Photo: John Carl D’Annibale
“It’s not just about chubby Italian plumbers anymore,” said Anthony Rossi when detailing the advances in video games. Though he grew up chasing twinkling stars, bopping mushrooms, and crushing bricks on friends’ original Nintendo system, video gaming has become a more involved part of his life than his on-screen alter ego of Super Mario Bros.
“I’ve been a gamer my entire life. I’m an ’80s child. I grew up with the analog-to-digital transition. I grew up with media my entire life. Gaming as an entertainment platform has matured as I have matured.”
Rossi, an Albany resident, has owned an array of gaming systems, from a Commodore 64 personal computer to Xbox and Playstation but where he truly revels in his gaming passion is on his podcast, “Videogame Crosstalk.”
As a way to “discuss, theorize and predict where franchises were going,” in the gaming world, said Rossi, he started blogging about his progress and discovery playing various games. But his posts would often meet or exceed 2,000 words, and lost readers’ interest.
Two years ago joined the wave of podcasting to launch “Videogame Crosstalk.” With roughly 100 subscribed listeners and growing each month, Rossi produces hourlong (sometimes longer) episodes that use video games as a lens to explore wider science and technology issues. Each episode highlights “stuff that seems interesting that doesn’t get enough press,” and ventures into “geekery,” said Rossi, and also includes a guest on the show, ranging from computer scientists to sustainability experts to registered dietitians — all with an interest in video games — to chat about their careers and how gaming intersects with their other vocations and passions.
Why podcasts? Rossi said, “podcasting is an absolute blast. Such a great way to get the message out because by its nature, it is conversational.” It is also an immensely popular media format. Edison Research says 112 million Americans listened to podcasts in 2017, up 11 percent from 2016. Overall, 40 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have listened to a podcast at some point. Podcasts are a release from screen viewing, allowing the listener to explicitly hear for understanding, not watch or read, making podcasts perfect for commutes. (According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Americans spend an average of 17,600 minutes behind the steering wheel each year.)
But for Rossi, “Videogame Crosstalk” is an avenue to connect with other players, much like how video games are an opportunity to connect with friends when leaving the house (due to work and family obligations) isn’t an option.
“The modern systems are connected to the internet and I can play with my friends,” he said. Currently, he is playing “Destiny 2” and “God of War,” but never gets so involved that gaming (or podcasting) usurps his other responsibilities. “I absolutely make sure I take care of my family, social life, and relationships before gaming.” Gaming for he and his friends is a hobby and can serve as a form of escapism, but he is quick to dismiss the stereotypes gaming present. “I’m 36 years old. I am the picture of the demographic average gamer. Gaming is divisive because it still has the stigma of the lone white male in his parents’ basement,” he said.
“Prevalence and Predictors of Video Game Addiction: A Study Based on a National Representative Sample of Gamers,” a 2016 report in the International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, states that 59 percent of all Americans play video games, with more male gamers than female, and 97 percent of Americans aged 12-17 play video games. That stigma Rossi mentioned has gained traction in scientific research, with the study referring to “problematic or pathological use of video games, where gaming leads to a functional impairment in daily life.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed “gaming disorder” among other mental health conditions in the beta draft of the 11th International Classification of Disease. The addition of gaming disorder to the list could lead to better recognition and treatment.
This is a shift from five years ago, when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) opted not to include video game addiction in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, citing a need for further research. Because concrete diagnostic outlines have not yet been created for video game addiction, there are no numbers on how many Americans would be considered addicted; the WHO states that less than 1 percent of gamers are addicted.
Rossi addresses these issues regularly on his podcast, promoting the medium as an outlet for fun, not something to be engaged in with reckless abandon.
With sophisticated graphics and storylines, Rossi finds that gaming has become his primary form of entertainment, ranking higher than television or streaming services for ways to unwind. “The complexity of gaming has matured,” he said, and even after three decades as a gamer, he finds new amusement in what developers are able to create.
Some of that development is happening right in Rossi’s corner of the world. Vicarious Visions, a video game development company in Menands, was responsible for mega-hits like “Guitar Hero,” “Destiny 2,” and “Skylanders.” “It’s wild for me to hear the name Vicarious Visions mentioned on forums around the world,” he said. He feels the Capital Region is primed to be a major contributor to the gaming world, thanks to the region’s promotion as “Tech Valley,” the science-driven programs at local universities and colleges, and an active gaming community. He half-joked our popular craft beer scene also has something to do with it.
“What do nerds like to do? Play video games and drink craft beer,” he said with a smile in his voice, but added on a more serious note, “Albany is situated between major cities with game developers. We have access to these major cities but here, it’s more livable.” The gaming industry had $108.9 billion in revenue in 2017 (up 7.8 percent from 2016) according to 2017 Global Games Market Report, a white paper authored by Newzoo global markets reporting company. Numbers like that make Rossi eager to spur video game activity in the Capital Region, something he works to promote through, “Videogame Crosstalk.”
“I do everything that I physically have time to do,” including visiting retailers and tabling at local comic conventions and events. Though his podcast — available through iTunes, Stitcher, and PodBean — is strictly audio in nature (Rossi provides show notes for each episode on his website, www.videogamecrosstalk.com), he hopes his show is a way to extend past typical gamer-speak.
“I’m just trying to cut through the noise.”