• "The Bones gathers writing about fandom and family—about gamers, camaraderie, and memories— and ties them together where they meet: our dice. These are essays and anecdotes about the ways dice make us crazy, about the stakes we play for and the thrill we get from not knowing what the next roll will bring."
    (tags: books dice games play )

It’s Better Because It’s Better

17 July 2010

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).

  • "WonderLab was three days of performers and playmakers coming together to do what you do in a lab – tinker, theorise, experiment and make. A fantastic group of musicians, writers, composers, actors, directors, producers, commissioners, game designers, coders, artists and philosophers and spent three days sharing their brains. I’ve rarely had a greater treat than getting to lead their explorations." Margaret on lots of things, including the marvellous Wonderlab (which is where I've been for the past three days).
  • "I suppose this goes to show that, from an anthropological point of view, the truly interesting part of any human encounter is its beginning. I can instantly identify friends and colleagues from the rhythm of their knock at the door, or the slight pause before they identify themselves on the phone – those tiny gestural and auditory signatures, both idiosyncratic and culturally produced, that make us human." Greetings and openings, principally, to do with telephones.

Romance isn’t a genre yet.

06 July 2010

Alice has a list of things she’s thinking about at the moment. Number four on that list:

Romance/love, the genre, is spectacularly underexplored.

Alice and I have batted emails about this topic around before. And now, as I look at that sentence, I think I have an issue with just one word in it: I’m genuinely not sure “romance/love” even is a genre yet.

So far, the takes on it I’ve seen are: Japanese dating games, which definitely is a genre and well-established and just doesn’t float my boat in terms of games about romance; the Western, simplified takes on that that you see on the DS and are very much watered-down versions of that trope; and, then, and most-to-my-tastes, the more experiemntal/thoughtful/niche/weird things. For instance: the Radiator mods for Half-Life 2 which (in part) are very much about love (in the context of a long-term relationship/marriage, or IF games such as the lovely Violet.

Games about love in all its forms, not just the fetch-quest that dating is so often reduced to: that’s genuinely interesting. But I don’t want that to be a genre, or a formula to be trotted out. I want it to be a broad topic to be explored, wrapped around everything. After all, if you look at other media, compare the volume of work which broaches the topic of “love” versus the volume that professes to be only about that. I want John Donne, but I don’t need Mills & Boon.

So: as a theme/topic/source-material, people have barely scratched the surface. As a genre: I genuinely don’t believe it’s a genre yet, and there are far more interesting things to be said in this space than are said by J-dating games. I’d rather “romance/love” never became a genre for games.

As far as “spectacularly underexplored” goes: agree entirely. I keep thinking about this too, from time to time.

Links & notes for this month