The fan: Felicia Day was carving out a niche for herself as an occasional TV guest star on a variety of shows when she got the idea for a web series about the friends she had made playing massively multiplayer online games. That series, The Guild, became arguably the most influential web series of the medium’s short history, proving that people would even watch such a thing in large-enough numbers to make an impact. The Guild had six seasons, and the series’ ambitions expanded with each new year. In the past year, Day has turned her sights toward her successful YouTube channel, Geek And Sundry, which is the home of several geek-themed web series, featuring online icons like Day and Wil Wheaton. Geek And Sundry launches a second slate of new programming on August 6, when its new animated series, Outlands, premières. Three more scripted series are scheduled to launch throughout the fall.
The fanned: The Last Of Us and BioShock Infinite, two recent video games that have established new landmarks in interactive storytelling.
The A.V. Club: Which was your favorite of the two?
Felicia Day: Playing them back-to-back was kind of interesting because the storytelling techniques were completely different. The Last Of Us, to me, is just amazing storytelling, because everything’s from the character point of view, which even movies don’t really do successfully a lot of the time. Especially the ending: It was solely based on character versus traditional storytelling methods. BioShock Infinite was more like an Inception, a Christopher Nolan film, in that it was very auteur-like. It certainly was mechanized by a higher being, the higher being of the storyteller, [not] rooted in the character. It’s really two different approaches to storytelling. But what I found really interesting is that both of them were more evocative than a lot of movie storytelling I’ve seen lately.
AVC: When you’re writing, which approach do you like to take when telling stories?
FD: I think it’s always better to come from a character point-of-view. If you know your characters well enough, you aren’t trying to grasp for storylines. You’re really thinking about their flaws and their passions and what they’re chasing. And it becomes much more organic. When I was writing The Guild, the two easiest characters to write for were Vork and Clara. [With] Clara, you know instantly how she’s going to react in any situation. You knew exactly what kind of trouble she could get herself into. And with Vork, his drive was very clear. His point-of-view on the world was very clear. So I think if you’re able to create a depth of character in that way, the storytelling comes naturally, versus trying to be shoehorned in.
AVC: In Last Of Us, which characters were you most attached to in the game?
FD: Ellie, to me, is just an amazing character in that you understand her; she’s believable. Even in Kick-Ass, with Hit-Girl, it’s like somebody’s idea of, “Hey, let’s make this 14-year-old into a murderer. That’s badass.” But with Ellie, you can actually see the projection of her growth. You understand it when she does turn out to be good at these things when you take her character over. It’s believable. You don’t say, “Oh, this is kind of a lark.” This is a girl who needed to be good at these things in order to survive. And the way that they did the animation and attacking versus when you’re playing Joel, they seem to build a lot of things in the physicality of the character that seemed more believable in taking down enemies who were bigger than her or using weapons in very unique ways.
AVC: This game’s gotten a lot of acclaim for its character stuff. Who would you say are some really great video-game characters that you’ve really enjoyed?
FD: Oh, wow. I’ve really enjoyed the new Tomb Raider this year. I came into it very skeptical, not having really been exposed as much to the older PlayStation games. I’d only known it from the movie and the superficial looks of Lara Croft. I like to see things from a girl’s point of view, so I was skeptical. And it really impressed me the way they were trying to build her character from a real place and not have it be exploitative. Being able to understand her and how she was going through the journey and how it formed who she becomes as this archetype, I thought that was really effective.
I’m a huge fan of BioWare games. I think they do some of the best character building. I mean, I have a relationship with Thane from Mass Effect that is as vivid as any crush that I’ve had on a TV-show character. I was really quite upset when certain story points were revealed in [Mass Effect 3]. The same thing with Dragon Age. The long conversation, the depth to which you can explore the characters in the game format, you spend hours and hours with these characters, so they become more real to you than if you’re watching, in a passive way, movies or TV.
AVC: Can you remember the first time you were that attached to a video game character?
FD: You know, I know I was very attached to my own avatar. The thing that really got me hooked on video games was Ultima. That whole character-building process, where you go to the fortune-teller and she asks you all those questions about, “What would you do in this situation?” That was kind of a revelation in that I could actually project myself or learn about myself and be this other version of myself in this world. As a kid you’re always looking to have control over your own destiny. As an avatar in a video game, to be able to kind of project a little bit of yourself into customizing that? That’s amazing. So I think that’s the first thing that I got hooked on.
AVC: Turning to BioShock Infinite, how did you feel it compared to the original?
FD: To me, the only thing I could say is a drawback to BioShock Infinite is that… What I love about role-playing games in general is that the worlds feel vivid and real and dynamic, and my favorite parts of that game were at the beginning where you felt like you were actually in a world. There were other people living in it. The NPCs [non-player characters] had their own patterns of behavior, their own points of view. And once everything started going down, everything was very empty and everybody just disappeared or became a murderer. So it didn’t feel as rich an environment.
I would have just loved an MMO where I could just walk around and steal from people’s houses and sort of sneak around. I love Dishonored as well. That part of that game was underappreciated because you felt like you were very vividly inside a world that was continuing without you in it. That’s what I kind of miss from BioShock Infinite. And the last 20 minutes of it was very much like you don’t have the freedom of character, in a sense. It almost negated your whole journey up until that point. I think it was very clever, but as a video-game player it might not have been as satisfying as I would have liked. But still the journey was so intricately put together, and I admire the storytelling on a very high level.
AVC: The BioShock games are very much video games about playing video games. Do you enjoy that kind of meta storytelling?
FD: You can appreciate that kind of storytelling from an intellectual point of view, and then you can live a story, where you feel immersed and you really need to know what happens. That, to me, is when you care about the character. And that’s a good story. At the end of Last Of Us, this kind of shattering thing that they make you do, it really leaves this sort of resonance. Like, would I do that? Could I rationalize that? Do I understand that? It sort of lingers with you, but at the same time, the journey is so effective. It really is big stakes from a very human level.
AVC: You do so much stuff with gaming with Geek And Sundry. What has inspired you about gaming to bring into your company?
FD: I would love to do even bigger projects around gaming, like the Dragon Age series that we did a couple years ago. But gaming is something I love and something I understand as a shorthand, and I feel like it’s just as legitimate for story and character and immersion as traditional TV and movies are. And I don’t know if there’s enough entertainment out there for gamers that talks to them on a deeper level than, “Hey, this is some news about gaming.” Playing with that in a deeper lifestyle way is interesting to me. So I’m always looking for ways to do that. Even if it’s just revisiting my brother and my relationship playing retro games. Yeah, it’s not the most complicated show, but it really is about our relationship and the things that we missed as a kid, to sort of recapture that. We have more people come up to me, and say, “Hey, this reminds me of me and my sister or me and my brother,” and that’s something universal that gamers understand, that someone who doesn’t plays games would never understand. So, capturing that, in a show format is something really fun for me as somebody who plays games as a hobby versus going out at night or binge-watching TV at night. [Laughs.] That’s something I would watch instead. And that’s what I try to make: things I would watch.
AVC: You do so many shows where you are playing games in person, together. Do you think there are benefits to that, versus playing online?
FD: I think that playing online is awesome. I was really addicted to MMOs for a long time. But I think that we’re so connected online, it sort of gives us superficial representation of what we know about each other. You miss a lot, I think. I’ve been reading some interesting studies that introverts mainly are popular online, and people who are big on the Internet, like myself, are actually very introverted. You’re able to control your environment to the point where you feel comfortable, and you can do your best work. But that kind of control only goes so far in authenticity of interaction.
So unless you’re really with somebody, there’s so many unspoken cues that we get from each other. You know, body language or just being more uncensored. I think we’re all aware that everything that we write online can be traced back to us at some point. It’s just true, you know? Too many people have been fired because of Facebook pictures of them partying. You do have that part of you you’re hiding. That’s why I think it’s important to bring gaming back to what it is: an excuse to get together with friends and have something to interact with them about. I love TableTop in that I didn’t even know a lot about board games before we started that show. Now, it’s one of my favorite things to do when I have free time.
AVC: What else does Geek And Sundry have coming up?
FD: Well, the cool thing about Comic-Con this year is that we had the off-site event. We had AMD as a sponsor, so we had a huge space right near the convention center where people could hang out, have a drink, play tabletop games, play games that people haven’t been able to play since E3. And I just wanted to create a little oasis for the community to connect face-to-face. Then, at the same time, we had a panel and announced a bunch of new shows for the fall that are scripted shows.
We have a show called GamE.R. [pronounced “Gamer E.R”] with Josh Gad from Book Of Mormon. That’s going to be a super-fun, zany comedy about sort of fictional video-game characters living in a video-game hospital. I’m really excited about it. That’s the kind of thing that I think gamers are going to really respond to. And we also have a really cool 8-bit style, animation show called Outlands coming out from Adam De La Peña who created Code Monkeys. I’m a huge fan of his work from years ago. I’m excited for him to do a project that’s a little longer form. We also have two other scripted shows. One, a comedy about superheroes, I’m doing with Amy Berg who I worked with on Eureka. It’s super fun, and it’s going to have a motion-graphic element with the narrative, which I think is kind of innovative. And then lastly, we’re doing a co-production with Bryan Singer’s company, Bad Hat Harry, called Spooked. It’s a comedy about paranormal investigators.
It’s been a really interesting journey for us the last year-and-a-half, doing this company on a new platform for us, YouTube, something I was excited to come back to. It’s very interesting to see where my Comic-Con background kind of melds with the YouTube audience. And what we’re trying to do is take those two elements, but also do the thing that I love more than anything, which is scripted content. Just like The Guild, create something that’s small-scale, but big-impact around characters and concepts and things that people who are coming into Comic-Con would be excited about.
AVC: The Guild has been so influential in the world of web video. What do you hope its legacy will be, looking back on it years from now?
FD: I’ve been writing a book about The Guild, the retrospective of six seasons, and it’s very comprehensive. I went into my archives, and I got things that even I had forgotten about, like original character names that were different from what they ended up being. It’s definitely nostalgic because six years is longer than most TV shows last. It was kind of a sad process, but also a closure process, to do the book, just to see the journey. We just decided to make something, and, you know: right place, right time, right brain, right people, right team, right audience, an amazing kind of perfect storm of things happening to have this thing to go from our garage to filling huge Comic-Con halls.
I think it’s a testament to this new world we live in, where, yes, there’s always a flood of content, but maybe it’s fine to only have 2,000 fans if you make something that really gives you meaning in your life. I love it when I meet people who are like, “I wrote a book because of you,” or, “I started a web series because of you.” That’s more important than money or fame or celebrity, any of that stuff, because you’re inspiring people to express who they are. That’s the thing we have to offer in this world. We’re here for a short time, and we’re all unique in one way, and if you’re working to express that one thing, that’s worth your time. Trying to do things for other reasons might be intellectually a good idea, but really, if it’s not in your heart, it’s probably a waste. [Laughs.] That’s what I guess The Guild can hopefully convey to other people.