Monday, April 28, 2014

Young Proofreader Report

Over the past week and a half, we have had young proofreaders, age 10-14, looking through Dangers Untold to make sure that the game makes sense for people of that age.

The other day, I received this report from one of the kid's dads. It made my day. (I also received some notes from his daughter about the game, which I am studying VERY seriously.)

"My 11 year old daughter, Katie, participated in proofreading Dangers Untold, a LARP about 'Heroic Girls and their Adventures' (based on stories like Labyrinth) by Shoshana Kessock and Josh T Jordan. It's been a lot of fun watching her reactions.

"She's played a couple tabletop RPGs (mainly Dungeon World) and asks me frequently to play. But while she was reading Dangers Untold, she was so excited she couldn't sit still. Every couple minutes she wanted to tell me all about something in the game. She read the game through cover to cover twice in the first night with a notebook by her side to take notes to give as feedback.

"The next day, she took a print-out of the game to school and got some of her friends to play through several scenes during every recess that day. And for the last hour she's been playing a (probably very simplified) version with her 3 year old brother, trying to get him to practice counting to get past challenges. It's been great seeing her enthusiasm."

Photo courtesy of Packer Communication, and is not actually a photo of gameplay. Used by permission.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Interactive Fiction

Medium matters. You know this for a fact if you've ever met a great author who isn't such a great speaker, or a storyteller whose written work just doesn't have the same charm. You certainly know it if you're a storyteller yourself; maybe your idea for a graphic novel wouldn't work in prose, or your epic poem can only be appreciated when set to music. For every medium, there are stories that couldn’t be told in any other way. That's why I'm always eager to talk about Interactive Fiction to anyone who will listen. Interactive Fiction is a new way of crafting stories, barely out of its infancy, yet supremely accessible and delightfully diverse - what about that isn't exciting?
To call a work of fiction "interactive" merely means that some aspect of it may be determined by the reader. The Choose Your Own Adventure series of books is an obvious example. While that format lives on, the majority of Interactive Fiction being produced today is digital. Such works are often categorized as games. In fact, the earliest examples of what is now considered IF were designed to be computer games. I won't waste words trying to define categories. Suffice it to say that I have heard pieces of IF dismissed as "just games" and "not really games" with equal derision.
More satisfying than drawing borders around a medium is celebrating the spectacular variety within it. IF includes everything, from the highest fantasy to the most intimate memoir. Acclaimed works range from esoteric poetry to absolute smut. I can’t even begin to show just how wide-ranging IF really is. The first piece of interactive fiction, written in 1975, was about exploring a cave. Yesterday I read a western about trying to find one’s place in queer communities. Considering the youth of the medium, it’s incredible that it’s been explored in so many ways.
That diversity is largely due to the accessibility of digital IF. Digital media are inherently easier to share than physical ones, but the recent development of a tool called Twine has changed the landscape of digital fiction entirely. The nature of that change has been written about elsewhere by folks who know more about it than I do, but author and game designer Anna Anthropy summed it up best: “If you can write a story, you can make a Twine game.” Pieces of IF made in Twine are browser-based, and require no specialized software to read. Sites like allow an author to make their piece instantly available online. That’s about as accessible as it gets.
When a medium of expression becomes so widely available, lots of different folks get their hands on it, especially folks whose stories have been shut out of existing media. For example, some of the best pieces of IF were written by women. I mean trans women, women of colour, working-class women, women who are kinky, women who are living with chronic illnesses. What makes me really excited about the medium is that it’s a place where marginalized voices not only exist – they shine. They win awards. People whose stories are not being told anywhere else are telling them right now, in new ways, in a format you can get your hands on right now. What part of that isn’t exciting?
There’s something more than accessibility drawing oft-excluded voices to Interactive Fiction. Maybe it’s the second-person perspective, used so rarely outside of IF and so often within it. Maybe it’s that when you have a say in the outcome of a narrative, it becomes partially yours. When immersed in a good piece of IF, you can live someone else’s life. You can dream someone else’s dreams. For those whose experiences are ignored, whose dreams are denied, it’s a powerful opportunity to reach out to others.
I believe that people want to understand each other. Certainly we want to be understood. That’s why we communicate, and what is storytelling if not a form of communication? Now more than ever, Interactive Fiction is an abundant medium, rich with engaging stories from authors you might never otherwise have heard from. Jump in.
Alex Roberts is a writer of words and doer of stuff. You can follower on Twitter @muscularpikachu or find her website here.

Header Image by Brad Flickinger

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Game Duets

I like the idea of two games that work well together. Games with shared worlds that tell related but distinct stories. Two complete games that can be played separately, but are meant to be played back to back or even at the same time! I call these pairings Game Duets. That's what I'm trying to do with Mask and Crown.
But I might like Game Duets even better if the two games were made by separate designers. I think that the storytelling game community could make some really interesting pairings. And this would give us an excuse to collaborate with another designer we like.
What Game Duets would you like to see? What would you like to make? Who would you work with?
A generation ship duet with an alien diplomacy game by Joshua A.C. Newman and a survival horror game by Rafael Chandler? A kindergarten playground duet with jungle gym board game by Daniel Solis and LARP about making friends with the new kid by Emily Care Boss?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Dreaded Love Triangle

By S. E. Zbasnik

So, you’ve got a great YA dystopian idea. Perhaps all of humanity has been wiped out by a nefarious disease carried by hamsters so the hope of the species rests upon the backs of sixteen to nineteen year olds who are immune to the rodentia dementia. You have sketches of the insane clothing all the half hamster overlord slave drivers wear. You have your plucky heroine who is sarcastic and knows her way around a weapon. (But only with the girlier weapons, like a bow or magic or a sharpened eyelash curler. Swords are for boys.)

Now all you have to do is pick a love interest, but the brooding bad boy weregerbil and the sensitive but not abusive clone of her best friend growing up are both good options. Why not do both?

You have just entered the dreaded Love Triangle and your sanity may never be seen again.

What’s the big deal about love triangles? Out of all the shapes triangles are one of the easiest to draw and give us terrible hypotenuse hippopotamus jokes. Let us break down the love triangle.

At the top you have your Mary Sue, I mean plucky heroine who is in no way a reflection of the author. On the left is the brooding bad boy who is either an emotionally abusive asshole that should be giving girls red flags instead of the vapors or a bland kid who owns a leather jacket. And the final dot in this triangle is the nice guy, the best friend, the one who’s there to take shit because this story needs to be stretched to a trilogy and we can’t all jam in cannibalistic teddy bears. More than likely this last one is also an emotionally abusive asshole who has a closet full of fedoras and blames over 50% of the population for his failure at relationships, but he’s supposed to be the safe choice.

I often ask myself why this is called a triangle. In order to be a true love triangle Mary Sue should say be madly in love with Bad Boy, Nice Guy is hopelessly addicted to Mary Sue, but Bad Boy’s only got eyes for Nice Guy. (And this is not only an acceptable love triangle, it is highly encouraged) The classic way is more like a Love Ray, but then we’re getting into Flash Gordon territory.

What is it about love triangles that make them so damn detrimental to female characters? No matter how many “Plucky heroine saves the day,” “Mary Sue hates makeup and dresses,” “Author avatar is clumsy and bad at sports but everyone loves her anyway” you throw in, introducing a love triangle reduces whatever insurmountable obstacles facing her down to “Do you want to be tied to guy 1 or guy 2?” Make sure to string both along because all love triangle heroines have a heart of ice and the inability to communicate with their twu wuv.

The Love Triangle also persists upon this precarious notion that THERE IS NOT A SINGLE OTHER PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE! Boy 1 loves girl, but she does not care for him. Rather than admitting defeat, eating a tub of cookie dough and firing up OKCupid, Boy 1 proceeds to pursue girl despite neon blazing speck of evidence that she wants nothing to do with him. There are times as well when the top stone in this pyramid would do well to remember there are another three billion or so people you can choose from. After all the will they/won’t they, miscommunications, he ran over your dog but it’s okay because the dog was secretly satan, the author has to throw out to keep the story going it seems the most logical conclusion is for the heroine to move far away and swear off dating for a year or two.

But to have a heroine flapping about unattached, that is unacceptable!

It’s a disturbingly old school of thought that’s woven into the tapestry of the love triangle. Never once is the idea of the girl being allowed to continue her story unattached entertained. Perhaps as part of a joke, or the need for a moments drama™ before “Bad Boy in Leather Pants that are Swampier than Florida in Summer” returns to rescue her; but no one is serious. All women need to be chained to a man otherwise they’ll wind up shriveled old husks clinging to a cat’s skeleton as they rock themselves to sleep at the spinster age of 32.

Due to the fact that humanity is only about 25-30% female, when it comes time for the romance subplot there aren’t a lot of extra women flapping about.  Men have to fight over the few crumbs left and it stands to reason that…what’s that you say? Humanity is actually more 51:49% Female to Male? Well, that’s just stupid. Look at almost any group in tv, books, or in movies and you’ll find one to two white boys, an obligatory multi-racial boy, and one girl. We’ll put up with one girl’s voice, as long as it can easily be vetoed by another two to three boys.

Having one female character there to represent the entire population of women means that it is imperative she makes the right choice when it comes to love. If she fails in her quest to fulfill her female duties of being the prize for the favorite hero, then why even bother having a female at all? They’re always bleeding all over the place. (This is also why I hate the one woman in a sea of testosterone in action movies. She’s there as either a macguffin to get fridged or a toy for the hero so we can have a love scene. Once that’s over, she’s as useful to the plot as the Maltese falcon.)

So, how does one combat the Love Triangle? You could start by putting more women in your world. Pick up a coin, flip it, heads your character’s a girl, tails it’s a boy. Now you have a balance that reflects the real world instead of the terrifyingly bright white land in Media World.  Also, entertain the idea that some people at times in their lives don’t want or need a relationship. There are humans who are quite content to be with friends as they save the world from land octopi, others that have been hurt and would not logically pursue one much less two love interests, and I’d mention asexuals but we’re still working on getting more than 30% women. Baby steps.

Relationships are simplistically complicated and complicatedly simple. The human experience is far more exotic and fascinating than falling back to the cliché love triangle. If you really can’t decide between the bad boy or the nice guy why not choose both and celebrate with a huge orgy? Yub nub, indeed.

S. E. Zbasnik has a book coming out this May called The King’s Blood. It’s got some magic, it’s got some witches, it’s got a black heroine in a medieval setting, and it has more puns per cubic meter than a clown car.

Available at Amazon or Lulu

Check out the goodreads page for more information.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Call for Tween Proofreaders

Our live-action game about a heroic girl, Dangers Untold, is nearing its final form. We're looking for tween readers to read the current version of the text and help us find confusing, boring, or strangely written parts. We want the game to be easy to learn for everyone 12 years old and older. 

Are you a 10-14 year old reader who would like to help by proofreading Dangers Untold? Are you the parent or friend of a tween reader? PLEASE email us at (with the permission of a parent or guardian.) I will send you an early version of the game as a pdf.

Any tween proofreader who sends us her or his thoughts on the game by April 24th will receive a special thanks in the book when we publish Dangers Untold.

This call will be open until April 17th. Email us by then in order to become one of our proofreaders.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tell Me Another is coming to Patreon!

Many of you know that I have a podcast called Tell Me Another. If this is news to you, go check it out!

This week, I'm setting up a Patreon campaign so that other folks can help support the show. Here's a little information about the campaign and the show...

I've always loved stories. Last year, I started interviewing professional storytellers in order to learn how they approach their work. I believe that we have something to learn from each other, even if we don't work in the same medium. My preacher friends have a lot to learn from stand-up comedians. RPG designers have a lot to learn from novelists. And we could all learn a little something from poets.

My name is Josh T. Jordan and I'm the host of Tell Me Another. Tell Me Another is a podcast about all kinds of storytellers and the stories they tell. Each week we interview a professional storyteller about his or her area of expertise, from writing comics to poetry to standup comedy. With your help, I'd like to take the show to the next level. I'd like to invest in professional audio equipment, release episodes more often, and travel to interview some guests face-to-face.

And as a thank you for those of you who support the show, here is, for no particular reason, a gif of my son doing the hot dog dance.