Former Vikings Punter Chris Kluwe Takes on Gamergate in Debut Novel "Otaku"

The former NFL player's book is a searing indictment of the more toxic aspects of gaming culture

April 27, 2020 9:42 am
Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings
Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings punts during an NFL game in 2012 in Minneapolis

This is Life After Football, a new series that examines how current and former NFL players, coaches and executives are building a legacy beyond the gridiron.

If you remember the end of former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s career in the NFL, you may already be aware that he is somewhat of a writer.

An outspoken LGBT rights activist, Kluwe published an open letter on Deadspin titled “I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot.” As the title of 2014 letter suggests, Kluwe felt that his outspoken support of same-sex marriage cost him his job playing pro football.

Since then, Kluwe has continued to write (he wrote a collection of political essays and co-authored a work of science fiction) as well as champion the cause of equal rights. His debut novel, Otaku combines both of those passions with Kluwe’s love of science fiction and video games.

In Otaku, 38-year-old Kluwe tells the story of a top-tier female gamer leading an all-female team in a video game that’s watched by millions of people around the world.

otaku chris kluwe
Chris Kluwe’s “OTAKU” (Tor Books)

According to Kluwe, his decision to have a strong female character as his hero was a direct response to the Gamergate controversy that dominated the video game world in 2014.

“Gamergate irritated and upset me because your gender, your sexuality, your race, none of that has any bearing on whether or not you should be able to enjoy video games or any type of games,” he tells InsideHook. “So I wanted to write an action story that would traditionally feature a white male protagonist and I wanted it to appeal to the reader who had pictured themself as the white male protagonist, but then I wanted to not have that white male protagonist. I wanted to make it very clear the people who were acting like the Gamergaters were acting were very much the villains, as opposed to them seeing themselves as the heroes.”

Penned over the course of two years with a three-year break in the middle, Otaku’s release last month has led Kluwe to receive some online hate that’s reminiscent of what he used to get as a player for his equal rights activism.

“Regressive elements of society are not going to like the things that I write or do, which is fine. I don’t care. They’re regressive elements of society,” he says. “The people who are interested in trying to make the world a better place, trying to have empathy and care for other people generally will like the things I do. It’s from the mindset of, if we’re not all free to be who we are, then none of us are free. Just because it’s not my turn in the barrel right now, it doesn’t mean it won’t be my turn in the future. We’ve got to make sure everyone has the opportunity to live their life.”

Being an activist in the gaming industry is a personal matter for Kluwe, who tells us he’s been a lifelong gamer ever since his parents got him a Nintendo console with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cartridge.

A huge fan of the Final Fantasy series, Kluwe (who refers to himself as “a huge nerd”) even kept his gaming habit going once he entered the NFL, routinely staying up until three or four o’clock in the morning to pull off raids with his guild in World of Warcraft.

“That made some practices the next day a little tough to stay awake through,” he says. “I think I told my long-snapper and my kicker about it. At that point, not as many people in the NFL played video games as they do now. Around 2010 or 2011, you could really tell a lot of the kids coming into the league who had just graduated from college had grown up with consoles or PCs in the house and that playing games was just an accepted part of who you were. So that was a pretty cool transition to see.”

Though he misses the paycheck, Kluwe doesn’t really miss playing in the NFL, and instead gets his competitive juices flowing by playing soccer.

“Don’t get me wrong, football was fun for me to play and I enjoyed being good at it. Obviously it paid the bills very well,” Kluwe says. “But at the end of the day, I’m done with football now. That was never a core component of my life. I didn’t live to play football. Reading books, playing video games and stuff like that is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.”

Thanks his success as a writer, churning out books might also wind up on that list.

“For me, the day I’ll know that I’m finally Chris Kluwe the author is when it’s no longer, ‘Oh hey, you’re the guy who used to kick the football, right?’” he says. “I would prefer to be known as, ‘Oh hey, you’re the guy who wrote that awesome story.”‘

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