So earlier today outside the GDC/IGF in San Francisco, an awesome and amazing thing happened called Lost Levels. It was an free unconference for anyone to attend, talk or do something at. It sounded amazing and I was stuck in London doing admin/being in the pub. So even though I couldn’t be there, I gave someone else some words of mine to say at Lost Levels.
These are the early thoughts of an idea that has been playing around in my head for a few months that I really needed a reason to get them paper for. They are rough sketches and any thoughts on them would be much appreciated. Enjoy!
The Huge Unknowable Mess In Your Head
Hello Lost Levels, I’m either at work or on a bus in London right now, I might even be asleep so here are some words about some things read out by Jon who is saying this right now. Lovely day for this isn’t it? This is a slippery beast of an idea I’ve only just started wrestling with so please forgive the roughness.
Firstly I want to talk about a musician and writer. He’s called Adam Gnade and he writes songs/books/novellas/zines/poems about his life, his farm, his friends and their lives. These are the stories of their hopes, fears, failures, successes, stories about driving across the dark night to see each other, about strangers in bars and about everything in their day to day existences. All these stories are told across all the different forms that he chooses. It’s a dizzying, bewildering array of stories, fragments, moments of all these people’s lives. The thing that is really fucking beautiful about his work is that no matter how much you read, listen and explore the world he offers up you never see it all. You’ll never understand it all because you aren’t living those lives, just as he doesn’t understand all he writes about himself or those he knows. Just as those in his stories don’t understand the whole picture of the lives they are leading. It’s a grand unfinishable project.
This is that dark unknowable mass in your head. It’s a story. It might be the story of you and your friends, it might be a story about a made up person. All I know is this story is most likely bigger than 1 project. Most stories are. Some are tiny fragments but they are from something bigger. All my stories are about running away.
We still mostly make games as a single entity. Finish it and move on. If it does well or we enjoyed making it, we make a sequel. It might become a franchise or god forbid an IP. But mostly these games, even when connected, are separate. They are trapped in a void, trapped in the structures we always use. Those 3 acts and character arcs and peril/resolution. Once one ends the next begins.
I want to see a series of ‘experiences’ that slip between the cracks. That move between poems, games, music, zines, novels, short stories, performance, theatre & film. Stories that span all these and that we can never fully grasp. I want to see a life mapped out in as many forms as it takes. I would love to see a game that is just an afternoon in the grand scheme of it’s creators vision. That is just a few fleeting moments that are chokingly beautiful that slot into a structure that can only be seen from space. An afternoon from a life, a whole life you can explore.
Performance makers Forced Entertainment say their work is created by an ongoing process of answering questions. When they finish one performance project they look at what questions are left unanswered with that work and they use these as the basis for the next thing they create. Through this they have created 25 years of work that slips between form, stories and time. There is a line between these works but it’s blurred, difficult to find and if you found it, chances are you that you’d be more confused than you started. The works exist as spate entities but they are interlinked in ways that franchises and the traditional sequel format can’t understand.
Some games feels close to this at the moment, games like ICO/Shadow Of The Colossus. Games that are connected, share themes and moods. Games that are entwined together. Games that even after playing you aren’t quite sure of the cross overs between them . The earlier works by Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture feel like they fit as well. The ending of Flower, Sun & Rain that suddenly loops it back into the world of The Silver Case and the two come smashing together like when a character from Gnade’s short novel The Darkness To The West turns up in a song he wrote 3 years earlier or when you find out an old love is having a baby with your best friend from school. Beautiful unexpected moments that can only arise from a new way of looking, structuring and understanding stories. That moves beyond easily resolved plots and neat structures. Resolutions are nice but they are almost non-existent in the real world and if we want our games and the stories they tell to truly reflect us then we need a new way of shaping/smashing/viewing the mirror.