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Do action movie stars come much bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger? Depending on your age, maybe. But as somebody who grew up watching his movies in the 1980s and ‘90s - the likes of The Terminator and its sequel, Predator, Total Recall, and his comedies like Twins and Batman & Robin (that was a comedy, right?) - Arnie is the beginning and the end of everything to do with alien warfare in remote jungles, dramatic pursuits through Los Angeles storm drains, and barked orders to put that cookie down.
Having gone from bodybuilder to actor to politician - he served as the Governor of California from 2003 to 2011 - and now back to the world of the silver screen, most recently seen in 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate, Schwarzenegger has branched out into video games with World of Tanks. Its Holiday Ops 2022 event - live in the free-to-play game right now, and running to January 10 - sees Schwarzenegger’s career celebrated through the use of iconic movie quotes, special themed missions, and if you complete enough objectives you can even use the man himself as your tank commander. After a statue in Columbus and his Hollywood Walk of Fame star, a digital avatar is a very 21st century way to be immortalised, I say to the man himself.
Watch the trailer for World of Tanks’ Holiday Ops 2022 below…
“They are very different, of course,” he says, responding to our questions over email. “My star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the statue of me in Columbus, Ohio are huge honours. Being part of World of Tanks was a way of saying thank you to [my fans]. Earlier this year, one Reddit user created a petition to get me in the game, and posted it alongside a picture of me in a tank from some years ago (here is that petition). My team found it and I realised that it would be a cool idea, especially with my tanking background. I love when a partnership is totally organic, and I’ve seen the responses and reactions to the announcement, and it is safe to say that people are excited to see me in the game.”
As Schwarzenegger alludes to, he is fairly fond of a tank - he even owns one, a modified M47 Patton, first used by the US military in the 1950s. Arnold’s M47 isn’t exactly a weapon of war these days - “we disabled the gun,” he reassures me - but he still feels it’s a vehicle that you have to appreciate, regardless of the reason for its original manufacture: to kill, basically. “I think any machine this complex deserves to be marvelled at,” he says. “Even though it is very dangerous, somebody worked incredibly hard to engineer it perfectly. I think it is always important to understand history and preserve it, even if it can be uncomfortable. [My tank] is still dangerous since it can crush cars and anything that gets in its way, so you have to treat it with respect.”
Schwarzenegger moved from his home country of Austria to the United States in 1968, aged just 21. He pursued his bodybuilding dreams by training in a number of Los Angeles gyms, and claimed four Mr Universe and seven Mr Olympia titles. In 1977, he was the star of the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, for which he won a Golden Globe award. Hollywood beckoned, and after a pair of Conan movies Schwarzenegger achieved his biggest breakthrough with The Terminator. Superstardom awaited.
At the same time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, video games were becoming huge - arcades were raking in huge profits, and gaming at home was taking off thanks to names like Atari and ColecoVision, with Nintendo soon to break the international market. But the younger Arnold, in his early 30s, found little to no time back then to drop some quarters on Pac-Man or Space Invaders.
“I never had much time to play video games,” he says. “[I was] becoming the best bodybuilder in the world, [then] the biggest actor in the world. Even today, I am so focused on things like filming movies, TV and commercial projects, and running our after-school program, After-School All-Stars, that serves 100,000 kids in 13 states with programs to keep them off the street between 3 and 6pm, when so many kids get into trouble. [We’re also] cleaning up the environment through the Schwarzenegger Climate Initiative, and reforming our political system through the Schwarzenegger Institute at USC, so I still don’t have much free time!”
“Chess on my iPad is how I keep myself awake on movie sets, because focusing on the strategy keeps me more alert than an espresso; and in the pandemic it’s been a fantastic way to stay connected with friends all over the world.”
So while Arnold is a star of World of Tanks, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to spend much time playing with himself in it. (That came out wrong, didn’t it. Anyway.) Then again, given the game’s emphasis on strategy, it could be a title that creeps into his leisure time. “I mainly play chess on my iPad,” he says. “If you consider chess a video game, then that's the kind of game that really connects with me. Chess is how I keep myself awake on movie sets when we are shooting nights, because focusing on the strategy keeps me more alert than an espresso; and in the pandemic it’s been a fantastic way to stay connected with friends all over the world. So I imagine if I were to start playing video games, I would need some strategy to make it interesting.”
But Schwarzenegger isn’t unaware of how huge games are in the present day - bigger now than they ever were in the golden age of the arcade. “I’m really impressed that gaming has become more mainstream now compared to years ago,” he says. “There are a lot more people playing video games these days, and they are now a part of everyday life, just like movies and TV series are. And the production values on some of these games - wow, it’s like watching a great movie.”
And speaking of great movies, I can’t resist asking if he could be tempted into more video gaming projects that connect back to his ‘80s and ‘90s roles, especially as we’ve so recently seen new games based on Predator and The Terminator. Perhaps a modern, multiplayer take on The Running Man? As I wrote here, the plot of the 1987 movie lends itself very well to contemporary online gaming tastes and trends. “That would be really fun, I’m sure the fans would love a Running Man game,” he replies. “As I said, I’m not much of a gamer, but I would be interested to see how they put that together. Get someone working on it and I’ll be there to add my voice!”
Whatever Arnold’s next move in gaming, assuming there is another in his future alongside further acting roles - his next movie, Kung Fury 2, is due for release in 2022 - he’s content that his legacy is assured. He doesn’t even need the digital de-aging of Terminator: Dark Fate to feel like his career has transcended generations - “It makes me miss the muscles a bit,” he says of comparing 2021 Arnold with his younger model, “but this Arnold is much wiser and understands life is about what we give, not what we make” - as it’s the fans, above anything else, be it statues or stats or avatars, that give him the warmest feelings.
“I have been immortalised by my fans - they recite my famous movie lines, such as ‘I’ll be back,’ ‘Get to the choppa…’ and even, ‘Put the cookie down!’ These quotes have lasted decades and generations, they may even last centuries. My fans are the people who’ve supported me in many of my endeavours, so as long as they’re happy, I’m happy.”
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