Today on Theology Of Games, we’re super excited about our special guest: Mr. Michael J. Nelson! You may know Mike best as the great American novelist who penned Mike Nelson’s Death Rat! And he’s done a little work on TV, as well, but nothing of note... :)
Mike’s latest project involves some voice work for a current Kickstarter game project called Armikrog, which is a stop-motion animated game for PC/Mac being produced by the folks who brought you Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood. Yes, video games aren’t our usual fare here on Theology Of Games, but IT’S MIKE NELSON!
Mike, thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with us.
My immense pleasure!
First, for those who really might not be familiar with you, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a transplanted—perhaps “uprooted”—Midwestern guy living in San Diego, putting a couple kids through college. Trying my best to make people laugh by writing hundreds of thousands of jokes for more than a quarter century now.
How did you end up getting involved with Armikrog? Were you familiar with Doug’s work beforehand?
I was. Doug is a good friend, but I had, of course, known about him and his work for years.
So you’re the main character, Tommynaut; what can you tell us about him?
He’s like a hotshot pilot guy who, without giving too much away, has to go through something of a hero’s journey. But because it’s me voicing him he’s probably got more of a wry, deadpan thing going on, as opposed to the kind of square-jawed confident hero.
Did you have any input on the creative/humor elements of the story? Or was it pretty much “Stick to the script, Nelson!”
We had some back-and-forth beforehand, just in terms of my characterization, but as far as creative elements, that’s ALL Doug, Mike, and Ed at Pencil Test studios.
I probably don’t rise to the level of “gamer.” Among my friends and family, yeah, I’m probably considered hardcore, but on an Internet-judged level I’m a dabbler only. I’ll get a PS3 game (I know, I know...) every couple of months and play it rabidly until something else catches my eye. But I do not keep up much on a day-to-day basis. Part of it is just time: I’m almost always always writing or recording. But I do enjoy the games that are a bit more social, that is, that I can play with my sons, pass the controller back and forth, talk while playing.
I think many of our readers want to know if there ever was any sort of love triangle thing going on between Servo, Crow, and Gypsy—I mean, you were on the satellite of love after all...
I’m afraid you’ll have to wait and buy my tell-all book.
Most of your “onscreen” career has been voice work, in a sense. RiffTrax is a recorded performance, and much of your time on MST3K was just your voice (and lots of pointing, of course). But that work has been Mike Nelson as himself. How do you handle the adjustment in voicing a character that is NOT you?
It’s not much of an adjustment because it’s tough, at least for me, to even manage to play myself. You’re still doing a character, someone who’s really not you. It’s extremely unnatural to attempt to pretend to be anyone for any performance, so you have to be something of a lunatic to even attempt it.
You and the RiffTrax crew ran your own Kickstarter campaign just a few months ago; can you share some of that experience with us? What did you learn? What surprised you?
We were all very grateful and humbled to smash through our goal pretty quickly. We have the greatest fans in the world: generous, good-humored. (Except for that one guy—you know who you are.)
Some of your recent RiffTrax releases have been video-on-demand titles rather than the new-release commentaries. (I plan on downloading “Dr. Who and the Daleks” this weekend. Can. Not. Wait!) Is that a trend you expect to continue?
Yes! The ease of delivery is great. That said, we plan to continue covering the blockbusters, too.
When is James Lileks going to do another Rifftrax with you?
It’s been too long. I plan to see him pretty soon; I’ll bring that up with him.
As you probably guessed from the name of the blog, we’re a couple of guys who are Christians and trying to view games through the lens of our faith. I read an interview with you a few years ago where you said you’re “heavily involved in [your] church,” and mentioned reading people such as J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. What are some of the difficulties you’ve found in maintaining your beliefs in a business that’s often hostile toward Christians?
Honestly, not a lot of difficulty. You’ll run into people, or small groups of people, who are so dark, and openly hostile to your beliefs that it can get a little uncomfortable but that’s probably true for everyone regardless of views. And I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of great people. After I became a follower of Jesus Christ in my mid-30’s I quickly realized it was just as odd to be in the business I’m in and be in a church as it is the opposite, if you see what I mean. So I was used to feeling a little out of step. Also, I dove into Apologetics pretty much from the start and also felt out of step realizing that that’s just not that common in the Church, either. Bottom line is I like to take great care to not fit in no matter where I am.
But it’s funny to even be having this discussion, because I am a completely orthodox Protestant member of a mainline denomination; my kind were as common as blades of grass a handful of years ago. Now to some, evidently people like me are dangerous radicals. (Dangerous radicals are usually cool, though, so I’m pretty sure I’m not one of them.)
It seems that many Christians are ceding culture to the secular world, and walling themselves off in a sort of Christian ghetto, where they make “safe” movies and books and music that are often...terrible. How can we reverse that trend, and who are some of the people you’ve see trying to do just that?
Retreating from culture and ceding that ground completely—how’d that work out for us?! Everything follows culture; it’s the whole ball game. As to how to reverse the trend, I don’t pretend to know. I would say it’s critical followers of Christ not despair. And also to realize that still, the majority of people agree with us that it’s probably not a good thing to have unmitigated filth, murder and darkness flowing into our houses from every available source of entertainment. Those pushing it want us to feel isolated, alone, and out of step, but I don’t think so. (Gallup doesn’t regularly ask the question: “Do you want unmitigated filth, murder and darkness flowing into your house from every available source of entertainment? Yes/No,” though, so I can’t be 100 percent sure.)
Okay it's time for the: 5-Questions-That-You-Can-Only-Answer-Using-1-Word-Or-Perhaps-A-Very-Short-Phrase section (we really need to work on that name).
Favorite Stooge? (Iggy Pop is not an acceptable answer. We mean The Three Stooges. Well, Four if you count Shemp. And we do. Joe and Curly Joe are anathema.)
Larry, of course.
If you could have added one character to the MST3K cast, but it had to be a character from another show on TV, who would it be?
Alien (or Predator).
Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders.
Favorite Michael Bay film? (And by favorite, we mean the one that should be stricken from existence last. But still stricken...)
Coyote Ugly (he makes only a cameo appearance)
Rebecca Black or John Daker?
John Daker. Never ceases to make me laugh, bless him.
Thanks so much for answering our dumb questions, Mike! And for the countless laughs you’ve given us over the years.
My pleasure; thank you.