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Joystiq talks with MTV News' Stephen Totilo

With two highly anticipated console launches closing out this week, MTV certainly picked a ripe time to repeat their Gamer's Week event. With properties like GameTrailers and Neopets, recent acquisitions like Guitar Hero dev Harmonix and instant messaging/gaming client Xfire, as well as Stephen Totilo's impressive work at MTV News, it's clear that MTV is serious about games. We recently had a chance to talk to Stephen about Gamer's Week and find out why it's not just Laguna Beach but with some video game stuff thrown in.

What's your role in Gamer's Week? As a reporter for MTV News, how do you fit into the whole Gamer's Week package?

Like last year, MTV is dedicating a week to gaming coverage, and marshaling as many resources as possible to put cool stuff together. And like last year, I was tapped as the MTV News reporter who covers video games to provide five day's worth of on-air news segments and any written stories for MTVNews.com.

And like last year, I went with the mandate my editors have given me here since day one to focus on stories that are interesting enough to interest gamers and non-gamers alike. I also figured enough other folks on the MTV team would be working on stuff that focuses on the new consoles and whatnot, so I decided to focus on other stuff in game culture. Things you might not expect from MTV, if you haven't been paying attention to what we've been up to for the last couple of years.

Basically I was told in late summer that we'd be doing another Gamer's Week and my editors sat me down and asked me to identify some good stories. So, no. They didn't ask me to write about Guitar Hero, unveil a hard-hitting expose praising Xfire, and wrap with an article about how awesome Ludacris is at playing games.

So, different from your columns at MTV News, you're producing these segments, right? Similar to your role in putting together the Game-maker's Roundtable?

Since day one, I've been responsible for any gaming content on any screen where there's MTV News. When it's for online, I pitch my editors and write it myself. When it's for TV, I pitch my editors and then work with a team of talented folks, usually a producer a cameraman, etc. I've done that for more than a dozen full-length on-air news segments this year (coverage of the U2 cover band in Second Life; coverage of a fascinating gaming referee who lives in Brooklyn; a sit-down with Satoru Iwata; the game-makers roundtable, etc.). So, yes. I just don't go in front of the camera (unless I'm wearing a Mario costume).

Is that in your contract? The part about the Mario costume?

No. But more recently I covered an event that had me wearing a hardhat with a giant,
acid-green Pong paddle attached. Some day I'll dress as Lara Croft and I will be complete.

So, even though you're obviously not tasked with producing content about MTV's various gaming properties, MTV is really taking gaming seriously. With the purchase of Harmonix, the purchase of Xfire, the purchase of Ludacris ... oh, wait.

So I hear. The nice thing about MTV News is that, as news divisions should be, I'm kept insulated from the interests of the rest of MTV. That said, the company seems to have some good taste in its developer acquisitions, no?

So, you produced four pieces for Gamer's Week. If you had to suggest our readers pick one to watch, which would it be?

There's more than four pieces, because My Gaming Bock Austin will air in two parts and we have one segment each on virtual musicians Amy Te and Jeremy Works (Keiko Takamura and Frogg Marlowe, respectively) but, to answer your question, it depends on your taste. If you're a hardcore gamer, I can't see how you wouldn't want to see our second Austin piece -- airing Tuesday -- with interviews with the unlikely script-writer of Gears of War and a visit with the guys at [Nintendo's] Retro Studios. About the Retro team, I think the last thing Nintendo expected me to request was a chance to go weightlifting with their developers, but that's what we did ... and they've got guys who can bench a lot of weight.


If you're into music, though, the main draw's got to be Amy Te and Jeremy Works who are managing to draw crowds without leaving their home and succeeding with music without worrying about knowing the right labels, fitting in with the right crowd or having the right look. And lastly, the most impressive piece might be the virtual gold piece, because when's the last time anyone ever saw footage and interviews with Chinese gamers who farm gold in World of Warcraft? We have footage of those infamous sweatshops.

With gaming on television having seen better days, why does MTV think it can do better? More specifically, what do you think your pieces in Gamer's Week offer gamers who, it might be said, would rather play Gears of War than watch a show about the fella that wrote the story (what's it about again, bug monsters)?

Fella? The fella who wrote it is a five-foot-tall woman. That's why you want to watch. Because we're doing stories that celebrate and explore what's interesting about gaming and that don't aim to replace games but give you something interesting and extra to know about them. The same way some people like to know what the people who made the movies they like were thinking. A lot of people in the gaming industry have asked me why I don't try to get into game development. You get that a lot as a games reporter, the implication is that you're only in it because you wish you could be making games themselves. But I don't. Gaming is a fascinating medium and getting to tell people new things about what's going in this field is a great job in and of itself.

... huh, I thought Eric Nylund -- the Halo book guy -- wrote Gears ...

He wrote the plot. Susan O'Connor was brought in to script it. She's also writing Bioshock. But the idea is, that you walk through Austin and you almost can't help but bump into people who play significant roles in the games you love -- that's what it's like to be in a gaming city, something my beloved NY ain't. Read Matt Hawkins awesome 6000+ word article from a couple of months ago to see how lame game culture is in NYC. I had to go to Austin to see how a real city embraces games.

But how is what MTV's doing different? What makes it unique?

How's it different? There's all of one other non-gaming news outlet in America (The New York Times) that is dedicated enough about games to employ someone to cover them full-time. That has an effect. You watch other non-gaming outlet's coverage and you largely know those folks have no clue what's going on in games. Thankfully I do, and the producers and editors I work for and with value that. We're producing easily digestible few-minute-long TV segments, not "discovering" how pornographic the PSP is or how the makers of Bully are evil. We're doing stuff that we think respects the intelligence of gamers and non-gamers alike, doesn't mock anyone and basically says: "here's something interesting about video games" ... plus, you can watch some of our segments in the time it takes for some next-gen games to load, so why not give them a try?

Will this stuff find its way onto Overdrive, since I suspect folks may not catch it all on television?

Yeah. Since MTV.com was redesigned all video is available right on the same main page. The best place for people to go for one stop shopping is games.MTV.com which will become a Gamer's Week 2.0 hub site. All news content will be there; all content will also be featured prominently on MTVNews.com and you get the complete show of all the segments airing Saturday on MTV2. MTV News Goes Big Gaming ... and there will be no microtransactions required for any of this.

Haha, good. Why change the Gamer's Week name?

I've been told that the thinking is MTV changes with the times, keeps up with the current vibe. The Game0rz spelling that so many people took issue with worked for last year. This year it's all about 2.0. If I knew why things were named what they were, then I could explain what the G-Hole really means.

Point taken. Thanks for your time! Hope GW2.0 is well received.

Here's information about the Gamer's Week programs Stephen worked on:

My Video Game Block: Austin -

Austin may be known as a mecca for alternative music and film, but it is also one of America's most game-crazy cities, packed with development studios large and small, game shops, game clubs and a host of personalities. For the first time ever, MTV News' Sway Calloway explores the sights and sounds of Austin, Texas - the heart of online-world game design, the place where the Xbox 360's hottest 2006 title "Gears of War" is being written, where the Nintendo Wii's hottest title "Metroid Prime: Corruption" is under development at the ultra-secretive Retro Studios, the zip code for game designer Richard Garriott's mansion featuring secret passages, dungeon and a moat, and the home of "Red vs. Blue" machinima-makers at Rooster Teeth, Midway studios, and an Austin gamer who will pay $1000 to anyone who can beat him at Mario Kart.

The Price of Virtual Gold

Utilizing exclusive footage shot in China by documentarian Ge Jin for MTV News, this is the first TV report of the illicit cross-continent trading of virtual gold in the wildly popular multiplayer online game "World of Warcraft." The news segment will explore why people buy and sell, why gamers and game designers disagree on whether if this is all good or bad, and will premiere the first footage ever captured of Chinese gamers at work farming "WoW" gold for American players to buy.

Virtual Concerts: The New Way To Launch A Music Career?

MTV News covers the expanding phenomenon of real music performances staged in virtual games and worlds like "Second Life"- from this summer's virtual album signing by Chamillionaire, a virtual listening party by Regina Spektor, and a performance by Duran Duran. This report puts the spotlight on some new virtual rock stars in the making: Amy Te, aka Keiko Takamura, a college senior who turned to playing live performances in the online world "Second Life" to escape her "repressive Asian parents" and the Santa Barbara college she hates and Frogg Marlowe, YHIF: "Second Life"'s premiere musician and mentor to all the up and coming "Second Life" artists explains how he figured out how to become a virtual musician, check out his real life and virtual performances, as well as his amazing story of how he used to live and sleep in a cemetery when he was homeless.

MTVNews Déjà Vu

This MTV News segment takes a look back at the games and systems of yesteryear celebrating the brilliance of old-school games and systems and see how far we've come. Over more than two decades we've learned how much gaming changes and – in light of new console launches and new political crackdowns – how much it stays the same. MTV News will highlight video game coverage throughout the years and how it relates to the future of gaming.