Interview with Austin Hourigan

ShoddyCast content creator talks about YouTube, science, sexism and charity

Interview with Austin Hourigan

What is your background?

Beige. Just kidding. Well, it depends upon how you define "background." I have a video releasing on Friday that talks about my education a bit. I grew up in the Midwest of the United States, and have lived all over Illinois. I grew up in the Suburbs of Chicago. We could barely afford to live there, but the property value was high in the area, which meant property taxes were high. In the United States, public schools are funded primarily by property taxes, so the schools were really good. I went to Seminary to become a Youth Pastor, was hit by an undiagnosed case of clinical depression, stopped going to class, and dropped out. I worked several jobs, did side projects, gained experience and a sense of taste and the ability to self-criticize. I worked as a photo retoucher, a web designer and content manager for a small newspaper, and then did freelance graphic/web design, and then started working at the Shoddycast.

Why did you decide to become a YouTuber?

I think I have to mirror a lot of people in that my primary motivation is "momentum." Some folk, sure, wake up one day when they're five or six-years-old and have an innate understanding that they want to do one thing, and they have the drive to accomplish it. But then there's this other group of people who are just doing what they're doing because they're walking the path provided to them by the opportunities that are available to them at a moment where they have to make decisions about what to do. If I had made slightly different choices, it's entirely possible I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now at all. That being said, the less-philosophical answer is "I'm a creative person with an atypical perspective on a lot of things that get mainstream attention, and I feel like I have things to lend to important conversations. I like attention, I like being heard, and YouTube is an excellent medium for reaching other people."

Is this a full time job for you?

Oh, look, a short answer for once: yes. Sometimes more than full time.

Were you making YouTube videos before joining ShoddyCast?

Erm, yes. They weren't excellent. I didn't have the time or resources to make them as perfect as I wanted them to be. Below is an example:

What is it that you love about RPG's?

This is an interesting question. I'm not sure I love anything about RPGs, mainly because I find myself wondering if "RPG" as a genre a) exists or b) is relevant anymore. RPG's--Role Playing Games. Role Playing, as in "to play a role, or adopt a character." This describes just about every title made nowadays. Yes, I know I'm being somewhat pedantic, and RPG means more "make a character, level them up, advance through some sort of progression system, get skills, etc." But progression systems are seeping into just about every genre out there these days, as developers (or, more accurately perhaps, publishers) have discovered that a progression system with clear landmarks of achievement and microrewards to the player are an excellent way to achieve engagement and encourage a player to remain invested in a game. So, at the end of the day, I'm not married to RPGs in that sense. I do like adopting the character of a well-rounded and detailed universe, however, and I love when a game can successfully pull me into its story. In fact, my fixation on narrative may be a bit excessive, as games like Diablo III that have truly horrendous stories (and yet no real expectation that they would need to be good) irritate me to the point of ruining the game for me.

What do you think about mobile gaming?

I spent some time looking at EA's earnings reports for the past ten years, and the boom of Mobile Gaming for their wallets is incredible. I don't have a ton of raw data to support this, but I have an inkling suspicion that mobile gaming more or less saved the AAA industry. EA crashed hard when the subprime mortgage bubble popped and had several years of straight-up loss totalling in the end over Two-Billion USD. If you look at their earnings reports nowadays, you see that one of their biggest earners is the mobile game The Simpsons Tapped Out. Incredible.

As for how I feel about mobile gaming, that's a complex question to answer. Objectively, on paper, I'm fine with it. I even play some mobile games myself. Personal devices aren't going anywhere, and are getting more powerful, it's no surprise they're experiencing a boom at the moment. The only real problem I have is seeing some mobile design practices seeping their way into the AAA market, with things such as microtransactions. Microtransactions are fine on free games, or at least inexpensive ones, because it justifies a design choice that is built around encouraging you to part with your money bit by bit to enhance your game experience. The problem is, many, many, MANY AAA publishers are still charging full price for games that have microtransactions. A successful microtransaction model fundamentally changes and informs the design of a game, so including it with a title where you're already paying so much is absurdity. What's worse is that gamers who have caved and purchased microtransactions in games feel the need to justify their purchases, and instead of looking out for their own interest and the interests of the gaming community, they become comrades of the AAA developers and support these bad practices, shouting down criticism. I think things like pre-orders and Season Passes are bad, but microtransactions have the potential to be much, much, MUCH more toxic to the gaming community.

What is it about gaming that captures the interest of so many people?

Games are engaging. They can be challenging and beautiful. They can teach you things you never thought you'd learn. They're fantastical, and grounding, and express things that no other medium can. If you look at the lessons in empathy from games like Undertale, or an indie game developer articulating their painstaking struggles as a creative in The Beginners Guide, interactive media has such a vast amount of potential that nothing before it ever has.

What do you do when not making videos?

Sleeping. I also really love food, and am coming to terms with me being a food snob. I just really, really, REALLY love excellent food.

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How long does the average video take to make?

HAH. I don't count that much because it depresses me. I think the average, from conception and research to editing and rendering and uploading it's about 30 hours per video, depending.

A lot of the videos you create are exceptionally scientific. Is this just an area of interest to you or have you studied physics to a high level?

I get this all the time. I have no classical education in science or physics; however, people that know me well can tell you that I have a tendency to get hyperfocused on knowing all of the specifics of how certain things work. I'm unsatisfied with basic answers that try to make concepts easy to talk about. To that end, I've found that most subjects that have been well studied by other people can be understood pretty well if you just spend enough time learning and reading the core concepts. Special Relativity is difficult to grasp, for instance, until it isn't, and then it makes perfect sense. But no, I have a diverse range of interests, from psychology and sociology and physics, to art and...something else to complete that list. The Internet is an amazing resource. I know when I say that, people hear "wikipedia" and roll their eyes (Which is absurd in its own right, Wikipedia is an incredible resource. So many people have bought into their primary education teachers' propaganda and fear of the Internet as a source of knowledge that they reject what is perhaps one of the greatest places to start online to learn the basics of a concept), but the Internet truly is amazing at providing a plethora of real, well-researched information--most of which is free; however, if you're willing to pay a little bit, your options are truly astounding.aCxUvlsWphNkcP-D6Zn7kXldsiKYsFOb923I6ETCSGZI3x7uGXPFYYT-Agi2CSTl22ODWxVhmnhc3FN1wbre6M0GzX6HWtyzup338AKK2F4Fen8UYZPsUjJYviTEKWw1aQHRueE

Can you tell me a bit about Project Purity?

Ah! That. Yes. Well, I'm a big believer in trying to help others, and visibility isn't something that everyone has. I've watched some other charity streams before, and I've always, always been a huge fan of the Vlogbrothers, who have also used their visibility and their fanbase to raise money for good causes. Our audience is largely comprised of Fallout fans, and Project Purity is the name of a water purification project in Fallout 3, and is central to the main plot of the game. I wanted to integrate people's love for Fallout with doing good for others, so the rest came naturally. Brian T. Delaney and Courtenay Taylor, the voice actors for the main protagonist in Fallout 4, both helped with visibility. Courtenay went above-and-beyond the call of duty because she's so passionate about Charity: Water as a charity itself. I set a goal that I thought was ambitious in $10,000, and we made it, which is awesome. Then, last week, before the campaign ended, I wanted to see if we could double it, and we made it to $21,000. I'm super stoked about that.

On the ShoddyCast website, your audition video links to the first ShoddyCast video you ever saw. Can we get a look at your actual audition tape?

HAH. Yes, I still have it as unlisted. It's not very good, but here it is:

Would you agree with the opinion that video games are an artform? What makes it so different from other forms?

I talked about this a bit already, but yes, it is objectively an art form. Roger Ebert remained the eternal curmudgeon, but I think that's just because he was being pigheaded. I don't think they're fully realized as an artform, but it's still a very, very young medium. For the longest time, film was mostly garbage. It was a vehicle for propaganda, pornography, or mindlessly one-dimensional comedy pieces. Of course, almost immediately people like Buster Keaton began to expand the integrity of the genre. I'm not trying to take shots at film, rather I'm pointing out that almost every medium starts out as rudimentary initially.

Games offer a unique opportunity to mix the fantastical capabilities of film and the interactiveness of, say, improvisational theatre. With video games, you can throw out the prescribed rules of our universe and engage player choice and action. With it, you can make statements in a way that movies simply cannot. Undertale is an excellent example of this, and even if one doesn't like the game, I really feel one must admit that it's a revolutionary contribution to the history of gaming. Life is Strange is another fantastic example.

Those who think video games, or interactive media, aren't art are either a) ignorant (which is fine, not understanding something is a great reason to be wrong) or b) elitist, and I wager are the type of folk who wander into photography galleries whinging about what a "real photographer" is. Regardless of how "high" the art is, it is still art. Liking or understanding it is not a requisite.

Sexism and video game culture. Why do the two seem to be so often interlinked? Do you think there is a near-term solution to the problem?

The two seem interlinked because gaming culture was more or less founded as a thing for "boys." I don't think games or gaming are any more linked to sexism than, say, our culture is as a whole. It's emblematic of a mentality of "spaces." Sociologist Elijah Anderson coined the concept of "black space" and "white space," where in the United States blackness is associated with "the ghetto" and poverty, and those spaces are "black space," regardless of the actual affluence of people of color. Everything else is "white space," and black people who are in "white space" are often treated as though they are infringing. It's this passive level of racism that's pervasive in our culture, and is really difficult to confront and uproot.

So, too, there is "man space" and "woman space." Planet Money did an amazing piece about women in tech, and how women were there during the foundation of the tech industry, but now it's a male dominated field. The short answer? Personal computers were marketed as being a Thing For Boys so they could Do Man Stuff on them, like Business Stuff and Other Man Stuff. From there, it wasn't a weird leap that the first games were marketed specifically to men, using hypersexualized marketing techniques and catering to their specific interests.

Of course, personal computers and consoles are much, much more affordable nowadays, and have become ubiquitous, which means it's much more likely that many folk will have access to them regardless of background. But gaming and computers have already been established as "boy space," and the influx of nuance and stories and experiences that aren't built around framing the world around the White Male Experience are getting pushback by the status quo who think they're entitled to always be the center of attention. I think it's futile, but the pushback has only gotten stronger and more toxic with the more nuanced representation. Sexism will never disappear until the patriarchal social paradigms are dissolved, but they can get a lot, lot better than they are currently. At the moment, gaming is behind the rest of the world when it comes to being progressive and diverse, although not by much.

Unfortunately, I don't think "near term" solutions exist when it comes to these complex and ingrained social problems. Progress will be slow, painful, fraught with violence both physical and intellectual, and frustrating for all parties. But I think inclusivity is inevitable. Women comprise almost half of the gaming population, so they basically have as much muscle as men do. The only problem is that men also dominate the positions of power in the industry, which is why so much of the real change is coming from small studios and publishers. But eventually the big corps will pick up the pace, and those who whine in the face of progress will be left behind in their echo chambers.

Where do you see the future of YouTube being?

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I have no idea. I really don't. The only thing I feel for sure is that some day Fair Use and Copyright conflicts are going to have to go to court, the outcome of which will largely dictate the tone of the medium. But that hasn't happened yet.

Where do you see video games evolving in the short or medium term future?

I'm bad at predicting the future. I think we'll see more indie success, though, as centralized game factories like EA and Ubisoft become more risk and innovation averse, but that's about all I'm sure of.

What is one game you are really excited for?

I'm weird in that I remain largely ignorant of current game trends. I like it that way. It means games just come out, and I get to be like "WHOA THAT GAME LOOKS COOL." But I'm very interested to see how BioWare handles the next installment of Mass Effect. Mass Effect: Andromeda could be a trainwreck, but it could be fantastic. It's too early to tell. Things don't seem to be off to a great start so far, but we'll just have to see.

Pitch a game idea in 4 sentences or less.

Steampunk stealth-based game with a strong focus on narrative and strong narrative choices. Not afraid to explore the consequences of play action, and definitely not afraid of having an unhappy ending. Every game ever relies on Deus Ex Machina to save the day of the narrative and give us the Happy Feels, and this wouldn't. Also main character is a black woman.

What are your top 5 games of all time?

In no actual order:

  • Baldur's Gate II
  • Undertale
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
  • Thief II: The Metal Age

Where can people find you on the internet?

The Shoddycast YouTube channel and my twitter: @arhourigan. Email is [email protected]

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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