I’m remembering a post I wrote over two and a half years ago. It’s the post that my friend Corvus brings up whenever anyone asks how he met me, as I was responding to his own musings as to why there aren’t very many games that explore themes of isolation by pointing out that, well, several of mine do, and hey, maybe he’d be interested.  Two and a half years later, I’ve just released my biggest project of the intervening time period, where the theme of isolation is not only present, but so prominently centre stage that it’s practically yelling in your face about how it’s so lonely and nobody loves it and won’t you please give the game a hug, already?
I’m sure people who’ve played the game have noticed this theme, both in text and in subtext. Charlotte is a lonely person, but in a way, she brings it upon herself by constantly rationalising her aloneness, in an “it could be worse” sort of way. There’s also the argument that she doesn’t really know how not to be lonely. And then there are the things the game will and will not allow you to do, so you’re essentially stuck in Charlotte’s limited thought patterns, only able to say or do the things that she herself would. I wonder how many people noticed that none of the characters touch one another as they converse — there’s a reason for that beyond the fact that I’m too lazy to animate them doing so. Even in scenes where Charlotte expresses her feelings for who she’s talking to, there’s a certain stilted awkwardness in her delivery.
The game is obviously about me, but it isn’t “based on a true story” so much as “based on real feelings”, up to and including the fact that any solitary creative pursuit is isolating by its very nature, and it takes people of a certain personality type to be able to thrive in that mode of work for extended periods of time. And now that the bulk of said work is done, I find myself wanting to crawl out of my metaphorical cave and experience the outside world again. In a way, as with every game I’ve worked on, I created it with the hope of connecting with other people who share these feelings of isolation, bringing about a sense of “we’re all lonely together, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all”. It is, after all, comforting to know it’s not just me.
Still, I can’t deny the fact that the game itself is intended as a single player experience; in the era of so-called social games, this is turning out to be more and more of a rarity, it seems. At PAX, I was asked by at least one person whether I could include social networking features in my game, and my gut reaction was hostile rejection of the idea. I rationalised this because it would dilute the message, though there is also a valid point that maybe I’m afraid to “open” my game worlds to the public, and allow players to be creators and not just observers. Some would call me a control freak. I would rather humbly suggest that designing multiplayer games is a whole other skill set in which I don’t have all that much experience.
That said, it warms the cockles of my heart to hear anecdotes of people playing the game together with their loved ones, interacting with it almost like they would a movie. This effect has been even more amplified when I’ve given demos of the game, watching people yell out suggestions for what things to try next. It’s made me think that in the future, I’d like to do screenings of the full game; I even have ideas for a public art installation featuring scenes from it. So perhaps there is a social element to this game after all; just not the sort that’s “trendy” at the moment.
- Incidentally, I’m kind of embarrassed by the tone of that post, which reads as way more smug and sarcastic than I’d like it to. Truth be told, I was too scared to just send Corvus a polite, friendly e-mail. I hope he’s able to forgive me for that. ↩
There’s also nothing wrong with saying, hey, the story I have to tell here is necessarily focused through a single protagonist. The whole meaning of the story would be different if it were even possible to access the story-verse from someone else’s perspective — to play Trevin, say, or one of the side characters, or even one of the alternate Charlottes.
That doesn’t mean that players have to be alone when they’re playing it, as you point out.
There’s nothing to forgive. And if there had been, finding your games as a result of that post was more than enough to compensate!
Not to mention the resulting friendship.
You might appreciate the following Sartre quote. I don’t really buy into it wholeheartedly, but it is well phrased and nice sounding.
Emily: Very true. I had, in fact, thought about how different the story would be if Trevin were the playable character. Turns out, it wasn’t the story I was most interested in portraying.
Corvus: Thank you.
juv3nal: Yes, there is definitely some truth to that quote. Thanks for sharing.
Emily is right. You can’t really make a social game out of LFB without making it a completely different entity. Nice idea, and very much ‘what the kids are into’ these days, but really, the story you told is so very much about Charlotte and her awkward life, and bringing more than just the spiritual sidekick asides into it would have distorted that.
Maybe the problem is, to so many people these days, extolling the virtues of isolationism sounds like singing the praises of masturbation; virtually everyone does it, but it’s not something to crow about. Certainly not to one’s parents (unless, you know, they start it first. Talk about your awkward moments).
That said, perhaps you should start giving some thought to a concept that actually does actively pursue this idea of cooperation over isolation. It may be part of what you’re looking for, dear. A project to reflect your newly stated goal, so to speak. Not necessarily something to start on right away, but something to think about. It might, in fact, be part of the growth you’re searching for.
It also occurs to me that I owe you some game art, because a game that was very much about cooperation over isolation was Stage!. Interesting how that came about, given that it was a very swift melding of two aesthetics into one concept. I’m definitely not saying Stage! is the answer, but it might be nice to get that sorted out while you’re waiting for your next project to arrive.
I was going to object to that, but then I realised that you’re right, and that this is even part of the reason why I can’t seem to produce a second adventure game.
Wow! if I say so myself. So it just isn’t me. Phew! what a relief to know that. I have yet to play the game as while I have downloaded the source, I have to still compile it, things to do on a week-end.
I read through the above and couple of other posts and some ideas/points to make in a randomish manner:-
a. Its not just about ‘what the kids are into’ but its about co-operation and not reinventing the wheel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinventing_the_wheel and standing on the shoulder of giants http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_on_the_shoulders_of_giants
Think if you had to make also a game engine as well. I do know that people were saying in slightly other context but yes, if it any game can be made network-friendly why not.
b. This leads directly to the second-point. While I don’t know what your thoughts on FOSS are, you should check out opengameart.org to see some interesting games, ideas and game art. While perhaps its not at the level of la Adventuregamers in production values (yet) it more than makes up for it in the content. Maybe you can borrow some art/ideas from there or/and contribute over there as well.