If you've got a thing for British comedy shows, you've probably got a crush on Graham Linehan without even knowing it. He's the mastermind behind Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd and you can see his comedy fingerprints on the 2012 Adventure Time episode Goliad which his children also starred in. We spoke to him about his start in gaming in the arcades, his experiences with virtual reality and his fear of gaming clutter.
What's your gaming life like right now?
I used to think it was important to have every gaming platform. I got a PC for PC gaming and then I got the Xbox and the PlayStation 4. I've just been upgrading but I haven't been throwing away the old ones. So I just like the most exciting experience that's around at the moment. Single player that's Dark Souls, multiplayer that's Rainbow Six Siege.
So many people tell me they love Dark Souls, especially people who are in creative industries themselves…
That's interesting. The fact that it doesn't hold your hand and you have to go digging for clues as to how to play it I really like. There's all these moments where things click, that pleasurable moment where you just kind of get something and I've had a lot of those moments with Dark Souls. Some puzzle or just the shape of the maps, that kind of loop around on themselves so you can travel for miles and then suddenly your head sticks up and then you're somewhere you've been before. It just feels like a real world – it's an amazing experience.
And the boss battles, which in any other game I'd absolutely hate, are great because they're possible to beat but they're extremely hard so when you do beat them you leap around the room for joy. It's an absolutely wonderful experience.
It harks back to a time when games were a bit tougher on players.
I guess games used to be a bit crueler to the player, maybe. I guess along the way one of the ways games have improved is you can never fall too far back. Dark Souls gives you the illusion of that but it's actually quite forgiving in how the soul system works – I mean it's absolutely heartbreaking when you die and you've got 80,000 souls but then that informs the way you play it. It's a wonderful bunch of not only game systems but of psychological systems at work.
And what is it about Rainbow Six Siege?
For me the thing I've always wanted from an online game is strategic communication between the players. That's what I really really find exciting and fun and interesting, when you can set up a plan and actually pull it off, it's just the most incredible feeling. You feel like you're in a movie.
Other games that I've played I've always been looking for that, like the Battlefield series which I loved but was beginning to kind of wear me down. The Battlefield series often feels very random – you could be shot from one of four directions and there's no rhyme or reason as to why somebody would be coming over a particular hill at a particular time. So I find Battlefield very hard to strategize and usually when I'm playing with other people we're usually just in silence most of the time. Sometimes someone will shout "there's a guy on the roof." So in Rainbow Six Siege I like it because if you shout "there's a guy on the roof" you have to come up with an immediate plan to get up there and kill him without losing anyone.
That's another thing about the game, when you lose a teammate it's a big deal. It feels very very powerful.
I know you have children, are they at an age where you're playing with them?
It's a wonderful meeting point I have with my son. It's something that we both enjoy talking about. My daughter as well. I've noticed her drawn to games like Papers, Please, the game about being a passport control officer. Funnily enough they've played Papers, Please all the way through and I haven't which is a strange situation to be in.
Those are some very woke kids you've got.
It was just one of those things that happened to be on the iPad. They don't necessarily pick things, but some games they get on and they're kind of intrigued and because I've been doing all sorts of different things I have to just hope that Papers, Please is OK for them. From what I've read it's kind of OK, but I tend to ask them questions like "how does it make you feel? Do you think you're on the side of the good guys or the bad guys?" and all this sort of stuff. They seem pretty able to deal with that.
When Space Invaders came out it was the most exciting thing in the world
Have you been tempted by virtual reality, which is the hot new toy in gaming?
I went to a friend's house recently and played it and I've never felt anything like it. It was like being in the Matrix or I guess the opposite. It felt like I was in another world, it was absolutely extraordinary. I only played a few seconds of the Rocksteady Batman game but the feeling of immersion was unbelievable. It was mind-blowing. Then I played another game, and I can't remember what it was called, and it was really the cheapest, stupidest, dumbest... clowns are attacking you, you're shooting them in a haunted house [Rush Of Blood] which is just ridiculous but there was a moment when you start clacking up the rollercoaster and you go into the side of a wall with a huge clown's face painted on it and you go into the mouth and again, that was just the most extraordinary thing. It took my breath away.
But I did start to feel a bit ill, after a while and the games didn't really drive me crazy. I really loved it as an experience but it feels to me like it might be better with short immersive experiences. Maybe things that aren't even games. I like just walking around Wayne Manor and going through the floor on a platform, it's one of the few times I've thought I could just watch cutscenes on this with pure pleasure. But with this I thought maybe they're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole because it might not be the best thing for games. Maybe it is, but I don't know yet.
I did have a slightly funny experience where I took the headset off and thought "now I'm in a world where Trump is president." I still sometimes wake up and it seems completely unbelievable.
How did you get into games? Did you have them at home or did you go to arcades?
I played Space Invaders. When Space Invaders came out it was the most exciting thing in the world. Even Pong around that time was just amazing. The compulsive aspect of it, the swallowing of coins, and all that stuff was very tied into it for me. I loved all that. I would go and spend a lot of money in arcades. I tell my kids that, I was there for the very first games, the dawn of time.
After the arcades I went through things like the Spectrum, playing Manic Miner and stuff like that. Then the consoles, the Sega Mega Drive [known as the Sega Genesis in America], Nintendo. I don't think I played Amiga games, they passed me by, but I had the Mega Drive, the SNES, then I went onto Xbox, PlayStation. I just kept seeing where the most interesting games were and going that way. Luckily I bet right on the PlayStation 4.
So Nintendo are just bringing out the Switch, what makes you look at a machine and say that's one I want to buy? The games?
At the moment it's how much it will clutter up the house. I've got a TV and I have no idea what any of the wires connect to and if I add to that... urgh. It's psychological. Is the desire to play new games higher than the annoyance at having to deal with all the shit? Right now the annoyance is higher than the desire to play new games so I can't quite crest the hill. So I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the Nintendo, I really want to play Zelda, the Zelda series are my favorite games ever, so I really want to play that. Having said that I didn't play the last Zelda, so maybe I've broken the habit.
What was it about Zelda that you loved?
It's a very immersive world, it's puzzles aren't annoying. I'm not a huge fan of point-and-click adventures because of the lateral thinking involved in the puzzles. I like things to make sense. In Zelda it does – it's puzzles makes a lovely kind of dreamlike sense and it's not too hard, it's not too easy, there's lots of mysteries, surprises, there's many many of those click moments where you can't get through a particular door and then you get a particular tool and you realize "oh my god I can get through the door back at the place!" Those moments are great, and it has that kind of Nintendo charm that's very hard to define.
Were you ever tempted to squeeze more gaming references into The IT Crowd?
I sometimes see cartoons or little web films based on games and I always just think that's appealing to a very narrow demographic. It's not like I want to exclude those people, I just don't want to exclude everyone else. When you do comedy I think it's good to have a kind of light hand when you're dealing with certain thing. So when I did the Dungeons And Dragons episode of The IT Crowd, you have to kind of describe what Dungeons And Dragons is. So I really avoided all of that stuff because I worried it would feel exclusionary, but then I realized that Jen represents the non-nerd public. Jen can have it explained to her the way I want to explain it to the audience. So once you have a plan like that it's fine. I have to be careful though, I wouldn't like to do "Zelda's not a man" jokes, or that type of an in-joke.