whole life.
I’ve never not had a video game. Ever. There was never a game that came out that I wanted that I didn’t get.

Do you still play a lot?
All the time. Whenever I’m on the road, I bring games with me.

I see you tweet a lot about NBA 2K. What was the most dominant performance in NBA 2K you’ve ever had?
Like 129 to 40 or something.

Against a player or the computer?
Oh, a player. He kept trying to shoot threes to catch up.

And he didn’t rage-quit?
Nah, you can’t quit me. You will never live it down. You have to sit there and get that ass-whooping. What happens is they talk trash, “I’ll beat you, I’ll fuck you up,” and I’m like “be polite.” But they keep going and they keep going, and they pick the Warriors or the Cavs like it’ll mean something, and then you start running plays because they see you pop up in the corner. I know what I’m doing.

Are there any teams that are off limits?
Nope, I like it when people pick those teams because they lose worse.

You’re from Long Beach and you were a teenager around the time Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came out. As someone who grew up where the game is set, what was that like?
I mean, the Grand Theft Auto experience as a whole... people say it had a negative effect on kids, but you weren’t supposed to play the game as a kid. If your mom got you the game, shut the fuck up. But it always was a thing that had an effect on you because it was an open world. We knew what things looked like, it just felt real. This is a fast-food place making fun of McDonald’s or KFC, these are real cars, these are fake Nikes or fake Vans.

What are you playing right now?
It was a dry year last year, but I played Far Cry a bit, Grand Theft Auto V, sports games. But I’m obsessed with Hitman. That was my favorite game growing up, and I just got the new one. I’ve got a no-gun policy when it comes to my gaming, so I crank it up to the highest difficulty with none of that stuff where you can see through walls, and I die a lot.

If you’re a person who has good self-control, no video games will affect how you operate throughout the day.

What’s your favorite Hitman assassination?
When you’re at the play and the chandelier falls, or the opium den where you have to dress up as a girl.

Do you use walkthroughs or do you just do it yourself?
It takes me... a long time. What I do is put on an outfit and walk around to see what it triggers, then I restart it and put on another outfit and do the same thing. When I first got Hitman, I didn’t take calls for a month.

How did this Watch Dogs thing come together?
Well, they ended up using a song, which we are grateful for. And they asked if I wanted a copy of the game, and I love the game, it’s amazing. I liked the first one a lot. They asked if I wanted to talk about the game to people, and I know more about video games than music, so sure.

Is surveillance something you’re interested in, in general?
Hell no, I sign every user agreement in front of my face. I never read them. I don’t care. Fuck it. It’s fine.

Who do you think is the biggest geek in rap?
Logic. Logic is a fucking dweeb. Do you play Counter-Strike?

Don’t ever tell him that. Don’t ever tell him you play Counter-Strike. He’ll go buy a computer and say “okay, let’s play right now.”

Who’s the most famous person you’ve played video games with?
I’m not sure. Earl Sweatshirt. Leonardo DiCaprio was playing Halo this one time when he FaceTimed me and my friend. Seemed like he was doing a pretty good job. It was weird.

As someone who grew up around gangs, how did video games intersect with that culture?
It could be a good thing in a sense because it helps limit your infatuation in certain things, but it could be a bad thing depending on who you are as a person. If you’re a person who has good self-control, no video games will affect how you operate throughout the day. I feel like for me, it was something that keeps you in the house and away from things you shouldn’t be seeing outside.

Was your mom ever the person who said “you’re not playing that?”
Never. A video game for $60 would keep me out of trouble for at least a month.

Do you think that was her motivation for buying you games? To keep you out of trouble?
Yeah, of course. You do what you do when you’re living in a place that’s maybe not the best.