In March of 2015, I spent about 40 minutes on Skype with Greg Johnson of ToeJam & Earl fame. He was in the middle of the ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Kickstarter, so I brought up the fact that, with the series back in the limelight, there are all sorts of interesting stories that people are sharing about their experience with the games. I wondered what it was like to experience that fresh batch of love from a creator’s perspective.
Greg told me:
It’s been very eye-opening for me and for the other members of the team. And Mark [Voorsanger, co-creator of ToeJam & Earl] as well. But I’m the one that’s kind of getting it mostly directed at me. It’s all being funneled right at me, so I’m sort of standing in front of the love hose in a way, you know? [Laughter] I think I’m getting the full-on effect, and it’s hard not to be affected by that. In a really good way.
I like that. “Love hose.” I think I’ll be adding that phrase to my vocabulary.
From the creator’s perspective, affecting people on that sort of deep level isn’t always a conscious or intentional thing, since creators can’t always anticipate how people are going to react to their work. Sometimes, you just happen to stumble across something potentially life-changing, as Greg may have done with ToeJam & Earl.
…anything you put out there in the world that spreads, even something as innocuous or ostensibly frivolous as a video game, can have a tremendous effect on people, an effect you can never anticipate or imagine. [It] can be even life-changing sometimes for people. You just never know when it’s going to hit a spot in their lives, some critical time, or change how they think, or offer them a safe haven when they’re having a real hard time in their life.
We dug a bit deeper into what that actually meant, and how ToeJam & Earl specifically had this tendency to affect people in some profound ways.
I don’t know that it’s really necessarily a virtue of the ToeJam & Earl game itself. You know, I think a lot of people have personal stories that revolve around different games or books or movies or things that have some sort of special meaning for them, but I think there are probably some certain qualities about the ToeJam & Earl game, and the time that it came out, that made it a little more likely than some other games to connect with people, or maybe more importantly, facilitate connections between people.
I think Greg hit on something here that I hadn’t really thought much about before. ToeJam & Earl was this sort of anomaly back when it came out, a profoundly bizarre and lighthearted take on Rogue. Its inclusion of two-player couch co-op, and its tendency to be weird and funny, made it a joy to play along with friends. Perhaps its this combination, along with the scarcity of anything else like it at the time, that made it so memorable. A lot of people played it specifically to bond with a friend or family member.
And that’s one of the things people been saying about the series since the announcement that a fourth game would be getting a Kickstarter campaign. In fact, Greg mentioned some of the stories he’d been hearing from people:
I’ve heard so many stories, and a lot of them have to with family, you know? A lot of the ones that are particularly touching have to do with people who have connected, through the game, with their parents. And often now, because the game is so old and people did it when they were so young, a lot of these parents have now passed on, and the game represents, for a number of people, a connection to a loved one who isn’t around anymore. And it sort of brings up all of these associations and deeper feelings that you wouldn’t normally think of as being part of what you associate with a crazy video game. But it’s been really touching and eye-opening for me to realize what a video game can mean to people.
It must be a cool, strange thing to have produced something like ToeJam & Earl — something so content to be goofy and fun, yet something that ended up being profoundly life-altering for so many people.
I imagine that “love hose” isn’t going to stop for quite some time, so Greg might want to think about getting a metaphorical raincoat.
If you want to read the full transcript of the interview, check out the links below.