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Ready, Player No. Trying to write a novel here.

I’ve been semi-hiding from my publisher, but she found me:

“I want book three this year…”

Yeah, yeah, so do I, but the fingers just aren’t flying yet. I’ve been creatively hibernating, playing candy crush, and otherwise having conversations with myself. I have a great concept for the next book in the New Royal Mysteries, but I don’t want to spill the details yet. I’ve given the basic summary to the publisher and the art director. We may experiment by creating the cover early in the drafting process. You know, for inspiration, among other things. If I had seen the CRYBABY cover earlier, my imagination would have been well-greased. (see previous sentence for evidence of word-fatigue)

My to-do list, or how Lala writes a novel:

  1. Remember I’m gonna.

  2. Give every character a secret and a cool name.

  3. Explore don’t explain.

  4. Write scene-by-scene.

  5. Baby myself on the daily quota.

The above list is, of course, keyed to my process and may not work for everyone, but process and form are my main preoccupations these days. This may have to do with the fact that for the first time in years, I’m teaching a new course for the first time. ENGH 392: Forms of Fiction. This is a required course in the BFA Creative Writing Fiction track at George Mason University.

The main theme of my section of 392 is adaptation; I’m asking my students to adapt previous work to these assignments:

  1. Comic Book Script

  2. Fan Fiction or modeled story

  3. Micro/Flash Fiction Suite

  4. Last Novel Chapter

  5. Game story or Hybrid fiction

I guess it’s mostly self-explanatory both in terms of what I’ve asked my students to do, as well as the benefits of re-processing their creations. The category that poses the most challenges in terms of learning basic standards is game writing. I ran into some interesting reactions when I tried to find a template for narrative design. The sandbox just isn’t open the way it is for comic books, for example. But I get it. It’s a young form, relatively, and they are still working out things like creative culture and best practices.

I can share with you the class nominations for best stories in games—

  1. Half-life 2: The Forgotten Journey

  2. Final Fantasy VII

  3. Portal 2

  4. Borderlands 2

  5. Injustice 2

  6. The Longest Journey (Hey! I’ve played this one!)

  7. The Walking Dead

  8. Shadow of the Colossus

  9. Bioshock

  10. Bastion

  11. The Stanley Parable

  12. Soma

  13. Doki Doki Literature Club

  14. Spec Ops: The Line

Some of my stablemates at Pandamoon Publishing thought some of the choices on the above list were unexpected, and they recommended I add these:

  1. Legends of Zelda

  2. Freelancer

  3. Bloodbowl

  4. Skyrim

  5. Diablo series

  6. Dragon age: Origins

  7. Hollow Knight

  8. Gone Home

  9. Journey

  10. Mass Effect

  11. Fallen London/Sunless Sea

  12. Zombies! Run

  13. Gabriel Knight (series)

  14. Loom

  15. Monkey Island

  16. King’s Quest

  17. Grim Fandango

  18. Zork

  19. Phantasmagoria

  20. Ripper

  21. Syberia

What amazing stories--you know, the kind that keep you from writing your own? That’s always been at the bottom of my love/hate relationship with games, that they are so absorbing and interactive that they come very close to satisfying in the way that creativity satisfies. I don’t want to give up one for the other, and I’m too lazy to do both. I used to invest quite a lot in point-and-click horror/mystery games, being part of the generation of Mac owners who got hooked on Myst, 7th Guest, or any of the frustrating cd-rom adventure games that Sierra put out in the 90s (I put a couple of those up there, which is why the Pandamoon list looks so old-assed).

These days I only play casual, inexpensive games that are more puzzle than story. That’s right, I like my games trashy and disposable, whereas I’ll only read literary, atmospheric murder mysteries. I don’t think there was any particular point where I stopped spending $60 on a single game, but perhaps I was weaned off the quality stuff when there were fewer and fewer non-shooters being produced for Macs, colliding with the experience of seeing the more-than-occasional student who sacrificed writing for gaming, often coming to class unprepared for anything other than sleeping off a long night of play. I’m aware of the hypocrisy—no one’s wagging a finger at the kid who stayed up till dawn reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, but that’s because the value of reading in a writer’s development is undisputed. The value of gaming as a form of literary development is still being argued. (If you are a member of AWP, I’ll refer you to Julialicia Case’s “Braving the Controller: Charting the Narrative Strategies of Video Games,” where she attempts to school the literary squares on game play as a sophisticated interpretive activity.)

Hence, the final assignment in ENGH 392. I’m trying to pull that playing urge back into the frame of storytelling. I’ve linked game-story to hybrid fiction (students may do one or the other), because both have the immersive urge in common.

Immersion, atmosphere—it’s why I read or write.

I don’t have anything pithy to end with, so I won’t force it. I’d love it if you would let me know your own recommendations for games with great stories.

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