Talking games, importing, blogging, and more with The Gay Gamer

Bryan Ochalla is by far one of my favorite people on the internet. He’s the voice behind the colorful gaming blog, The Gay Gamer (not to be mistaken with, and is known for his quirky tastes in games and a penchant for collecting boxed retro titles in immaculate condition (sometimes just for their cover art). He covers all manner of games from the PC Engine right up to current-gen titles in his Great Gaymathon reviews, compares regional differences in game box art, and takes some incredibly sexy photos of his game collection. His newest series, Manual Stimulation, focuses on highlighting some of the best game manuals in his collection, reminding gamers how much care and attention used to be put into those few often-overlooked pieces of paper.

All of this is done with a down-to-earth yet cheeky pizzaz that makes The Gay Gamer a joy to read day after day. Bryan also fosters a great community of like-minded gamers who have some great discussions in the comments section of almost every single one of his posts (and he posts pretty much daily, mind you!). Rest assured, if you comment on one of his posts, he will always read and respond to you, making him one of the most easily-accessible and charismatic people I’ve ever had the pleasure of “meeting” online. 

Bryan was kind enough to agree to answer a few questions via email, so I took the opportunity talk with him about his gaming history, interest in Japanese import titles, and a bit about what it’s like to maintain a blog. He gave some great responses, so please take the time to read through the whole interview, even though it’s a bit long! 

Apricotsushi: Would you mind starting with sharing your first influential game?

The Gay Gamer: Wow, that’s a pretty difficult question to answer, especially since I’m not sure I can remember that far into my past. That said, I can recall at least two games that were pretty important in terms of turning me into a fan of video games.  

The first is the arcade version of Bubble Bobble.  It’s one of the first games of any sort (arcade, console, etc.) I remember playing, and to this day it remains one of my favorites.  Everything about it amazes me — its wonderfully realized graphics (especially all of the food and other items you collect — I’ve been a sucker for that kind of thing ever since), its hummable soundtrack, its ability to pull you back for “just one more game.”  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing it, to tell you the truth, which is pretty amazing given its age and simplicity.

The second game, strangely enough, is Kid Icarus, which is the first console game I remember obsessing about as a kid. Oh, I liked Super Mario Bros. well enough, and Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, too, but for some reason Kid Icarus really stood out for me.  I think it was mainly due of the mythological theme, as I’ve always been a sucker for Greek gods and goddesses and the stories that surround them.  I also remember being entranced by its graphics — especially the enemy sprites — and Hip Tanaka’s amazing soundtrack, though.  Anyway, I know the game isn’t all that highly regarded these days, thanks to its overt difficulty (some would say cheapness), but I loved it as a kid and still play through it now and then in order to relive some of those “good old days.”

Japanese import Hello Kitty World 
Apricotsushi: What are your favorite game genres?

The Gay Gamer: If I were forced to whittle them down to just two, I would say two-dimensional platformers (a la Super Mario Bros.) and turn-based JRPGs (like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and EarthBound/Mother, especially).  I also like puzzlers a lot, though, and rhythm games, too.  Really, I like most genres, with the exception of first-person shooters. I actually enjoy watching other people play FPSes, but I can’t for the life of me play them myself (due to the perspective, I think). 

Apricotsushi: As a fan of Japanese games myself, I’ve noticed you do a lot of importing of niche Japanese games. What do you find so appealing about them? 

The Gay Gamer: When I was a kid, I thought Japanese Famicom games and PC Engine games — and their boxes and cartridges — seemed so much more exotic and beautiful than the ugly NES and TurboGrafx-16 games my parents bought me.  I’ve also always liked quirky games and, back in the day, especially, companies either didn’t bring the quirkiest titles (like Parodius, for instance) to our shores or they altered them to make them more American (which didn’t appeal to me at all).  Anyway, that’s what finally prompted me to start importing — I wanted to play Parodius and TwinBee on my TG-16, but I knew neither NEC nor Konami would bring them to the US.  So, I imported them from Japan Video Games or some company like that.  From then on, I was hooked.

Apricotsushi: Do you have any favorites in particular?

I still consider my copies of Final Fantasy V and VI for the Super Famicom to be prized possessions, even though the former is completely mangled and worth about $2 (if that).  That’s probably due to the fact that they were among my first import purchases and because they’re two of my all-time favorite games.  I also love my original white PC Engine and the many games I’ve amassed for the system — Parasol Stars, Photograph Boy and Mizubaku Daibouken, in particular.  Oh, and my Famicom “Pulse Line” carts.  If I could, I would mount all of them in some sort of museum-quality case — they are that beautiful and interesting to me.

Bryan’s photos of his Pulse Line carts are just gorgeous!

Apricotsushi: You’ve been writing at your blog, The Gay Gamer, for a couple of years now, right? Have you done any other game-related writing for other sites/publications?

The Gay Gamer: Yep, I started the blog in early 2007, so it’s been around for more than four years now.  I did take about a year (or more) off, though, so I guess that’s not entirely accurate.  

Anyway, I wrote a few features for when I first started freelancing and I also wrote a number of gaming-related articles for The Advocate (a North American LGBT magazine) and a few years ago, but I haven’t written anything gaming-related for money (professionally) in a long time, mainly because it often doesn’t seem worth my while monetarily speaking.  

Also, I like that I have full control over what I write for my blog.  I don’t have to worry about what would appeal to the masses or bring in the most hits, I can just write about whatever interests me at the moment.

Apricotsushi: I know you’ve mentioned you write for your day job, as well. Even so, you post daily for your personal blog. After writing for work all day, what motivates you to post in your free time for The Gay Gamer?

The Gay Gamer: Well, to be honest (and maybe a bit blunt), I like writing posts for my blog more than I like writing anything else — and that includes the articles I write for the magazines that help me and my husband pay our bills.  So, I basically use my blog writing as a “getaway” of sorts from my day job. 

I have to admit that sometimes I feel a bit burned out in regards to the blog, but it never lasts long.  Plus, something inevitably pops up — a game announcement, the release of a new system — to get me excited again.  

Also, I really like interacting with the folks who visit my blog and comment on my posts.  In fact, oftentimes the “high” that I get from that kind of interaction is even more enjoyable than the one I get from writing posts in the first place.  

One of the many great manuals featured in Bryan’s Manual Stimulation series

In closing, I asked Bryan if he had any tips he has for fellow aspiring game bloggers. Here’s what he had to say: 

Write about the games and systems that interest and inspire you if you want to make the most of the time you spend writing.  Also, if you have a blog and you allow comments (and you get comments), respond to them!  It just might help you create a bit of a community — if that’s what you’re looking for, of course. 

You can find Bryan at his blog The Gay Gamer and on Twitter @TheGayGamer. For his drool-worthy game collection photos, check out his Flickr

About Anne Lee

Also known as apricotsushi. Anne can be written with the kanji for apricot (杏), and sushi was the most quintessentially Japanese thing I could think of when I was 13, resulting in my goofy, albeit memorable, nickname.