I haven’t written up Wonderlab yet. Mainly because my brain’s still spinning, still exhausted from those three days, and threads are coming together slowly.
So, rather than one beautiful, succinct post… everything is dribbling out in pieces, I’m afraid.
I’m thinking a lot about what I term “Games Literacy” right now – more on what that means in the future, I guess, but suffice to say: it’s about knowing how to both read and write, and being able to read games rather than just consume them. But, in trying to explain my frustrations with the relatively low literacies of many games creators (real or someday), I couldn’t help but return to a speech from Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, so beautifully delivered by Toby Stephens in the Old Vic production that I was fortunate enough to see a month ago.
Henry is a writer, and his partner – Annie – is trying to get him to look at a script written by Brodie, a young man. Henry explains that Brodie can’t write; Annie is furious, and tells Henry that he’s being a snob – just because he’s a writer, why does he get to choose who gets to write or not?
Henry reaches for his cricket bat.
HENRY: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.) What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel … (He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.) Now, what we’ve got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting ‘Ouch!’ with your hands stuck into your armpits. (Indicating the cricket bat.) This isn’t better because someone says it’s better, or because there’s a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It’s better because it’s better. You don’t believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [quoting from the play] ‘You’re a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?”Twenty, but I’ve lived more than you’ll ever live.’ Ooh, ouch! (He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits, going ‘Ouch!’ ANNIE watches him expressionlessly until he desists.)
The analogy stands alone, I think. But, were I to attempt to summarise: the goal of any kind of literacy is, you could say, understanding that you ought to be making cricket bats. And then you really only need the gentlest touch to make an impact.
(and of course: it’s a marvellous play, and the rest of this scene is just as relevant as these scant moments. Do see it if you get a chance).