Gamer Spotlight: Jeff Grubb

Jeff Grubb (Writer at Venture Beat)

Jeff Grub started writing about video games the way many people do these days, on his own personal blog. He later started doing freelance writing for various outlets before landing a job in 2012 at VentureBeat where he covers all aspects of the games industry for their GamesBeat section.

Jeff works from his home just outside of Denver, CO where he lives with his wife Stephanie and children Emme (3) and Addy (1). Working from home allows him the benefit of being able to spend more time with his family, although the stress of writing while wrangling two little ones can be a bit much. He also wants to make sure you know that he is not the author of a series of successful fantasy novels… that’s the other Jeff Grubb.

What is the first video game that you remember playing?

“I have very vague memories of playing Atari and Colecovision games when I was very young, but no game in particular. But my parents and brother got me a Nintendo Entertainment System for my fifth birthday with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. My earliest lucid memories of playing a game are definitely Mario. I must’ve shown interest in gaming before this to make them want to get me the NES, but I definitely fell in love with that game immediately. Super Mario Bros. is still one of my favorite games”

grubb1What are your favorite games of all time?

“Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the game that cemented this hobby as something I was always going to be passionate about. A kid in my sixth-grade class stole a copy of the game from the teacher’s assistant who brought her Game Boy with her because she liked it so much. (I didn’t realize until at least 10 years later that the kid who handed me the game stole it and was trying to get me in trouble, but the TA really liked me and told me all about how she loved the game and that she had to buy Link’s Awakening again because her first copy went missing. I must’ve been like, “yeah, that kid over there just gave me a copy, and I love it!” so she didn’t ask for it back or anything. I was really dense.)

I was 11 when I played that game, and it just opened my eyes to puzzle-solving and quests and getting immersed in a world. It felt at the time that it took me a really long time to beat it because I didn’t realize that you were supposed to use the tools you got in each dungeon on the eventual boss. So the idea of picking up the genie in the second dungeon to throw it didn’t occur to me for a long time. You’re not supposed to touch bad guys in games, right?

Everything about that experience has really stuck with me and informed what I want from games. But other than Link’s Awakening, I still can’t believe how incredible Breath of the Wild is. I’ve always wanted Nintendo to build more systems-driven games, but I didn’t expect it to make the best one.

I also love all the GBA Castlevania games, Doom 2016, Hitman 2016, PUBG, Dead Cells, Super Mario World, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario 3D World, and Link Between Worlds.

The other game that I want to call out is Eco. It’s like Minecraft with systems for modeling things like deforestation, pollution, and carbon emissions. The idea is that you work together with other people on a server to build a series of laser to destroy an asteroid that is going to destroy your planet in 30 real-world days. To build those lasers, you’ll need to use a ton of resources and the industry to efficiently process those resources. The challenge, however, is trying not to do permanent ecological damage to your planet in the effort to save it.

It’s a super clever game where if you clear cut a forest, it won’t magically grow back. And now one of your main sources of lumber is just gone, so you now have to dedicate the time and effort of actual players to go out and replant tree seeds to bring the forest back or just deal with the consequences.

But the reason Eco is one of my favorite games ever is because its scarcity and job-specialization mechanics turn it into an accurate economic model. This only works because, like with the forest, everything in the game is work. It’s a huge job to dig stone and iron out of a mountain. And if someone is building skills toward mining, they aren’t great at processing it. That means they need to either work with someone who has smelting skills or they can sell it. And that creates all of these interesting dynamics surrounding currencies and public works and collectivism versus a capital system. And one thing you hear from economists is how difficult it is to test theories or to see how they work under controlled conditions, and what Eco does is make it possible to learn economics through play. I think that is just astonishing, and the game deserves more recognition for that.”

Which hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy besides gaming?

“I don’t have a lot of time for much of anything these days. I wish I could read more often, but I’ll sneak in some time a few nights a week. I like books like Moneyball and The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I also love going to the movies. We have an Alamo Drafthouse here in Denver, and we used to go like 40 times a year before we had kids. They would have these beer dinners where we would get served a dinner and craft beer themed around whatever movie we were seeing, and it was for movies like Under Siege, Raising Arizona, and other older and genre films. I miss that a lot.

So I’ve sort of defaulted to podcasts. There are a lot of them. They’re free. And I can listen to them while doing something else, like taking care of the kids or cleaning. I love shows like My Brother, My Brother, and Me, Planet Money, and /Filmcast. I’ve also really gotten into the more recent trend of a miniseries podcast that tells a contained story. There were a few about Star Wars, and I liked all of them. Gladiator from The Boston Globe about Aaron Hernandez was especially powerful.

But I also listen to a ton of gaming podcasts and still feel like I could listen to more. Giant Bombcast, The Beastcast, Player One Podcast, Waypoint Radio, Kinda Funny Games Daily, 8-4 Play, The Exploding Barrel, Besties, and more.”

grubb2

Do you and your children play video games together?

“They are still a bit too young, but they’re definitely interested. Emme, the older one, enjoys watching me play some games. She especially likes Mario Kart and Super Mario Odyssey. Something about Mario kids just gravitate toward. They also both liked watching some Luigi’s Mansion 3. We’ll see if that grows into more as they get older. I hope it does.”

How do you make time for gaming with a busy family life and career?

“I don’t. Not really. I play on Switch before bed. I have this beast of a PC in the basement. It’s got a 12-core CPU and an RTX 2080 Ti in it, and I barely ever play games on it. The truth is that I don’t really ever have time to myself. If I have time for games, that’s time I could be using to clean up or fix stuff. So I end up feeling mildly guilty whenever I try to spend any real-time on a game, and that sours the whole experience.

But the Switch before bed is definitely great. I finally beat Fire Emblem. It took me 90 hours on hard with permadeath to get through just one house, but I never would have beaten it if not for the Switch. Same with Luigi’s Mansion 3, which I also got through in the past couple of weeks.

This really makes me want a Switch-like PC. Something with moderate power so I can play all the indie games that are on PC but not Switch. And then I could stream games from my desktop. But nothing like that has really lived up to the Switch experience yet.”

What is your proudest moment as a parent?

“You know I don’t think about pride too often. I’m just doing the best I can and never letting up on loving them as much as I can. But if I think about it, I can think of two things.

I’m proud that I’m able to have the kids at home with me while I work. It does make things extremely stressful, but I get to spend so much time with them. I have nothing against daycare, it’s just too expensive for us. So somehow I’ve been able to survive three straight years of watching one and now two kids all day every weekday. That’s saved us money, but it’s also created a really strong bond between me and the kids that I feel really strongly about.

The other thing is how tough and resilient Emme is. She was born with bilateral congenital cataracts. By four months, she was blind and needed to have her cataracts lenses removed. And now she wears contacts full time or else her vision would still make her legally blind.

She has every right to find the world a scary and difficult place, and yet she is completely fearless. Nothing gets in her way. She has so much confidence. And that is really obvious to me when I drop her off at preschool. She never cries. She just runs right into the class and is ready to have a good day. It makes me feel really lucky.”

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