The great thing about running a website in the field that you love is that you get the opportunity to meet people you never thought you'd get the chance to talk to. One of those people for me was Derek Buck, former host of CGR Undertow and currently helps run The Manthology Show. Derek has been a video reviewing idol for me, to which I set my standards to. I had the pleasure to talk with Derek about CGR, Manthology, and Beyond:
Influential Gaming: What is your Batman/Dead Parents origin story for gaming?
Derek Buck: I can remember three things from childhood—my first home run, my Ghostbusters backpack and my first video game. During the holidays, my family would gather around the television for NES tournaments, so my first memory of video games was playing games like Dr. Mario with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Gaming instantly captured my imagination.
I’ll never forget the day my parents bought us an NES of our own. I played until my eyes hurt, blown away by the creativity of its worlds and the magic of its technology. I’m still not sure how the NES Zapper worked, but the fact that it did blew my mind—and still does, really.
I fell in love with video games because I love imagination. I love creativity. I love media—films, cartoons, games, whatever—that operate in a different universe than my own. I don’t care about reality. Reality is what I’m trying to escape from when I play video games. So at a young age, I was enamored with all the colorful, imaginative and twisted places my NES took me.
And looking back, I think my love for those places and the creative thinking it took to create them was directly responsible for the career path I’d eventually take.
IG: Why do you consider it a medium worth defending?
DB: This is where I differ from most “gamers,” because I don’t feel video games need to be defended. Are they under attack? Is their existence at risk? Obviously, video games have been criticized for decades, but so are movies and music and every single creative medium. To me, “defending” video games on the Internet is pointless. I’d rather just enjoy them.
I also don’t get caught up in the politicization of video games, which is part of the reason the industry/hobby is losing me. It seems everyone wants video games to mean something in 2016. They have to make an artistic statement or advocate an issue or push technology, but the only thing I want video games to do is be fun.
I spent hours as a kid doodling Mega Man’s robot masters and even sketching robots of my own, and I didn’t do that because the game had some kind of deep, personal narrative or a political message. I did it because robots are cool and blasting them is even cooler.
We should let video games be video games.
IG: At CGR Undertow, you produced an incredible amount of thought provoking reviews in such a short amount of time. Was it more stressful than fun, or vice versa?
DB: It was both stressful and fun, and depending on the day, it was one more than the other. CGR Undertow was the greatest time of my life, something I’m realizing more with each passing day without it, and it was incredibly fulfilling creatively—especially as I began taking the show into stranger, more bizarre directions. But many viewers never realized it was also my full-time job, and with that comes the normal, full-time stresses of a normal, full-time job.
I had quotas to meet, bosses to answer to, long days at the office and long nights staring at a blank keyboard, trying desperately to think of something clever to say about another minigame collection for the Wii. But I would relive those days over and over if it meant one more day working on CGR Undertow. For nearly six years, that show was my life.
I miss it every day.
IG: As a whole, what are your thoughts on this current generation of game consoles?
DB: Honestly, I haven’t played a new video game since CGR Undertow shut down. Beyond a few releases here and there, I have very little interest in this generation—or where gaming seems to be headed. The gaming industry of today is completely different than the industry of a decade ago—let alone two—and to me, the difference is a change in focus and tone.
It seems to me video games are trying to be anything other than video games. They want to convince you they’re telling stories, like movies. They want you to think they’re teaching lessons about morality or philosophy, like you’re in a pretentious first-person art exhibit. And they’re too obsessed with the process, emphasizing technology over creativity and development over enjoyment.
Part of my disillusion is a change in me, but it’s a change in gaming, too. I’ve often said video games have become that one friend who usually be to really cool back in high school, but once you got to college, they kind of turned into a dick.
IG: If you could recommend one of your CGR Undertow videos to someone who has never seen any of them, which one would you choose and why?
DB: I had this crazy idea at CGR Undertow—if video games are supposed to be fun, why can’t a video game review be fun, too? So I started to experiment with the idea of reviewing a game by telling a story, including critiques and review points within the context of a short story.
So for example, in our review of Jurassic Park for the Game Boy, my evil clone decides we should review the game by reenacting scenes from Jurassic Park. The video is half about how stupid that idea is and half actual—albeit condensed—critiques about the game. I think as we experimented with this idea more and more, the videos got better and better.
My favorite Undertow video is either our review of Sonic Boom or Remington Super Slam Hunting: North America, in which I go completely insane from playing lousy games and end up inside the lousy game. The goal was to make a game review that would frighten children, so obviously, I had a lot of personal problems at the time.
IG: You're currently writing for the podcast "The Manthology Show". How did the idea to do this show come about?
DB: I started The Manthology Show with Blake Snow, who gave me my first job in video games journalism back in 2007. We wanted to start a new site about 30-somethings who feel their love for video games fading as times change, but as we started working on the idea, we realized the focus was too narrow. Our feelings toward video games wasn’t the only thing changing in our lives as we got older—everything was changing.
We talked a lot about how getting older sucks, and how getting older is awesome, and how becoming a man now means something different than it used to. And from those discussions, The Manthology Show was born. Every week on the podcast, we talk about life from the perspective of young, modern men who are really, really bad at being men.
IG: What's your favorite part about working on The Manthology Show?
DB: My favorite thing about Manthology is the breadth of the topics. The show has a central theme, but within that context, we talk about everything from movies to music to culture to drafting the manliest men in history. Every show feels a little different while also having the same primary focus, which is the coolest thing about The Manthology Show.
And frankly, it’s nice to get away from video games for a little while. For six years, video games were the only thing I could write/talk about, so covering other things has been a lot of fun for me. For example, my first story for ManthologyShow.com was actually a lighthearted feature story on how breakfast cereal is the most important element of American culture.
Again, a lot of personal problems.
IG: What's something you'd like to try your hand at next?
DB: I have no idea.
Honestly, my life has felt pretty directionless post-Undertow, and I’m not really sure where it’s heading. I’d love to get another full-time writing gig for a gaming website, but it’d also be fun to write about my other passions—animation or heavy music, in particular.
I’m open to whatever opportunity comes my way. CGR Undertow only happened thanks to a random, unexpected email, so who knows what lies ahead? The best things in my life have happened when I didn’t have a plan. I find plans are terribly overrated.
IG:At what point would you stop climbing unstable construction site structures to save Hermione from Donkey Kong, given the opportunity?
DB: Donkey Kong? Dude, I would’ve shot Harambe for Emma Watson.
IG: Anything else you would like to add?
DB: You can keep in touch with me on Twitter (@DeathByDerek) and on The Manthology Show, which drops a new podcast every week. We’re on iTunes, Google Play and YouTube.
I also want to thank everyone who ever watched CGR Undertow. It was a dream job, and I only had it because of the people who watched. Even now, nearly a year since the channel was shut down, I still meet Undertoads who tell me how much they loved the channel, and it was the greatest treat of my life to make it for them. I miss you toads every day.
Thanks to Nick and Influential Gaming for being so cool, and thanks to Emma Watson for being so Emma Watson.
And we would like to thank Derek for his time, his wit, and being the person he is today. You can find his Manthology show Pateron here. Keep up the good work, Derek!