Looking at a film synopsis through game writing eyes

Yesterday I saw news of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film “Book of Life” (he is the producer, and Jorge Gutierrez the director). The film looks amazingly beautiful, and a treat of a story. But something struck me when I read the synopsis, and I’m surprised by the thought. The official synopsis is as follows:

THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future. [IMDb]

What struck me as strange is that I didn’t see the protagonist’s conflict of being torn between family expectations and following his heart as being an evenly weighted dilemma. I can see how that can work in a story I’m watching or reading, and I have written my own stories with such a quandary. I just found this time I looked at the predicament and thought that would never work in a game. Well, that isn’t true. It can, but it doesn’t have the immediate strength of a true dilemma. I mentioned the importance of this notion in an article I wrote on emotion in games:

There shouldn’t be one option that is right or better than the others. The game One Choice by Awkward Silence Games displays this edict well. In One Choice, you’re a scientist who, along with your team, has accidently created a pathogen that is killing all living cells on Earth. The game takes place in the last six days on Earth. You make choices about how to spend these last few days: spend time with your family, work on a cure, or go nuts? I kept being offered these options, and it wasn’t cut and dry for me. I would make a decision, and then I would feel guilty or think that another option was better for me and try again. Either way, whatever I did, someone lost with every decision I made, and I didn’t get any second chances.

One of the things Chris Crawford writes about in his book on interactive storytelling for instance, is how important it is for the choices we offer players to be equally meaningful:  ‘a large set of dramatically significant, closely balanced choices for the player’. If it is obvious which choice the player should make, then they aren’t feeling anything. Family expectations, while certainly a real issue for many, just seems like a weaker option compared to the protagonist wanting to follow his heart. (Of course it won’t be that cut and dry in the film. I presume the story will weave its way to gaining family acceptance through his own path or some other turn where both paths are appeased.)

But how is following your heart on equal footing as meeting your family expectations? There needs to be something else in there to ground the dilemma. Honouring the spirit of his forefathers versus following his heart perhaps? Both need to have a cost, a sacrifice to them, that pulls at his identity or sense of being.

None of these observations mean the film story won’t work. I’m sure it is a wonderful film. Also I want to note too that games don’t have to be a series of interesting choices, and Guillermo is no stranger to videogames or transmedia. Instead, perhaps the issue is with marketing language. While marketers promoting the film (and the logic of industry pitching) are film-centric — working with the conventions of film only — the audience is not. Narrative is not the only primary literacy now. So the language used to describe phenomena needs to evolve accordingly.

Check out this amazing trailer if you haven’t seen it, and let me whatever thoughts you may have…

Also on:

I am a Citizen of the IndieWeb! :D

For a while now I have found it frustrating searching through my Facebook feed to find posts and discussions. Facebook has been my main networking channel for a while now, more than Twitter this past year or so. But everything I put in there is easily lost, and it is really hard to get it out. It isn’t my space.

I’m keen to write more again — especially to share random thoughts on my projects (a creator’s log/dev diary). A blog is better for this and will reach people outside of my network. To be frank, considering the algorithms of Facebook and the serendipity of Twitter, blog posts may reach more people IN my networks too.

I, like many people have been looking out for a new social network. But another social network will not solve the problem. And neither will leaving social media. Then I stumbled on something.

Well I didn’t quite stumble, I went looking for it. I went to someone I know will have his finger on the pulse of what the vanguard-tech-scene-with-a-conscience is doing. Kevin Marks. I met Kevin in 2009 at the ultra secret O’Reilly Social Web FOO Camp. Yep, we camped on the O’Reilly grounds in Sebastopol, California. Kevin and I bonded immediately and caught up at tech events around the world. The following year we had a great conversation together over at TummelVision, and he advised me on the early tech ideas for my web audio adventure system. But back to the point. I was looking around at Kevin on the web, and came across this presentation he gave at LeWeb: “the web that will win“.

I found myself nodding at his comments. Yes, I remember when I used to blog! I remember my Technorati ranking peaking at times. And I’m well aware that I no-longer blog and instead use social networks as the places I post my primary original content. Then I read this:

The IndieWeb is a group of people who recognise that the silos are important for connecting – but you should have your own site. Don’t replace those tools, but use them to connect the rest of the web.

And I got it! Right! I don’t have to leave social networks. I just need to post all my content on my own blog and syndicate it out. So I don’t lose it. I control it. And it is easily archived, and found, and so on. I get it!

But there is more. You don’t just post to your own site. You don’t just syndicate. You still utilise social networks (and hang out there if you want). But even further to this: all the comments that happen around the web come back to your blog.

I am in. I have spent a few hours installing plugins and I have some more tweaking to do. This is my first post using the tech of the #IndieWeb and I’m not sure if it will work (and there is more updating of my pages I need to do here too). But by golly I am excited and will make it happen. I’m super keen to explore posting more and playing with post titles that work in syndication and everything that goes with this approach [addendum: the Social plugin I'm using gives you the opportunity to write what comes before your link so the title doesn't matter at all -- another cool thing]. If you’re interested too, check out the links below. Ping me if you have any thoughts! :D

Screen shot 2014-07-02 at 7.44.48 PM

Some articles on the IndieWeb:

2013 Wrap Up!

It seems I’ve now got to the point where I do one blog post a year, rather than one summary post a year! I’ve been busy, and sharing through social media primarily.

This year has been a big one for me. A big one that grew out of a horrible year previously. In 2012 I had some great things happen, but in my personal life things were quite bad. Perhaps one day in 10 years I’ll share what actually happened. But for now I’ll just say things got so bad I decided at the end of 2012 that I never want to live through what I did ever again. So I made drastic changes. I researched and understood a lot more about how other certain people operate; I altered how I viewed myself and consistently try to see things for the better; I made sweeping changes to who I spent time with and even moved interstate. Things have gone so much better for me in 2013 and this is in no small part because of the personal changes I have been diligent in making. 


  • In Feb I released my first little phone street experience at Pop Up Playground’s Fresh Air Festival. It is a single-person phone experience I made after the project I was commissioned to do last year for the Melb Writers Festival was cancelled. The design goal for me was to create a scalable locative experience. I wanted to create an experience that gets people engaging with their environment (streets) and can be played in any city in the world. Usually street experiences are site-specific. The street story “Guardians of Hidden Universes” played well, but one of the things I discovered was that it perhaps would have worked better to design it for the home rather than the street. Without the imperative of a known thematic like zombies or spies or vampires etc, a new/unknown storyworld that requires you to perhaps make a fool of yourself in public (which you don’t) is too much of a deterrent.
  • During Feb I also ran my crowdfunding campaign for my app AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS. My ace peers around the world came to my aid and supported the campaign to help me fund the final production. I really cannot thank you all enough – thank you so much for not only putting funds down but for all of the effort you put into promoting the campaign. I learned heaps during this campaign. I share my strategies in my Creator’s Log, and will introduce some initiatives next year inspired by what I learned. Then I went straight into production.
  • During production of AUTHENTIC, the Australia Council for the Arts and QUT awarded me the first Digital Writing Residency at The Cube, QUT. My project, “Robot University“, is a 3D installation using touch-screens and Kinects to take visitors to the venue through interactions with robots from the future. We had 6 months to complete the project and it will be launched to the public end Feb/early March next year (2014). I wrote, designed, project managed, and directed the project with a great team. A short documentary of the project will also be launched next year. I loved creating this digital work that involves four types of interaction: dialogue selection; UI interaction; touch-screen interaction with body parts; and gesture interaction. I share insights into how this created at the dev blog linked on the name above.
  • Ken Eklund (the creator of World Without Oil) and Annette Mees (Agency of Coney) invited me to be a writer in their experiment in narrative play: “Horas Perditam“. I wrote live stories based on the inspiration my ‘threaders’ gave me on the streets of London. I had a great time, and was invited back to create an online digital story inspired by the experience for their forthcoming magazine.
  • Sayraphim Lothian invited me to be a writer on her guerilla kindness street art project “Sharing Ink. I was given a hand-made journal in which to write a call-to-action for a stranger to write in and so on. It was left for someone to stumble on in the street. I wrote a piece that encouraged the finder to enter their own moment they want to “leave behind”. They then leave it at a place that is significant for the “leaving behind” moment for a stranger to find. I enjoyed designing the whole process of finding, writing, and leaving as a cathartic ritual.
  • Jonathan Parsons commissioned me to write a speech for an android. Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Geminoid HI-4 was in Brisbane for Robotronica I wrote the speech the Geminoid HI-4 gave at the evening party where it introduced other robots and a band. Besides OMG I WROTE A SPEECH FOR A ROBOT, it was fascinating thinking about how I could make sure pauses happen at the right time. Writing humour for a robot isn’t easy, but I had a ball and it went down really well! I wish I had a video of it…
  • Chris Moore and Sean Redmond invited me to write a digital fiction for the inaugural edition of their Deletion Science Fiction Forum. I wrote a short story, “Deletions, and other pleasures“, set in a world where robots are given psychological and physiological health assistance through deleting things. I found the concept of helping via deletion an interesting idea and enjoyed playing with the various scenarios this may entail. I love having more than text in my works and so played with the Zeega platform.
  • Earlier in the year, inspired by a game jam I didn’t have time to participate in, I came up with the idea of a spy game. I started conceiving it as a digital + live game, then I changed it to be a card + live festival game, and am now developing the take home card game version. Every playtest has gone really well. Players respond to this game with a lot of laughter. It just seems to work. There is tweaking of course, but it is the simplest of projects I’ve worked on (it is just pure mechanics in a theme). The festival game version debuted at Pop Up Playground’s This Is A Door festival, and the card game version is currently in production. “Pop Up Spy Academy” is an improvisational storytelling party game for 5-18 players. You and your team members are training to be spies at an underfunded spy academy. You are given missions to complete doing your best without spy gadgets and trainers.
  • And then of course the release that took a long time coming: the (soft) launch of my web audio adventure “AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS“. It is surreal and wonderful to have it done and out there now. Wow! I have also been awarded funding by Screen Australia to market and port the app, and so will try and go out with more of a splash next year. But already I have had players email me saying they really enjoyed the experience and even some asking for more episodes! Quite surreal. I have done a lot of interviews and share a lot of the process in my Creator’s Log, so more info is around! But as a summary of the year, I did it. I created something I wanted to do without any creative limitations (such as client requirements etc). I also got to collaborate with wonderful people this year. I want more of this to happen next year.






Next year I have a few things planned. I will be doing a launch around the new version of the AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS app; I will be releasing my party card game Pop Up Spy Academy; I will be running an ‘Interactive Narrative Writers Room’ here in Brisbane (more details soon); I will be running the peer residential for storytellers working in tech with Lance Weiler ‘Forward Slash Story‘ in the USA (applications due 6th Jan!); I will be launching a new peer recommendation site I’ve been working on with Dan Donahoo; and the “Robot University” installation will launched at The Cube (wohoo!). These are the things for certain so far…Either way, I plan to have even more fun this year and to keep working on lots of interesting creative projects. See you there!