pseudopodium
. . . Marc Laidlaw

. . .

"Go on, our glory, go; know better fates."

The last time I saw Marc Laidlaw was when he worked at the law office and I worked at -- jeez, was it Aeneid? ("It's the name of a Greek god," explained the publicist in the neighboring cubicle.) No, it was earlier, because it was around the same time he said, "weird writers form mutual admiration societies in which we can sit around and admire each other's handicaps." During that lunch, though, Laidlaw seemed more interested in the games company he'd covered for Wired and the game he was novelizing.

Yesterday, I caught up with what he's been doing for the past five years:

He spotted a promising path and took it.

Which just sounds like good sense, or a chapter from Everything I Need to Know I Learned in First-Person Shooters. But good sense is a rare thing and few its acolytes.

 
Q: Do you miss your days as a novelist?
I don't miss the lifestyle that accompanied being a novelist, which can be described as: Work all day as a bored and frustrated administrative assistant or word processor or legal secretary, then come home and try to summon some creativity with the last dregs of my energy, late at night. I miss writing novels, and I'm planning to do more of them. But I think I'd rather be happy all day and not write novels than suffer all day and hope I can funnel my misery into a book.

An art form alive enough to make a living at, rather than one reliant on the sacrifices and squabbles of role-playing volunteers; too new, wet, squirming, and squalling to attract serious critical notice.... Aside from any practical considerations, such a path must hold a special glow for any historian of comics, or pop music, or movies, or pulp genres, such as fiction.

Myself, I'm too much a natural-born critic to join him on it -- as I've had frequent occasion to admit, we only join a party after it ends -- but I'm enough of a historian to appreciate the glow. And I'm heartened by what Laidlaw wants to bring over from his last art form: "mood, character, dramatic rhythm and pacing"; -- and by what he doesn't: "For me, the game design process is already granular enough. I don't want to make plot one of those elements."

'Cause it's not like narrative is a precious waif to be coddled on its sickbed: narrative is something we can't escape. And whenever I've been promised ambitious storytelling in hypertext or interactive multimedia or dynamic websites, whether by a heartwarming NPRish family chronicler or by a pin-cushioned anorexic art-school outlaw, it's always been something cohered only by triteness, like some self-congratulatory version of Stars on 45.

 
One of the reasons I moved into game design was because I wanted some new tools to play with, and new problems to think about. Sometimes the tools are useful for telling stories; sometimes they're useful for building traps or puzzles or exciting combat sequences. When I can figure out how to do all those things at the same time, it's most gratifying.

I am actually wary of games that promise a compelling story. I figure it's a warning that I might have to look even harder for the fun.

Although two or three years old, this is the cheeriest news I've heard about anyone for a while, so I thought I'd pass it along.

 

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Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.