Dave "The Games Animal" Perry might not be famous outside of the British Isles (and even then, Brits under the age of 35 are unlikely to be familiar with his work), but back in the '90s his face was seen on GamesMaster, the massively popular TV show he helped to create, and he was considered to be one of the best players in the country.
His tenure on the production ended rather acrimoniously, and after opening his own magazine publishing business he eventually walked away from the games industry altogether to establish a very successful tattoo parlour.
We caught up with Dave to speak about his recent return to the world of video games.
Nintendo Life: After years away from games, you're finally back in the industry. What's the response been like from the gaming community as a whole?
Dave Perry: Absolute chaos and Perrymania! My return seems to have driven a wedge through the sleepy 21st Century Games World with people almost immediately choosing sides. Thankfully there seem to be more lovers than haters... but that can change! But there really is no need for all the madness. I love games. I want to help add a little colour to gaming again, and ultimately I am hurting no one, just doing my thing. If you don’t want to join me on this new adventure then don’t. Simples.
Back in the day, the industry was very much Sega vs Nintendo, then Sony got into the mix. What do you make of the playing field today?
Blurred. When I was playing competitively you had one console or the other, one computer or the other. An Amiga or an ST. NES or Master System. Mega Drive or SNES. Now people have so many different machines in their homes... where’s the brand loyalty? I loved all of that. Do your homework. Pick a side. It made you more enthusiastic about your format. But I guess some people would say it is good to have options... I'm not so sure.
Do you still game very much?
I am an avid iPad gamer. I play War Dragons three or four hours a day. I love it. But I also still play PlayStation, Xbox 360 and of course my Arcade Cabinet at the shop as often as possible. But I just don’t have the free time I used to. I still get MCV and keep an eye on the industry, but to be honest, it has become very dull and corporate. Where are the mavericks? The rebels? The characters, outside of the games themselves?
You obviously run a very successful business outside of games now; do you ever get anyone coming into your tattoo parlour who recognises you from your gaming days?
Yes, it happens all the time. But most of my regulars are really cool about it. They know me as Dave, not the Games Animal, and so we relate on that level. Occasionally someone wants a selfie, but not so much that it becomes a distraction. I am always amazed at how much those old TV shows meant to everyone. Amazed and proud.
You've said in the past that like so many UK players, you picked a side in the '90s and that side was Sega. Why is it you've never really gotten on with Nintendo's games and hardware, and do ever think that stance will change?
I don’t know. It was just how things turned out, with me working for [UK magazines] Sega Pro and Mega Power. If I remember rightly, the Mega Drive landed in the UK long before the SNES and so I ran with it. Great games, good vibes, I didn’t really consider another format at the time. Eventually games like F-Zero, Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II had me cheating on my Sega console, but on the whole, I am not a fan of cute characters with huge heads (ironic really) and Nintendo always seemed to have too many of them. It just felt younger and less edgy. I am always open to change, but with products like the Wii and Switch, I have seen nothing to make me think I was wrong in my choices.
You've relaunched The Games Animal brand with a new YouTube channel. What are your long-term aims with this approach? Do you see this evolving into a full-blown show with guests, challenges and the like, or is it more of a personal project?
I was persuaded to do this by gamers who remembered the old shows and craved for something a bit more colourful and authentic than the current gaming media on tap. It was not something I ever wanted to do, but I listened to popular opinion and learned the basic skills so that I could put together a very personal and low key show together, that would appeal to fans of old games and '90s gaming nostalgia.
I would love it to become bigger, but I have no budget and very little time. So this is just me, having some fun and giving something back. If people don’t want to watch it, all I’ve lost is time, but at least I put something out there for the loyal game fans that requested it.
You've gone for a rather risky tone with the first episode, aping the 'in your face' approach that was used so much in the '90s. To speak candidly for a moment, was this a parody and was it done to get attention at a time when social issues like misogyny and sexism are being tackled everywhere, and will the format settle down in future episodes?
I plan to do whatever I want with the show. I am not trying to win awards, make money or please backers or paying viewers. This is me having some fun. If people want to watch, then they can watch. If not, then they can f*** off and do something else. I am not asking for anyone’s opinion, nor are there very many opinions that I would value anyway.
Social Issues and sexism have gone absolutely crazy, and to be honest they drive me crazy. I have no time for all this 21st Century bulls***. Let pretty girls be pretty girls, let clever girls be clever girls. If a girl in a bikini is now considered sexist, well, the world has gone to s***.
I have no format. This is just me, doing what I want. Having fun with people.
Is it fair to say that the whole 'Games Animal' approach is very much a persona; a mask you wear which was very successful back in the day at creating an image of cocky brashness and confidence that suited the prevailing tone of the time?
If you like. I grew up in the punk years. A time of great rebellion and strong attitudes. I don’t like rules, I don’t like bullies, I don’t like anybody who tries to enforce their will, beliefs or restrictions on anybody. So I don’t deal well with the idea that I can’t do something.
The Games Animal was a character that grew out of my cocky younger years. It was designed to stand out, to be memorable, to get noticed. And to wind people up. Add to this the fact that I was the best gamesplayer the country had ever seen and you had a winning formula – but one that drew massive negativity and jealousy from many of my peers. Today, I am still that guy, just a lot s****er at games.
I really don’t care what people think, which makes all the negative comments people write all the funnier. What a waste of time.
Given that you were involved in the games industry in several capacities – including retail, publishing and TV – just as it was on the rise in the '90s, you're ideally placed to share an intimate oral history of developments, at least from a UK perspective. Will you be doing that with your YouTube channel?
Absolutely, as you can see from the setup. A lot of this channel will be me sat there talking about the golden age of gaming. Changes in the industry. Old magazines, TV shows, my favourite games – that kind of thing. I have so many stories to tell to those who want to hear them. Remember, mine was a very unique career. There had never been a professional gamer like me before and there hasn’t been one like me since. National newspaper articles, style magazine awards, store openings, TV shows... I’ll tell you about them all if you subscribe. Not interested? No problem.
Let's address the elephant in the room - Super Mario 64. We all know what happened that day and both you and Dominik Diamond [GamesMaster host] have shared your views on events. Setting all of that aside, do you really hate the game? Do you think you can ever appreciate it for the groundbreaking title many others consider it to be?
I can’t say that I hate or love the game... I just have no desire to play it. A dumpy little plumber with a cheesy Italian accent running around jumping on boxes is not my bag. I hate that kind of game.
Yes, the 3D environments were pretty groundbreaking at the time, but the basic gameplay itself was nothing new. It was a good flagship release for a new console at the time, but that’s as much credit as I will ever give it.
Will we see you tackle the game again on the show, as was hinted? It would make for some pretty incredible footage...
Yes, of course. That has to happen really. This time maybe I will know what the buttons do.
What would you say is your favourite Nintendo game, and why?
Super Mario Kart is just pure, unadulterated racing joy. The one thing Nintendo has always been good at is multiplayer gaming. Social gaming. Not the rubbish we see over the internet these days, but a bunch of people in the room together playing against one another. That is gaming at its best. And no game does this better than Mario Kart. It appeals to all ages, and despite still being cutesy, the gameplay is simple, yet demanding enough to bring out the Games Animal in anyone.
We'd like to thank Dave for his time.