This interview first appeared in the March 3rd edition of Out Here
Q: Who are you and what do you do?
A: My name is Drew Scanlon and I run a YouTube channel called Cloth Map with the help of some very generous folks on Patreon. The purpose of Cloth Map is to examine the people and cultures of the world through the lens of games; from video games to board games to sports. After all, everybody plays something! By highlighting the things we have in common, we hope to make the world feel a little smaller and friendlier.
What work have you completed that you’re most proud of?
I’m proud of all the work we’ve done at Cloth Map, but the times when it’s most fun is when I’m completely blindsided by some discovery. Our feature on the “alternate universe” of video games in Brazil was particularly illuminating, since it reminded me so much of growing up in America, except everything was slightly different in some really interesting ways. In Cuba, I was floored by the ingenuity and resourcefulness of video game players in Havana who constructed their own city-wide network to play games on. Pretty impressive in a country without widespread Internet! Most recently, I went to Mongolia to learn about the country’s traditional games festival, which features a 15 km horse race with jockeys as young as five. Being able to share such fascinating things about the world makes me really proud of what our Patrons enable us to do.
Could you you walk me through your project pipeline looks like from start to finish?
For a given trip, we have a general idea of what we want to cover, and reach out to local guides to see if they can accommodate us. Then there’s some back and forth with scheduling (we make sure to build in some leeway because plans inevitably change) before we head out to the location. Because we don’t really know what kind of footage we’ll be able to obtain, it’s difficult to imagine what the videos will be like until we’re actually there. We never quite know what to expect when we land in a foreign country, so we have to be ready for anything. In practice, this means being constantly aware of what’s going on around you and ready to film at any time. The videos start to take shape in my mind while we’re traveling, but it’s not until I review all the footage that I start to figure out how to organize everything into coherent pieces. From there, I write a script, complete with voice over lines and footage notes, then send it and the footage to one of our assistant editors. They assemble the bare bones of the piece and send it back to me, at which point I either make notes and send it back or take over myself and finish the edit.
What tools do you use to help you stay organized throughout a project?
A journal is key. So much happens when we’re on a trip. We go places, meet people, and learn things at a rate much higher than regular life, and it would be impossible to remember everything. Keeping track of footage while traveling is also important, to ensure everything is accounted for. I use a system of “unused” and “used” plastic baggies to keep track of battery and memory card status. I also bring a small external hard drive that I copy footage to each day, just so the files exist in multiple places for safety. When I’m back home, I go through all the footage and take notes of what we have (the journal helps with this). Often, the sheer amount of footage can be overwhelming, so having a Cliff’s Notes version of it all is critical in saving time (and sanity).
After almost two years of Cloth Map, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about how games impact people and communities?
I’ve learned that common ground, whatever it is, can immediately override trepidations people have about one another. I’ve met many people who have grown up in cultures drastically different than mine, but when we start talking about some game or sport, the differences melt away and we’re just two people talking. As for the role of games and sports within communities, they serve the same functions no matter where you are: to connect with friends and family, to relax and unwind, to unite around something. Despite their reputation as frivolous diversions, games serve much more important roles in our societies than we give them credit for.
What is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences that you had in your travels?
During our trip to Chernobyl, we happened upon a herd of horses that had been brought to the Exclusion Zone as an experiment but have since run free. It was a serene, surreal experience, and really highlighted the fact that nature commands that place now. I highly recommend people visit Chernobyl! It’s like nowhere else on Earth.