Chris Kluwe is a man of many interests. The 31-year-old punter of the Minnesota Vikings is a video game enthusiast, a voracious reader and -- as an exponent of the National Football League's hypermasculine culture -- an unlikely champion for marriage equality. Last week, Kluwe's infatuation with gaming took center stage when he served as a judge for the Hackathon event at the Gaming Developer Conference in San Francisco, where he helped identify and evaluate rising talents in game design. I caught up with Kluwe to talk about his lifelong passion for video games, his public embrace of social issues and what books he's got his head in these days.
Tell me about Hackathon and your background with gaming.
Chris Kluwe: Basically it's an event Radisson is putting on where they're trying to work with up-and-coming game development talents to create a simulation game, kind of like a mobile app type game that people can play that will highlight just how tough it is to successfully run a hotel.
I studied computer science in college. That was originally going to be my major until I had to switch, so I am familiar with the coding and programming process. Eight hours to build a game is not a very long period of time, so it should be interesting to see what these guys are able to do.
When did you start playing video games?
Kluwe: When I was like 6, at a very young age. Nintendo, primarily. That was the system my parents got for me. Ever since I played the first [Super] Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, I was hooked.
Your favorite game ever?
Kluwe: My favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy VI for Super Nintendo. Pretty much any role playing game for Super Nintendo. That was kind of the golden era.
The e-Sports phenomenon has really taken over the past decade. Have you ever gotten into any competitive gaming?
Kluwe: Like Counter-Strike or League of Legends? I thought about it. I used to be pretty good at Counter-Strike but I wasn't able to put in the time to practice as much as I needed to become the best, what with athletics and school, you know, prior commitments. It's great to see it taking off. E-Sports are actually pretty fun to watch when people are playing at a high caliber.
These Starcraft tournaments in Korea have awarded millions in prize money. Do you think e-Sports can continue on that trajectory?
Kluwe: I definitely think it could grow, especially with the new team-oriented games that are coming out, the MOBA-style (multiplayer online battle arena) games like League of Legends and DOTA, because they promote teamwork over individuality, and generally the team that wins is the one that coordinates the best. So it's just like any other team sport in that everyone has to be doing their jobs and doing them at a high level, and you can really see that when these games play out. I've seen a lot of live streams of the tournaments and they're actually a lot of fun to watch.
Will gaming ever be considered a sport?
Kluwe: I mean, we consider golf a sport. I don't see why not.
You've gained a lot of attention for your stance on marriage equality. What first prompted you to enter that debate?
Kluwe: I was asked on Twitter by a group to help out with the Minnesota marriage amendment and I said yeah, that seems like the right thing to do. I was going to do a couple radio ads and then a dinner thing, and then delegate Burns wrote his letter to the Ravens and I wrote my response.
Does it surprise you that more athletes don't take stances on social issues?
Kluwe: I can see it where guys worry about it being a distraction. If it takes away from your on-field performance, you could end up getting cut. But at the same time, hopefully one day we get to a point where it's not a big deal when someone speaks out for doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do.
Have you experience any backlash over it?
Kluwe: Not really. Just kind of a couple Twitter or Internet messages, like, "Hey, shut your mouth fag." Stuff like that. But that's the Internet. It happens. The amount of support has been far more overwhelming than the negative messages.
You've done a lot of writing. Do you have a favorite writer or author?
Kluwe: I'd say right now my current favorites are Terry Pratchett, he writes the Discworld series. Iain Banks, he writes the Culture novels. L. E. Modesitt, Jr., he writes science fiction and fantasy. They're mainly science fiction and fantasy authors because that's what I read. It's interesting to me in that science fiction and fantasy on the surface are kind of these fantastical worlds, but all of them are grounded in things that have actually happened in real life. A lot of them have a historical background that's kind of the underpinning of the universe, so it's fun to see how that translates with kind of a different coat on it.
If you were talking to someone that isn't much of a reader and might not know much about the genre, what's the one book that you would recommend to turn them on to it?
Kluwe: That's a tough one. One book that everyone should read from the science fiction genre is Neuromancer by William Gibson. He wrote it back in, I think 1987 or '88, and he basically predicted the Internet and kind of the rise of Internet culture and also what he called the sprawl -- which is the growing sprawl of suburbia and cities kind of morphing into each other -- and it's a really fascinating read in that he predicts a lot of what we take for granted now. And he did it before it was even common knowledge.
What would you have been if you hadn't been a football player?
Kluwe: I have no idea. I like to think I would have found something -- maybe teaching or law enforcement or whatever. I think I would have found something to do with my life but I have no idea what it would have been.
What's the biggest misconception about punters?
Kluwe: [Laughs.] That ... we're not athletes? We do have a very specialized job, but it's something that not a lot of other people can do, so we work hard at it.