I am Darryl, I make snow.
I am a writer, cartoonist, game designer and activist.
I am happy to do what I do in the glow of this benevolent mystery.
* <a href="http://www.lavolte.net/livre/eliott-du-neant/">Elliot du Néant</a>, a novel about Iceland and the Void, published in 2012 at <a href="http://www.lavolte.net/">La Volte</a> (in French)
* <a href="http://www.kwaan.org">KWAAN</a>, an online adventure game about Nature, Myth and Play, for <a href="http://www.ankama-canada.com">Ankama Canada</a>, available on STEAM Early Access.
* <a href="http://www.songofbeulah.org">Song of Beulah</a> is my more or less daily webcomic about intimacy, gender identity and spirituality.
* <a href="http://morethancoral.tumblr.com/">CANEVAS</a> is my visual poetry.
* <a href="http://daryl.itch.io/pachalafaka">Pachalafaka</a> is a game poem.
* <a href="http://www.volumique.com/starlay">STARLAY</a> is an interactive poem for kids on ipad, for <a href="http://volumique.com/v2/">Volumique</a>.
* I am currently working as a narrative designer on the adventure game <a href="http://blog.onirigami.com/">ONIRIGAMI</a> for Tourmaline, and the post-digital board game <a href="http://yoho.io/french/">WORLD OF YO-HO</a> for <a href="http://volumique.com/v2/">Volumique</a>.
* <a href="http://www.louvre.fr/last-storyteller-jeff-mills-et-david-calvo">THE LAST STORYTELLER</a> will be a spoken word performance with Jeff Mills at the Louvre on April 10th 2015.
* <a href="https://medium.com/@weshlabrousse/la-pythie-de-la-capelette-fb1bc232c727">La Pythie de la Capelette</a> is a episodic madness for <a href="http://labrousse.bigcartel.com/">La Brousse</a> (in French).
You can contact me at darryl at morethancoral dot org
Takk Takk !
Hello, my name is Darryl. I am a writer, cartoonist, teacher and gender activist. I have been creating games professionally for 15 years now. It is an honour to be here today.
Let's frame the discussion a bit, with three definitions, definitions that some of you might find reducing - they are. I am perfectly aware that a lot of you would come to different conclusions if other examples and definitions were made as a framework. It is fine. Do it. I will not try to convince you of anything. Many will be our enemies.
For me, videogames are windows on another world, not merely aesthetics systems or good stories. Rather, they’re a landscape, where we can project our psyche. I am a video games idealist, but I think videogames are given too much credit today. In the end, they’re just artefacts. What matters is the core, living heart of creativity, starving in a time of opulence.
Spirituality is NOT religion. Spirituality is a free form, non-logical expression of our inner self. It is Paidia of the soul. It has a very long history and tradition, and can take many forms. We all need it, in one way of other. Sometimes we don’t recognize or acknowledge it. It’s fine. It should not be defined anyway.
Ancients used to say that Ambiguity is the source of all finesse in the confine of the being, the shading of human behaviour and feelings, the expression of our permanent double bind to the binary world. It is what makes us playful, social and humans. It is what is needed to convey the complexity of the identity.
Games and spirituality have a complex relationship - games could be remnants of ancient, once powerful, now discarded rituals. Rituals could be games played with a wager bigger than gold - soul. The Eleusinian Mysteries can be studied by game designers to understand personal growth outside the diktat of the Monomyth, and gameplay loops might be akin to traditional ritualistic feedback heuristics in religion. The question of myth is the glue holding the two sides on the same cosmic coin together.
Spirituality is a narrative process, insofar as it has to do with making meaning. Spirituality and narrative are symbiotic, to the degree not just that stories are structures for meaning, but that the very act of telling them - above all, telling the stories that are integral to our sense of self - is a quest for personal meaning at deeper, vertical levels. I can find three different ways of how videogames address the problem, sometimes incidentally.
Let's start by looking at some limiting examples of how videogames have depicted the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Blandly, or thoughtfully using the spiritual patterns to activate narrative thresholds. Most of these games are using the monomyth - the uber tarte à la crème of game narrative - taking its cue from hollywood and ancient cosmic jokes.
Tao, for NES, is a weird little thing, hardly understandable by westerners (even with some basic taoist theory), shot through with all the concepts plaguing these kind of games, with an added chutzpah of non-gameplay - a fresh pioneer of visionary non-loop, where obtaining fragments of wisdom seem to be the only way forward to a cryptic, buggy ending.
Zak McKracken. My all time favorite. An absurd, wonderful exploration of New Age, addressing, despite itself (but that is the beauty of humor), major cognitive dissonances, and using traditional figures like mazes, metempsychosis and archeology as tools to provide an unforgettable, hilarious quest. Also : alien brooms. For me the prime example of how to do things right, when dealing with spirituality : laughing at it.
Besides the well trodden paths of personal quests and eternal returns, some genuinely cosmic principles can be found at work in games who simulate a thinking, prone to let new horizons appear and disappear - mainly a dissection of space as psychism. Here too, we can map meaning on an innocent design, who had no idea what we can do with it. It’s part of the game : turning artifacts into fluids.
For me there is a before/after Proteus. Ed Key’s game set up a perfect context for the emergence of meaning, through the act of walking and looking and hearing. The “just walkingism” school is at the vanguard of a wonderful experience of gaming - mainly disrupting traditional use of gameplay loops to rely on observation and space orientation. An amazing receptacle of meditative play, not intended like one, but precisely relying on procedurality and chance to create a unique experience, tailored to the user.
Qix is the mapping of void, the taming of Chaos, into ordered cosmos, trying to accept the unstable, unpredictable force that is the heart of the Eternal Fire at the center of Pythagorean cosmology. Or something. I have spent countless hours fixing stuff with Qix, laying down the problems and using the way I play as a tool to focus my thoughts on an answer. It never worked but the process helped me getting through a lot of countless depressive nights.
And then there are games that feels right. Feels like home. Create a safe place for us to settle in, and stop.
A slow year, by Ian Bogost. Silence, attention, as gameplay - a form of meditation. Perfect alliance of form and function, of design and finesse. I don’t have much to say about it, check it out.
The endless forest as manifestation of nuance in a persistent, peaceful world. Playing deer. Being deer. Highly ritualized by its players ; mute, obsessed with infinity and intimacy. For me, the online component of play is vastly overlooked in our craft, especially in the boring, standardized field of MMOs. Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn have created a masterpiece for the ages. As long as there are servers, and our memories of them.
Interestingly, except for the first category, all of these games are silent - in The Endless Forest, Deer have to rely on signs to express themselves. Letting the inner wording to the self - this is what we’d want right ? If our desire is to access that secret space inside the player, how can we, writers, narrative designers, accept that and still carry on our task of writing ? We feel like dinosaurs, even as we contribute to more than just words in an editor. We need to reclaim that place, but not imposing us as egos. We need to claim more than the negative spaces - we walk in neutral spaces.
Regardless of the form which our expression of it takes, spirituality is something we experience, not despite the stories by which we understand our lives, but through them. If games are a gateway to a form of spiritual awakening, the art and discipline of finding and listening to the center of the being, writers need to look beyond computational artefacts and conventional storytelling frameworks, to engage the medium on its own terms.
After all, observing oneself has become a dubious way of making sense of the world. We do not meditate or pray, we do not make sense of sermons, we do not have mystical awakenings, in some sort of existential vacuum; rather, we build ourselves in the context of the complex set of patterns - storylines - by which our sense of self is shaped. Furthermore, these storylines are tied in turn (for better or worse) to the master narratives of whatever doctrines or philosophies have shaped our vision of the world in general. This is where we are, in this crumbling foundations of late capitalism culture.
We have reached a point in our modernization where it seems we are more indebted to our symbolic objects than the people we live amongst, in terms of time, energy, and attention. In games, we are torn apart between these objects, and the result is, for the most part, a standardization of figures, access and paths in order to conform to previous incarnations - a melancholic state induced by the repetition of nostalgia. This is a new opium for the masses - the crass banality of gaming epiphanies.
Games as artefacts are a victory over Mystery. Games are revealed, for the better and worse. I want to believe - interesting slip here - that games can be - correct that - that games are here to free our minds like any other creative endeavour, not lock us in. Even if games like Laura McGee’s “Curtains” and “Life is Strange”, written by Christian Divine, give us an insight into what it means to write A game (and not FOR a game), the vast majority of game writing is still unfathomably difficult to analyze on a purely “writing” level.
Words in games explain all. To shed light on every shadow - words are feedback, words are trivialized assets. Because we want clear goals, clear loops. This is very different than continuous literature - fiction is high resolution, not gamable world building (this is a William Gibson quote). To be gamable a discrete world has to be non opaque. This is very important - by importing fiction tropes and patterns in games we are killing what makes loops AND words so pertinent.
But Words matter. They're not tapestry, or "poetic nonsense". They're not just "actions" or "verbs" assisting our game design prototyping. They’re not feedback, as we most of the time use them to interpret otherwise obscure computational or scripted processes. Words are not items. Words are epiphanies. Words should be events. When a word is uttered, it is the fragmented sound of the analog world, pushing its way in the virtual, to provide a canvas on which to paint self-understanding.
To expand the game world, we need to move beyond meaning to embrace something akin to what spiritualists call the ideomotor phenomenon, the moment the player can express herself through the act of playing, to put something of her into the game, guided by our invisible hand - a hand that cares. It is an almost impossible task, except if we realize that videogames are not the best tools for stories. But they are a wonderful tool for poetry.
Poetry is the pragmatic implementation of spirituality. It the captation of essence. It can be expressed in many ways, I have chosen words to convey my point. But as a cartoonist, I am not trying to fight visuals with words. I want to reconcile the two sides. It is a dance of paradox, it is a tension, and tension is at the heart of every life. To allow this tension to happen, we can use words - visible - onscreen - or invisible - guiding the design, each as important as the other. It is time to rethink the place of the word in game design, and games in general - and the place is in between, not forward or backward.
A first step would be to end all mythologies - and especially the ones damaging our relations to stories - Death to the Heroes Journey. Now this is something radically different than the end of the big narratives witnessed by the postmodern thinkers of the sixties. It is going back to the process of building stories - who cares about stories anymore when we can allow players to create their own as they go, inside a authorized framework made of symbols, glyphs, words, visual cues and ethics. Giambattista Vico advocated the same thing in his New Science in the 17th century - to get rid of dark ages, we must learn to build light itself - not wait until it is handed to us by another, older, greedier medium.
In order to build that light, to understand the basics of free-form poetry, absurd logic and celestial visions, writers need to allow paradox & misunderstanding, misspelling, mishearing. Inspiration comes from mistakes and play of patterns. To carry forth the ideas from within the game itself, not pasted like a texture over a construct. To risk losing the integrity of storytelling - a place crowded with clones, hommages, rip off, traditions and structural impotency. Our words need to express the finest granularity of gender, racial biases, beliefs, justice, and love.
Poetry creates gaps in the standards of narratives, to question our assumptions about the written word in all its instances. Moving over from traditional western media culture of 3 and 5 act plots and conflict, words should be about boosting exposition and contrasts, like the japanese canevas of kishōtenketsu. Mainly stopping the confrontational violence of words in order to indulge in paradox and reconciliation. Games are the platypus of creation, they are unique creatures coerced into shape by unseen forces, mapping on them the remnant of an obsolete science.
The oscillation between 2 poles - what the ancients called the Metaxy - is at the heart of poetry. It is the finding, the caring and the emergence of the in-between. Escaping the postmodern narrative tendencies of videogames requires this collective acceptance - from the head of studios down to the player herself. But with what tools ? Cognition is not computation despite what you’re hearing in California. We still have this amazing power of uniting things beyond comprehension and logic. It is finesse.
Finesse can be absurd and crazy and paradoxical. Embracing the paradox of what we do is a second step. Breathing in code, breathing out images, where the written word shall stay in the middle. This is our place, where nobody can see us, but they know we’re there, and even if they don’t, who cares? This is not about US. This is not about anything : I am here in front of you, talking about our need to shut up and accept it, and let it flow again, like milk, like honey.
Our real challenge lies in our capacity to design silence. Just like drawing is the wedding of the line and the empty space, dancing together, writing nuance should about creating enough space to let the player breathe herself - or be breathed. I guess we are afraid of silence. Because we fear the disappearance of the written word, as wisdom. As expression of truth. I am not scared, because the future of thought does not lie in computation and mythic algorithms, but in the region I am not ashamed to call Magic. Forgive Me.
The dictature of Meaning, inherited from archaic forms of spiritual practice, moving towards dictatorship of theistic monoculture, creates the absurd divisions between the so called gameplay and narrative - hurting our craft. It is a desperate call I am making today, to all of you. We are not fragmented selves anymore. We do not create in a vacuum. Creation happens in beautiful continuity. Games are not better or worse than any other medium, but they are here, in the hands of our children. It is about accepting responsibilities.
We are making these pixels alive.
Between each of them is a space for a word.
In each word is the world.
In each world is a player.