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Odyssey Gamer - Libby

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I bring my writing goggles to the gaming experience, because I see gaming as part of the Odyssey. I want to understand its attraction, and whether it bubbled up from the guts of our basic need for story-telling. I want to understand it as a narrative medium, and how it feeds into our daily lives.

You know how there's a magical isle out there, where narrative ninjas call up their muse and gaze at the Fountain of Fiction, arm outstretched? Well, that island is drifting further from the mainland, or so I'm told. The writers are in a right tizz, because the Gaming Generation has popped over for a visit and muddied the waters with their hand-held devices and consoles. The fiction writers don't want to drink from the water any more: they suspect it has been corrupted.

Problem is, very few have travelled to the Mainland to have a chat with Princess Peach, and even fewer have returned with a coherent story to tell. "It's a jungle out there!", they moan. "Nobody's on the Orient Express, they're all just staring at screens! How can I write about that?!"

Let me explain by relaying a short adventure.

On the Magical Isle, adventures start in the Everyday World, so picture a Writer with her pen, doing whatever it is narrative ninjas do. Now picture her kids, bellowing stuff like, "Jump! Jump! Spongify!". You can hear the Writer yelling random (age-appropriate) expletives about how she can't think with all that racket, let alone make inroads to becoming a narrative genius.

An Adventure is just around the corner, but she doesn't know it yet.

One day she hears a call from the Twitosphere, shortly after she has expressed virtual dismay at the crowning of gameplay over narrative.

@libby_ol: So narrative's not king after all... #outofajob http://bit.ly/eWnfjy
@GeekDadGamer: ... My take is that in games narrative should serve gameplay. So interaction creates emotional response not story.

The Writer likes this take. She likes it, because it strikes a chord. She faces similar challenges herself: How do you move a story forwards without making the devices transparent? How do you allow a reader the space in which to bring themselves to the text? If you don't, are you committing the crime of 'tell', rather than 'show'? She knows it's a dynamic, and now she's starting to suspect it's amplified when you take it a step over the threshold into the world of the so-called 'interactive narrative'. The Writer writes this down:

@libby_ol: ... I wonder if intrusive narrative=lazy writer.

And, right there on her screen, comes a Call to Adventure if ever she heard one.

@GeekDadGamer: Do you play many games ...?

Of course! Start gaming! But wait, there's an Obstacle: can she be bothered? Doesn't social interaction end with gaming? If she starts, will she get lost in the wilds of mindless, repetitive shooting and bouncing? It will take a bit more than a Tweet to get her over the threshold, she scoffs. (Besides, this is a journey. There will be many - don't worry, I'll truncate 'em - Tests and Enemies to overcome before she can reach her Goal.)

Then, like the call of the siren, comes the buzz around Jane McGonigal and her book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. And now the Writer is feeling the pressure. The McGonigal Goggles encompass the social aspect of gaming, as well as how it equips people for leadership and for being better people by providing opportunities for decision-making and strategic thought.

The Writer looks at her offspring, Breakin' It Down at Kinect Dance Central. Can McGonigal be right?

The Writer has heard it before, channelled through the Mad Google Seer on her Isle: "If your offspring game and you don't, you should. Gaming is the new hearth of the house. It's where stories are told." That sort of thing.

So the Writer pauses to think, because now it's getting personal. She's interested in narrative and the locus of story-telling, which (so the story goes) started around the original hearth - a fire - and shifted over the years to the kitchen table, the radio, the silver screen. So why not other electronic devices? Our Writer's starting to think maybe Video didn't kill The Radio Star. Maybe Video gave The Radio Star more to talk about.

And so the Writer summons her offspring and crosses the seas - and the Threshold - to the Mainland.

As she arrives, Mr8 - like her own, personal, very short Obi Wan - hands her the DS pen. She takes it, and says, "Bring it on, little dude! I'm ready! All I have to do is play the game, right?"

Nope. Super Mario Sister she is not. In the quest to save P. Peach she falls down the same abyss in Level 2 (you know the one) nine times in a row. The Writer is not happy.

Ms12 can't believe her eyes.

@Ms12: This time, leave the coin. Do the fireballs.
Writer: I need the stupid coin!
@Ms12: No you don't. Focus. Think of Princess Peach... or not. [Yes, the abyss.]

The Writer can see what's happening: Ms12 knows the narrative. She knows the goal, she's weighing pros and cons. She's doing all those things Professor McGonigal (did I just say that?!) said she would.

In a moment of clarity, the Writer realises this must be her very own Supreme Ordeal. But the precious gold coin is not her Prize. It's this: her offspring are loving seeing the Writer being a total veg (Aussie slang for vegatron, prononunced 'vedge-a-tron', fyi). In fact, they haven't had so much fun together since they played the Don't-Want-To-Do-Maths-Homework Game. (Yeah, it's a game. Sounds nerdy. Is nerdy. Rules are simple:

1	Parent reads quietly while child does equation.
2	Child finishes equation and says 'STOP!'.
3	Parent must say aloud and record on paper the word they are up to, skipping boring words like 'if' and 'it'.
4	Repeat, until homework completed.
5	Read aloud your masterpiece.
6	NB: Best to use awesome, turgid book like Heart of Darkness for maximum effect and surprise factor.)

You could say, at this point, the Writer has seized the Sword and claimed her Reward. Any minute now she can walk away from the abyss and return to the Magical Isle a wiser and humbler human being.

But, as you probably know, for every Prize there is a Price, and the Price our Writer pays is two-fold. Firstly, no matter what she does, she cannot get past that stupid abyss. That's just a simple fact. Her solo gaming career is over before it has even begun. (Obviously she will need to enlist various Allies including the Google Seer if she wants to progress.) Secondly, on her personal story arc, her ego has suffered a near-fatal blow. The power in her household has shifted, and she will no longer be able to rule with an iron fist, since her offspring now know she has a tendency to fall down abysses.

That night, as she powers up her laptop and kisses her offspring goodnight (it's not quite that smooth, but let's just leave it at that for the sake of brevity), the Writer takes a moment to ponder. Every time you add a gold coin to your collection (she thinks to herself), or fall down an abyss - in a virtual world or not - it makes a pretty good story. And in years to come, when her children's children are in a world of thus far unimagined gadgetry and gaming, they will probably still sit around fires or kitchen tables to talk about it, because it's what people do. We just can't help ourselves.

And so the Writer starts to write.

You can read them here.

To say that I approached The Biggest Loseer with a helathy dose of skepticism would be an understatement. How can this be an Odyssey of any description?.. read now

Sun, 20 May 2012 Loading comments...

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial I'm going to say the Dance Central Odyssey just gets better and better. It's a pop Odyssey that speaks to the masses -- if you're brave enough to enter the arena for an online challenge... read now

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 Loading comments...

Gunstringer. You are the Sheriff. Or at least you were. Now, you are a skeleton. You are on a mission to avenge your own death. You're also a marionette... read now

Thu, 22 Mar 2012 Loading comments...

Drawn to Life DS is an Odyssey that claims to take you to the very far reaches of the Land of Regular Games... to the borders of the Land of DIY... read now

Wed, 07 Mar 2012 Loading comments...

If ever you dreamt of a time when you could be the Hero of an Odyssey that required no assistance from the Search Engine Seer or an Informed Offspring, Mini Ninjas will shatter your dreams and break your heart... read now

Fri, 17 Feb 2012 Loading comments...

The Mars Odyssey has been with us for a very long time: since we first imagined space travel and adventures beyond the stars... read now

Fri, 27 Jan 2012 Loading comments...

Star Wars is an Odyssey I will happily travel again and again. Real actors or Lego actors, terrible special effects or cool digital animation, cartoons, fan fic, whatever. I love it in all its incarnations. Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga on 360 was therefore right up my mythic street... read now

Sun, 15 Jan 2012 Loading comments...

This week I left the Magical Isle of Fiction behind to explore the skies beyond the far, far away Land of Gaming... only to find myself in a Time Warp called Radiant, with little or no hope of a real, proper Odyssey... read now

Mon, 26 Dec 2011 Loading comments...

OK, I admit it. I started getting excited about going on this Odyssey long before I arced it up and entered the pint-sized world of Game Dev Story... read now

Mon, 19 Dec 2011 Loading comments...

This is not your archetypal Odyssey. There's no Return to the Homeland after a Great Ordeal; there's no wifey waiting patiently for you at the end of your twenty-year excursion... read now

Sun, 20 Nov 2011 Loading comments...

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