Games, writing, and play

Over at if:Book Australia, there’s a piece I wrote about games, storytelling, and the end of the world.

The significant shift that technology gave games has little to do with the graphics or the input technology, nor is it necessarily part of the maturation of the form – it is something far more fundamental in how we experience play and storytelling, and that is that we far more easily connect and engage with experiences that are conversational and continuous.

At a writer goes on a journey, the official news site of the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I wrote a piece on the What, Why, and How of being a games writer.

[A games writer] might also find themselves doing pure design work, which might output a written document, but whose underlying structure is built on something quite different. Rather than trading in the intangible connective tissue of stories and characters, you’re dealing with the underlying components of games – rules, systems, and goals. You might find yourself wrapping these in a fiction, but the work here is on focusing what the player does, not on who they are or where they are doing it. Some of the skills are transferable, and some aren’t, so it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the medium before you go into it.

And on this site, I’ve published my article from the Emerging Writers’ Festival Reader on play and creativity – Play is the Wrong Word.

Every piece of writing – in fact every act of creation – is an exploration, a mapping of elusive contours of thought, a process of divination and excavation. At the other end, every experience of a piece of writing – or every creative work – is the same: a scrabble through uncharted caves, a handheld guide through an unknown city, a slow resonant unveiling of how things are and how they came to be.

But mention the word play in association with either of these processes and the arguments come at you hard and fast. We are serious writers and thinkers, they say, explorers of uncharted territory. We stalk the wilderness and return with wisdom, heroes of our own creative journey. We are adults struggling against the dark, and we have no time for such trivial things.

Perhaps play is the wrong word then? Or perhaps it’s something that needs reclaiming through reflection and re-examination of how creativity works.

Play is the Wrong Word

This is a piece that originally appeared in the Emerging Writers’ Festival Reader.

Every piece of writing – in fact every act of creation – is an exploration, a mapping of elusive contours of thought, a process of divination and excavation. At the other end, every experience of a piece of writing – or every creative work – is the same: a scrabble through uncharted caves, a handheld guide through an unknown city, a slow resonant unveiling of how things are and how they came to be.

But mention the word play in association with either of these processes and the arguments come at you hard and fast. We are serious writers and thinkers, they say, explorers of uncharted territory. We stalk the wilderness and return with wisdom, heroes of our own creative journey. We are adults struggling against the dark, and we have no time for such trivial things.

Perhaps play is the wrong word then? Or perhaps it’s something that needs reclaiming through reflection and re-examination of how creativity works.

Continue reading Play is the Wrong Word

Sexy Spanking Games and Murder Simulators

From The Age online dated March 11, 2011

Not long before it banned Mortal Kombat, the Board let a sexy spanking game, We Dare, through as PG, despite the game’s own publisher, Ubisoft, recommending it be rated M.

This follows on from Sex game to hit Australian stores and A Wii bit kinky: sexy spanking game rated PG but Mortal Kombat banned.

The decision to ban Mortal Kombat while giving the risqué We Dare a PG rating has revealed some interesting details about the federal government’s morality on censorship. Judging by the decisions, it appears that games promoting spanking, stripping and sexual partner swapping are acceptable for children while hardcore simulated on-screen violence is strictly off-limits.

It also found its way into this rather muddled opinion piece.

We Dare has caused a bit of an uproar generally, but most of it seems to have come from watching the promotional video for the game rather than playing it, a fact that hasn’t been lost on PEGI over in Europe who recently had this to say to eurogamer about the game and its advertising.

“The Committee concludes that the advertisement does NOT accurately reflect the nature and content of the product and it MISLEADS consumers as to its true nature.”

“It was correct to give the game a 12 rating,” PEGI said. “The content of the game and the interaction that the game itself implies do not warrant a higher rating.

“Marketing may have implied something else, but PEGI does not rate advertising, it rates game content. If people play the game, they will see that there is nothing inappropriate for ages 12 and older.”

There’s a conversation to be had about ratings, classification, sexual content, and their place in videogames, but We Dare is no more a ‘sexy spanking game’ than Call of Duty is a ‘murder simulator’ and maybe, just maybe, the classification board are doing their job.

And maybe, just maybe, employing the same sort of moral outrage tactics as critics of videogames do is perhaps not the smartest tack to take.

[Edit- clarified ‘game critics’]

Some thoughts on analysis and insight…and a proposal

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will have seen me post this recently:

Thinking out loud: if someone started a smart, adult, critical site for writing about local gaming, would anyone write for it? Read it?

While I was only thinking out loud in response to this reactionary article from The Age (and yes, I know I shouldn’t read mainstream games coverage), I think it’s worth exploring, as much for my benefit as anything else, what I meant.

So, what did I mean?

Other creative sectors have a plurality of voices that run the gamut from news, reviews, criticism, and analysis, but for whatever reason (and I might not be looking in the right places), there seems to be a dearth of critical analysis and insight in the games space.

To illustrate, some of what I’d like to see in response to various events / articles are:

  • A deconstruction of the recent 60Sox / ISIS numbers and whether or not they’re truly reflective of the state of things and whether or not a meaningful comparison can be drawn with previous studies
  • A deeper look at state and federal funding decisions and the subsequent trajectories of both the projects and the studios
  • An examination of the recent Australia Council Arts and Creative Industries report from a games perspective
  • A breakdown of Canada’s development infrastructure before the tax breaks were introduced and whether or not the same conditions exist here
  • Something like this 2010 summary of the games sector in Scotland

Some of these I’d like to write, others I’d like to hear other perspectives on, and others I know I’m not qualified to do, but I’d like to read all of them as part of picking apart some of the long held beliefs about local game development – industrial, indie, and cultural – and seeing whether or not they hold water as well as responding with a greater degree of insight when new issues arise.

Is there enough there? And is there an audience?

I don’t know, and I have questions around whether there are enough people interested in writing or reading content like this or would those sorts of articles actually find a constructive audience or would it degenerate into comment flame-wars.

Where does it belong?

Somebody on twitter suggested that this might be the place for that and I should ask guests along. I don’t think that model works  because I (occasionally) like talking about other things here, deconstructing games, posting half-formed thoughts, sometimes about my writing, so I think it should be a completely new space. There’s also the question of responsibility – if someone says something contentious, I’d rather not be held entirely responsible for that. Happy to take the lumps for my own thoughts; others not so much.

Funding…?

This doesn’t feel like the sort of thing that would bring in vast amounts of wealth for contributors, but I also know having written some fairly substantial pieces that the ability to be paid for them makes a huge difference to their quality. I’d suggest a mix of short pieces that were unpaid, punctuated with far longer and more in-depth pieces that would be paid.

Raising the money is trickier, but I’m really interested in the Pozible model that New Matilda used to relaunch. I’m not sure how much would be needed, but it’s worth thinking about as a way of proving not only that there’s an audience out there, but that it’s an engaged and interested audience.

The question of time.

Freeplay is my main focus, but I’d like to see something like this happen perhaps as a contributor or as part of an editorial team, but I suspect if I tried to drive it I would burn myself out more than I already do with trying to build and grow a festival.

What next…?

These are really just thoughts of something I’d like to see rather than a manifesto or a detailed structure. The first step in building something new is to figure out what the hell it is and this provides us with a bit more space than Twitter to talk about that.