We often see the phrase "gaming community" online. The idea of interconnection within the industry, from those who create games to those who play them. It's as though there is some tightly-pulled thread that is tying every pin, or person, together across a map created from a singular, common interest. Even with this common title of "gamer", the reality is that each person defines it differently in their head. Having a collective interest that is so widespread can help you feel as though you are not alone and validates your interests. However, the games each person plays, their favorite ones, why they like them, all of these preferences and experiences can vary greatly depending on the person, making each individual story unique and worth exploring.
In order to learn more about why some choose to center a large portion of their life around games, I interviewed Austin Suther, a reviews editor, writer, and wearer of many hats for GameLuster. This is not only to get to know him better as a person, but to understand his definition of gaming, what it means to them, what likes or dislikes he has in common with others, and why it is he wanted to write about games in the first place, instead of simply playing them. We discussed his life, from his desire to travel and love of old European architecture, the influence that RuneScape had on his life, love for Nintendo, and how games have continued to affect him even as his taste evolved and changed. By having this conversation we are able to get to know Austin better as a person, as a writer, and as a member of the gaming community.
(Note: The interview itself took place in 2018.)
Christine McGahhey: Let’s start by talking about yourself a bit. Where are you from and where do you live?
Austin Suther: I'm from Wilmington, North Carolina and live there. I've been here my whole life, went to college here, and will hopefully work here too. I like it a lot, as you can tell. [I went to] University of North Carolina Wilmington. I did English with a concentration in professional writing, received a professional writing certificate, and minored in journalism.
CM: What’s going on in your life currently?
Austin: Well, I've got quite a few things I'm doing. I'm of course editing for GameLuster. Outside of that, I write for Frederator's gaming YouTube channel called The Leaderboard. In town, I write for the local newspaper where I'm mainly doing medical articles. Lastly, I'm working in the child care and front desk at a gym I've been at for about 5 years.
CM: You have so many projects going on.
Austin: I'm a bit busy at times, haha.
CM: But I think that's pretty common for someone who's a writer and editor, right?
Austin: Yeah for sure.
CM: What do you think you'd say one of your goals is then? Professionally or personally?
Austin: This doesn't really have to do with video games, but I really hope one day that I find the time and money to be able to travel outside of the US. Somewhere in Europe for sure, and definitely somewhere in Japan.
CM: What is it about Europe and Japan that you find appealing?
Austin: Japan, the gaming stuff. Akihabara looks basically like a paradise for me. Europe, mostly the scenery. I really like castles and old buildings, but they have really nice landscapes too. This is all just from pictures obviously, but I know what I like...Gacha machines look cool and addicting too. Probably not good because I think I'm prone to gambling. I was obsessed with castles as a kid so Germany, Scotland, Ireland, anything like that would be awesome. I spend money on Fire Emblem Heroes, which is all just gacha... so I know I'd be doing that with the real thing too.
CM: How did you become an editor and writer at GameLuster?
Austin: I was in my last semester of college, and I wanted to write about games. I somehow spun pretty much any college assignment I could into something video games, because I love writing about them. So, I decided to finally look into doing it for real, not just in school. I found a listing on a website and Trevor hired me. And originally I told him I wanted to write about news, and I did, but I did a couple reviews and really liked doing that. Trevor noticed that I did some solid reviews and he needed some help with editing, so about a month into just writing for GameLuster, Trevor made me the assistant reviews and features editor.
CM: I think a lot of people would be a bit lost without you on staff, haha.
Austin: I really like helping people, so if they look up to me that's really cool to hear. I really like working with the PR to get codes and stuff too.
CM: That's right, you communicate a lot with others and do a lot of work when it comes to reaching out and receiving review codes, right? What's it like talking with developers and such and researching games for reviewing?
Austin: I do. It's really important for the site to get codes for games, and it's important to have a good relationship with the companies that give us codes. They don't have to do it either, so that fact that they do is awesome. I've only talked with a few developers, but usually, it's through their PR that we get codes. Sometimes I'll direct message a developer if they have any way to get codes, and sometimes I get lucky.
CM: Of course! It's always exciting when someone agrees and we get the opportunity to highlight their work, and it's also really valuable for writers making it more accessible for them. What's your process for that usually?
Austin: First off, if anyone asks for a game code I'll try to look for a contact link on the developer's website. If they don't have one, Twitter or Facebook can work. On top of that, Trevor and I are subscribed to PR companies that distribute codes, and if any of our writers are interested we can ask. I really wanted to try BattleTech out but we didn't receive an email about it. It's in those situations that I'd go to a website and find the proper way to contact the developer or PR person, and send an email over. And for BattleTech, we actually got a code. Paradox is pretty high-profile, so it was awesome that they gave us a code. There's also a website that we use that makes the process kind of automated, but a lot easier on us since we don't have to send emails.
CM: That's good that you have an easier way to do it. I've always been a bit curious about how that works.
Austin: I've found that every single PR company is super nice about all of it, which definitely makes the job easier!
CM: There can also be a bit of pressure on you, since you're spearheading it, to make sure getting the code and review out goes smoothly.
Austin: I like dealing with people, so I don't feel much pressure.
CM: That's good, it's perfect for you in that case.
Austin: And the second part of the whole job is, once someone is done with a review, it's important to give the PR company a link afterward. Sometimes it'll pop up on their social media, which is good for us too.
CM: It's a great opportunity for those who are just starting off in the game journalism industry especially.
Austin: Oh yeah, and I like to help people when I write. So if my review is on someone's social media and they're happy about the coverage, that makes it all the better.
CM: Why did you want to write about games and work for a gaming website?
Austin: My hobby is gaming, and I like to write. And I'm aiming on making my profession writing. Not only is it writing about something I love, and doing two things I enjoy, but it's also practice. You can't expect to be a writer without practicing. And if I can get paid to do it? That's even better.
CM: Do you think that games play a key role in your creative drive, and if so why?
Austin: I feel that I can write about pretty much anything I want to within reason. I've been gaming for a very long time, so being able to write about games feels very natural to me. But really, anything I write about I get deep satisfaction from, gaming or not, and I always try to make it creative and original.
CM: How would you say experiencing (and writing about) games is unique from other forms of entertainment to you?
Austin: Oh, that's a great question. I think gaming is the ultimate form of entertainment, because it combines art, music, and storytelling into one awesome piece of work. And when it all works together, it's better than any movie, book or show. When I approach writing about games, it's really unique from any other sort of writing. Take a game review, for example. You have to explain pretty much everything about the game in a way that doesn't drone on and on, but helps convey what the game is all about. And you get to experience all those good moments when you're writing a review about a good game (emphasis on good) and it's just a great way to digest everything you've played. It's also like a puzzle. When you put all the pieces of the review together, talking about the good and bad, it just feels really good.
Lightning Round Questions
CM: Favorite and least favorite genres?
Austin: RPG is my favorite, least favorite is sports. Sorry sports games, nothing personal.
CM: Favorite RPG if you had to choose?
Austin: I've played Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim... I love the Elder Scrolls series of RPGs the most. I'd have to go with Skyrim, though.
CM: Favorite archetype or class type to play?
Austin: Oh I love the sneaky thief archetype. I'm sure Trevor would appreciate that. That's who I try to play in [the] Elder Scrolls games. I like a good mage here and there too.
CM: Ever played MMOs or online games?
Austin: I've had a lot of experience with MMOs. I've been playing World of Warcraft for over a decade off and on. RuneScape, Elder Scrolls Online, and countless others.
CM: DPS, Healer, or Tank?
Austin: DPS. I can deal with longer queues, I just don't like the stress of being a healer or tank.
CM: Favorite FPS?
Austin: The Halo series, but more specifically Halo 2. No one can convince me that Halo 3 is better!
CM: Favorite platformer?
Austin: Super Mario Galaxy 2, but that's hard for me to say since I think all Mario games are just amazing platformers. Mario 64 might be a close second.
CM: Favorite Horror/Survival game, or do you avoid them?
Austin: I usually avoid those not because they're creepy, but because I like some sort of replay value. But I really enjoyed Dead Space 2. I find that once you know what's going to pop out and scare you, the fun just kind of goes away on a second play.
CM: Favorite Sports game, if you have one?
Austin: Mario Golf on the GameCube was freaking awesome. Those are some sports games I can actually play and have fun with.
CM: Favorite tournament-style or multiplayer game?
Austin: If we're talking about co-op, I don't think it can get better than Castle Crashers. Or maybe Super Smash Brothers, I can play that and have fun any time.
CM: Tekken, Street Fighter, Mortal Combat or other?
Austin: I like Soul Calibur if we're talking about more of those traditional fighters. And I'm definitely excited about the new one.
CM: Favorite classic game or arcade game?
Austin: Does Pinball count? Because I really like Pinball. Then heck yeah, I love Pinball.
CM: Atari, NES, or other?
Austin: I’m a little too young for those but I do love the SNES. It had an amazing catalogue of games. If I had to pick out of the Atari or NES. I've played some of those games but not too many.
CM: Sega, SNES, or other?
Austin: SNES, Definitely
CM: Nintendo 64, Sega, Atari, PlayStation or other?
Austin: Nintendo 64 all day. Nintendo was my childhood.
CM: Game Boy Advance or Game Boy Color?
Austin: I had both, I love both, but Game Boy Advance got more playtime out of me, and I think it has better games. I did have a Game Boy too, the one that was like a brick.
CM: PlayStation 2 or Xbox?
Austin: It has Halo, so of course I'd say Xbox!
CM: Xbox vs. Gamecube?
Austin: That's a hard question. But I'd have to say Xbox, because I was so obsessed with Halo. But I think the Gamecube had some amazing games that makes it really hard for me to pick.
CM: Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable?
Austin: I think I only know one person who even had a PSP. I was DS all the way.
CM: Wii U or Wii?
Austin: Aw, man. I love the Wii U, and I want to say Wii U. But.... the Wii was just way better I think. And now a lot of games released on the Wii U are coming to the Switch!
CM: PlayStation4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch?
Austin: I think that by the end of the year, I'm going to say Nintendo Switch with all the awesome games coming out... I don't own a PS4 so that's out of the question. And I've been disappointed with the Xbox One, so yeah, I'll go with the Switch.
CM: Favorite Nintendo Console?
Austin: Honestly? I'd probably say the 3DS. I love all of them, GameCube might be a close second with the Switch possibly taking that spot soon. But overall, the 3DS was just great.
CM: Which systems do you currently own or have owned?
Austin: Let's just say I've had every Nintendo console from the SNES onward. Every Xbox, although I just own the Xbox One now. I've also had the Dreamcast! I feel like I'm missing something, but that's all I can think of right now. Everyone forgets the Dreamcast. It wasn't that great if I'm being honest.
CM: Favorite studio or publisher?
Austin: Blizzard's been a huge part of my gaming life for so long, and I like not just World of Warcraft. Diablo, Heroes of the Storm, all that. I love Blizzard. Let's just say that they're my favorite studio. My favorite publisher? Another huge part of my life has been Nintendo, as you could probably tell at this point. So many good games, so many hours put into their work. There's no hesitation for me, Nintendo is my favorite publisher.
CM: Which game have you played the most? Either in hours or ones you have replayed a lot.
Austin: The nature of MMOs is putting a crap ton of time into them. And seeing as I've played World of Warcraft since Vanilla, I've put in months of time into that game. Nothing else compares, but the next closest thing might actually be Super Smash Brothers, at least the series collectively. My two brothers and my neighbor would play with me for hours on end as kids.
CM: What’s a game you refuse to play or have never played from lack of interest?
Austin: I'm open to play any game really, but I've never understood what the Final Fantasy craze is all about if I'm being honest. Which is funny, considering I just got done playing Octopath Traveler and reviewing it, and absolutely enjoying it. But at this point, I don't see myself getting into the series.
CM: What is the strangest or weirdest game you’ve ever played?
Austin: Just off the top of my head, I think Dead Rising is pretty insane. It's really quirky, the bosses are extremely weird, and all these insane weapons. The weirdest thing about the game are the humans too, oddly enough. But yeah, that game is really weird, but I played a lot of it too. Or maybe WarioWare games. They're so fun but holy crap they're strange. That makes it appealing though.
CM: Is there a game you regret spending money or time on?
Austin: Brink was such a disappointment, and when it came out I was in maybe Middle School? So spending money on something only for it to be crap is not fun when you have such little money. I was very hyped for the game but it turned out to be garbage. I got some trade-in credit back, but still.
CM: What’s your “desert island” game?
Austin: Like, one game I'd take on a desert island with me? Oh, gosh. Every time I play Skyrim I just kind of forget about everything. A lot of people complain the game is actually quite shallow, but that's something I can always go back to. I feel like there's always something else I could do in a new playthrough that, hopefully by the time I'm rescued on the island, I still won't be bored. I hope I get rescued, anyways! I wouldn't survive for long, I'll tell you that.
The Influence of Gaming in Your Life
CM: What is the first game you remember playing and why do you think you remember it most?
Austin: I'll first say that, according to my Dad, the first game I've played was Goldeneye when I was like 2? Probably not the best choice, Dad. I do remember playing Mario Paint on the SNES though, but I know at that time I owned both an SNES and 64. But I think that Mario Paint is the one I first remember playing, but I also have a lot of memories of Star Fox 64. I remember Mario Paint because it was probably really fun for a toddler back in the day. And then for Star Fox 64? It was just really fun, and kind of blew my mind back then.
CM: What game inspired you the most either in your personal life, your career, or your relationships with others?
Austin: I think RuneScape at least had one of the biggest impacts on my life. It allowed me to be social when playing something, and I got my friends to play it, so even if I was playing games, I was still interacting with people I knew. I also give it credit for helping me become a writer. I used to write fan-fiction on the RuneScape forums when I was probably 10, and for some reason people liked my stuff. It helped me develop my skills as a writer and realize my passion for writing. Plus, that game taught me how to type better than any typing class in school did.
CM: Do you tend to see games a something social or as something for individuals?
Austin: It's both for me. Sometimes I play games as an escape from individuals, but I like an MMO here and there, so sometimes it's fun to get to talk with people. I think that gaming at its best, for me, is sitting in a comfy place playing with three other people without any type of competition, just pure fun. Like Smash Bros? I played that for fun, not to win, and I had some of the best times of my life playing with other people.
CM: And do you think that games like Smash, RuneScape, WoW, and other MMOs had an effect on your opinion as far as that goes?
AS: Oh yeah for sure, you picked the games I'd say definitely influenced it. That, and playing split-screen Halo.
CM: How have games affected you personally or your outlook on life? How do you think you'd be different if you never played those influential games, or played video games in general?
Austin: I can't really imagine having no games in my life, and I feel that I might not have followed the path I am following today without them. All the friendships I've made, the extent of my writing, probably wouldn't be there without games. It's hard to think about, but for me, I feel like it'd be a pretty boring life without them. Even my Dad plays them, so I don't think I had a choice in the matter. But hey, that's not a problem for me.
CM: Do you think that your decision to focus on writing was influenced by games in the past or currently?
Austin: I can't say I would've discovered my passion for writing without that RuneScape experience, because I feel like that set things in motion.
CM: You mentioned how you would write fiction for RuneScape, so I'm sure that was a factor.
Austin: Exactly. Probably the biggest if I'm being honest. That just kind of started a snowball effect where I wanted to keep doing more and more.
CM: How has your taste in games changed over the years?
Austin: I'm not that big on competitive multiplayer games anymore, mostly because I get too worked up over them that I find it's just not worth it. I'm very competitive, so when I'm doing bad, it's never fun. When I'm doing good in multiplayer games, I'm having a blast. I'll still play them, but I think I get much more satisfaction out of games that are either co-op multiplayer and/or non-competitive, or just straight singleplayer.
CM: A lot of people may say that they used to play games and they stopped. Why do you think you’ve never “quit” games and remain passionate about the industry?
Austin: They just don't stop making games, so I can't stop playing them. I can't not be excited about some sort of game, so I just keep buying them. Gaming is a hobby, and if you enjoy it just play them. It's my hobby, so that's what I'll keep doing!
CM: What is it you look for when choosing what to play and what to buy?
Austin: Genre plays a big factor, and if it's a sequel to a series I've played, chances are I'm going to get that regardless of if it's bad. But really, I just want something original, different, and some sort of replay value so I get my money's worth. I don't really care if it's a AAA title or an indie, I'm on the lookout for anything that's different from what I've played before - unless it's a sequel, of course!
CM: And do you research and think about it for a while first or are you more of an impulse buyer?
Austin: A bit of both. If I'm on the fence I'll definitely do research, but a lot of the times I know what I like, so I do a lot of impulse buys.
CM: What game was your last impulse buy?
Austin: If you consider it a game, Battle for Azeroth. I play World of Warcraft on and off and didn't plan on buying it, but World of Warcraft just keeps reeling me back in.
CM: What types of games are you most interested in following nowadays, which ones have piqued your interest and why?
Austin: I'm really digging some of those original indie games that we've been seeing a lot now. There's tons of them and too many to really mention, but it's exciting to see you have cheaper games coming out that are just as fun (if not more) than AAA titles.
CM: I think so too. I think the last few games I bought were considered Indie games.
Austin: It's hard not to when a lot of them are $15.
CM: What direction do you think gaming developers, publishers, creators will to take in the next five years? And in general, do you think that the current trajectory will be beneficial or damaging in the long run?
Austin: Games are getting crazier and crazier. The last few years we've had so many good titles that it's hard to say "stop doing this.” I don't like VR so I really hope that it doesn't go big, mostly because I have glasses and I get motion sick. And it's expensive. Nintendo is killing it with great original games, PlayStation has amazing-looking exclusives, and I think Xbox is making a comeback by acquiring new studios and doing crossplay. As far as I can tell, things are looking pretty good.
CM: What direction do you think gaming journalism, esports, and those involved in streaming, reporting, and promoting games will take in the next 5 years?
Austin: Hopefully, eSports becomes bigger and bigger, and we can already see that. It's getting spots on television, and millions of people are watching it. That's great to me, and I think it'll definitely continue to grow and grow. The same can be said about streaming. Gaming journalism I hope stays out of politics, and I've seen a fair bit of that nowadays. I just want to see great features and reviews, and keep the news pieces coming. That's how I stay informed, and the news writers are doing a good job I think.
CM: I love seeing colleges recruiting esports teams and things. It makes me feel like things have come a long way.
Austin: It's gonna be big. All of it. Considering how much it's grown in the past 5 years.
CM: In closing, if you had one wish for the gaming industry in the future and what you want from developers, what would it be?
Austin: Listen to the consumers. We know what we want, we like what we like. Still do amazing, fresh ideas, but don't be afraid of criticism, and learn from past mistakes. And finally, make Elder Scrolls 6 come out soon, please.