Interview: A Chat with Major Nelson, the Nicest Guy on Xbox Live or Larry Hryb to the Rest of Us

Electronics Geek Culture People

Major Nelson in the studioMajor Nelson in the studio

Photo: Microsoft

There has been a lot of negative press about video games, and frankly, irresponsible, unfounded claims made about video games and children in the media. More than ever before, we need a balanced perspective about gaming from one of the industry experts. I approached Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelson from Xbox Live, on the tails of ECCC and the eve of PAX East. He was gracious to take the time from his busy schedule and speak with me on the phone. I asked him what his thoughts were on video games, education, his job and his favorite games, of course.

GD: Do you see any link between video games and education?

LH: Education as a platform is very important to me. Education is something that people need in gaming. And, different games can provide all levels of education. When I was a kid, I had computer games that were teaching me arithmetic, teaching me to do equations, as you’re trying to puzzle out what the answer is.

GD: Can video games benefit children then, by teaching them lessons?

LH: Decoding a game is a part of the education process. I have a younger sister who is a librarian on the East Coast. She works in the high school environment and brings up the value of solving puzzles in video games.

GD: What games are you most excited to launch in 2011 and why?

LH: What our Xbox development partners are launching for Kinect—I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but an announcement was just made here at Microsoft that 10 million Kinects have been sold so far! Now, Gears of War III and Homefront are coming out soon and I’m very excited to check them out.

GD: What is your favorite gaming convention to attend? What do you have the most fun doing?

LH: PAX Prime (in Seattle) and PAX East. I’m leaving tomorrow for PAX East. I just love the Penny Arcade conventions, because they connect me to the gaming community and let me be involved with the people who do the gaming, who really enjoy games.

GD: What do you do on an average day at work?

LH: A lot of people see the public side of what I do on Xbox Live, but that’s only a small part of my work. I work with product teams and what they do in understanding product features of games, making sure that all the many features in the games work properly. A large part of this process is incorporating the feedback on features that don’t work and getting the fixes for the games in place.

GD: How did you get the name Major Nelson?

LH: I’ve been at Microsoft for ten years. I came home from work one day, and my Tivo had recommended “Major Nelson.” It comes from a TV show called “I Dream of Jeannie”, it’s a campy show from the sixties about a woman genie and an astronaut called “Major Nelson”. Major Nelson became my gamertag—now, who doesn’t want to be an astronaut?

GD: What would you say in response to recent comments in the press about video games causing problems in kids?

LH: I look at video games as another form of entertainment. There is not one thing that you can point to as the source of problems in children. You have to look at the gaming issue holistically. I have a sister who has young daughters and I urged her to delay getting the Xbox. Not all of Xbox the games are appropriate for younger kids. Now that we have Kinect, we have the platform for games that are great for young children. Gaming should not be used a babysitter, but something families should use together to have fun.

GD: What message do you have for kids who play video games?

LH: Make sure that your games are used in moderation. Always treat the person on Xbox Live as your next door neighbor. Treat them with respect, as they would want to be treated. Stay in school! If you want to work in the gaming industry—study what does into making a game—whether it’s the art, writing the code or whatever you’re interested in. Don’t stay at home all day playing video games. You need to stay in school kids!

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!