Posted on February 09 2021 by David Lasby
The following was a long-form interview with Eddie Varnell from Boss Rush Games Network, host of Nintendo Pow Block Podcast on January 23, 2021. The interview itself is also available on the website for Boss Rush Games and anywhere Boss Rush Podcast episodes are available. As part of the collaboration between Boss Rush Games and Zelda Dungeon, the following is a selection of questions and responses from my interview with Ed.
Thank you for joining me for an interview Ed as we get ready to celebrate Black History Month. At Zelda Dungeon, we wanted to do something to honor and explore the important voices and content from people of color in the gaming community. It’s a privilege to get to interview you–a friend and accomplished podcast host, writer, and content producer at Boss Rush Games. When did you first get into video games and what has sustained your passion for playing over the years?
So I got started in 1985. There’s a place called Aladdin’s Castle in my local mall where all these arcade machines and even pinball was at, and I would go in, my mom would give me a dollar while she was shopping at JCPenney, I would go in, I would go play all these different kinds of games from Japan, and I just fell in love with it. When my cousin got a Nintendo before I got one, that’s all I could just think about, like learning Mario and stuff. We had an Atari 2600 at the apartment, and I remember playing Pac-Man and remember playing this game called War. Even Mario Brothers, that was the first kind of Nintendo game that I played…before they made their own console; so just throughout the years, my passion for games has consistently stayed there because reading Electronic Gaming Monthly, writing on 1Up.com, now meeting different people from around the world who have that same passion, it’s kept me connected to games and…now with social media I have so many lanes to talk with people about games.
A 2015 study from Pew Research Center found that 89% of black teens and 69% of Hispanic teens play video games, the highest numbers for any demographic. Beyond the fact that video games are so enjoyable (something we all agree upon), I wonder if there is a deeper significance to these numbers. In your personal experience, have video games played a meaningful role in your life, beyond entertainment? Acknowledging that you can’t and shouldn’t have to speak for the experiences of others, what do you believe these numbers speak to?
I think these numbers kind of speak to finally recognizing that games are just not for one particular race; it’s actually for all. There’s been so many people gaming for years in different races, regardless of what neighborhood you lived in, you know, there was something always there. There’s been Black fans of role-playing games; there’s been Hispanic people who like strategy games. There have been women gamers who like first person shooters and stuff. It was just that in the past we didn’t have social media or an area or community to express those things, you know? …It’s just like I think recognizing people from different races and not just in this moment in time, that they also love games, it’s been there. It’s just that the recognition wasn’t there.
Follow up question for you Ed; I want to think just about games themselves. I do wonder, and you tell me if I’m off-base here, I wonder how much video games offer an opportunity to live out some of our ideals here in the United States, this idea of a meritocracy, that you earn whatever you work hard for. You mentioned earlier working so hard to be good and to have skill with those arcade games. Perhaps video games provide a more neutral setting for people to really be themselves. I don’t know–what do you think of that?
I think video games let you be yourself. I think with video games, when you start playing, you’re going to get better at it. When you’re starting stuff in real life, it’s scary; but if you work at it you’ll be better at it…that’s what some games can do for people.
I know this next question is something you’re passionate about, particularly as a podcaster and someone with such a significant online presence. Boss Russ Games has a motto or code of “Be better”. I know that [your co-founder] Corey has said that he wanted [Boss Rush] to be a place where people from all walks of life are welcome. Do you think that’s true at-large in the game community? Is there room to grow, and what makes Boss Rush Games so different in your experience?
Yes, it is something that we are doing. We’ve seen so much toxicity, and we’re still fighting it. As gamers we have been seen as different things from adults and from politicians, and we’re being seen in different ways in our own community. You know, we forget that playing games is about having fun; it’s about narrative; it’s about enjoying it even if there is a bad game, there’s still something to talk about…At Boss Rush Games, we want to make sure that we respect everybody, that we make people feel welcome. Yeah, we can disagree, but the moment you put up a cookie recipe, we’re all going to the store to buy it. We may disagree…but it’s about rooting people on, making sure that they are in a safe space, that they are accepted no matter where they come from. Your sexual orientation, your race, your disability, whatever you have in life, we want to make sure that when you come to Boss Rush Games, when you’re watching our content, that you’re having fun, that you’re part of the conversation…
Definitely for me…I’m a black, bi-sexual gamer…who loves Nintendo, but I’ve been playing games for 35-some years. I’ve always been taught to love and respect everybody. When I’m on Boss Rush Games, when I’m on any podcast…I make sure I do that.
Thinking over the massive library of games you have played and enjoyed, are there any games that spoke to your experiences as a Black man in America, or any games whose narrative touched you in a meaningful way in terms of being a person of color?
With the representation part, the only thing I can say is Adam from Streets of Rage. He was the first Black protagonist I had ever used in a game. It was always like a white person or an Asian person or whatever. I think when custom creation started happening in games, I was able to customize the characters to fit me and everything. A game in the modern sense that touched me is The Last Guardian…What touched me about it was seeing the solid narrative of these two people going on this journey. Something that kinda represents me in a way is Final Fantasy IX with Vivi, how he was just looked at, and how he had self-esteem issues and was trying to figure out where he belonged. That was me back in the day as a kid because of my skin color, my race…I always felt like “Where do I fit in?” and “What is my self-[worth]?” but just seeing Vivi’s journey, when you finally look at yourself and accept who you are, things change; and Vivi did that.
…We were talking earlier about The Legend of Zelda, with Link being a Hero, and how that representation, that model, you are Link who has the courage to fight all the stuff that is thrown at [him]…Link never backs down…Link to me [means] that I have to have the courage to fight on; for anything to come at me, I can handle it…The Legend of Zelda series to me…kind of represents me…as a kid I wasn’t that, but now I am Link.
That leads us into my next question. Having worked with you for a while now, I’ve had the joy of talking Zelda with you, and I know that you’re a big fan. What was your first Zelda game? Was it that game or another that made you fall in love with the series?
I have grown up with The Legend of Zelda and I’ve always [wondered] what they are going to bring me. They can keep Zelda II and Majora’s Mask, [laughter] but even those games [I was so curious]. My favorite is Breath of the Wild…the freedom to explore and [it being] a new take on the Zelda franchise.
Recently, you were nominated for a Podcaster of the Year award, specifically for best host of color. What are you most proud of in terms of your time hosting and your accomplishments over the years?
Wow, this is a big question [laughter] because I was [surprised] because it’s such an honor. [Thinking about] my podcasting over the years, I’m shocked that people love to hear what I have to say. I know I’m kind of different and everything, but it’s something I’m very proud of, doing Optional Opinion for over seven years, working with my other friends on a different network before I came to Boss Rush and working with Corey…podcasting means a lot to me. Podcasting is a way for me to get my voice out there, for people to hear and talk about stuff in the industry that we [often] don’t talk about.
One of my proudest accomplishments is that I got to talk to the developers at Yacht Club Games, who made Shovel Knight. I got to talk with them and laugh with them. We actually talked about Mega Man and Castlevania. They are such great guys who have a love and a passion for games, it kind of felt like, “Did you guys live in my neighborhood? Were you in my household?” That was such a big thing. Talking to Peer Schneider from IGN was another great thing. That’s big to me. Talking to MC Fixer, you know, with his content about Xbox…but it’s also just talking with different people around the world. I feel accomplished when I get to talk with people who love the podcast…talking about different games…Nintendo…or Zelda…That’s a big accomplishment to me. It feels like family.
Any final thoughts or anything you wish to share?
First of all, thank you for this opportunity to speak. I definitely think for Black History Month, it’s a good opportunity for us to learn, not only about content from Black creators, but also going out and finding games that have Black developers involved, you know finding them and getting involved, finding out what games they grew up with and everything. I always say that Nintendo is my life-saver; it made me a gamer. I think there are other Black creators who will say the same thing. It started them on their journey. Research them and go support them. Black History Month? Yes, we can learn about the past. But let’s also learn about the present and see how it leads to our future.
That’s beautiful Ed. Thank you. Where can people find you if they want to hear more from you?
I’m a life-long fan of video games and have been playing since I got my NES in the 1980s. The Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros., Aliens, and Halo are some of my favorite game franchises. I write for several sites, including Zelda Dungeon, Boss Rush Network, and The Mighty. Find me on Twitter to check out my other content!