How You Can Help Me

Remember my post where I Am Asking For Your Help? Well, this follow-up post is both late and a long time coming.

I have been insanely busy. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it feels like I’m in a Time War of my very own. I am trying to find that balance between having a life and using my art to support that life. It’s hard. When people tell you that attempting to become a published writer, especially a published writer that makes money off of your creations, they are not exaggerating. I have attempted to get published “legitimately,” and while I have still not ruled it out by any means, and I have one work in particular that I want to send by those channels, there is this one hard fact to consider.

I am working hard to make content and I am not getting paid for it.

Don’t misunderstand. I enjoy writing for Mythic Bios and being given the opportunity to contribute to the other online magazines in which I publish articles. I write much better when I get to focus on the matters of Geek Culture and other areas of interest.

This not about them or any of that. I just can’t ignore the facts. I am on social assistance, and I am working hard to write articles and stories that are not making me any money.

And this has been bothering me for a very long time. To be perfectly honest with you all, I know I’m talented. I know that I have accomplished a great many things in this past year alone and I continue to make myself believe “in as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” which is a far cry from the one or two I barely had energy to concentrate on back in the day, but despite my efforts and my audience I am quite simply not getting paid for any of it.

So I have thought about a solution to this issue. I’ve realized that this is no one’s responsibility but my own and I am now going to take steps to deal with it. The fact of the matter is that throughout my entire life, I’ve never done anything through orthodox channels, and even when I’ve been in established institutions I have had to find my own methods of dealing with them, and creating my own learning path. And now that I’m outside of academia and those established places I realize that I have to apply that same mentality to life. That said, I didn’t even know how begin to deal with life on those terms.

Until now.

Anna Anthropy, through her own quests to support herself and her work, made me aware of a new crowd-funding platform called Patreon. It is essentially an application that allows an artist’s supporters to become their patrons: to donate money to their art. It is a lot like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but while the former are made to support larger projects, Patreon is created to fund artists on a smaller and yet potentially longer term monthly scale.

So now this is the part where I finally get to the point. While Anna Anthropy was the one who lead me to this platform, Amanda Palmer introduced me to the Art of Asking: to the power of crowd-funding, of trusting in the goodwill of your fans, and to simply asking for help.

And here is how you can help me.

I have created a Patreon Profile. I would like you, my loyal friends and Followers to read over what I have written on this Profile and do one of two things: become my Patrons and donate whatever amount of money you feel comfortable paying to my art, or spread word of my art and my Patreon Profile to the people that you know.

I go into a lot of detail in the Profile, so please read it closely, but allow me to clarify a few other matters first. I am not charging money for anyone to view my work on Mythic Bios or anywhere. Aside from the fact that I lack the authority in those other places, I do have the authority to state that Mythic Bios’ content will always be free to the public. If you’d like, think of it as what the name suggests: you are patronizing me (hopefully in the positive sense of the word) for the work that I already do and if you do become my Patrons in addition my Followers you will get to see some Patron-Only work, or be the lucky ones to get a first view of it before I launch it more publicly. And I am also willing to undertake research and creative commissions.

I am not begging you for charity and most of you already know this. I am asking you for the opportunity to work for pay doing something that I love doing and making that connection with you.

Now, this will be a learning process for the both of us. I myself am still figuring out the details with regards to Patreon and it will undoubtedly change over time. Also, I just want to state that if you ever want to stop funding me for whatever reason, you can easily cancel your donations. I am simply hoping for a modest cumulative monthly donation of some kind which I plan to share the results of with you.

The thing is: this is both really hard and very easy to ask this of you. What Amanda Palmer espouses, asking for help, is something that has been ingrained in me ever since I was diagnosed as being learning disabled. The very term “extra help” is indicative of asking. But as I said, I have challenges but I will not beg and if you can’t or don’t want to donate anything to my work I understand and, like I said I hope you will keep following it and let other people know about it and my Patreon.

There has always been a stigma to asking for extra help, or even just asking someone for help in society. But here is where I began to realize the difference. I am not asking a bunch of strangers for change. I am asking you–my friends, peers, colleagues, and loved ones–for help. I am letting go of the negative part of my stubbornness: the pride and the fear of change that does not want to admit weakness or, in this lexicon, vulnerability.

I am trusting, all of you, to help me in some way. Even if it is only in the form of suggestions, questions, concerns, or advice about the contents of my Patreon please let me know and I will treasure what you tell me.

So I am going to re-post a picture I’ve been using for two posts now, and with good reason. This was me looking at the horizon a few years ago: wondering what was going to happen next. And this time, not only am I doing exactly the same thing but I hope to see you all there with me. I will keep putting myself out there. I promise you that. I owe you that. I owe that to myself.

Thank you for supporting me: in any way that you can. You already are.



Matthew Kirshenblatt

Looking Outward

P.S. I am going to pay this attempt at good will forward. Gaming Pixie is an excellent reviewer, graphic artist, site designer, and video game creator. She is one of those that already believes in six impossible things before breakfast. But due to life circumstances, she needs more help than I do at this moment. Please consider donating some money to her art on her website and seeing what she can truly do. Because just as I believe in her, I also believe in all of you. Please encourage her to believe in a seventh impossible thing.

And check out Anna Anthropy’s Patreon as well. She cannot have enough support for the work that she is doing: not only being one of those creating games with her own voice, but advocating the creation of means for other people to do the same.

My First Twine Game: Level-Up

I know that in my last post, I asked for all of your help. And very soon, I am going to show you how you can help me. There is just a little more work to do, but once that is taken care of I will explain everything in my next post this coming Thursday.

But right now, I want to talk about something else in this belated post of mine. This Saturday, at Christine Love’s Twine Workshop during the first-ever WordPlay event, set up by the Hand-Eye Society, I made my first ever Twine story. The reason I call this my first story is because, technically, it is not a game.

So here is what I am going to do. I am going to paste the link of my creation onto Mythic Bios and then, afterwards, I am going to talk about the Creative Process of it a bit. This is my experiment–my first Twine by action if not in planning–and for what it is, I am extremely proud of it. So without further ado, and without images or sounds or other fanfare allow me introduce to all of you, my loyal readers to …


All right, now that you played through it I want to talk about what went on behind it. Basically, a little while ago I had a story sketch in my head that almost–almost–became an entry for Mythic Bios. Really, like a lot of my creative works, it grew from a single sentence. This single sentence formed in my head and I needed to create a home for it. Then I found out, and signed up for Christine Love’s Workshop. If you have been following this Blog for a while, you will know that I have the utmost respect and enthusiasm for Christine’s storytelling and her game-making. So you will understand that I could not allow the opportunity of attending one of her Workshops to pass.

And when I was accepted onto the reservation list, I realized that I wasn’t just going to learn how to make a Twine game. I was going to make one right there, at the Toronto Reference Library, in about little over than an hour.

You have to understand that I generally plan out my stories in advance, or I take a lot of time actually making them. But Christine took the time to talk about the basics of Twine in fifteen minutes and, the next thing I knew, we had five minutes to think of an idea and then the rest of the time to implement it.

And I did.

What you are about to see here is what happens when a world is being processed in your brain for a lot longer than you thought it did. It seems I am almost always world-building in the back of my head: even when I should be doing something else … or especially then.

But this isn’t a game. This is a story fragment that somehow functions well. I made up for my lack of knowledge and technique with Twine by attempting to create the right transitions or hyperlinks. Basically, I was aiming for making a rhythm for clicking through the story from one screen to the next.

Yet, as a friend of mine who is now working on his own Twine as part of my Challenge to him observed, what I didn’t really do with the medium of Twine at this stage I attempted to do with descriptive storytelling and dialogue. Also, my second-person perspective–you–might have gotten into the mind of the character in question. Or maybe you won’t. You’ve also see that it is extremely short and lacks sound and images: hence the storytelling that is my strength.

So allow me to thank Anna Anthropy for introducing me to Twine through Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Christine Love for her Workshop and giving me the excuse to finally go beyond the theoretical and do something hands-on with the software I plan to work with, Gaming Pixie for her support and to all you for all experiencing my very first, and not my last, Twine story. It is not part of the two that I have been planning for ages, but I have to remember my priorities at this point. Also, anyone who can guess which line helped to form the entirety of the story will get bonus points from me.

Take care, my reader-player audience. I will be back here this Thursday … with news.

Looking Outward

Life and Identity, Eden and Hell: The Twines of a Gaming Pixie

The following will talk about–and accordingly link to–games of a graphic nature: if you will pardon the unintentional pun. Reader’s–and player’s discretion–is advised. Do not say that you have not been warned.

It was around February when I discovered Gaming Pixie. Less than a month before, in January, I finished Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and participated in my first–and so far only–Game Jam. After really hearing more about Twine, I began searching for more information on Anna Anthropy’s works and other Twine games.

I’m not sure how I found Gaming Pixie exactly. Perhaps it was through one of her creative YouTube video game reviews, or I found her Pixie’s Sketch Book before or after. I do remember, however, playing one of her only two Twine games at the time: specifically What’s In a Name? Seeing this really personal Choose Your Own Adventure text game really hit home for me the fact that I wanted to make something similar: something that to this very day along with everything else. Then I played her first Twine game–The Choice–and at the time I stopped playing once I got the good ending. It’s strange that I remember the second game more than the first, but even though I could relate to both of them in some way, I really felt more akin to What’s In a Name? and what I felt that Gaming Pixie was attempting to portray.

But I am getting ahead of myself here. Originally, after getting to know Gaming Pixie more, I was only going to write about her game Eden. However, I know feel compelled–in some way–to trace the development of her game-making, and its content even as both continue to evolve.

As I stated before, Gaming Pixie was best known for her own video game reviews. If you click on the above link, you will see an analytical mind that engages with the mechanics of the games she’s plays: accompanied by a sense of wry bemusement, her personal reactions to the game, how she related to it, and her liking to break the Fourth Wall a lot and interpose herself into the games. She rarely, if ever, indulges in profanity (though there are times it seems as though she is coming close, but instead settles for the tongue-in-cheek), and she has a wide assortment of costumes.

A little girl

But in addition to this past, she is also a talented artist–creating many lush and vital comics and storybook-like illustrations–as well designing a really immaculate website or two. By the time I found her, she had more or less transitioned away from reviews, planning to create some comics, then Flash animations, but ultimately choosing the medium of video games to work in: with Twine as her first tool. She had so far created two games: two very personal games.

The Choice: by Gaming Pixie

Her first Twine game, The Choice, is about suicide. You play from the second-person perspective and, after choosing which way you want to die, a part of you attempts to stop you. And that part of you is tenacious. Let me tell you. When I replayed it recently and made a determined choice to kill myself off, that embodied part of me was relentless in asking me whether or not I was sure I wanted to do this.

And playing The Choice made me also re-examine the perspective I want my games to be from and why. Because, you see, I automatically stated that the game was from my own perspective because of the second-person “you” that the narrative addresses the player from, yet it can also be an attempt to make a player see into the mind or the situation of another person. There is this fine line there. And despite the bleakness in this text-based game, there is hope in it too, and the ornate, story-book illustrative graphics complement it well.

Also, when I was searching through Gaming Pixie’s Sketch Book to get more insight into the game, I also came across a review and link to this really interesting Indie game by Daniel Benmergui called Today I Die: which according to her Sketch Book greatly inspired her to look at the issue of a game being a medium for art and emotional expression. It is a truly brilliant and beautiful game about seizing your life back from depression, and so much more. I wonder if it inspired some of The Choice, but either way I, for one, am really glad that Gaming Pixie’s entry led me there, that I played it and that it gave me a little more insight than I had before.

What's in a Name: by Gaming Pixie

By What’s In a Name? … I think this is where it all begins. While The Choice dealt with a feeling of suicide and either overcoming or giving into it–with an emphasis of the strength of life–this game is about futility. It is that second-person perspective again: except whereas you could argue that the previous game gives you more lee-way in projecting your own identity into the game, this one is very concrete and autobiographical. The character or the perspective is that of a woman who is struggling to understand her bisexual feelings and in a situation where no matter how she reacts to an issue of identity, she always loses: finding herself and her burgeoning sense of self becoming de-legitimized and trapped in a place of pervasive biphobia.

This game must have come at the height or the beginnings of what is called The Twine Revolution, or perhaps there was just a niche that formed there because both Kotaku and The Border House as well as Anna Anthropy made mention of and even reviewed this game. Please look at The Border House’s IF Game of the Day: What’s in a Name? by Gaming Pixie, Patricia Hernandez’s A Game About The Confusion And Difficulties That Come With Being Bisexual and Lana Polansky’s Nameless with regards to how she related to the game’s content for a little more information: but please consider playing the actual game first.

I will admit: when I played that last game I really, really wanted there to be a third option and a “screw you to everyone else because I will live my life the way I want to” ending. The fact is, even though the game was not about me, it touched that place in me, and I’m sure in many of us, where I remember trying to figure things out and having other people and forces tell me what was right: with changes in their treatment towards me if I didn’t comply with their spoken or unspoken views. It is a similar feeling and perhaps, one day, I will go more into it: and you can thank Gaming Pixie–at least in part–for at least reinforcing that possibility.

And then things began to really change. I’d lost track of Gaming Pixie for a while, but by the time I came back I saw that she was working on a much longer and more ambitious Twine. The Twine plot outline chart for Eden is a spider’s web of complex activity for me and I’m amazed that Gaming Pixie could keep track of all of that.

Some Twine source code for Eden. SOME.

[It makes me really think I have my own work cut out for me with my own Twine novel.]

What’s more is that this is the point when her game-making changes. Whereas What’s in a Name? is minimal in terms of graphics and both games are silent, she starts to utilize the royalty-free music of Kevin MacLeod as her soundtrack. In addition, she creates a great many more graphics: lush, colourful, finely lined and utterly beautiful pastel images. One thing I should definitely note here is that she has moved past the short and personal into something larger and far more fictional.

And yet, sexuality and gender play a great role in–and with–Eden. At the beginning of this game, you are asked to choose a name and a gender. You are also asked what your sexual preference is. Unlike The Choice, where you have one or two endings, or What’s in a Name? that is ultimately one ending no matter what you do, Eden has multiple–multiple–endings. It looks at beauty and it examines your morality and just how far you are willing to go to maintain what–and who–you believe in: an element that Soha Kareem, in her Haywire Magazine article Soha Kareem shares four more games made in Twine also points out.

What is even more interesting is that Gaming Pixie has managed to place a lot of randomizing elements into the narrative: so that upon future playthroughs the game and its text do not always react in the same exact way. There is even one ending that happens almost simply by chance.

In a lot of ways, if The Choice is choosing life and What’s in a Name? is a grim coming to terms with one’s identity I feel as though Eden was an answer to What’s in a Name?: that third option that branches out from one persona into so many other choices … so much so that if I had to answer What’s In a Name? as a question, I would reply with Eden. In fact, in one Blog post before she reveals her game, Gaming Pixie goes into further detail on the matter.

Shadow of a Soul

And now, we shift gears from a potential and fragile utopia, into–quite literally–Hell. For Halloween, Gaming Pixie decided to do something different yet again. Shadow of a Soul is a horror game in which you have to make some pretty macabre, and yet strangely erotic, and BDSM-themed choices. It starts off the same way as Eden does: asking what your name is, your gender, and your sexual preference. You can see something of a pattern here: in which your sexuality–particularly bisexuality–has an impact on how you experience both of these text games. However, it is more than that. In addition to an open-ended possibility of a third gender or something beyond binary gender, both games present bisexuality as a valid orientation: and that is a great assertive against the spirits of The Choice and What’s In a Name?

Shadow of a Soul has fewer endings and some of the randomization and knowing how many resources you have can mean all the difference between … being in different states. I will not spoil it further than that except to add that it is very hard to win this game: even when the answer stares you right in the face … or if you choose it: just for the, if you will pardon this pun too, hell of it.

It is fascinating to see someone with clear creativity undergoing the transition point between reviewer and artist, then text game-creator, and now going into the realms of programming beyond Twine. So please keep your eye on Gaming Pixie Games: which you can either click on here to view or find on my Blogroll: because Gaming Pixie can obviously explain her process far better than I can and, trust me fellow Clappers, she is one fairy that you should definitely believe in.


Contains Language: Reader’s Discretion is Advised!

I know the above title is a low blow for attention, but I really couldn’t resist.

Whenever I write something on Mythic Bios, I try to make the language and the content as accessible as possible. I know I don’t always succeed, but in the case that I don’t my hope is that I have a little something for everyone that I am also interested in writing about.

In my later years in high school and throughout my early years at University I was really interested in Philosophy. I liked writing that made me think and that also played around with ideas of varying kinds with regards to, well, pretty much existence. But even then, before I realized how didactic–how dry and rambling it could get–I had one other issue with Philosophy and texts that purported to be as such.

Sometimes, they would reference subject matter that I wouldn’t understand or, in my case even worse, begin to quote a language of what I was not at all familiar. And it annoyed me. A lot. To be honest, it still does.

Philosophical texts are not the only culprit in this non-crime of course. Many literary classics–novels–do this exact same thing: at least from the Modernist era. And, finally, there are comics that do the exact same thing from time to time. Take Alan Moore for instance. Alan Moore is a genius. He creates multi-layered plots that start off very slowly but ultimately become very epic and grandiose. And even though his characters have tended to lean towards the cynical side of humanity, his characterization is very human and excellent.

But I will tell you now: when he has whole passages of From Hell and Lost Girls in German, or I believe Punjabi in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910, or even … freaking Martian in the second Volume of The League I start to get … annoyed.

Don’t misunderstand: I like the authenticity he brings to the characters and the fact that you can clearly see how his well-read nature and research is paying off in the background. Now I am not just talking about his appropriate use of other languages, but his many, many literary and historical references that make me feel very under-read as a reader and overwhelmed as a writer. He simply makes so many references and allusions that I can’t always keep track of them, or even know what they are. I can see how other people would really have difficulty relating to this. I guess it’s like what Austrian Emperor Joseph the Second purportedly once told Mozart: that his work has “too many notes.”

I know that when he has used other languages, I feel a bit … cheated: because I want to know what the hell the characters are saying! It’s that simple. Likewise, I want to get all the references. I’m greedy like that and it feels like I’ve reached a certain level of understanding, and then I hit a wall.

A language is another perception of reality. Really, another language is a different world. This leads me to the other perspective on the matter. Anna Anthropy has said a few times that one of the issues with regards to video games is the very exclusive culture or subculture that has developed around them. More specifically, she talks about how video game design and dialogue around it becomes this interaction of in-jokes and references that people outside the circle do not always get. I would imagine that this is something, especially with regards to games as an expression of art–of language–is something that Anthropy believes we should watch out for.

On the other hand, Anna Anthropy is also one of those who wants to allow for a different voice or perspective in the medium of video games. For Anthropy this seems to have been in the form of making games for different genders and practices outside what was–and still is–the social norm. Essentially, and others like her, use this chosen medium to subvert it and change it: to reveal its full potential through a new perspective.

Alan Moore did something very similar. He, and others like Will Eisner, took a medium that became very associated with superheroes and some two-dimensional character development and morality and injected a whole different kind of perspective into it: using comics to talk about scholarly, metaphysical, philosophical, sexual, and realistic matters as well as still telling a story. Eisner and Moore are known for bringing the idea of the novel to the comics form and–eventually–leading to a place where a larger audience could access and relate to the stories being made in this medium.

In a way, they were making a new language as all languages are made: through innovation of an older dialect.

Anna Anthropy seems to believe that video games still need to “grow up” and deal with these matters as well: with gender and sexuality and life experiences in an accessible way. And one of these ways is to make the audience for games grow by trying not to make so many exclusive references within a game’s structure. Geeks by their very nature are exclusive in that they tend to know many obscure facts and bits of knowledge and trivia, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

But I would argue with Anna Anthropy–at least with regards to knowledge and not necessarily that sense of shared social experience–that if a player doesn’t understand one element in a game, there are resources online and elsewhere that they can access to understand what is going on. And I suppose that is why, with regards to Alan Moore, there are so many Annotations of his works out there. I do think that it is more than okay, especially with regards to continuity and art, to make references that a reader doesn’t always understand: provided that there is enough that they do understand and enough impetus for them to go and learn something new.

It is strange how my knee-jerk reaction to seeing other languages in a primarily English language comic is a feeling of exclusion and also this annoyance: as though the author is trying to be pretentious and show how smart they are instead of telling a story that I can relate to. Sometimes I feel it to be very elitist. This is the same with references at times. On the other hand, I know–especially with regards to the latter–that I do the same thing regardless of how well I might explain it, and that I should really take it as a challenge.

I don’t want to be talked down to, but I also don’t like it when things go over my head. And this is me as a reader and–as such–I need to keep it in mind as a writer too. I also, as I said, don’t always succeed.

I like to think that Alan Moore doesn’t write in different languages in his works for the sake of being clever, but he actually does it to keep his characters in character and to maintain a continuity in his world-building. Granted, he could <do what some other creators do and but triangular brackets around dialogue to indicate a different language like so>, or make a different font for those words, but it would not be the same. There is no real solution to that, I’m afraid: not for me anyway.

But there is something that my studies in Philosophy also taught me. Whenever I do come across things I don’t understand, as I said I look them up, or I try to find a speaker of the language. I can tell you that it was enjoyable having a German-speaking friend of mine translate some words to me as I typed them out to her so long ago. And when I don’t get a reference, I consider it a real challenge and it is like an easter-egg hunt that allows me to reread Alan Moore’s text and graphics all over again. And sometimes, I find something new I didn’t get in the first reading.

I would never bring up any of this at a signing–should Alan Moore ever come to Toronto one day and I can access the line–because that is not the time or the place. But I do have this place to talk about it. Alan Moore helped take a medium that people did not always take seriously and made it into some serious literature: and as long as “serious literature” is always questioned, always makes you think, and can function on its own merit– and can take you into another perspective–then it is definitely a past-time, and a calling, that I want to continue for my own: because there is always room for growth.

So hopefully this made sense. My Mythic Bios is another world itself and perhaps a language of differing ideas sometimes reaching critical mass, or becoming exercises in poetry. Or it’s that fine line between talking down, and or being the wind over someone’s scalp. I’ll leave that up to you, my awesome readers.

Becoming a Gateway: Or What Anna Anthropy Twines Together

I will say here, off the bat, that there are some video game and article links below that can be construed as Not Safe For Work. Player’s discretion is advised, though enthusiasm is also encouraged. I am also hoping that I can communicate and do justice to these ideas and some of my own creative license as best I can.

I’m not sure how I first met Anna Anthropy. Actually, that is not entirely true. I do remember first being introduced to her when I discovered Rise of the Video Game Zinesters: though how I came across that book to begin with is a memory now lost to time.

I did plan to buy that book eventually, but then life got in the way. One day, after a series of insane events, I found myself brought to the 2012 CanZine Toronto Event by some friends who thought I needed to see it: and I did. What I didn’t know, or what didn’t really bridge the cognitive dissonance in my head was that Anna Anthropy was there with her partner Daphny David and that they were selling the very book that I had been so interested in.

I’m going to admit that I felt sad, but I was still getting used to that endless process of being social again that I tend to find myself in and by the time I realized that they had been there, it was too late. So I bought the book for myself later instead.

There are many very good reviews that detail what the contents of the book were about: how it worked, how it possibly didn’t, and all of those various details. But there were a few things that stuck out at me. The main message that I got from Rise of the Video Game Zinesters was that Anna Anthropy wants there to be more accessible technology and means for anyone to create a video game. My younger self, the boy that really wanted to make games, would have totally agreed with this concept: even if he didn’t have the knowledge at the time to understand many of the other details surrounding it.

Essentially, Anna Anthropy wants there to be a means for a game-making technology or software–a manifestation of communication and language–that is easily accessible for anyone to use for the purpose of, well, making games and creating ideas. Or taking names and kicking ass: whichever definition you prefer. Of course, there is more than that. The idea is that by having different people of different backgrounds, social classes, career-paths, sexual and gender orientations, queerness, life practices, and a wide gamut of humanity that does not necessarily understand coding you can vary up the content and the gaming experience of a game without an industry-ruled homogeneity: where plots and stereotypes are recycled to keep a sure profit.

It is a very seductive idea. Anthropy compares this “much needed” product and the mindset behind it to the creation of the printing press in Renaissance Europe: thus freeing the production of literary articles from the Catholic Church’s scribes and making them accessible to everyone. The fact that the printing press allowed for religious texts to be made with vernacular language–the words of the everyday layperson–instead of a Latin known only to nobles, priests, and scholars is probably an analogy not lost on Anthropy when she brought up the image to begin with when you consider that she looks at games as a language that all men, women, humans, and other sentient beings should be able to relate and have access to.

She also briefly looks at the history of game-making itself and equates video game development with the earliest forms of games: with symbolic piece and board games, carnival games, arcades, all the way to modern board games and more miniaturized computer games. In addition, Anthropy makes a very compelling case as to how video games were and are in the providence of an elite minority: that it was male computer programmer students and the academy that developed code and the games that came from it. Yet it is also clear that there are changes that are–and have been–in the works to that regard.

I’ll tell right off, as some other reviewers of Anna Anthropy’s work have mentioned, I don’t always agree with what she says but she makes some very intriguing observations. There is one point in particular that sticks out at me. Anthropy writes that a single game creator in sole control of their project can make a much more focused and more personal form of art–a game–than a large team of staff members can. I don’t know if I am articulating that thought as thoroughly as I should, but that is what I got from that. What I find really interesting is that Will Eisner, in his book Comics and Sequential Art, also makes a very similar statement with regards to the development of the comics medium and storytelling within it. These are two different mediums, both of which had to fight to gain recognition as a legitimate medium, yet it is really fascinating how two of their advocates come to similar conclusions.

Eisner did mention, however, that there was nothing wrong with a collaboration between two or more artists on a work. Indeed, in his book Graphic Storytelling he goes into a lot more detail with regards to that. And even Anna Anthropy, in her book, mentions that she is writing the book not merely for game creators but for anyone: writer or scholar that is fascinated with her topic. It should also be noted that Anna Anthropy has collaborated with a few other artists in her own works: such as the fun and frustrating Lesbian Spider-Queens From Mars, the very personal and visceral Dys4ia, and the thought provoking puzzle game Triad. While much of this collaboration has been in the form of graphics and sound, even programming for the latter game, it is still a form of collaboration: though obviously not an industry-mandated one. Rather, these are the product of an agreement between artists that respect one another and actually work together to make something cohesive while still keeping the personal element of Anthropy’s own vision.

Now, to get beyond the book and go a bit into Anna Anthropy’s games. I like them. I like the concept behind them: of taking a video game form and using it to communicate a personal experience. There is something really beautiful about that. I know that Anthropy may not be the only person who does this–and I suspect she hopes she isn’t in the only one either–but she is the one that really introduced this to me on more than a cursory level. I think she is one of those who reinforced for me that the games of my youth–that inspired me as a creator–are more than just frivolity or an inferior art-form. Some have said the same thing about comics, about film, and–back in the day–even theatre and other forms of painting and art.

Some people have been giving Anthropy flak about her games: about how they all tend to follow a very similar pattern or themes of lesbianism, BDSM, and transgender issues. The thing is, well there are two things. The first is that all of the above things are not mainstream in video games: at least not from someone who has all of those elements in their own life. The second is the age-old adage: write about what you know. And Anna Anthropy knows about all of this. She writes about and makes what she knows. Her viewpoint is just as valid as anyone else’s and it is more than okay for her to make games about what interests her: because there are others out there who will relate to it.

The fact that she uses similar themes in her work, and I would say never quite in the same way with regards to game play mechanics, is irrelevant to me: because the industry does the same thing for the most part with many mainstream themes and even the best creators make what they know.

I think what I admire about Anna Anthropy and others like her is that although I can’t always agree with them, they do something that is remarkable. Sometimes the people in charge of publishing or video game industries and coding are called “the gatekeepers.” And what Anthropy and others are doing is they are becoming gateways: gateways and fiery Bodhisattvas into alternate perspectives and the potential for the creation and expression of new game experiences.

This is something that I deeply respect and it is a thing that greatly motivates me now. There is one thing I have mentioned before in this Blog: that I am looking into Twine game-making because of Anthropy’s mention and use of it. Twine is a software that lets you create a “choose your own adventure” style text game without a knowledge of coding, or with enough video tutorials to get into it. I want to do the same thing that she and others are doing now. I want to make a game that can communicate my own–albeit different-experiences: ones I’m not sure even Anthropy will always agree with. I want to have the ability to put someone else into my own shoes: as it were. Or use my experience to make something else entirely and let people make their own choices.

So Anna Anthropy won with regards to me: because she has influenced me to make a game. But I think what is also remarkable is how she even affects her reviewers and critics. Take Jenn Frank’s Rise of the Existential Crisis: How One Woman Nearly Never Finished a Book Review, or Cara Ellison’s Choose Your Own Anna Anthropy Interview.

Frank’s article adopts Anna Anthropy’s writing style from Rise of the Video Game Zinesters: emulating Anthropy’s own combination of history and criticism and inter-dispersing it with her own personal experiences in a seemingly scattered narrative but ultimately bridging the gap between the reviewer and the creator of personal expression while Cara Ellison actually makes a Choose Your Own Adventure Game using Twine–Twine–in order to bring her interaction with Anthropy across. Just looking at the styles and mediums used by these two women is utterly fascinating: Frank does not necessarily agree with Anthropy’s statement that everyone should make a game–though she wishes on some level that she had–while Ellison flat out makes a game to express her interaction and her influence from Anthropy’s philosophy in a very demonstrative manner.

I will also say right now that this article was a long time coming. I just didn’t have the words then. But if Ellison’s Twine article further influenced me to make my own game (and I didn’t even realize she was using Twine to do it at the time, another example of my cognitive dissonance), Frank’s article actually encouraged me to write this. And I have been influenced by Anthropy in other ways as well: you will probably see relatively soon outside of this article.

But if I had to sum up everything I have written here, I will say this: that in terms of video-game storytelling, its potential as a medium, and her own potential influence on its future, Anna Anthropy is immensely important.

P.S. My favourite Anna Anthropy Twine game is this one: Hunt for the Gay Planet. There is a story behind its creation that she can explain far better than I, but what really inspires me is the story of a person who tries to find other people like her and goes on a long well-written intergalactic journey. This piece inspired me so much that I bought the Choose Your Own Adventure book from Anthropy’s own site: which is coincidentally on my Blogroll as well.

What I Got Myself Into

I’m sorry this took so long to post, but I underestimated just how potent post-Game Jam lag can be. There have also been some tech issues, so you can look at the previous sentence as a double entendre if you’d like.

In any case, I had my first Toronto Global Game Jam! Yay TGGJ 13!

I started off the day by appropriately enough finishing off Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, House Wives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form (which is an awesome book of historical and cultural perspectives as well as the seed to make you want to make more games) before making my way to George Brown College’s Game Design Centre.

There were many possible scenarios in my head as to how this was going to turn out. And I have to say that none of them actually happened. I registered as a Solo Jammer with the belief and understanding that I would have a chance to become part of a group. What I didn’t know, and what I should have realized in retrospect is that many people would be attending the Jam with their own pre-established groups.

I knew a few people at the Jam and I got to socialize a bit with them before the ultimate theme of the Game Jam was announced: which was the sound of a heart-beat. So after this really excellent theme idea was revealed, I found myself with two choices. The first was to actually Solo it and learn how to use Twine–a text-based choose-your-own-adventure video game maker–on the go while making an entirely new story from scratch, and the second was to find or make a group with whoever else was interested.

So I found a group of two other people: another writer and a graphic designer. We realized that we lacked a programmer or coder, so we decided to make a Board Game. There was a lot of brainstorming, debating and spirited arguing but together we managed to create some working game mechanics. I also kept using the quote from William Faulkner’s Banquet Speech that George R.R. Martin likes to bring out whenever he talks about character development, namely: “the human heart in conflict with itself.” This was an appropriate quotation on so many levels and one that helped me work with the Jam theme.

I don’t know. There was one point where the lack of sleep, food, and the concentration on game rules and content, began to intermix with Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game inside of my head. I started to realize or remember that games are rituals in which we interact with other people and a created reality: an experience. During those two days, we were all essentially working and manipulating cultural information to create an interactive art form: making some kind of new meaning: or add our own personal touch for others to experience in some way.

Or something like that. At least I didn’t start calling anybody Magister Ludi.

So our group finished the game dynamics and some of the background notes. My fellow writer was taking notes as I was throwing out various ideas. Unfortunately, he had to leave early and he didn’t come back on the last day. In his defence, he did say that I had this, ;P. Also, all printing shops in the immediate area were closed so even when it was just myself and the designer, we didn’t have an accessible way to make a material copy and I didn’t bring any supplies to make a crude prototype. In the end, I had to interpret my co-writer’s notes and charts and tried to make everything as simplified as possible for the designer and myself.

Then to top it all off, we and a good majority of the Jammers missed the deadline for uploading our games and writing files onto the Global Game Jam site. The rules were there, but they were surrounded by a lot of text and weren’t completely clear. I’ve heard that one of the organizers might be talking to the Global site about letting us upload our games, but I have yet to hear back about that. If this does happen, I will definitely give you all a link to the game on the site. If not, I will see what I can do about this.

I think some of the most fun I had at the Game Jam was when I could actually just work on the writing without feeling like I had to manage other aspects in addition to that. I am not technologically skilled and that was why I counted on being in a team to begin with so I could focus on the field that I was good at. But I did learn a lot and we completed what we set out to do.

We made a game.

I also got to socialize a fair amount. It is really something to be surrounded by a group of friendly introverts–volunteers and game-makers–working on their own thing, or sleeping, or drinking free Starbucks coffee and tea, and shooting each other with Nerf guns. I slept on a mat. Someone slept in my sleeping bag and then returned it to me. There was pizza.

And I also helped a new friend with his own game after both my teammates were gone. Talking with other game-makers (now I am getting a Hunger Games reference in addition to The Glass Bead Game, I’m sorry to mention), made me remember my own old attempts to create video games when I was much younger.

I was the kid that messed around with Mario Paint for animation purposes and had vague ideas to record the animations to make a continuous pixelated cartoon with my own music. I made Warcraft II scenarios. I also used Civilization II Fantastic Worlds’ editor to make my own icons and game scenarios. I won’t even go into the board games I’ve made as well: which I had much better skill in doing (inspired by Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, and The Addams Family Board Game and such). When I talked to people at the Jam about Super Mario Brothers, it occurred to me that I had started playing it in the late 80s, while many of them had played it much later on. I remember when it was all new. It can feel strange to realize that you are suddenly old.

You know, I had a really good time. And I learned some valuable lessons too. If I do plan to be in a group, I will either come with a friend or with a pre-made group to do food runs, stand in lines, and do shifts as we work or whatever we decide to do. The second possibility is that I will learn how to use Twine and come Solo so that I can work on an interactive short story challenge and pace myself: allowing myself time to socialize and relax into the writing process. It all depends. I could go either way.

So, if I were to summarize GGJ 13 into an appropriately creative sentence, I would end it and this post in the following manner:

“I’m sorry, but your princess: she is in another castle … with some coffee and a machine gun.” 🙂

P.S. It also occurs to me that we were all recorded by camera people and even interviewed once. So I might have a link to that as well. I might even go into more detail on our game. We shall see.