"Hi, my name is Blue Leader and I've owned every major game console for the past 15 years." These words, running across the top of an index-card sized flier, caught City Paper's eye during a gallery visit. The flier pimped the web site DotheMathComics.com: on one size is a crude, one-panel, dot-matrixy comic featuring some vaguely X-Men-ish characters; on the other, the above boast, the URL, and an utterly opaque tag line, "I am prepared to do exactly what needs to be done." The man behind this flier--and the web site devoted to games, gaming, and comics--is Blue Leader, aka Robby Rackleff. City Paper caught up with Rackleff, 26, in "the Blue Leader room" of his Park Avenue apartment, surrounded by stacks of comic books, computer equipment, and obscure video game posters, to discuss his love affair with video games, making web comics about video games, and his Top 10 Video Games of 2006 ceremony at Sonar on Jan. 26 as part of Wham City's Theater Night.
City Paper: When did you become obsessed with video games?
Robby Rackleff: I was 12. My parents got divorced, and I think they were both sort of doing that thing where the parents vie for their children's attention. My parents were big hippies from the '60s, so they didn't want us to play video games or watch TV. Comic books were, like, barely allowed for a while. But they got divorced, and I got a Game Boy, then I got a Genesis, and I was like, "Holy shit, this is fucking awesome." I kept finding ways to upgrade my system. I got Sega CD for the Genesis, then I got a 32X, then I got a Sega Nomad and a Saturn. I just kept going, furiously acquiring as much as I possibly could, doing whatever it took to get the systems, scraping giant piles of pine straw into trash bags for people in the neighborhood--just making as much money as I could so I could get as much video game shit as possible.
CP: Do you still have all of that stuff?
RR: The first time I lived in Baltimore, I only stayed for a few months, because all these bad things happened in this very concentrated period of time. I moved here and my girlfriend at the time moved here, then our house got robbed, and my best friend got cancer. I was just like, "Fuck this place." So I left Baltimore for a while. When my house was robbed, all of my video games got stolen, except for my GameCube. They left the GameCube and the games, but they took the controller--strange. But it was a huge collection at the time. I use GameFly.com now, which is a rental service, and I have a few hundred games of my own around.
CP: You dress up as Blue Leader, a character from your web site, Do the Math Comics, when you perform lectures and plays about video games. Blue Leader looks kind of like Cyclops from the X-Men. What's that all about?
RR: When I came back to Baltimore, I just saw the things that people were doing performance-wise. Pretty much everything around had to do with music. So I started doing these comics. My idea was, It'd be really funny if all the X-Men were just hanging out talking about video games. And people were like, "These are funny, you should put them on the internet." I was thinking, OK, if I put them on the internet and they get really popular, then I'm probably going to get a cease-and-desist notice from Marvel Comics. So I was like, "Well, I'll sort of keep the mantle of Cyclops, and have a guy who kind of looks like Wolverine, but sort of off, and I'll have them called different names. And they'll sit around and talk about video games." So that's how Do the Math Comics started. Then I started doing lectures and performances where I was this character, Blue Leader. I'm working on a play right now, for Wham City's Theater night. And, of course, the Top 10 Video Games of 2006.
CP: What's the play about?
RR: The play is about how the Turok video game franchise is being resurrected. I can't tell you any more. It'll ruin the surprise.
CP: Are you for or against the resurrection of the Turok: Dinosaur Hunter franchise?
RR: I used to be totally into Turok. Turok 2 was one of my favorite games. But Turok 3, Turok: Rage Wars, and Turok Evolution just went downhill. Now they're bringing it back, and it has all these big muscly dudes who look like football players. It just looks really lame. It doesn't even have, like, Turok in it. In fact, it looks like Gears of War, which I think is probably the most overrated game of the year. But I can't say more. It'll ruin the play.
CP: Your video game lectures are often presented alongside bands, DJs, art openings, and other more typical forms of independent culture. Should people think of video games as an art form?
RR: There are a lot of games that can be considered works of art. Like Okami, where you're this benevolent wolf being who's bringing beauty back to a world that's being manipulated and terrorized by alien demons. It's so awesome. It's such a direct opponent to something like Gears of War, which is about surly bad-ass dudes who are just slamming each other, yelling, "I love guns, and I love this shit, and I love blowing shit up! Yeah!"
CP: Why do you think there's a trend toward violent, muscly video game heroes?
RR: It's the product of think tanks trying to get bigger audiences. I grew up with games like Sonic the Hedgehog, all these really cutesy characters. The first time I ever got to play as, like, "a bad dude," it was really exciting. Now all the really popular games are about big guys beating stuff up. I think God of War had something to do with it. There have been a lot more goatees in games since God of War. And bald dudes. The Gears of War designers didn't have a goatee on the main character until the last eight months of development. They added that in--which is just absolutely absurd.
CP: You're going to announce your favorite video games of the year at Sonar later this month. What should people expect from Blue Leader's Top 10 Video Games of 2006?
RR: Not Gears of War! I have my list pretty well set. Well, the top five, at least. I have certain people designated to come up and accept awards on behalf of the top 10 video games, since the games can't be there. I don't have a lot of money, so I can't afford projectors or monitors or anything. But it should be fun.
CP: Right now, a lot of people are trying to decide between buying a Nintendo Wii, an Xbox 360, or a Sony PlayStation 3. What's your call?
RR: As a Sega fan, I've always sort of had this love for the underdog. Right now I'm very into Nintendo. I love watching the Wii outsell the PlayStation 3. The PS3's like this huge, hulking monstrosity of a machine, insanely powerful, and the Wii is just this weird little thing that everyone thought was going to be a novelty device a couple years back, and now it's doing really well. But this time next year, I'll probably be a big PS3 fan, because it'll be the third-place contender in the console-game wars.
CP: So, what's Blue Leader really like?
RR: He's me. He's naive in a lot of ways, and he really loves video games. He loves talking to people about video games. And he finds that in a lot of situations people aren't receptive to him, mainly his parents and his close friends. But Blue Leader doesn't have any powers, as far as anyone knows. You'll never see Blue Leader shoot a laser out of his eyes. I really enjoy the fact that he looks like Cyclops enough so that people will think, "Oh, that's Cyclops . . . oh, he's talking to, like, a cube. About treasure. That's weird. I'll come back next time and see if he's done another comic." H
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