Nerdbot Exclusive Interview: Norman Caruso, The Gaming Historian
If you’ve ever watched any video game content on YouTube, there’s a 9.5/10 chance (scientifically proven number, no lies) that you’ve seen one of The Gaming Historian videos. From the Power Glove, the Famicom Disc System, and even to Rob the Robot, Norman Caruso has covered them all. With a thoughtful, clean production style and intensively researched subjects, Norman Caruso not only fills a niche in YouTube Gaming content, but dominates the Gaming Documentary genre on the platform.
I’ve been a fan of Norm’s for many years and it’s always a happy day when he drops a new video. That’s why when he agreed to do an interview for Nerdbot, I excitedly brainstormed for the best possible questions to ask. After conducting this interview with a genuinely cool person, I know your day will be better when you check out his work and subscribe to his YouTube channel!
Hey Norm! Thank you so much for letting Nerdbot interview you. Let’s jump right into it, start slow and easy: Where were you born? Do you have any siblings? What was your upbringing like? Please give me as much background on yourself as you can!
I was born in Okinawa, Japan! My dad was in the Navy and my family was stationed there. I don’t remember a thing about it though. My mom said it was incredibly hot and I was the only baby she ever saw sweat. I was also a whopping 10 pounds when I was born. I have an older brother and older sister. My upbringing was pretty standard! Soccer, video games, hanging with friends, LAN parties. I really got into Magic: The Gathering when I was 16. I turned pro when I was 18 and got to travel to Kobe, Japan and Prague, Czech Republic. My Magic dreams died after I got my first serious girlfriend. Suddenly it didn’t seem so important anymore. I still play casually at conventions though.
You’re open about the fact that you got a degree in history, taught for a bit, and then segued into producing the Gaming Historian series on YouTube full time with your wife. When you decided to fill a void that was missing in YouTube video game content, did you intend to host the show yourself from the start? How did you feel that day when you got in front of the camera for the first time?
I always envisioned myself hosting the show, even though I had absolutely zero experience in front of the camera. My early videos are hard to watch for me. I’m clearly uncomfortable and don’t know what I am doing. These days, I try to take a step back from being on camera. I like the content and information to speak for itself. I don’t want the show to be about me. But it always depends on the subject.
I said it when I met you at the SoCal Retro Gaming Expo that one of the reasons I love your work is because you’re not full of schtick or some BS persona.
The quality of your research shines and is incredibly thorough and considerate. Even your videos on topics that at first glance seem “exhaustive” are brilliant and blow your competitors’ and colleagues’ work out of the water.
How do you choose your topics? From concept to research to writing to filming to editing, how long does it take to produce a Gaming Historian video?
The timeline for a Gaming Historian video varies based on the subject. Tetris took over 6 months to make, while ROB the Robot took about 2 months.
As far as what topics I choose — it depends. Sometimes I let my Patrons vote on a topic. But usually, I just choose whatever I find interesting. Sometimes I’ll be researching one thing, then come across ANOTHER thing and switch gears. I always tell myself that if I can’t bring anything new to the table, I won’t do a video on it.
Which Gaming Historian video is your favorite?
My favorite Gaming Historian video is one that you can’t even watch anymore. I made an episode about when Nintendo bought the Seattle Mariners in the early 90’s. Major League Baseball sent me a cease and desist and I had to delete the video. It was such a fun video to research, as I am a huge baseball fan. It’s also a really fascinating story.
Which was your most ambitious video to date? Word around the playground is that it was Tetris.
My most ambitious video was definitely Tetris. My wife said I could have Kickstarted that video with the amount of work I put into it.
During one of your update videos, you mentioned that you were diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. How are you feeling now? If it’s not too personal, what was happening with you leading up to the point when you decided it was time to seek out some help?
Experiencing anxiety / panic attacks was the scariest moment of my life, mainly because I didn’t KNOW it was anxiety at first. What’s weird is that it wasn’t as if I had some traumatic or stressful event to trigger the anxiety. I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I suddenly had a really dark, twisted thought. It scared me and jolted me awake.
I honestly had no idea what was wrong with me and thought I was losing my mind. When a psychiatrist diagnosed me with GAD, my symptoms lowered tremendously. Just KNOWING what was happening was a huge relief. I was determined to not let it take over my life. I bought a bunch of books on the subject and studied up, started eating better, and exercised. Medication also helped a bunch.
I was determined to be open about anxiety. Experiencing that for myself made me extremely sympathetic to anyone who has anxiety or mental health issues. Who knows how many people silently suffer day-to-day with anxiety. By talking about it, we get rid of the stigma, and I think that is important.
There’s a funny dichotomy between the “Pleasant, well-spoken Gaming Historian” versus the “Simpsons quoting, internet culturally aware, cynical sense of humor” that is Norm. Do you think people are surprised when they see that you’re kind of a goof?
Haha, yeah it’s fun. There is a difference between “Norm” and “Gaming Historian.” I try to be myself on Twitter and sometimes it shocks people. But it’s true: I love the Simpsons, dry humor, and beer.
Can you tell me more about Normogatori? I love him and if you make dolls, I will totally buy one.
Normogatari is the embodiment of the “YouTube Gamer” scene. It’s a chance for me to not only make fun of all the tropes you see in gaming videos, but also just make something different and comical. April Fool’s seemed like the perfect holiday to unleash him, so now it’s a yearly tradition.
Are people still bugging you about the haircut?
I’m happy to report no one cares about my hair anymore. It’s back to being short. Having long hair was fun, but it wasn’t worth the drama.
Do you get recognized in public? Do you have any crazy fan stories?
Occasionally, yeah. A bartender at a brewery recognized me one time and I got to take home a bunch of free beer. That was cool!
I think the weirder instances are when someone clearly recognizes me but waits for me to say “it’s me, Norman! The Gaming Historian!” I bought a computer the other day and the cashier was like “hmm, your name sounds familiar!”
It was extremely obvious he knew about the show. I didn’t bite though, and just replied “hmm, weird.” Don’t be shy, just say hello!
You’ve created a brand for yourself on YouTube with the Gaming Historian. You mentioned in an update video that you think you went to too many conventions/expos and it affected the number of videos you were able to produce. Clearly, both are important. How do you find that balance?
I dunno, got any tips?
Conventions are a great way to meet fans and also make money. I sell merchandise at them and it helps pay the bills. But traveling is exhausting. I’m taking this year off to see how it goes.
What are the biggest YouTuber or Gaming Historian misconceptions you’d like to address?
People seem to think I sit around and play video games all day, or that I’m a professional gamer. My day-to-day rarely lets me actually play a video game, and I am by no means a pro gamer at anything. It’s mostly research and writing around here!
What does the future hold for you and Gaming Historian? Where do you hope the next few years lead? Do you have any new media plans (streams, podcasts, etc.) or new projects in the works?
This year I’m hoping to do some on-camera interviews with some people in the industry. I’d love to increase the production budget and really make something special.
I’ve also always wanted to dive into non-gaming video content, specifically American History. There’s so many amazing stories about our country. I’ll just need to find time to make it!
Encore Speed Round! Name your favorites in one word:
Rhythm Game: Taiko Drum Master
Puzzle Game: Dr. Mario
Old Cartoon: How old are we talking? Is Doug old? Let’s go with Doug. I also really love Space Ghost: Coast 2 Coast
New Cartoon: Oh man, did you ever watch Moral Orel? I’ve never laughed so hard at a cartoon. I guess it’s technically claymation. I also like Regular Show.
Beer: Boulevard Frequent Flier IPA
Hard liquor: Gin
Food: Pizza, NY style
Fandom that might surprise people: I LOVE The Golden Girls. Grew up watching it with my mom and sister. I’ve seen every episode and Dorothy is the best character, do not @ me.