Departures, a return to interactive fiction.

Departures
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I have been in love with interactive fiction ever since the first time I slipped the first 5¼” floppy of Infocom’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” into my Commodore 64’s disk drive. It was an intoxicating melange of Douglas Adams’ peculiar brand of surreal silliness, devious puzzle-solving, and the idea that I could slip inside a story and become part of it.

Later, I would find some measure of satisfaction in constructing scenarios and settings within MUDs, but did not know enough about coding to do much more than world-building and Easter-egg-hiding. Role-playing was firmly within my wheelhouse, though; as a theatre brat who dabbled in playwriting, stage directions and emotive word-choices were second nature to me. I decided that role-playing was my bag, and I’d leave interactive fiction writing to the professionals.

But interactive fiction popped up on my radar again when I came across Zoe Quinn’s “Depression Quest”. It hit me hard the first time I played it, then harder on replay: certain options you wish to take are simply unavailable to you. They sound good. You know you should do them. And yet you cannot. This, to me, communicated an intrinsic aspect of depression. It was a brilliant piece of game construction. The rest of it is also excellent, but this part stuck with me. I was curious about how it was built, and that’s when I first heard about Twine, an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories. I noodled around with it a bit but didn’t have a story idea begging to be told this way, so I promptly forgot about it.

Recently my friend Gavin Inglis wrote an interactive story called “Hana Feels”. “Story” seems like a flaccid descriptor here because the project’s goals are much larger than telling a story. “Hana Feels” teaches us how to talk to people who self-harm. It exercises our empathy muscles. It asks us to push past our own experience to connect with another human who needs it most.

“Hana Feels” is a poignant and dismaying and important piece of writing, not only for addressing the stigma of talking about issues such as self-harm but for showing us there is still a great chasm between what we say, what we mean, and what someone in distress is capable of hearing and understanding. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so see it for yourself (note: it is still in beta, with the final release later this month). Gav created this story with Twine, and experiencing the complexity of “Hana Feels” inspired me to reconsider using Twine to write interactive fiction myself. And then he told me about Twiny Jam, an event that ended just this morning, in which creators use Twine to make a 300-word interactive moment and share it with each other.

The prospect scared me. So I knew I had to do it.

Some time ago, I confided in a dear friend that the worst part of saying goodbye is the moment where you could, if you wanted, turn around and just not go. Just stay. I described this particular feeling in an airport — when we were still able to accompany our loved ones to the gate — but you can think of it in any setting, physical or not. We encounter this moment all the time and yet we somehow make the choice, the reasonable choice, over and over.

The idea for this particular story came from not making the reasonable choice. Most of the story was cut due to the jam’s word-count limit, but I’ll tell it in longer form someday. For now, it says what I wanted it to say. It’s called “Departures” and I hope you enjoy it.

Turning Pro – Day 7

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This is the seventh day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “My Own Moment of Turning Pro” to “The Professional Lives in the Present”. I don’t have much to say about this part of the book, because what I found most valuable was the reiteration of the qualities the professional possesses that Pressfield listed in “The War of Art”. (I won’t list them all, because I think that book is definitely worth a read, but my favourites include “The professional shows up every day” and “The professional does not take failure or success personally”.)

However, I think we can all have a feeling or two about this quote:

The amateur tweets. The pro works.” 

But I love Twitter! 

… I know.

I have been guilty of tweeting about cool things, or retweeting others’ cool things. And it’s not like I’m going to stop altogether, but it is easy to convince myself that I have made movement toward becoming a writer by retweeting other writers or tweeting about the act of writing. Even this meta-talk about writing is a bit amateurish on my part. (I’m choosing to forgive myself because all this reflection is in the name of turning pro.)

Pressfield adds a nice juxtaposition at the end of this section: the professional is ruthless with himself and the professional has compassion for herself. Yes, we should not hesitate to murder our darlings, as the famous phrase goes, but we should also guard the joy that comes from creating. It is a difficult balance.

Turning Pro – Day 6

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This is the sixth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “The Amateur will be Ready Tomorrow” to “Rosanne Cash’s Dream” on my lunch break at work. And then I uncapped my fountain pen, cracked open a brand-new Rhodia dot-grid A5 notebook, and wrote a full page of fiction.

It’s not good writing, but it felt great.

I read the section called “The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Shit” with amusement. This is a part of the process, maybe the only part, that hasn’t bothered me much personally. I know fantastic people in this world and yet I have never once felt as if I am part of a group of people I need to impress. Pretty early on I internalised the knowledge that I should just do what I enjoy doing and not worry if I fit in anywhere. In Pressfield’s words:

“When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.” 

So Pressfield keeps talking about going pro and I want to know what he means already. I want steps. I want something to act on. He senses this like magic and tells me, finally:

When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.

Fair enough. I’m pretty sure I know what this means. It means that when I sit down to write, I write. I don’t let the fear of never being good enough stop me. When I have an idea, I write it to completion, even if it goes off the rails and can never be rescued. I write. I finish. I do the work.

I got this.

Turning Pro – Day 5

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This is the fifth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “Accidental Incapacitation” to “The Amateur Lives in the Past” and a few quotes stuck out to me. The first was:

“Fear is the primary color of the amateur’s interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death.” 

Sure. It’s impossible not to relate to this quote. Pressfield goes on to state that the pro is just as afraid, so that’s good, because I don’t see losing my fear anytime soon. I read once that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, anyway. Or maybe that was just Peter Quinn in “Homeland”. #quinning

I bet Quinn doesn’t even have a Facebook account, so the next quote doesn’t apply to him at all:

“The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction. The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.” 

Well, yeah. The Internet is the ideal environment for the amateur. There is always a website or fifty, vying for one’s attention, constructed in such a way that the experience feels engaging even if it is comprised of a set of completely passive interactions.

I also think that Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves: time spent on social media isn’t creative time. It can be constructive, but there’s a difference. I think that’s what Pressfield is getting at here.

One more quote that struck me:

The amateur and the addict focus exclusively on the product and the payoff.” 

I agree with this, because I tend to get very caught up in what the result will be of what I am creating. “Where will I perform this? Where will I sell this?” This is not to say that I shouldn’t be savvy about markets or gigs, but rather that I have lost the excitement of creation for its own sake, focusing instead on its packaging and the eventual (I hope) reward.

Turning Pro – Days 3 & 4

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This is the third and fourth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

I’m playing a bit of catch-up today and reviewing the sections “The Addict As Dramatic Hero” through the end of Book One. Unfortunately, I had a tough time relating to Pressfield in this section of the book. Although I enjoyed reading about his time picking apples in Washington state, and living all alone in a cabin with just a cat and a typewriter, I haven’t had a life like that at all. Moreover, I don’t think that creative professions require itinerant lifestyles to succeed. I see how it could be helpful not to be bogged down with the routine of a 9-to-5 job, but I don’t think it’s necessary. However, an idea I do agree with is that it is easier to break the cycle of addiction when one is freed from a routine that supports it.

Later on in the book, I came across a quote that resonated deeply with me:

“All addictions share, among others, two primary qualities.

  1. They embody repetition without progress.
  2. They produce incapacity as a payoff.” 

Pressfield goes on to mention some specific addictions, none of them surprising, especially one we’re all familiar with these days: distraction. We talk about how we just can’t stop checking Facebook or ponder why we know who the Kardashians are, but even these superficial protestations belie our priorities. For me, checking Facebook is the embodiment of the phrase “repetition without progress”.

This section ends with some musing over the pain of being human, and again Pressfield’s wording gives me some trouble because I don’t think of the struggle of life in terms of an “upper realm” that I cannot reach, not exactly. Or maybe I am thinking about it this way without this particular Platonic phrasing, because when I write, I do glimpse something else, something Other, that exists outside my paltry experience of reality. His words left me wanting a more practical metaphor, but perhaps I should try seeing it his way for a little while. I did like this quote: 

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways — by transcending it or by anesthetizing it…. The artist takes a different tack. She tries to reach the upper realm not by chemicals but by labor and love.” 

Labour and love. Now these words I like.