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

Archive for October, 2012

More story != more words

Friday, 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!

My mystery flight

Friday, October 19th, 2012

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be a part of something I think is pretty cool, I was given the reins of the @WeMelbourne twitter account as a guest tweeter. It’s kind of like @Sweden, where each week a different person is behind the account, tweeting about their life and what they’d like to get off their chest. Except more Melbourney. Trams ‘n shit.

I’d watched the @Sweden account from afar for a while, watching how different people drove it, how people drove it differently, and the shitstorm that inevitably ensued when people didn’t “like” what “Sweden” was saying this week. I found the whole thing quite fascinating.

So when I heard about one for my first love (Melbourne), I got super excited. Here we’d see in black and white the beautiful melange of what made Melbourne, Melbourne. Curated by the exquisite @stokely, we’d see the diverse (and sometimes not), the sophisticated (and sometimes not), and the progressive side of Melburnians. Or sometimes not. Either way I was keen to see how our city represented itself. Complicated beast that she is.

What I wasn’t expecting, was how I reacted when I was in the driver’s seat.

Now try and quell the little bit of vomit that’s trying to creep up your throat when I say this, or try to tame the scoff that will attempt to escape from your lungs due to you being super cool with your “outdoors” and “real lives” and stuff, but twitter is really important to me. Twitter is a reach to the outside world. Twitter is where I keep in contact with many of my “IRL” friends, where I make new ones, where I learn things, where I get support when I feel alone, and also (very importantly) where I get basically all of my paid work from. It’s friends I’ve made and relationships that twitter has strengthened that actually put food on my family’s plate. It may come as a shock to some given that some of my tweets contain bulging swears or talk about things that you wouldn’t want to bring up in a board room, that I consider it at times a work space. At times. Then there’s pictures of funny stuff and amazing reaction gifs.

This has a lot to do with how carefully I’ve curated my twitter feed. The old saying “Your twitter is what you make it” (I think it was Aristotle or something) is not only entirely true, but it’s a reminder to prune every now and then, and hone in on what’s good for you, what’s not, and what you want more of in your eyeballs. My twitter feed is a careful blend of games stuff, politics (only the kind I agree with, I don’t “hate follow”, there be dragons), writing stuff, kid stuff, pop culture stuff, and some comedians (or people even funnier than comedians, ‘sup @Brocklesnitch). It’s changed over the years, and it’s constantly evolving even now. No one’s twitter feed is the same, it’s deeply personal and people use it in many different ways. Some only broadcast, some only consume, some only follow celebrities, some only follow friends from IRL.

The weirdest thing about being behind the @WeMelbourne twitter account for a week, was the sudden realisation I hadn’t curated this twitter feed. That sounds like it shouldn’t have that much of an effect, but it really really did.

It was like stepping onto foreign soil. Not being sure if you speak the language. Not much was familiar, and I was being exposed to much more than what I was used to in my little bubble. I didn’t know many of the faces lined up on the left-hand-side of the feed. I didn’t recognise very many names. I missed certain personalities from my feed. I missed the avatars that I would stop scrolling when I saw, to check what they were saying. (We need a name for those scroll-stoppers. How about scroll-stoppers.)

I saw RIGHT WING tweets! (mostly being retweeted by others, for various reasons, not necessarily endorsements) and MEAN people and slut-shamers and fat-shamers and all these things I didn’t have to worry about very much in my feed. (It’s weird how easy it is to forget The Right even exists, once you carefully lance all traces from your life.) People talked about The Right in much more detail than I allow on my feed. Probably a self-preservation thing.

I saw people blaming videogames for bad things happening in society, and not actually taking the piss.

Before this sounds like some kind of spoiled-white-girl’s Vietnam flashback, it wasn’t bad. At all! It was quite fun. I saw some great tweets I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and have thusly followed their authors. I’ve had people who were very kind to me while I was behind the account continue to be kind afterwards back in my Twitter country. Overall the experience was lovely. @Stokely was kind and professional and organised, and I had no qualms. It wasn’t a feed-full-of-Right, it was just a balanced look at the world — and the twitter world I’ve created myself is stacked. I became very aware of this (and totally cool with it, incidentally).

But nevertheless I was genuinely shocked with how I taken aback I was by this foreign twitter feed. It was paralysing. “Normally I don’t shut up on twitter, what gives?”, I said to myself, like a crazy person. I was busy the week I took over, which didn’t help, but I also didn’t know what to tweet about. I barely tweeted. I did a terrible job of being interesting, and an even worse one at giving any insight into my life. When I tweet from my account, I know generally how it’s going to be received (in that it won’t be a complete stab in the dark). I know my twitter feed’s “personality”, and the personalities contained within it. I have comfort in the fact if I’m being sarcastic about something, most people following me will know I’m not being serious because they have a vague understanding of who I am and what my beliefs are. I was stripped bare of this when tweeting from @WeMelbourne, and I didn’t expect it to stop me tweeting as much. Normally twitter is like an extension of my hand, and the bullshit just floooooows like molten lava from a really dumbass volcano. No, this wasn’t “my” twitter.

It was like the first day at a new school. I felt like I was being looked up and down, and that was completely unexpected. There was an obligation and a responsibility to not piss anyone off, that I don’t think I feel in my own twitter world. The context in which I exist, is normally enough to avoid any large conflicts, and unless you’ve been following me for a while, you don’t have much context for who I am. There’s ample room to tread toe. I don’t think I’m a “bite sized” tweeter. I think I’m a big messy package.

I think if I were to do something like this again, I would keep in mind that it isn’t just tweeting from a different account, like I’d hastily assumed. Shit can get weird, yo. I lost myself a little bit and became concerned with how I’d be received. That isn’t something that takes up too much of my grey matter on my own personal twitter account. I don’t tweet from a vacuum, I tweet from a carefully constructed safe space, and I tweet knowing that I’m not alone. I tweet knowing that generally those who have made the decision to follow me have done so for whatever-the-fuck their reasons are, and have consented to falling down that particular rabbit hole.

There was pressure that came with people not consenting to follow ME. They followed the account on a promise, an idea. It made me realise how easy it is to take for granted the little community you build yourself on your social networks. I think I like tweeting better when people have consented to listening to it.
It’s a bit like real life really. As much as I like to pretend it isn’t, sometimes.

If you ever get a chance to take the reins of a new or different twitter account, try it. Because honestly it’s truly bizarre. I didn’t think it would be that confronting at all. If you think you’re familiar with twitter, you’re probably really only familiar with one twitter feed. If you want to fuck shit up, start a new one (Or give app.net a go. Come say hi) and go in a completely different direction and see the change not knowing where you’re going will have on you.

A bit like a mystery flight. Who knows what you’ll need to pack.

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