As a multi-hyphenated entertainer, John Cena barely has time to sleep. He’s a WWE superstar who is preparing for a mixed tag-team match at Wrestlemania 33 in April. He’s an actor, with credits in films that include Sisters and Trainwreck. He’s a reality show host for Fox’s American Grit, hosted the 2016 ESPY Awards, and is about to host the 2017 Kids’ Choice Awards. And yet somehow, he’s still finds time to play video games.
“Most of it is on the go,” Cena says. “We have a lot of gamers in the WWE, and they all try and game with consoles. So these guys are lugging an extra bag with them everywhere, and then it’s difficult for them to set up to play on the go.”
So it’s no surprise that Cena has partnered with Nintendo to help it launch its new Switch console, which allows gamers to play on the go by switching from a home console to a portable system on the fly. Cena, a self-professed fan of Nintendo from the early days, was on hand to help the company launch the system at a series of inventive pop-ups designed to show the versatility of the system. This put him in touch with his childhood passion for gaming in a whole new way — as Cena puts it, “I was like a kid again — I was so excited.”
We talked with Cena about his passion for gaming, how he feels about his own video games, and what we can expect from him at the Kid’s Choice Awards (plus, how he feels about getting political at them).
Yahoo Celebrity: How did this partnership with Nintendo come about?
John Cena: I’ve been a longtime fan of the brand — my lineage dates back to the Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m probably dating myself by saying this, but I got the first console in 1985. I kinda hit that video game age right when it became super popular, so I grew up on Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Tecmo Super Bowl … a lot of the 8-bit titles. What I enjoyed most about them was the ability to just pick up and play, but the games were challenging enough where if you devoted more time, you got more out of it. A perfect example of that would be like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! You could pick it up and play it, but if you put in the time, it became another game.
So that’s what I loved about the Nintendo Switch. With gaming consoles nowadays, the interfaces make it difficult to play. And me being 40, games have almost passed me by, so I mostly stick to tablet stuff. But then again, you lose a lot of game play by sticking to a tablet. Switch has been hyped as a versatile console that you can use at home and on the go. And in being Nintendo as well, the system isn’t only spectacular from a tech standpoint, but a 40-year-old guy like me can learn to play without reading instructions!
You think you’re dated in saying you had an NES, but I had an Atari.
Oh, I had an Atari as well, but it was so basic. With all the games, the sticker on the game made it look awesome, but then you’d play and it was so basic. I also had a ColecoVision, which was like a step in between, but with Nintendo — that’s when universes really came to life.
So are you gaming much now?
I am, but like I said, most of it is on the go. We have a lot of gamers in the WWE, and they all try and game with consoles. So these guys are lugging an extra bag with them everywhere, and then it’s difficult for them to set up to play on the go. I ditched that. I used to mess around with tablet games, so I’m down with basic strategy games. But with Switch, now I can either have a privatized and intimate gaming experience, or if there’s a group of us on a plane, we can play each other.
What do you think about violence in video games?
I actually think the video game industry handles it well — they handle it just like we do in the WWE. We’re on TV, we have ratings, our ratings across all platforms are PG — but that doesn’t mean you don’t have explicit shows, like The Walking Dead, or syndicated shows that get TV-Mature ratings. Those are for certain audiences and let people know this is good for children, or it’s not good. Video games have done a great job of designating ratings of games that are for ages 14 and up more mature, or OK for everyone — and that’s certainly the best way to do it. That way, the person purchasing the game knows either that this is something that’s good for my kids, or it’s something I should play with them, or it’s something they shouldn’t play.
You’ve also been in a ton of video games yourself — 19 to be exact — with the latest being WWE 2K17. What it was like to be a part of that process? And do you play the game as yourself, or choose someone else as your avatar?
Well, they always make me look really good in the game. When I try to learn the interface, I play as myself. They make me talented, so I’m thankful for that. But the craziest thing is to see the games evolve year after year. It used to be 2-D on a screen, and there were no intricate storylines — you just pick your favorites and they battle in the ring. Now you can create development strategies, you can have boss strategies … you can get intricate with the gameplay and it’s so lifelike. People who are fans of the WWE see it from one perspective, but me being in the ring and then seeing a game where you’re in the ring — there’s never been a closer tool that gives the experience of what it’s really like to be there.
You’ve hosted the ESPYs, you recently hosted SNL, you currently host American Grit … how have these hosting roles have prepared you for hosting the upcoming Kids’ Choice Awards, and what can we expect from you at the show?
The Kids’ Choice is different. It’s all about the audience. Every show is, but the audience is different there. The kids are excited to be there and be around the stars that they know. And the Kids’ Choice Awards has a history with slime — it goes hand in hand. It’s an energetic atmosphere, and I’m not offended by being the butt of a joke — or getting slimed. And being the host, you get to control who gets slimed. So I’m excited to bring that to the audience, and I hope nobody is too cool for school and gets into having fun!
Do you plan to get political, considering kids today seem to be more informed about politics thanks to our current political climate and what they hear their parents saying at home?
I think by getting political, you immediately have people take one side or another. I think with the issues going on, a broader view gets more folks involved. Getting political makes people choose a side. I was in the Ad Council campaign for “Love Has No Labels.” They didn’t label you as a political party; they just said, “You’re American. We love America and the country and everyone in it,” rather than focusing on whose side are you on. I think panning out from a wider scope using voice and platform, as in the case with the Ad Council campaign, is a better use of time.
Over the years you’ve been making a steady transition — from sports entertainer to mainstream actor and now TV host — you’ve become an all-around entertainer, and you’ve been compared to the Rock in that way. You’ve said it’s not your intention to follow in his footsteps, but with all of these talents you’ve accrued over time, what are your plans for the future?
Well first, thank you. Secondly, I just kinda want to be involved in good stuff. I really love what I do now with WWE. I have a wonderful home here, I’m comfortable there, and I’ve done it for so long … it’s such a rush and so exciting to be performing for a WWE crowd. But I love telling stories. That’s what we do in WWE, and acting is an extension of that, but it’s a different platform. Looking into the future, I just want to be involved in good projects with good folks. I don’t want to limit to one genre, whether it be comedy or action or drama. I love telling stories and being involved, so if I read a script and it’s something I’m interested in, I want to be a part of it.
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