Interview: Chris Barton, author

On Mon­day, I reviewed a new alpha­bet book, ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!: A GAMER’S ALPHABET, writ­ten by Chris Bar­ton and illus­trat­ed by Joey Spi­ot­to. Today, I’m thrilled to intro­duce you to Chris!

Chris Barton head shot
Chris Bar­ton

Chris was kind enough to answer a few of my ques­tions about writ­ing ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! Read on for the interview:
LT: I have a sort of love-hate rela­tion­ship with video games. I enjoy play­ing them, but have to watch my ten­den­cy to get obses­sive. I sus­pect my growth is per­ma­nent­ly stunt­ed from spend­ing my teen years play­ing Cav­erns of Mars on my Atari when I should’ve sleep­ing. In col­lege, I could spend whole week­ends play­ing Civ­i­liza­tion. Now, I strug­gle not to play too much soli­taire, Can­dy Crush, or Tick­et to Ride, and I have to mon­i­tor what my kids are play­ing and how much time they’re spend­ing at it, as well. 
LT: Tell me about your own video gam­ing expe­ri­ence, past and present. What kinds of games do you like to play? How has your game-play­ing changed over time? 
CB: Hon­est­ly, there’s a lot more to say about my past expe­ri­ence than my present expe­ri­ence — and, even then, there’s not a huge amount. Gam­ing has nev­er been as big a part of my life as it is in the lives of my kids.
CB: But I do have some vivid mem­o­ries from when I was grow­ing up: of my great-aunt and ‑uncle giv­ing my broth­er and me Pong one Christ­mas, and of us hook­ing that up to the black-and-white TV in his room; of cel­e­brat­ing the 12th birth­day of my friend Ty (to whom Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! is ded­i­cat­ed) by play­ing a lot of Ms. Pac-Man at Mal­ibu Grand Prix and then going to see Tron in a the­ater; of final­ly mov­ing up from Pong by buy­ing Ty’s Intel­livi­sion con­sole, on which I espe­cial­ly loved play­ing Pit­fall!; and of the thrill of play­ing Spy Hunter at the Aladdin’s Cas­tle arcade when­ev­er I got to go the mall 80 miles from my hometown.
CB: I still real­ly enjoy play­ing arcade games — that over­all sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence is a sure­fire way to bring out the 13-year-old in me. Being big fans of the Bea­t­les, Jen­ny and our kids and I love play­ing Bea­t­les Rock Band togeth­er on our Wii. And I high­ly, high­ly rec­om­mend the game Gone Home, a first-per­son game in which you’re a col­lege stu­dent return­ing from a year abroad only to dis­cov­er that all sorts of things are not right at the house your fam­i­ly moved into dur­ing your time away. Recent­ly I was strug­gling to remem­ber the name of the YA nov­el I had read that got me all choked up at the very end, but then I real­ized it had­n’t been a nov­el at all. It had been Gone Home.
CB: I would undoubt­ed­ly spend more time play­ing games — and watch­ing TV, and going to the movies — if it weren’t for all these books I’d like to write. I can’t do it all.
LT: Yes! That’s what keeps me off of them, too… most of the time.
LT: What was your favorite part of A!B!CC! to research and/or write?
CB: Oh, it was def­i­nite­ly the page at the end where I use all 26 gam­ing terms in a sin­gle sen­tence. Fig­ur­ing out how to do that was not only a fun puz­zle to solve, but also a good test of how well I knew my ter­mi­nol­o­gy. I sus­pect that page will also be my favorite part of the book to read aloud, though I’m going to need a big­ger set of lungs if I’m ever to get through it in a sin­gle breath.
LT: That’s funny–I would’ve expect­ed you to say that was the hard­est! It was indeed impres­sive. What, then, was the hard­est part of the book to research and/or write?
CB: “I is for Instance,” by far. The usu­al sus­pects in an alpha­bet book — Q, X, Z — weren’t all that chal­leng­ing. But “I” had sur­pris­ing­ly few terms that seemed like great can­di­dates, espe­cial­ly since I avoid­ed brand names or names of spe­cif­ic games or char­ac­ters. I was hap­py to include “Instance,” as I think it’s an impor­tant con­cept for under­stand­ing why your screen isn’t over­run by oth­er avatars when you’re play­ing a mas­sive­ly mul­ti­play­er online game, but get­ting the def­i­n­i­tion just right — cor­rect, yet easy to under­stand — took a lot of effort.
LT: Inter­est­ing! It cer­tain­ly would­n’t seem like “I” would be one of the tricky let­ters. I can see how instance would be a tricky one to explain, though, and you’re right about it being an impor­tant con­cept. Great choice!
LT: Were there any sur­pris­es along the way?
CB: Sure. I began the project with a desire to show some of the rich­ness and depth and breadth of gam­ing cul­ture and his­to­ry. But I was still tak­en aback by the pas­sion and thought­ful­ness and sin­cer­i­ty of oth­er writ­ers, com­men­ta­tors, and gam­ing pro­fes­sion­als who have ded­i­cat­ed them­selves to this field far more exten­sive­ly than I have. And I’ve been espe­cial­ly intrigued by the cur­rent par­al­lels between the gam­ing and chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture worlds as both strive to make them­selves more diverse and inclu­sive, to allow more par­tic­i­pants and con­sumers from more back­grounds to take part in these fields and rec­og­nize them­selves in the work that’s created.
LT: I’ve noticed those par­al­lels, too, and it’s def­i­nite­ly a good thing. 
LT: One last ques­tion… I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book?
CB: I’ve got a new appre­ci­a­tion for what a great tool an alpha­bet book can be for orga­niz­ing infor­ma­tion about a top­ic, and for explor­ing a top­ic beyond what you’re already famil­iar with. It’s a for­mat that forces you to dig deeply and employ some cre­ative research skills and weigh why one con­cept might be more impor­tant to include than anoth­er. I’d rec­om­mend that oth­er writ­ers of all ages give it a try. I myself expect that I’ll return to this approach soon­er or later.
LT: Great advice! And I look for­ward to see­ing what you do with it next time. 
LT: Thanks for stop­ping by and shar­ing your thoughts, Chris. I had a great time, and I wish you the best of luck with ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE!

2 thoughts on “Interview: Chris Barton, author”

  1. Lau­rie, I total­ly get the love-hate thing with games. We have an XBox, and that darn writ­ing thing def­i­nite­ly got in the way of my game-play­ing when my fam­i­ly went through a big XBox phase. 😉
    This sounds like a fun book, and I enjoyed the inter­view! Con­grats to Chris!


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