Thursday, 16 June 2011

Maybe I'll turn into a geek? Meg Harper


Once upon a time I thought I would grow up and become an author. I would be rather like Joey Bettany in ‘The Chalet School’ books, churning out endless best-selling books for girls and managing a family on the side. Joey managed to write the best-sellers whilst producing 13 children, including triplets and two sets of twins. I didn’t intend to replicate that but I did think I might follow her lead and alternately spend hours quietly working on my books, doing the earth-mother bit or walking my dog (a St Bernard, of course). Occasionally I might have to suffer bouts of life-threatening illness but they might be quite a nice rest from the pregnancies. Seems to me, however, that barring producing one set of twins and a couple of other children, my life as a writer couldn’t be more different from Joey’s!
I certainly never imagined days such as the one I’ve just spent with some of the game designers at a local computer games company, providing training on creating better stories. What a revelation that has been! In the last few weeks I’ve been introduced to the world of Mass Effect, Bio Shock and more. I’ve learnt new terminology – I know what RPG and Open World and Shooter mean (very proud of myself, I am) and I now know that games players seem to divide into those who want re-play potential and those who don’t. I could turn into a geek at this rate. I haven’t gone over to the dark side – I’ll still be a reader rather than a games player (though remarkably, given the hours many games absorb, the people I worked with today seemed to do both) but I was intrigued by the similarities (huge) and the differences (few) between our crafts. I now feel a bit of an idle slob because, essentially, I don’t want to work for my next chapter – I want to turn over the page and find it waiting for me. I can’t be bothered to shoot a load of enemies first. I don’t want to be proactive and become the silent protagonist, armed perhaps only with a drill and endlessly having to find supplies – and sometimes having to go back a few steps in the story because I foolishly got myself wounded. It seems like a lot of effort in order to get the next bit of the story, especially when it isn’t always very good.
But then that is why I’ve been employed. Get the stories even better (and some of them are very good already) and even book-obsessed people like me might get tempted into computer games. I feel very, very naive today. You know all that stuff about boys not reading and what are we going to do about it? Well, it’s certainly not for lack of a desire for story! It’s because so many computer games are story based and there’s many a proactive young lad out there who, unlike me, wants to splice his story experience with a bit of action, whether it’s a shoot out, some exploration of the game world or cracking a puzzle. It’s not surprising that ‘just a story’ can seem a bit tame to a child brought up on X boxes and Playstations. Girls are far less keen on computer games, of course, so writers for girls have an easier job hanging onto their audience. The success of ‘Twilight’ shows us once again that girls like romance mixed with their action – and that’s a lot harder to provide in a computer game – as is a tear-jerking weepie. Computer game structure and getting through competitive levels doesn’t really blend well with the romantic or humorous genre – so it’s no surprise that boys are still buying funny books and girls are still buying romance. Or that’s how it suddenly seems to me! Bring on the arguments!

PS. In the photo are the members of a summer writing group I lead last summer, launching their book at Waterstones. One of them is a computer games designer!

www.megharper.co.uk

7 comments:

Penny Dolan said...

Sounds as though you're having great fun! I found this an entertaining glimpse into the reading and/or gaming worlds and fascinating for you to get such a close look at the creative side of the industry.

Meg Harper said...

It was certainly a very stimulating day, Penny! Hope you're having fun too - I have 'Mouse' on my bookshelf and am looking forward to the read!

Emma Barnes said...

Glad to hear there are things that computer games can't (yet) provide! There is still hope...

Anna Bowles said...

I work as an occasional proofreader on reissues of Chalet School books. I have to say that I frequently want to thump the grown-up Joey!

Cindy Jefferies said...

Fascinating Meg. The only interactive books I can think of are the Fighting Fantasy books by Jackson and Livingstone, and they were hugely popular with boys. And the only computer game I ever got into was Myst, which was a sort of mystery story, so I'm with you on your thoughts!

HR Harkness said...

Meg, this was such a brilliant post, and I must admit I'm quite jealous that you got this inside glimpse into the gaming industry. Though that said, I feel like I learned so much from your account of it.

As a keen gamer and reader who is also (gasp!) a girl, I get a bit disheartened when I hear the generalisation that girls don't like to play games. Most of my gamer friends are female, but they're also readers of speculative fiction rather than straight romance or real life books. There definitely exists that slice of readership/gamership who love those kind of action-adventure stories but they tend to get overlooked because they don't fit nicely into either category, and so have to settle for more male-focused stories with some gratuitous T&A thrown in.

I'm so happy that these companies are realising that a good story is what will sell to any demographic, and I look forward to seeing your influence on them Meg!

Oh, and on the story interactivity front - sometimes too much interactivity can backfire. Patrick Carman is usually pretty savvy when it comes to interactivity, and I think his Skeleton Creek series with links to 'real' spooky videos on youtube worked really well, but on the other hand, I stopped reading his other series Trackers because I constantly had to stop at the end of each chapter and go online. It was just too disruptive. At the end of the day, I want to be sucked in to the story, and sometimes too many bells and whistles can draw away from that!

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