GamesBeat

Felicia Day and Freddie Wong talk geekdom, stereotypes, and Internet fans (interview)

Above: Freddie Wong and Felicia Day at an interview with GamesBeat.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Felicia Day and Freddie Wong hosted last week’s Dice Awards, the Oscars of video games, during the Dice Summit at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. That was significant because they are home-grown video game celebrities, becoming famous through their gamer-focused shows on YouTube.

Day and Wong weren’t celebrities pretending to like games. They were authentic. And while some of their jokes fell flat, their performance was generally well received. Before the event, they were relaxed and playful. Day talked about the issues she has faced as a woman in gaming and acting while Wong discussed the stereotypes of gamers and Asian males. Their reactions showed that they do feel the occasional pain of sharp criticism from the Internet.

Day is co-founder of the digital entertainment network Geek & Sundry. She created and starred in the hit web series The Guild, which is about a member of a guild in a fantasy role-playing game. She went on to act in the CW show Supernatural and is completing a two-season role in the SyFy series Eureka. Her YouTube channel has 75 million views.

Wong is a pioneer in online video about gamer culture with his YouTube channel, FreddieW. He has created some of the funniest, most viral video satires about games. His channel has had more than 900 million views since its inception in April 2010. Video Game High School, his web series, gained over 50 million cumulative views over 12 15-minute episodes in 2012. Wong is currently raising money through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for season 3 of VGHS. He’s about halfway to his goal of $750,000.

We interviewed Day and Wong last week just before the awards show. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

GamesBeat: Do you guys have a game plan for the awards tonight?

Felicia Day: We’re going to be amusing.

YouTube sensations Freddie Wong and Felicia Day hosted the awards show at Dice.

Above: YouTube sensations Freddie Wong and Felicia Day hosted the awards show at Dice.

Image Credit: Dice

Freddie Wong: Hopefully.

Day: We’ll be on script, hopefully, and celebrate some awesome video games.

GamesBeat: You guys have something in common here. You were sort of born on the Internet because of video games.

Day: You could say that, yeah. I think so. We have the same roots. We came from the same womb, Freddie.

Wong: A dirty, sticky, gross Internet womb of games. Absolutely.

GamesBeat: Is that what made you want to do this together?

Wong: I don’t know, actually. When I heard that you were going to be my co-host, I was like, that’s perfect. That’s right.

Day: I’m honored.

Wong: My friends, when I were telling them about this, would say, “Oh, that’s the best combination you could possibly have for this.” OK, that’s good.

Day: There’s nowhere to go but down now.

Wong: Nothing but the highest of elevated expectations to fall from.

Day: I mean, we’re not comedians. We’re not stand-up artists. I envy those guys for what they can do, to be off the cuff like that. That’s not our style. We’re coming from a point of view where, like he said, we have a love for games. I’m excited to represent a ceremony honoring great feats in games. Having observed the industry for so long, I appreciate so much of the process that it takes to get a good game made.

GamesBeat: The past hosts have always had that comedian style of roasting everybody who’s in range. It almost carried on the stereotypes about games, that these are just a bunch of geeks here.

Wong: A lot of them come from a perspective of not being gamer types themselves. Hopefully, our history and our experiences and our upbringing with regards to gaming at least shows through.

Day: But also there are some people who watch a ceremony like this, and they’re waiting to be offended. If you’re waiting to be offended, you’ll find something to offend you. … I think gaming has matured to the point that we can just have an evening of celebrating games. We can make some fun jokes — where we’re not making fun of people, but we’re having fun with them — to make the evening lighter and hand out some awards.

People might have been burned in the past, if only as part of an effort to make games more mainstream and bring more people into games. I don’t think it’s ever done out of a sense of pure malice or anything. Everyone always has the best of intentions. Sometimes, you just have to do some experimenting to figure out what the right tone is for your audience. But together, if people are willing to go into the event with an open mind, we can all have a lovely evening.

GamesBeat: How do you feel about this whole mainstreaming of games? How do you look at it, whether people had made fun of you when you were young?

Wong: I wish it had gone mainstream earlier, so it could have been cool to play games.

Day: Yeah, I missed that whole window when I was a teenage punk. “Yeah, I’m totally into Ultima!” “Oh, man, you are so hot.” The stigma of being an outcast or a weirdo if you’re playing games, that whole Big Bang thing, is kind of yesterday’s gamer. I don’t think someone who’s 15 or 18 or 20 thinks about playing games like that. It’s a big shift in geek culture in general. You can be a huge sports fan and be a huge FPS player and that’s not necessarily what you’d think of as a “gamer.” Or you can be someone who loves to play Candy Crush. But to negate that title, somebody who loves games….

Wong: Yeah. It’s just as valid there.

Freddie Wong and Felicia Day at Dice Awards

Above: Wong and Day at the Dice Awards.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: Flappy Bird is one of the big things now.

Day: I didn’t get into that. But I hated Angry Birds. And not in a hipster way. It’s just that I didn’t believe that physics. I didn’t get it. Sorry. Aerodynamically, that bird cannot fly that far.

Wong: Well, it’s just been launched by a giant slingshot.

Day: Doesn’t matter.

GamesBeat: You guys have a great touch with humor.

Day: We hope!

GamesBeat: Where does that come from? Because there’s so much bad humor out there.

Day: Humor is relative. Some people think some guys are funny. Adam Sandler, God bless him, is not my style, but a lot of people think he’s the funniest dude on earth. I like British comedy, and most people are like, “What are you talking about?” The Mighty Boosh, who is that? I think it’s the best show ever written. So, there you go.

Wong: Where would it come from? It’s a good question. I guess world view is some of it.

Day: They say that humor is a combination of the known and a surprise — what you know, and then the surprise that someone can make you feel based on what you know. That’s pretty individual to each person.

GamesBeat: What about the kind of humor that gamers like?

Wong: That’s a good question. Gamer humor ranges all over the place. What it comes down to is taking a lot of what we see in gaming and we’re familiar with in gaming and being like, “OK, hold on, let’s re-examine this for a second. Isn’t this funny? Isn’t this strange? Isn’t this a little bit ridiculous?” That’s where it is.

Freddie Wong and Felicia Day at Dice Awards in Las Vegas

Above: More from Wong and Day at the Dice Awards.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: What do you consider your main projects now? You guys always seem to have different things going on.

Day: My channel, Geek & Sundry, we have three scripted shows that are going to be coming on in the next several months, which I’m really excited about. I’m taking the year off to create new stuff for myself. I’m super excited about writing.

Wong: We’re working on the third season of Video Game High School, running a crowdfunding campaign for it as we speak. Quick plug, rocketjump.com/campaign, still time to donate! For the rest of the year, the goal is to do more series. We’re ending the VGHS run, and we’re going to be launching, hopefully, as many series as we can do in the next year.

GamesBeat: Why did you decide to end it?

Wong: There’s a bunch of reasons. One is that it’s really difficult to keep everyone the same age. Everyone’s getting older. Also, every season we do, we run the risk of … if some actor gets pulled off for a TV gig, then we’re done. A couple of our actors, some of the main ones, they’re on the edge. They’re getting pretty far with some of their pilot stuff.

Day: With TV shows, they pay a lot of money to own you, to be exclusive.

Wong: Recasting would suck. And, like I say, everyone’s getting older. You get that Degrassi thing, where at a certain point everyone’s like “Yeah. Right. You have a mustache.”

Day: You could do it like One Tree Hill and just jump to middle age. That’s what they did. Not that I watched that show. And it’s fine if you do.

Wong: That was a big concern. And, also, we had a whole bunch of other things we wanted to do. We didn’t want to just be doing that specifically. It’s such a production. We want to try a range of things. So, lots of practical, boring reasons.

GamesBeat: You had the post about your hair recently.

Day: I’m glad that’s what people are talking about, my hair. I’m really glad that is the number one conversation. Yes. Freddie, what you need to do is change your hair and see if that makes the front page.

Wong: I get occasional tweets from people asking what shampoo and conditioner I use. I go straight for the Costco brand, Kirkland brand, the bulk shampoo. That’s as far as I go.

Day: And your tresses look so glossy.

Wong: I saw that post. That was ridiculous.

Day: I mean, A, it’s ridiculous that I’ve done so much in the last couple of years — running a business, creating shows, producing them, starring in them — and, yet, that’s the one thing I get a lot of trash about. But that’s just life.

Felicia Day and Freddie Wong laughing

Above: Felicia Day and Freddie Wong laughing at the Dice Awards.

Image Credit: AIAS/Dice

GamesBeat: It’s the Internet.

Day: It is.

VGHS final season

Above: Video Game High School final season.

Image Credit: VGHS

Wong: I want them to do that for something like, “Bill Gates changed his haircut,” and see what that would do.

Day: That’s the thing about it. It would never be a question that you’d ask a guy.

Wong: That would be great. A series of interview questions where you just take the typical….

Day: Yeah, the exact same questions you would ask a woman.

Wong: “So! What’s it like balancing home life and your work?”

Day: “How do you feel like you’re betraying your kids by going off to do this?” It would be amazing. We should do that.

GamesBeat: It’s like you guys deserve this because you stepped onto the Internet, right?

Day: I don’t mean to be aggressive about it at all. I understand there are a lot of unconscious things in our world that we don’t even recognize, that are just part of our patterns of behavior, especially when it has to do with different standards for the sexes. If I go on screen, nine out of 10 people will say, “Why the hell does she have anything to do with gaming?” As opposed to Freddie, where they’re going to assume….

Wong: Oh, he’s Asian, of course.

Day: Right. He’s Asian. He’s got this. That’s why I continue to do things in the gaming space, because I love the gaming space, and I want to represent that. I’m stubborn about it. If I can just be a woman and do what I do, hopefully other women and girls will be inspired to do that too. Anyway. That’s my soapbox. But thanks, I really like my hair.

Wong: I’ve gone from longer to shorter. It’s less shampoo, right?

Day: Oh, yeah. I save a lot of money.

Wong: Doesn’t it freak you out at first? Wow, my hair’s dry already.

Day: It looks better on the second day than on the first! I saved 30 minutes! I don’t have to do all that puffing and curling. It’s fantastic. Guys don’t know how easy they’ve got it.

Wong: Oh, I know. I just turn on the bathroom light and I’m done.

Day: You don’t condition? Oh, God.

Wong: I have Asian hair. I have tree trunks. The roots go deep.

Felicia Day and Freddie Wong in Vegas at Dice

Above: Day and Wong in Las Vegas at Dice.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: What do you think about stereotypes regarding Asian people in games? You’ve broken some types in your way.

Wong: I’ll go with that a little bit. As weird and as brash and ridiculous I am at some times, I do quite a bit of thinking in that regard. The Asian male has an interesting history as far as Western appropriation. At one point, we were completely sexless Chinamen building the railroads. Then, World War II came around, and it was like, Asian guys are coming after the white women. We became a menace for a second.

There were always extremes. It’s either not sexualized whatsoever or hyper-sexualized. It’s the case for both Asian men and women. Look at Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That’s a hyper-sexualized male. But at the same time, there’s that neutered stereotype. He’s an Asian guy. He’s a nerd. Which is so fascinating. No other race portrayal spans those absolute extremes.

Day: Well, I would argue that. If you look at other races and women, you have the same stereotypes. We’re served cliché after cliché in our entertainment all the time. But it is interesting to have your perspective on that.

Wong: With women it’s even crazier. You have the submissive geisha on the one hand, but then you also have the mysterious dragon lady of the Orient who’s the mistress of the secret arts. It’s always extremes. There’s never a middle ground.

Day: Or, they’re a judge.

Wong: Yeah, exactly. So a lot of times people are like, “Are you conscious of this? Are you aware of this?” And here’s the new one. The new one that’s interesting is that Asians are good at everything. Which is weird. It’s one of those things where it’s like, is that a bad stereotype?

GamesBeat: You’re a model minority.

Day: It sets a standard to which people frame themselves as they grow up. And, therefore, you don’t have a lot of options. You have something that society is saying you need to be.

GamesBeat: This is the way you should behave.

Wong: Yeah. There’s a lot of history here. In terms of Asians in this country, you have a big influx after the Cultural Revolution, a big influx after the Korean War, a big influx after the Vietnam War. Anyway, the point is, in terms of gaming stuff, I’m weird. I’m kind of ridiculous. I like certain things. I’m stereotypical in some ways and not in other ways. I run afoul of people who claim that, “Oh, you want to be a banana — yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” You also don’t want to be “FOB,” fresh off the boat. There are those different sides. But the point is, what I try to do is what I think is interesting, what makes me happy. I try not to regard where that falls on the spectrum of stereotypes. That’s the luxury everyone else has, so why shouldn’t I take that for myself?

Video Game High School episode 1

Above: Episode one of Video Game High School.

Image Credit: VGHS

GamesBeat: You had the white girl with the Asian boyfriend on your Video Game High School show, which is kind of an unusual pairing.

Wong: That is unusual, because statistically, if you look at all interracial couples, the most common one — something like 70 percent — is an Asian woman and a white man. It’s one of those things where, if you want to live in a post-racial society, just start acting like it’s a post-racial society. If people have problems with it, that’s their fault. They need to come around. It’s not a matter of consciously trying to do something. It’s a matter of being like, “This makes sense. This is interesting.”

Day: They’re just people. That’s the way I do it on my show. Nobody’s pointing out, “Wow, isn’t that unusual? Those women play games! That’s an Indian guy! Wow!”

Wong: Because the moment you draw attention to it in that way, you set it apart as something that’s now different. Whereas if you just go about it like, “No, this is regular, there’s nothing unusual here, this is what it is,” the world you depict is the world you want to live in. That’s the way I try to go about it.

Day: We’re just being ourselves. Which everyone should be.

GamesBeat: Well, you gotta be funny too.

Day: We’ll do our best.

Wong: They have a guy on rimshots all night, so I think we’ll be okay.

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