SmSh sat down with Mike ahead of TOB's upcoming event Checkpoint! happening Saturday, July 15.
Kill screen comin' up!
SmSh: First let’s start with something revealing. What’s your all-time favorite video game? Any platform. Give us some history.
Mike: It’s always hard to pick a favorite. I'd say my most recent favorite has to be Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It's a game that's absolutely bursting with creativity.
But the most influential game for me has to be Pokemon Red. [I played it] during a time in which my family and I had moved to America and I was struggling to make new friends. By playing Pokemon, I found a common experience and the game became a way to connect with a new culture. I think it really showed me how games can become a shared language to connect people across different boundaries and culture.
SmSh: How did Touch Our Buttons get its start in Shanghai?
Mike: My friends, Weini Tey, Bryan Fisher, and I were all working in the gaming industry, but not in a creative capacity, and were starting to loose touch with what got us into games in the first place. We wanted to do something fun and liked the idea of bringing games back to a social space, like arcades, as a kind of a counterpoint to the mass popularity of mobile games.
Our first game, SPORTZ, was basically pong on steroids with some intense visuals and it previewed at the Basement 6 re-opening party. People loved it and it fit in really well with the party atmosphere. We kept that feeling and built it out, eventually making new games, and hosting our own parties.
The Touch Our Button guys (Left: Mike Ren; right: Weini Tey) talkin' video games at Brew & Blend Festival
SmSh: What’s the group like? Can jocks join?
Mike: We average at about 100 people at our events at Basement 6. It’s a healthy mix of locals and foreigners, mostly in the 20-35-year-old range. There's a heavy D.I.Y. focus in our group as we make custom controllers, themed games, and even full arcade cabinets. Nerds and non-nerds are all welcome! We built these games to be inclusive and fun for everyone, so they’re easy to play but hard to master.
This game, called Hot Mess, is a digital version of twister. Players must make skin contact to make connections then stretch their bodies to reach all the points.
SmSh: How often does the group meet? How often do you throw “radical” parties? What exactly constitutes a radical party?
Mike: We’re all volunteer based game lovers so we throw events when we can, but don't have a set schedule. As far as parties, we’ve done a SPORTZ tournament at Arcade, Single’s Day at Daliah’s, and just hosted an '80s pop-up arcade featuring classic arcade games at Basement6. We’ve been lucky enough to be invited to [music festival] Concrete and Grass and a few other venues around town for one-off pop-ups.
For us, a radical party has to have lots of party games, lots of drinks, and a atmosphere of fun. We hope our parties offer something a little different from the usual drinking night.
SmSh: Touch Our Buttons is partnering up with Random Encounters for Checkpoint! an all-day gaming event this Saturday. What should people expect?
Mike: Checkpoint! will be our biggest event yet. We're teaming up with Random Encounters, a local game developers group, to organize a free event with a focus on games and community building. The idea is to bring players together from different gaming communities for a one-day event and after party. Whether you're into board gaming or VR, we hope there's something for everyone.
100+ people have already registered for Checkpoint! It'll be a full day (2-8pm) of games and tech talks this Saturday, July 15. Free entry. You can register here and check out the schedule below:
You can check out more games at Mike Ren's website and keep up with Touch Our Buttons on WeChat.
Images courtesy of Touch Our Buttons