#1ReasonWhy More story != more words My mystery flight

It’s my blog and I’ll plug if I want to.

(0) February 28th, 2013

When I was about 10, I was playing with a girl that lived in my grandparent’s court. She was a bit mischievous, but then so was I. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call her “Schmebbie”. Schmebbie and I were riding our bikes around the court on a STINKING hot day, and suddenly got the awesome idea to go down to the milk bar and buy some kind of ice cream, to cool us down. My mind started racing with the options ahead of me. Maybe I’d try something different. Maybe I don’t have to get a golden gaytime EVERY time I go to the milk bar. We scattered, seeking permission, her to her house and me to my grandparents. The general consensus was we’d be driven there by my grandparents if we waited a little bit. So we continued to play in the court.

Until Schmebbie decided to go rogue. Bored of waiting, she started kicking rocks around. Then she picked them up and threw them. She thought it was funny to throw them over the fence onto the grumpy old couple’s shed roof. I guess it did make a cool noise. I didn’t throw any though, didn’t really see the appeal. Plus all my energy was going into thinking about what ice cream I was going to get. Pine splice. Holy god.

Suddenly the grumpy man came storming outside (rightfully) pissed that these kids were throwing rocks at his stuff. He grabbed us both by our respective ears and marched us home. I got in trouble. Schmebbie got in trouble. We were separated for the rest of the day, and I was made to stay inside.

No trip to the milk bar. No ice cream. All because Schmebbie let me down, man. Bear with me here, there’s a point, I promise.

I don’t normally do this, but I’d like to draw your attention to something that you might want to help out with. Transmedia extraordinaire Christy Dena, along with Craig Peebles, Trevor Dikes, and Simon Howe have got together to make this pretty amazing sounding experience, that unless it gets funding, I won’t get to play.

That’s right. I’m going to miss out, if you do a Schmebbie and let me down. IT’S THE ICE CREAM ALL OVER AGAIN.

Except this time it’s exponentially cooler.

AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS is a “web audio adventure” for iPad. I know right? Christy Dena is the designer and writer behind the project, and she was inspired by a Da Vinci Code audio tour of the Louvre in France. Instead of some dry “and this is where Tom Hanks sneezed one time” approach, the audio tour surprised her. As she put the headphones in and saw people making their way upstairs to start the tour, Dena was pleasantly surprised that she was being told to skip the stairs and turn left towards a service elevator. It all suddenly got a little bit secret, and a little bit fun. In the bowels of the Louvre, Christy’s mind started racing.

She then started musing on the idea of doing something sort of similar, but on the web instead of a restricted physical space. Also adding in elements of radio drama and fiction, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS looks to have a massive scope. Being lead through the internet by a guide, not knowing where I’m going next? Sign me the eff up, I thought. So when a Pozible campaign was launched to finish off the project, I threw my money at it pretty hard. They have a $15,000 target, and around 40 hours left to reach that, or Schmebbie wins.

So this is a personal plea: If you have a few spare dollars please direct them toward this awesome sounding project. Because Schmebbie stole the ice cream that was rightfully mine when I was 10. Also because a lot of hard working people are making something pretty special that I think will be really unique and worth experiencing. But mostly the ice cream.

#1ReasonWhy

(7) December 4th, 2012

In my Grade 5 classroom in 1995, I was busily swooning over Justin Williams during a rainy day. He was a classmate who oozed cool and I had a burning crush on him. He looked like Jonathan Brandis from SeaQuest. He brought in a guitar and was allowed to strum along some Nirvana songs for us, because it’d been one year since Kurt Cobain died. I didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was at the time as I was only in Grade 5. Justin had older siblings. He could have told me to do anything and I would have happily obliged. The feelings were anything but mutual, he thought I was weird.

Everyone was mean to the biggest girl in the class. It made me uncomfortable. Taunt after taunt everyone was being a dick. The teacher took the “kids will be kids” approach, in that she did nothing. A boy sitting in the desk next to the girl pushed her eraser off the front of her desk with his ruler, and she had to walk in front of everyone to get it. When she bent down to pick it up he made a fart noise. She was mortified. I saw it getting to her. She was weird, too.

They kept being dicks to her and I kept getting more and more uncomfortable, but I felt alone. I kept telling myself I should say something but every time I went to I wasn’t brave enough. After yet another taunt and the raucous laughter that ensued, I saw someone else wasn’t laughing. A boy across the room and I made eye contact. I recognised the discomfort on his face. We still didn’t say anything.

In primary school I mostly enjoyed lunch alone. My parents owned a milk bar and I had great lunchboxes accordingly. When it was lunch time there was a mad rush to see what I had. I felt popular and special. After some truly pro bargaining, I’d swap my yearned-for bag of Burger Rings for whatever took my fancy out of someone else’s lunch (a straz and sauce sandwich was a good day) and then everyone would disperse. No one hung around. After the surge, the boy came over to me and said people were kinda mean to the big girl and I agreed. People shouldn’t be saying those things. I swapped my lunch goodies for an apple that day.

The next taunt in class, we looked at each other. I waited for him to speak. He didn’t. I didn’t. Then a girl behind me did, out of nowhere. We were shocked but relieved.

“Shut up, you guys.”

Crosshairs were now on her. They started applying the same tactics on her as they had the previous girl, but with added harshness, because she dared to challenge them.

The boy and I stood up for her. Soon some more joined in.

I was so scared to defend her by myself. I was already a weird kid. I just wanted Justin to like me. But once others started standing up against shitty behaviour, I had much more confidence. I got mouthy. I put the mean kids on a lunch negotiation embargo. You bitches ain’t getting MY Burger Rings! I started having less tolerance for their crap, and less fear about letting it be known. I became even more radioactive than I was before, but I was oddly at peace with it.

This week has felt a lot like that day. It’s easier to be brave against shitty behaviour when people stand with you and you realise just how many others are fed up with it too. #1ReasonWhy has given many the confidence to say “Nah you know what? That’s kinda shit. No Burger Rings for you.” Now all we need is the teachers media gatekeepers to slam down this kind of behaviour when they see it. The time has come to an end where it’s more valued when people dismiss other’s concerns than it is important to have a safe space for people to talk. Someone who doesn’t want to engage in conversation saying “not this shit again” is NOT more important than the person who has wanted to speak up about something that has really been hurting them for quite some time finally finding the bravery and the space in which to do it.

I’ve never felt more like there were enough of us to get shit done than I have this week, and it was made beautifully clear to me in this touching poem by Cara Ellison.

More story != more words

(1) October 19th, 2012

You know how people blog about being under-appreciated or that no one thinks their job is important?

Ain’t that the WORST? You should be glad I’m not going to do that. Cuz that is SO boring when people do that. On their blogs and stuff… Man…

INCOMIIIIIIIIIIINNG! Duck and cover, kids!

So this morning I was reading an interview TheLovelyLauraParker™ had with Rhianna Pratchett on Tomb Raider, and was pleasantly surprised to see echoed some conversations I’d had with writerly friends about writerly things (in our smoking jackets, in libraries that smell of rich mahogany). Particularly this bit:

“[Rhianna Pratchett] says developers need to put more thought into creating diverse, nuanced characters that accurately reflect the wide spectrum of demographics found in the real world. And they can start by paying more attention to game writers and encouraging more women to work in game development.”

This has been bugging me for quite some time, too. There’s a perception that everything in game development is the dominion of the artist or the programmer. I see this often, when asked what I do, so much so that I’ve (consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know) started to adjust the way I answer the question.

TheOldWay:
“What do you do for a crust?”, he asked.
“I’m a game developer!”, she answered, trying not to think of food.
“Oh cool! Artist or programmer?”, he said, unfortunately.
“Neither, I’m a writer”, she mumbled, craving validation and acceptance.

TheNewWay:
“SO, what do you do?”, she asked.
“I’m a writer!”, she answered, thankful for the lack of reminders about food. (But then that reminded her of food too, Leena don’t blog when hungry.)
“Oh cool! What kind of writing?”, she asked earnestly, whacking Leena with The 2×4 of Affirmation™.
“I make videogames!”, she grins, still not believing it’s actually her job. ^_^

Now if people’s perception of my job actually bugged me, this might be a thing. But it’s not a thing. If I gave a shit what people thought, I probably wouldn’t be playing games let alone making them. So it doesn’t bother me too much. But it does (rather simplistically) point to a deficiency in our medium. A blindspot if you will.

It’s getting better, it really is, there is more importance being placed on the role of a writer in game development. It’s better than it has been in the past, that’s for sure. But it still isn’t seen as important as I think it should be. Which brings me to my point.

Making games, we need to forget about the “writing words” part of a writer’s job.

Many games don’t require dialogue or even written copy about the storyworld. No introductions, no tutorials, no dialogue trees, no written word.

A writer’s role is to communicate the storyworld with the player. They build the constructs of that game world’s reality, they tell you where your place is in the world, and they give instruction on how to navigate it. Games as a medium are completely okay with this being out of the abstract and stated very plainly in a tutorial or instructional section at a beginning of a game, that’s already been established as a thing we’re cool with. As have the non-verbal ways of communicating this information. We see a lot more of the former, though.

The want for “more story” in games is not synonymous with “more words”.

When I want more story in games, or I want to see “better writing”, I want to see someone in charge of story. Ideally it’s their main focus. They are the advocate of the narrative. The missionary. The dungeon master. The torch-bearer of the world you’re creating. It’s the centre of their attention, and what they strive to make better.

Journey was a moving experience that contained no copy. The world was communicated to us in no uncertain terms. You can move more when you have a flaggy thing. Snow is fucking cold and will stop you moving. Moving is paramount. Mastery of movement is your objective. Go go go.

Obviously in small teams it’s hard to have someone who has just one role. We often take on many roles out of necessity, so having writing being someone’s only focus is not always practical. But every game benefits from at least _someone_ thinking about it in great detail. Outsource it if you need to. I KNOW A GUY. WINK.

Some games don’t have story, but every game has a world, and it’s a world worth considering. You’re doing a disservice to your game if you haven’t got a person whose job it is to look after and nurture that.

Story that’s tacked on as an excuse to use a cool mechanic is very obvious that it’s tacked on as an excuse to use a cool mechanic. We can tell. Your coincidence is poking out. When the priority is on the mechanic because a designer or programmer made it and thought it was an amazing thing to put in a game, and they quickly rummage through their limited box of knowledge when it comes to narrative devices and grab the first thing that seems to fit, it shows. Whereas if someone works with the mechanic-maker, or if indeed the mechanic-maker is skilled in writing and narrative construction themselves, the mechanic and the story can be cohesive and complement each other.

You wouldn’t put someone with “limited knowledge” of coding in charge of programming. You wouldn’t let the work experience kid be your lead artist. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. Sorry. Lost it for a sec there. Point is, don’t fudge your way through it and you’ll have a better game, duh. Regardless of how much “story” is in your game, you need someone shepherding that. It’s midwifery.

The job of world builder, narrative lobbyist, and story advocate is one that people are realising is more important, and that’s super exciting for games. So let’s turn it up to 11!

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