As someone who has been following the work of Simon Parkin for over a decade, it was a welcome surprise to discover that the award winning journalist and author has recently launched his own podcast. Titled My Perfect Console, the weekly podcast allows Simon to bring on guests who get to speak about the games that they believe had a profound impact upon their lives – to the extent that they’d like to immortalise these games as part of their very own “perfect console”.
Although Simon Parkin only launched his ‘My Perfect Console’ podcast at the beginning of this year, already he’s been able to get guests like Phil Fish (of Fez fame), Jake Solomon (of XCom fame), and Henk Rogers (of Tetris fame) on board. At the same time, his unmissable podcast series has been getting rave reviews across the board, with several listeners stating that it’s now their favourite podcast series.
I was able to interview Simon Parkin about his podcast series, and was able to ask him as to what inspired him to start ‘My Perfect Console’, as well as the interviewees that he’d like to have on his show. Enjoy!
What is your background as an audio presenter / podcaster, and do you have any formal training in the field? Also, what equipment (including hardware and software) do you use to record and edit your podcasts?
I don’t have any formal training as a presenter, but I made some radio items for The New Yorker Radio Hour during the past few years, which I greatly enjoyed. Working with WNYC’s producer, Alex Barron, taught me a great deal about how to present a produced show. One of the parts of my job I’ve enjoyed most as a journalist is interviewing people, ideally in a conversational manner. So, I decided a while back that I wanted to explore the idea of recording and producing an interview series where I spoke to well-known people about their love of games. It took a while to overcome my fear of failure – as often happens when attempting to launch something creative, but now I am so glad that I did. I record at home in my office, usually over Zoom. I use an Audio-Technica P48 mic, and I edit using Logic Pro, which allows me to use lots of plug-ins and other techniques to make the episodes sound as professional as possible.
As someone who has only recently started a videogames related podcast, what steps are you taking to get the word out and establish yourself in what is ultimately an extremely competitive field? Likewise, and in terms of target demographic, who are you trying to appeal to, and what do you think makes your podcast stand out?
It is “late” to be starting a podcast, true. The podcast bubble was at its most inflated a couple of years ago. But this is something I wanted to do for my own creative satisfaction as much as any commercial opportunity. I know lots of people in the video game industry and without, and wanted to get some of their stories on record, for posterity, which is always in my mind as a journalist reporting on this medium anyway.
The format is that I ask my guest to pick the five video games they would like to immortalise on their very own fictional games console. The premise allows me to talk to the guest about the five video games that are important to them: the copy of Sonic the Hedgehog they unwrapped at Christmas; the matches of GoldenEye they enjoyed with friends at uni; the first time they plugged an ethernet cable into a PC and logged into World of Warcraft – or whatever it might be!
This is a twist on the familiar ‘Desert Island Discs’ style of radio programme/ podcast. There have even been a couple of attempts to do this sort of show before about games. What I bring to the table that is different is, hopefully, my experience and reputation as a journalist who has covered this area for a very long time, my knowledge, and my contacts. Having worked for some of the best publications in the world helps open doors, because it assures interviewees that they won’t be subject to tabloid-style questioning and so on. So, I’ve been able to book some wonderful guests as an independent producer that, earlier in my career, would not have been possible. I will never be an accomplished social media manager, and I am generally bad at that side of things. But I am good interviewer, so my hope is that people stay for that.
I’m trying to balance the guests between game-makers (who are interesting to people who knows lots about games) and public figures (who are probably less interesting to ‘gamers’, but who are interesting to a much larger, mainstream audience). I have always been interested in speaking about games in an intelligent way to audiences who are not yet convinced of their value. I see this podcast as part of those long-term efforts.
Videogame podcasts are usually associated with freestyle roundtable panels (such as Rebel FM and Bombcast) or solo endeavors (such as Jeff Gerstmann) where the hosts discuss newsworthy topics and recent events. However, your podcast takes a slightly different approach, whereby you’ve adopted a fairly rigid interviewer / interviewee style structure that can be universally applied to all guests. What was your reasoning for this? At the same time, what was your inspiration for starting a podcast in the first instance, and how did you come to choose the format and subject matter?
I enjoy some of the chatty style podcasts (which are usually best described as ‘a few dudes sitting around pontificating about games’) but I have no interest in adding to that very substantial pile of content. I’m a traditional journalist in that I care about reporting, new knowledge and fresh insight. I wanted to make a show that plays to my strengths as an interviewer, and capitalises on my privileged position in being able to convince people to speak to me based on my previous work and reputation.
I spoke to a podcast company a couple of years ago about the general idea for My Perfect Console, and they were interested but wanted to use a celebrity host (the footballer Peter Crouch, specifically). I also worked with someone from the BBC last year to formulate a professional pitch, and it got some way in the organisation before it was eventually dropped (to his dismay, I should say).
In the end, I decided to make it myself so I would have control over the format, length, and style. If it’s a success, then I get to benefit directly. If it’s not, then I get to decide whether and when to bring it to an end. Having this kind of agency after years of working for other people, has been pretty joyous – especially as it’s basically a side job to my actual paying work as an author.
Considering the rigid structure of your podcast (whereby you ask guests to name their top five games that they’d like to immortalize as part of their very own “my perfect console”), are you concerned at all that the subject matter might prove to be a tad too limiting in the long-run? What steps are you taking to ensure that the podcast will remain intellectually stimulating for you, and that you won’t suffer from intellectual burnout and boredom?
I’m not concerned about that, because really the podcast is about the person’s story, not the games so much. They are just the lens through which I can explore the individual’s life story, and the kind of games they are interested in. This means the pool of potential interviewees is almost limitless. I am deeply interested in other people and their stories, so I won’t grow bored. Tired, maybe. But not bored.
Your podcast reminds me of Mark Cerny and his work in articulating the needs of Sony when designing their PlayStation console. In an alternative universe, and assuming that you had a similar role as Mark Cerny, what hardware manufacturer would you most like to work with (if any) when designing your “perfect console”? What is your reasoning for this? At the same time, what kind of console would you like to create? What would you call it, what price would it be, and how would you market your “perfect console”?
These are my questions! I’m certainly not a hardware designer, so I don’t feel qualified to answer this meaningfully. I am drawn to older, cartridge-based hardware for its immediacy. I still play Neo Geo, GBA and systems like this because I can be into a game within ten seconds. I certainly miss that aspect in contemporary video games.
Unlike Mark Cerny who mainly deals with Sony and its legion of game developer associates, you’ve actually extended your gamut of interview subjects to include those who work outside of games (such as music, film, and comedy). What was your reasoning for this? At the same time, what qualities do you look for in potential interview subjects and those who you’d like to invite onto your show?
I want to have a good spread of interviewees to bring a range of perspectives and to ensure the show doesn’t become too insular. To date I have had guests on who I know, but no close friends as that would be strange to me; I’m trying to interview people who I know have interesting stories, and who have accomplished something incredible, in games or elsewhere. Increasingly, I’m trying to find guests whose appearance ties into a cultural event, as with Henk Rogers’ who appears in the same week as Apple TV’s film adaptation of Tetris.
Similarly, who are your top five guests that you’d like to immortalize as part of your very own ‘My Perfect Console’ podcast and why?
Ha! I’d love to interview Dan Harmon for the podcast, and maybe someone like Macauley Culkin, who I know still plays games regularly. Perhaps a high-profile politician. I would like some of the Japanese developers too, but convincing the relevant PR departments can take time and effort, especially in video games, where the PR opportunities are so locked down and, in some ways, out-of-date.
Although I’ve already asked you about your “perfect console”, I haven’t asked you about your top five games. In which case, what are your top five games that you’d like to immortalize as part of your very own “perfect console” and why?
I’m keeping this a secret for now, I’m afraid.
Thank you so much…