20 Questions: Gabe Durham, Boss Fight Books

Gabe Durham, Boss Fight Books

Gabe Durham is the brains (officially the publisher / series editor, but, whatever, brains) behind Boss Fight Books, an excellent series about video games that spans authors, generations, and genres. Depending upon the title you could read about somebody’s childhood, design theory, personal identity, or theological grappling…all through the filter of that author’s game of choice.

But whatever the game at the heart of the book, whomever the author writing it, you’re in for a thrillingly unique reading experience, and one that’s immensely rewarding. If that sounds like a gushing introduction, it’s only because the series has undoubtedly earned it.

I’m far from alone in thinking that; Boss Fight recently launched a Kickstarter for its third series of titles, including books on Mega Man 3, Katamari Damacy, and Kingdom Hearts II, and as of this writing it’s at about $30,000 of its $5,000 goal. That’s the result of a lot of satisfied readers. The Kickstarter is clearly in no danger of not being funded, but if you’re interested in the series at all, now is the time to pledge and get the entire set at a nice discount.

In celebration of Boss Fight Books series 3, I decided to ask Durham a few good questions, and a lot of very awful ones. Enjoy!

Earthbound, Boss Fight Books1) One day you had the idea for Boss Fight Books, and the day before you didn’t. Tell us what happened in your mind between those two points.

I was reading a cool book about Nintendo/Mario that I’d checked out of the Glendale Public Library, and it occurred to me that all the books I’d seen and read about games were vast industry histories — more stories about capitalism itself than the actual games. I wondered if anyone was publishing book-length criticism that approached games as art, using a personal and historical approach. Nobody was. Seemed like an oversight.

2) If you weren’t publishing books, what would you be doing?

Writing. And, for work, teaching or maybe some other new career track it’s impossible to know about. Oh god — maybe I’d be dead!

3) In an alternate universe, you didn’t write about Bible Adventures. What game did you write about?

Recently, I learned that actual Simpsons writers were involved in Tapped Out, the phone game, so what I think I’d do is write about that and use the book as an excuse to pick their brains and nerd out.

Bible Adventures, Boss Fight Books4) One Bible story that should have been included in Bible Adventures.

Sidescroller. You are Zaccheus the tax collector. You’re a wee little man: Mario pre-mushroom. In each level, you navigate through a crowd of people who hate you because you’ve taken all their money to line your own pockets. To appease them, you must throw coins at them. At the end of the level is a tree. You must climb the tree, avoiding animals, until you reach the top, where you ring a bell to get Jesus to notice you. As the levels progress, the streets get more dangerous and the trees get higher. At the end of the final level, the bell you ring comes alive and begins to attack you! You must throw coins at it until the last coin makes the bell ring out so loud that (1) the bell cracks, like the Liberty Bell, and (2) Jesus takes notice and says, “Zaccheus, you come down from there! For I’m going to your house today.” And in an animated cutscene, you and Jesus stand in your house, there are piles of gold everywhere, and Jesus waves his arms, zapping you with blue light, and suddenly—you’re big! You’re not a wee man at all! Thanks so much, Jesus!

5) Other than yourself, who is the most talented Gabe?

Newell! Marquez!

6) What video game has the best writing? No waffling. There can be only one answer, and you’ll have to carry it with you for the rest of your life.

Honestly, all my most-loved games aren’t loved for their writing! I’ll say Mass Effect 2.

7) When you grow up, you’re going to be…

An improv master. I do it in my free time — it’s challenging/humbling.

8) Who did you have a crush on at age 12?

Jeanette from school.

Chrono Trigger, Boss Fight Books9) Games that have a perfect soundtrack. Go.

Mega Man 2. A Link to the Past. All-time favorite is Chrono Trigger.

10) What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written in your life?

At 19, I wrote half of a novel about weirdos holed up in a hotel writing a novel. And wow, yeah, it was bad. I think it was the first blush of understanding that metafiction existed, but I was not deploying it for any reason other than just to do it.

11) Describe Boss Fight Books to a space alien.

Humankind makes a lot of stuff, but only in retrospect can we guess at what that stuff does to us/for us.

12) What’s the biggest / most surprising thing you learned from managing the Boss Fight Books project?

Sometimes people pay attention! They mostly hadn’t before.

13) Zelda or Peach?

Peach, for sure. When my girlfriend and I play Mario Kart 8, she’s Peach and I’m Morton. So now there’s an ongoing casual fanfic between us where we’re Morton/Peach shippers. It’s not weird at all. It’s totally fine.

14) Tell us about one piece of media you love that nobody else seems to.

The album Secaucus by The Wrens. I’ve been listening to it since around 2000 and it still doesn’t feel as if I’ve “solved” it yet. There’s so much there.

ZZT, Boss Fight Books15) Tell us about some reader / fan feedback that you’ve carried with you. Positive or negative.

Last week someone tweeted something like, “The last two Boss Fight Books made me tear up — let’s see if the third one does too,” and someone (in an unrelated conversation) tweeted, “Those books are too hippie dippy for me.” And, you know, fair enough. For better or worse, we’re not making books just about games, but games filtered through human experience. Not the best for “stick to the facts” types.

16) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

“Hurricane,” “The Man in Me,” “To Make You Feel My Love.”

17) Is there one game you secretly hope somebody will cover? (I promise not to use this question to my advantage.)

The Binding of Isaac

Spelunky, Boss Fight Books18) Somebody wants to read just one book to determine if Boss Fight is for them. Which do you recommend?

I think they should pick based on the game they most want to read about.

19) Somebody wants to read just one book, period. Which do you recommend?

Yikes! Have they learned to read yet? Maybe Go, Dog, Go?

20) We’re making a video game about your life. Describe the most common enemy.

Self-doubt! And it looks just like a Red Slime from Dragon Quest.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you haven’t gotten to say above!

Have you seen Everybody Wants Some!! yet? What a cool movie.