BlogRiders know him from his joyous tale of presiding over the Bejeweled Blitz tournament at PAX. Bejeweled Blitz fans know him as their irresistibly enthusiastic Community Manager. We are lucky enough to know him as Jason, and it’s my pleasure to give you a chance to get to know him a little better as well.
So how hard was it to explain to your mom what you do?
Not! I told her specifically that I was going to be doing Community Management and she said, “Okay what does that mean?” I said, “Well, I basically talk to people all day and see what they like about the game. I communicate with the development team on what I do, and I get to have these wonderful conversations with people who are incredibly passionate about the games that they play.” And she says, “So basically you’re on Facebook all day.”
And I said” yeah!” And now you see that all that encouragement you gave me for 20-some odd years that “If you like it, go for it,” actually paid off. Some people have to deal with parents that are not particularly supportive of their passions. My mom, when she saw how much I loved Donkey Kong, she said, go for it, you can do this, I know you can do this. I didn’t have the whole video games are going to ruin your mind and warp your brain and stuff like that. It was, go, go do video game stuff.
So was Donkey Kong your first?
Donkey Kong was my very first game. I was the little six-year-old boy that had that huge oblong ColecoVision controller in my hands, and having never played a game before, I sat down and at age six knew this was my life. Anything else outside of this didn’t matter anymore. GI Joe, Transformers, Gobots, they were all done; this was my life now. From that moment forward, there has never been a point in my life where I couldn’t tell you what I was playing in terms of video games. I’ve never taken a break from them. I’ve never been away from them, I’ve never gone and done “grown up things,” I’ve actually just been a huge video game nerd for the rest of my life. It’s great.
What game are you so skilled at that you pity the fool who challenges you to play?
Oh god, that’s a tough one. I’m pretty good at Mario Kart. Not as good as the people who do tournaments, but… Mario Party, I would have to say. It’s kind of a weird thing, ’cause it’s not a hugely competitive tournament-style game but I’m a big Mario Party fan, and I love to be able to sit down and just have sort of a casual experience where you can just sit there and talk trash. At the end of the day, it’s just like a giant board game with Wii controls. I can put my mom in front of it and she can play it.
Funny story: my mom, although she supported my video game habit, hated video games; she said, “Pacman is too complicated for me.” And so, way back in the ’90s when Mario party first came out for the N64, I was like, “Mom, I want you to try this, I know you hate video games, but I think you’d be okay with it.” And she’s like, I can’t do all the buttons and the newfangled controllers and things like that, and I sat her down and said, “This is literally ‘Press A’ the game,” because that’s basically all you do. And she was like wait this is like a board game where I’m rolling dice and moving my character and then picking out what I want to do! She’s owned every single Nintendo console since then, because she wants to play Mario Party.
What’s your favorite Rare Gem?
Rock-it Blast. When it’s not available, I miss it! I have to go with something in the game all the time… I’d probably go with Kanga Ruby 3. It’s a really great high scoring gem. I can usually get a little over a million with it; it’s a lot of fun. And there’s a T-Rex with a bowler hat, how adorable! It speaks to the power and dignity of dinosaurs.
And here I thought the bowler hat made him look spectacularly undignified!
Did you know that the T-Rex in Kanga Ruby 3 is actually a girl? It’s one of the little known facts. We have Bruce and Joey for level 1 and level 2, and we went, we don’t have enough girl gems! They’re all boy gems, right? So designing Kanga Ruby 3, we’re like, is this a boy or a girl? Which is sort of a weird conversation to have when you’re designing a digital character that really isn’t a gender. But the bowler hat, with the cute little flower on top of it… we’re gonna make it a girl, ’cause the first two were boys, but the most powerful one is a woman, and that just feels right.
So what was it like helping people at PAX learn… well, you probably didn’t really have to teach them to play so much, did you? Everybody knows your game!
Well, it’s funny you say that. So I’m a big Bejeweled fan, and I’ve played it since the early 2000s. I think my first version was on a rinky-dink cell phone, an old, old cell phone! And I had assumed, going into PAX, with the people who are the most passionate about video games, every single one of them would know Bejeweled. They would have played Twist, or Bejeweled 3, or played it way back in the old MSN days… there were a number of people who had never seen Bejeweled before. Which is kind of weird to me, it’s like meeting a person who’s never seen Star Wars. You’re pretty sure they don’t exist — even if you don’t like it, you’ve seen Star Wars! And so I sat them down with it and I said, this is how you play, you match 3 gems in a row, you can match more gems and get more points, and the faster you go, the higher your score goes. And it was interesting, cause with hardcore games, you really have to explain a lot, but this is a very basic concept. And it was really neat to see people within this 60-second time frame of Bejeweled Blitz, get it and then suddenly become experts on how to play because it just makes sense. How to get 4 gem combinations, how to make 5 gem combinations for hypercubes. It’s such a simple game that you can grasp it in 60 seconds. That was an amazing experience for me! I had never had that chance to see someone who was a Bejeweled newbie totally go at it from a fresh perspective and just pick it up. It was amazing.
So you’ve been a big Bejeweled fan a long time; was this like your dream job?
I’ve always loved Bejeweled. From the moment I first played it, there is something utterly brilliant about… I think it’s every game designer’s wish, to create something that’s simple to pick up and impossible to master. And ultimately very, very few games succeed at that. People master Bejeweled as they go. It doesn’t require new concepts, it doesn’t require that you reinvent the wheel every time you play, you just learn from playing.
What’s your favorite platform for Bejeweled?
I love playing on the computer, I’m not gonna lie. I love the iPad version as well, especially when I’m on a plane. I love being on a plane, and I connect to the rinky-dink Wi-Fi and upload my score while sipping on a ginger ale.
What house would you be sorted into at Hogwarts?
I wanna say Gryffindor, because everyone says Gryffindor, right? You all wanna be in this big heroic house. But I suspect that if they put the sorting hat on my head, I’d end up in Hufflepuff. Hufflepuff just seems very laid back and fun, whereas Gryffindor is like, we’re gonna save the world or die trying, and I’m like, I’m not that okay with the dying part, but I do love the butterbeer.
I would have said Hufflepuff for you, actually. Loyalty, cheer, good nature…
All right, pause for a hug! PopCap hug!
What’s the last thing you’d like to say to anyone reading this?
I’ve been working in video games for close to 5 years now. I think there are a lot of kids in the world who think, I could never do it. They’re told by their parents that video games are a waste of time, that it’s gonna rot your brain, you should go play outdoors! But if you really love video games, get into video games. Waking up every day and coming into work and doing things that I love, and knowing that there are people on the other side of the computer who love what I do is one of the most powerful feelings I’ve ever had in my entire life. So if there are people out there who think to themselves, video games are my passion, I want to create, I want to help, I want to do something really cool in this industry: do it and work towards it. It is absolutely worth it. There is never a moment in this industry when I think I have made the wrong choice. There is never a day when I wake up and think, oh, I should have taken a job in insurance. Yeah, there are PowerPoint documents and spreadsheets like any other job, but at the end of the day, I get to tell people, “I play video games for a living and talk about them on Facebook.” And they’re like you get paid for that? So they should do it. I think there’s not enough positive encouragement in this world for people who have passion in gaming.