“This is A Life Well Wasted, an internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them.”
Each episode of Robert Ashley’s critically acclaimed documentary podcast is prefaced with a variation on this humble declaration of intent. It sets the tone perfectly for a fascinating examination of the personal impact that gaming can have on the lives of those that embrace it.
Rather than focusing on the games themselves, Ashley delves into the lives of the people behind them, shedding light on the human stories that underpin their creation and the passionate communities they spawn.
Every show is structured around an overarching theme with sweeping titles for Ashley to creatively riff upon. The latest, ‘Big Ideas’, features a section about Pac-Manhattan, the real world Pac-Man game that’s played out across a 6×4 block area of New York City. Later in the same episode he speaks with Jonah Falcon, the gaming blogger officially endowed with the world’s largest penis.
This off-beat take on videogame culture is woven together with a musical soundscape created by Ashley himself and long-time collaborator Sam Frigard, collectively known as I Come To Shanghai. Emerging British graphic designer Olly Moss also lends a hand, producing incredible artwork to accompany each edition, monetising the show with limited poster runs that sell out in a matter of hours.
Robert found time to speak to us while setting himself up in his new home of Athens, Georgia where he’s busily working with Frigard on the second I Come To Shanghai album.
Matt Cummins: Where did your passion for gaming come from?
Robert Ashley: My earliest memory of gaming obsession is hanging out with my dad at Sharky’s pool hall in Dallas. I don’t think he really knew what to do with a kid, so when he had me over for the weekend, we’d go to Sharky’s. He played pool and drank beers, I played Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man for hours. That maybe sounds terrible, but I probably would have picked that kind of day over anything else. I wasn’t some totally weird indoor kid, but when I was indoors, I loved getting into a game. I still do. It’s some kind of internal headspace that’s probably as close to meditation as I could go without barfing.
MC: What inspired you to start producing A Life Well Wasted?
RA: I spent most of the last decade writing for videogame magazines, and as it happened the magazines were dying at about the same time podcasting was making a sudden leap in popularity among gamers. My friend Shawn Elliott, an Editor at one of the magazines, invited me to guest on his magazine’s podcast, GFW Radio. I used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to write about gaming. But I would show up on these podcasts and get way more feedback and interest than for anything I had spent hours and hours writing. Since the audience was already there, it was a no-brainer to try to make the show I had been kicking around in my head for years: a show about the people who make, study and obsess over videogames.
MC: Where do the ideas for the show themes tend to come from?
RA: The themes, for the most part, are just a handy way to package disparate stories. I have an archive of interviews waiting to be used in the show, just waiting for the appropriate theme. I get feedback sometimes from listeners who wish the themes were really the focus of the show, that I would do some big investigations into an idea. I’m just not that kind of person. I prefer randomly throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks.
MC: How did you go about getting in touch with the incredibly diverse range of people you’ve interviewed for the show?
RA: Mostly I find people by accident, just clicking around the Internet, but I’ve also had a lot of people suggested to me by listeners and friends. My friend Demian Linn had been telling me to interview Jonah Falcon for a couple of years, and that was probably my favourite interview, though I’d say most of the audience probably hated it. It was exactly what I was hoping for.
MC: Your shows often seem to explore ideas and stories that would broaden a lot of peoples concepts of gaming. Was this your intent when producing it?
RA: To me, the gaming part of it is just a cultural flavour, sort of like how music was a flavour for people writing for a certain crowd in the 60′s and 70′s. Hunter Thompson didn’t write about music much, but he wrote for the people who defined themselves by it, and he did a lot of his work in a music magazine. A huge swath of young-ish people define themselves with gaming these days. Those are my people.
- Article and Interview by Matt Cummins
- A Life Well Wasted is available for download at www.alifewellwasted.com
- I Come To Shanghai’s debut album is available at www.icometoshanghai.com