Saturday, DIY DAYS comes to NYC, bringing with it filmmakers, game designers, techies, designers, and entrepreneurs — but mostly it brings a tremendous community that collides where stories begin, are discovered, and get shared. Chuck Wendig speaks so well of why we needs this crash point, it’s safe to bet that a full day of such immersion will be nothing short of mindblowing. Hell, why settle for inspiration. Chuck shares after the break.
My Dad used to play softball. I still have his jersey, still have the newspaper clippings.
But the newspaper clippings never told the whole story, and the jersey is just a trophy, just a marker of times past. The real stories came out at the bar afterward. The whole team would head out to a drinking hole called the Buttonwood. They’d bring their families. And for hours they’d drink and recreate the game in a way that went beyond the RBIs, the stolen bases, the errors.
Every player on the team had his own piece of the story to add to the pile because each had different vantage points, different experiences. The way one batter flipped my Dad off as he pitched. The way a ball stung a glove or the wall it rolled along the foul line like a marble along a table’s edge. Was one player drunk? Another, sick? Maybe the team was a rival team, like Kelly’s bar. Maybe the win was sweeter for that, or the loss a bigger tragedy.
The team drank, told their stories. Sometimes I listened. Other times, I went over to the video games and played Arkanoid with my sister, or played a round of pinball. Even there, we had stories to tell: “The ball got stuck in the upper corner of the table.” Or, “I just beat a total stranger’s high score.” Little stories, but they felt epic in their own way. Herculean triumphs. Sisyphean shortfalls.
When we read a book or watch a movie, we’re gathering around the firelight and letting a storyteller tell us his or her story. It’s their world; we’re just looking in. It isn’t our story that matters, and that’s okay.
But with games, it’s our story that matters. And every game affords us the opportunity to experience a new story. Chess is a game that has no overt narrative and yet in every match, a new narrative is born: the ebb-and-flow, the peaks-and-valleys, the two factions warring for dominance over what might be a game board, but what might also be two nations, or two sides of an issue, or two halves of the heart.
In every game we play, we are in some sense the protagonists. Doesn’t matter if the protagonist-as-written is someone else (the Monopoly Scotty, Pac-Man, Halo’s Master Chief): what we experience isn’t their story but ultimately and intimately our own. How we move through a game world and how we conquer the challenges presented within are paths as unique as the maze on a fingerprint.
Traditional storytelling seeks to tell the story of the author, the director, the creator.
But storytelling in games is about empowering the player to experience and tell her own narrative.
What a crazy, wonderful thing. The notion that we each see something different, each undergo our own mini-myths and little legends, offers powerful engagement. It puts us at the core of it. And when you see that, you start to realize that games have the power to be more than just time-killers and fun-machines. Games can show us things from unseen perspectives. Games can teach us things we never thought we’d want to learn. Games can even help reflect and affect social change. (Imagine a game that puts us in the midst of the Egypt revolution, or lets us hack our way through the Wisconsin red tape to see the truth.)
Games don’t just shine a light on these stories; they give us the torch and let us see for ourselves.
At DIY Days in New York – this Saturday, March 5th – I’m going to sit down and have a fireside chat with fellow game designer Greg Trefry (of Gigantic Mechanic) about the intersection of game design and storytelling. We’ll take a look at how designers can think about putting the tools in the hands of the players (like giving them a big bucket of LEGO blocks) to put together the stories and experiences they want to tell. Come by the chat.
— Chuck Wendig
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, a screenwriter, and a freelance penmonkey. He is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. www.terribleminds.com