Chris Burke, alias interviewed by Isabelle Arvers about his last project : This Spartan Life, a talk show in a Halo 2 game space around game and digital culture.

IA : what are the feelings of your guests while playing and talking

CB : Most are surprised at the physical ‘realness’ of the world of Halo. The best thing about inviting people with little game experience is that they are inspired by the experience. It’s important to me to not take the virtual existence part for granted. The technology will keep getting better and we’ll start to lose sight of that cognitive dissonance we had when we first walked into a virtual space that seemed somehow real. I try to remind my guests of this.

IA : what are the funny things that happend during the show

CB : Halo is full of weird little glitches and sometimes things happen spontaneously during filming that make us laugh. While interviewing Burnie Burns from Red Vs. Blue, I flipped the Warthog (vehicle) and it stood up on it’s nose and stayed like that. No real jeep would ever balance like that of course. In the same interview one of the gamers turned totally black. You couldn’t see any detail in his armor at all, just a black void with the outline of a Spartan. That was another odd glitch. In the first Bodycount episode, when one of the avatars died behind a rock, his body did this very fast glitched death animation where it stretched at all points very quickly and bounced out of site. That one ended up in the final video which you can see on our site.

IA : if you think that games are a good tool to express yourself

CB : I think game spaces are very interesting and make me think about things I don’t often have the situation to think about. The meaning of existence is called into question as soon as you enter a game environment. Death, violence, communication are all things that come to mind when I am in a game space. For this reason, I think games can call forth interesting topics and spur good discussions.

IA : is it the same approach to create a talk show from a game or to create a song with a console????

CB : There are similarities in that we are appropriating the hardware. It is a far less visual experience to write music on a gameboy than to work in a 3D game environment, but there is the joy of bending something made for mass consumption into a new work of your own creation.

IA : the current projects around this spartan life

CB : We have recently finished 6 short episodes for and they seem to want us to do more. Our interview roster for these episodes is different. We thought it would be cool to talk to some game designers for these shows and we also interviewed some rock bands who are avid gamers, including Korn and The Used.

We are also moving forward with the main series on our site with new guests including Malcolm McLaren. We are talking to a number of people about other uses for This Spartan Life, including one possibility that would explore the more theoretical side of what we do.

IA : what do you think about that: i read a little article in a blog saying “even if i am a poor acculturate fps i loved so much this spartan life” Do you like this idea, to give other type of content to a very large audience, not very used to theory and critic? do you think that this type of project is part of cultural democratisation??

CB : I am glad to see our project reaching such a wide audience. We just sort of do what we do and can only hope it inspires both gamers and academics. I am not sure which would have a bigger advantage in understanding This Spartan Life, though. This gets to a core aspect of TSL, though. We haven’t had to struggle much with the gamer/theorist dichotomy much yet, but as we mature as a show, I can see that becoming an issue. My approach so far is to treat it as totally natural that we quote Slavoj Zizek while demonstrating glitch techniques on a multiplayer map. It is natural for me at least and I hope it can continue to be one of the things what people find unique and interesting about This Spartan Life.

Chris Burke, online interview, 7 february 2006