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DailyRadar.com: Mulder and Scully Go FPS: Tom Maddox Interview

Mulder and Scully Go FPS: Tom Maddox Interview

A few weeks back, we ran a picture of Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in a very non-X-Files looking suit of armor, firing a big ass rifle. After a smidgen of investigative work (we went to Fox’s press site), we turned up this brief plot synopsis for a new episode of The X-Files slated for Feb. 27: “While investigating the murder of a teen killed while playing a virtual reality game, Agents Scully and Mulder enter a high-tech virtual game to track down their suspect in ‘First Person Shooter’.”

Even though we found that this episode was directed by Chris Carter and written by sci-fi authors William “cyberspace” Gibson and Tom Maddox (who teamed up to write the “Killswitch” episode a few seasons ago), we felt some initial trepidation. Video games and violence have had a major negative buzz in the media since the Columbine shootings last year, and Hollywood is notorious for its poor representations of games. Don’t believe us? Trying sitting through Double Dragon, Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat 2 without wishing to be struck blind. No movie or TV show has done justice to video games since Tron, and that was a mighty long time ago.

Since an X-Files episode about first-person shooters manages to hit two of Daily Radar’s main geek buttons at once, we decided to track down one of the scribes responsible. We were most concerned that Gibson (a notorious low-techie, despite his cool sci-fi stylings) and Maddox were not gamers and would go over the top in their vision of what shooters are actually like. Fortunately, Tom Maddox seemed much more together than we could have even hoped as we found when we spoke to him about the X-Files, video games and parental responsibilities.

Daily Radar: Can you expand a bit on the story for us?

Tom Maddox: Without tipping off the whole deal, The X-Files twist is that it’s a virtual game with real violence. It’s a gaming environment that would be impossible to do now — but it would be so cool if you could — a combination of VR, paintball and FPS games. So it’s a totally immersive environment in which you’re suited up, and you go into it. The VR overlay is such that when you go into the game, it’s like you inhabit it. In other words, you’re in the gaming environment.

DR: So they’re not getting sucked into a computer a la Tron.

TM: No, no, nothing like that. This all takes place at the First Person Shooter corporate HQ, where they are in the end stages of the development of the game. The idea is that this is something that would be installed in malls all over the world.

DR: Sort of like Laser Tag?

TM: Sort of, except much more compelling. You experience it as intensely real, more like the experience of something like Doom or Quake, where you’re being attacked by these other forces, and you can be killed. In the teaser, the QA team is in there doing one of the final run-throughs of the game and something goes horribly awry.

DR: It’s always the QA guys, isn’t it?

TM: Yeah (laughs). The Lone Gunmen are involved with the company and that’s how Mulder and Scully get called in.

DR: Did you put the FPS company in Texas?

TM: I can’t remember where it ended up (laughs). That’s the kind of thing that you don’t pay attention to in revisions.

DR: I only ask because Texas is the center of FPS development in the US.

TM: Oh, I know and I was going to put them (the company in the show) in a penthouse and all that, but a lot of the rewrites had to do with making the episode cheap enough to film. The way Gibson and I first had it set up, the production values would have been expensive. They still spent more money on this episode than on anything else they’ve done since they came back to LA.

DR: So this is now your second episode. The first one was also collaboration with William Gibson. Are you guys longtime buddies or did you meet through agents?

TM: No, we’re longtime buddies. In fact, if you look at the back of Neuromancer, you’ll see I’m mentioned there as the inventor of ICE. We’d been looking for something to do collaboratively for a long time. Bill likes to collaborate; he’s done a novel with Bruce Sterling and several short stories (with other writers). A few years back — I’m not sure what season the X-Files was in — we were talking on the phone one night and we said, “You know, it would be fun to write an episode for these guys.” Bill lives in Vancouver, and they were still shooting there, so he called up and got himself invited down there to the set, met Chris and said, “A pal of mine and I would like to talk to you about doing a show.” And I think, although I wouldn’t swear to this, that we’re the only nonstaff writers to do two episodes of the show.

DR: Going forward, do you see yourselves pitching another episode?

TM: Well that depends if there’s going to be another season. Bill and I were really excited about the possibility of writing something for Harsh Realm, and we were really bummed, as were Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, when it was cancelled prematurely — the folks at Ten Thirteen Productions were so furious over what Fox did. But we’ve left it open with those guys, and we’re waiting to see what they come up with later this year. The big decision is whether there will be an eighth season of the X-Files, and if so, with whom.

DR: What have you published prior to this? I know you’ve done a science fiction novel and some other short stories.

I have published one science fiction novel, called Halo, and I have another that’s grossly overdue to the publisher. I’ve also written stories that were mostly published in Omni and Asmiov’s and anthologized here and there. I wrote a story called “Snake Eyes” that was in Mirrorshades, the cyberpunk anthology. I’ve been longterm friends with Bill and Bruce Sterling and those guys.

Halo. As a matter of fact, Halo is online. It was published by Tor Books, and it’s out of print; if I can ever get the new book to them, they’ll almost certainly republish it. Go to www.privacyplace.com and look under “About Us” and that will take you to the complete text of the book as well as some short stories of mine.

And speaking of Privacy Place, that’s my day job now. I’m the editor. We’re an exclusively online magazine that does news, opinion and info about personal privacy, online and off. We’re not a policy organization; we’re a magazine. In addition to taking positions, we have some great people writing for us and we aim to amuse and enlighten. Simpson Garfinkle, Mike Godwin, RU Sirius, George Smith, Paranoid Paul …

DR: We heard that this is one of the most expensive episodes of X-Files this season and in recent memory because of the amount of CG involved.

TM: Yeah. They also did some fabulous second unit work for the action scenes. Rob Bowman, who directed the feature (The X-Files movie), as well as our first one, did the second unit stuff, which was very cute since you usually don’t get someone like Rob to do second unit work. And Chris Carter is directing, which is great. We feel like we really got good treatment from them, and the dailies that I’ve seen have rocked. We probably won’t see the actual episode until it airs, because they usually work on them until the last minute, and the amount of CG work was really intense. We’re confident that it’s going to look very fabulous.

There’s a lot of violence and some very sexy stuff, but it’s really about violence and its connection to sex, and it’s about males and females in their relation to these games and the testosterone-driven culture of gaming. We don’t have a message; if we had a message, we would have sent it Western Union. But we did have some things that we wanted to say in the process of doing this very action-filled, interesting episode of the X-Files.

DR: A lot of times, when Hollywood attempts to portray the video game world, they don’t really get it right, but it sounds like you guys are familiar with what’s going on in the world of current gaming.

TM: Yeah, I think so. While I’m not a gamer myself, my son, who is a SysAdmin at BeOS, has been a gamer since he was young, so I see an awful lot of it, and I know what the games are like. Undoubtedly, the gaming people and some of the computer people will have some squawks over what’s possible and what’s not and what’s fair, but the truth is that it’s all got to be shaped into a TV episode. Just like creating a game, the code’s got to be written, and you need an interface that works. The same thing applies here. You have an outline, you have a script and all these ideas you want to do, but, ultimately, it has to become TV.

DR: And it has to get on the air.

TM: And the guys at X-Files have a very firm sense of what they do and do not want to do, and if you don’t want to play ball with that, you shouldn’t write for them. They have treated us very well, they’re very smart guys, they do great work, and we don’t have to agree with all their decisions, but it’s their show, and they spent millions of dollars making this episode.

DR: So you’re not a serious gamer yourself?

TM: No, but I have played games. Neither Bill nor I are serious gamers; we’re too old. You know, we went through our adolescence before all this happened. The closest thing to (video games) in our youth was pinball, which I could play endlessly. I understand the thrill of gaming, however; I completely get it, and Bill does too.

DR: One of the things that concerns the gaming community is the way Hollywood portrays the gaming community.

TM: Oh, I know. You all are obviously responsible for all the shootings (laughs). Basically, I think what you’ll find in this episode is that we have different characters speaking to different sides of the issue. You’ll find that Scully just says, “What the hell is this? The world is a violent enough place, why multiply the violence?” And Mulder says, “Ah come on. It’s a game, and boys like to play games; don’t get tied in a knot about it.” Which seems to me to be true to both of their characters. We didn’t want to demonize the gaming community or games, but at the same time, we had to acknowledge that most of the world views the obsessiveness and violence of games as silly and vaguely alarming in some non-specific way. We’re not trying to send a message, we’re trying to use the whole social situation to make an X-Files episode.

DR: So there’s not a lot of finger pointing then?

TM: Gamers are very sensitive at this point, due to being slandered in the press for the last year or two, so I can’t predict how they’ll react to this episode. We’re trying to use this whole thing, not to exploit it, not to point fingers, but to make drama.

DR: What are your feelings regarding violence in the media and the way games and TV influence kids?

TM: People often perceive as causes things that are, in fact, effects. Take someone like Dylan Klebold. His obsession with violence and his ultimate violent behavior was not caused by violent media and games, but he could manifest his obsession with violence through those things. So it’s not causal as to whether a world entirely without violence would be a less violent world. I believe strongly that working things out in your imagination and having a fictive space where you can do things that you can’t do in the real world is helpful, not harmful. I believe that most of the people who take offense to violent games are censors at heart.

The one qualm that I would have there is that I believe that there are probably developmental issues for young children. There’s a lot of age-appropriate stuff in the world; I don’t want to watch the Teletubbies, and your average three-year-old doesn’t want to watch the X-Files. Parents have to take responsibility for what’s developmentally appropriate for their children and make their own decisions. But I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the world to provide a developmentally appropriate setting. The world is not child-safe (laughs).

Games need to seen in the context of a child’s entire life. I felt confident when my son began playing games that there was nothing wrong. I can imagine that having a child who was disturbed in some way or prone to fear and anxiety, I would think differently about the choices I would make as a parent. Just as I don’t think that it hurts children to see nude people or hear dirty jokes, 99% of the time it simply doesn’t hurt them to play violent video games. Obsessions with violence are not great, but there is a difference between obsessions with violence and obsessions with games. I think it’s the responsibility of the parents to look at their children and know who they are and make parental decisions accordingly.

I’m a writer; I have to defend works of the imagination. It’s what I believe in and there are things that I believe are too important to be held to strict standards of the truth. You have to allow the mind space to create whatever the hell it wants to. Perhaps someday, if psychology ever becomes more than guess work, we’ll really understand what the consequences are. I think there’s reason for parental concern, but I cannot get tied in a knot about the social consequences of violent games; I just think it’s bullsh*t, frankly…

DR: We want to thank Tom for thaking the time to speak with us about this upcoming episode and we look forward to catching it next Sunday on Fox. In the meantime, head over to his home page to learn more about him.

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One Response to “DailyRadar.com: Mulder and Scully Go FPS: Tom Maddox Interview”

  1. […] anxiety bubbled through Chris Carter’s work on Harsh Realm. In fact, William Gibson and Tom Maddox had originally hoped to write a script for Harsh Realm before it was c…; Carter explicitly references Gibson’s praise for Harsh Realm on the commentary on The Pilot. […]