Jon ‘Meroka’ is a gaming aficionado and gin distiller. He’s also pro-pineapple on pizza, and he promises to fight you if you disagree. I first met him through our mutual friend Mike and our paths have continued to cross since 2011, and in fact he joined me for my new year celebrations last year where we discovered a shared appreciation for the legend that is Bob Ross.
As well as being a YouTuber, Jon has – for many years – been one of the driving forces behind a regular gaming event in West Yorkshire called Button Mash, which provides an entertaining space for people to come and play retro (and modern) console games and board games with like-minded enthusiasts, whilst enjoying a drink or two and waiting for the promised cake. I always wanted to know what inspired Jon to start the Button Mash event, and I am delighted to say that I can – exclusively – reveal the answer here…
“I didn’t start it!” says Jon. “Button Mash was the idea of a chap by the name of Will originally. He proposed the idea of hosting a video gaming event in The Bradford Playhouse. A number of us working there at the time were big gamers, so we were on board, and it all grew from there. Will stepped away to focus on his career and family a couple of years ago, and I took over at the helm.”
Ah. Where there’s a Will there’s a way.
I can actually remember being at the first Button Mash in 2011, on a cold, wet afternoon in winter. I sheltered from the rain with my friends Adam and Mike, drank a lot of cider and ventured out of my comfort zone by playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Megadrive(!) However, the Button Mash event did evolve and grow in the ensuing years, and at one point they had a dedicated Rock Band room which I totally chickened out of, but it was great fun to watch.
But what else has changed with Button Mash over the last seven years?
“Some of the other original crew left for work / family reasons, so we’ve picked up a few new faces – mostly people I knew from working at GAME,” Jon explains. “The board gaming and indie gaming scenes have also grown considerably in the time we’ve been around so those are things we’ve tried to incorporate into what we do.
“We also try to keep things fresh and exciting at our events, so whenever someone has an idea for something fun and innovative, we do our best to make it a reality. Our tournaments are probably the best example: Starting from a traditional style of knockout rounds, we’ve had The Emerald Labyrinth (not a Crystal Maze knockoff, honest) battles of good vs. evil, teams of pirates vs. ninjas, and much more!”
Of course, none of these adrenaline-fuelled tournaments or Crystal Maze ‘homages’ occur without considerable passion burning at the core. For Jon, his interest in games was seeded around the age of six, when his dad recommended that he and his brother split the cost of a Megadrive. “It was about £60, which is all the money in the world when you’re six,” Jon notes. “But it came with Sonic the Hedgehog, so that became our first gaming experience. I couldn’t beat the boss at the end of Green Hill Zone and so my parents had to stay up late learning to play the game so that they could beat the boss for me.
“All in all, it’s probably fair to say that recommendation wasn’t one of my dad’s finest ideas in life…”
Arguably it was time well spent though, as it enabled Jon to launch his own YouTube channel many years later – with minimal input from the parents. And as anyone who’s ever attempted to run their own ‘let’s play’-themed YouTube channel will tell you, it can be a grind-y and disheartening experience. This doesn’t appear to be the case for Jon though, who cites “having fun doing it” as being the real secret to staying motivated over a sustained period of time.
“The honest truth about the online content game is that only a tiny handful of people will ever really ‘make it,'” he admits. “If you’re only in it for money and fame, well, there’s better ways to do that. If it’s something you genuinely love doing, then it shouldn’t bother you if one person watches or if a million do. Of course, when you’re making something that you want to be enjoyed by others, it can still be disheartening if nobody sees it, but by sticking with it, you’ll learn more and become better at it, which is rewarding in its own right.”
In the meantime, Jon has plenty of other things to be getting on with – some of them away from the world of games. “They say that you should take the thing you’re most passionate about in life and make it your hobby, then take the thing you’re second most passionate about and make it your job,” he explains. “I’m quite fortunate to be able to say that’s where I currently am. I’ve spent the past three years of my life working for a drinks retailer and have just started a job in distilling gin (among other things). So I get to make (and taste!) delicious things, then come home and play great games. There are worse lifestyles, I’m quite sure.”
Definitely. But what would he be playing when he comes home? Or – as I put it – “what would he take to play if he was stranded on a desert island?” With a console / monitor and an infinite power supply. (A likely scenario that we should all prepare for…)
“Oof! Tough call,” says Jon. “There’s a ton of stupidly fantastic gaming experiences out there that I couldn’t recommend enough, but the context of the question is basically demanding a game with infinite replay value, which rules a lot of them out. I mean, I adore A Hat in Time (my GOTY 2017, go play it) but I wouldn’t want to play it forever.
“The one game I come back to every few years or so – and lose a heck of a lot of time to – is Master of Orion 2, and actually right now, the new Master of Orion. So yeah, I reckon if I had a few decades to kill while awaiting rescue in the tropics, MoO2 would do it for me.”
Finally – Sonic or Mario, Jon?
“Sonic. I grew up with Sonic. I mean, we’ll happily tiptoe around those awkward later years. Really, it’s a shame they stopped making Sonic games after Sonic Adventure 2.”
Internet – discuss!!