Brown Water

Let's play Grand Theft Auto and murder people and get prostitutes

 LOCATION Murray Hill
RENT $2,100 [market]
SQUARE FEET 515 [floor above restaurant]
OCCUPANTS John Gemberling [comedian, writer, actor]; Curtis Gwinn [comedian, actor, writer for Atari]; Chris Gwinn [musician, graphic designer]

I walked by the Church of the Epiphany. I thought it read Church of the Eggplant. It must be the heat. [John] The story of this apartment is the story of damage control. For instance, today the power in this building is very dodgy. [Curtis] It came on 30 seconds before you buzzed. We have a blackout every summer. [John] We didn't realize it was citywide last summer. We thought it was just us. [Chris] We have to go to the Chinese restaurant downstairs to get the keys to the circuit breaker. [Curtis] They always say they don't have the keys. [Chris] If we run the washer and dryer . . . [Curtis] People say, Oh my God, a washer and dryer. [Chris] They're really small.

The walls in your central headquarters room are black. [John] They're blue. We've all been here together since January 2002. [Curtis] This apartment is the epicenter for all our friends—parties at least once a month.

Chris Gwinn, John Gemberling, and Curtis Gwinn in Murray Hill
photo: Cary Conover
Chris Gwinn, John Gemberling, and Curtis Gwinn in Murray Hill

I saw the bottle of Bombay Sapphire. [John] The refrigerator leaks. The floors are all kind of warped and bubbling.

Do you all always get along? [Curtis] No, [Chris and I] are brothers. Brothers always fight. Me and John had to train Chris to accept filth, but now that John has a girlfriend for six months, I've lost him. He's no longer as dirty as me.

Chris looks like Jeff Bridges. [Curtis] Chris usually has blond hair. [Chris] I dyed my hair black last year.

Who is John's girlfriend? [John] She's a stand-up comedian. Her name's Margo.

How exotic. [Chris] We all date in the theater world. My girlfriend's an actress. She just moved to California.

Are you sad? Yeah, sure.

You're always plugging stuff in here—so many cables. [They put on the Sims. We watch an overhead view of the characters moving around their house.] [Curtis] Women don't usually play video games but they play the Sims. The Sims is like a living dollhouse. In the business, the more it's like real life, the more people seem to like it. [John] Essentially the Sims boils down to acquisition. All you're doing is buying furniture and sending people to the bathroom.

Instead of killing them like in other games? You can starve them to death. [Curtis] I'm working on a video game that takes place in an office—a sitcom.

Do the Sims get to go to Paris or do they always have to be in the house? [John] They have expansion packages. [Curtis] People get very addicted.

I'm not addicted. But don't turn it off. [John] You can buy land, build your own house. The ultimate goal is to keep your Sims as happy as possible. When I was addicted to it, I wanted us to move into a big mansion with a pinball machine, virtual-reality games, aquariums.

That's like what you have now. [Curtis] Most people don't set up their dream home. They make it as close to their real apartment as possible. [John] We used to have an aquarium. [Chris] Our water here is poison. It's brown and it stinks. [Curtis] At Atari, we're taking video games a step further, having complex dialogues in the games.

Philosophy. Sure, though right now, it's sitcoms. [John] When we created our Sims, Curtis's and my characters became really good friends and they even fell in love. Hearts appeared over our heads and we kissed. [John] Here's Grand Theft Auto Vice City. [We watch a man run alone past magnificent sand-colored Miami deco buildings.] You do whatever you want—murder innocent people, get prostitutes. [Curtis] The games coming out now are all sex-based. [Chris] I'm going to go downstairs to get something to drink.

 
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