I have been writing a story, in bits and pieces, for the last two weeks or so. Earlier this week, I had started working on this post. I was going to write about how I took a very meandering route. How I had started the story from one characters perspective, and then changed it to be from another, and then changed it again to be from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, and how none of that was working. How I eventually changed it to a less conventional, but much more appropriate perspective.
None of that seems to matter very much at the moment.
There are more important things going on in the world.
The problem is, I don’t know how to write about them. I don’t know what words to use. I don’t know what order to put them in. I don’t know how to frame thoughtless tragedies and horrific, evil acts.
I know how to write stories. I know how to rework them so that they function. I know how to voice identifiable characters. At least, I think I do.
I don’t know how to write about any of this. I don’t know how to form my rage and despair into words that would be helpful to anyone.
I know how to write stories. I know how to write about games. Or movies. Or music. Or art. Or 3D animation software.
They are simple, silly, trivial things.
Maybe reading some of those things will bring someone some small amount of joy.
I believe I will keep writing about those things.
I don’t know how to write about what’s going on. That’s no reason to stop writing.
Best Games - Mass Effect (1, 2, and 3)
Games are games and movies are movie and books are books. They all work themselves into you. They all occupy different pockets of memory. Just like a song will bring me back to some specific moment, recalling a passage in a book or a sequence in a movie will set my feet in the past. Games are usually a little different, though.
Games aren’t a moment in time. A snapshot. Games are an era.
It’s partially about time. Games take a lot longer than a movie or a handful of pages to do their work. The emotional impact that etches itself into your memory takes a little longer. Occasionally, a lot longer.
I can only really compare Mass Effect to Star Trek. And it’s not for the obvious reasons. The apparent ones. That both are space faring adventures, or that both have a rich fictional history with memorable personalities from a variety of alien races. No, it’s not that. They are similar in the way that they burrowed their way into me. Slowly. Bit by bit. Scene by scene. Idea by idea.
There is no single scene that I can point to, and say ‘there, that’s Mass Effect’. There is no single combat encounter. There is no dialog sequence or character interaction. Mass Effect is the entire trilogy. All of its triumphs and fumbles. All of its strengths and failings.
I know things about Turian and Quarian Biology that will never help me in life. I can tell you the difference between a Salarian and Krogan and the complicated history of their people. This isn’t the sort of information that you casually accumulate. This is the sort of thing that you need to seek out. It needs to be reinforced over hours and hours of play time. You need to want to know this stuff. And I did. Still do.
With the singular exception of Metal Gear, I don’t think that any game series has the depth and detail that is woven into Mass Effect. None of them have spent the time. None are as cohesive. I could be wrong. I would be happy to be wrong. But I have played a lot of games. Frankly, nothing I’ve seen comes close.
Star Trek had many decades, hundreds of hours, three full, human, generations to develop its lore. Mass Effect did something similar in about a hundred hours over five years. Impressive, really, when you think about it.
I could attempt to list of great moments or characters in Mass Effect, but that’s not how they are structured in my memory. It isn’t moments. It isn’t single images. There was a time when I thought a lot about Mass Effect. An era. It is a game series tied to a time in my life. I suspect it’s similar for a lot of other people who played it. People who know, will know. For everyone else, I think I can only offer, You should play Mass Effect.
It’s one of the best games.
I would rather be writing something else.
I have a handful of unfinished shorts stories and a couple of finished ones that need edits. I would rather be writing those, but this is what I’m writing right now.
That doesn’t seem like an important detail. Like, so what. People work on the thing they don’t want to work on all the time. Maybe most of the time. That isn’t the point I’m driving toward. That’s a bigger problem, and one that I certainly won’t be able to tackle in a few hundred words. What I am going to attempt to touch on, is writers block. Or the illusion of writers block. Or dealing with it when it happens.
So, I will state up front here that I don’t think writers block is a real thing. Like, there is no point where you simply can’t get words out of the tips of your fingers, or whatever. The term ‘writers block’ is an inelegant blanket that covers a lot of subtler, but potentially more addressable, issues. I never have writers block. I have spent a lot of time not writing the thing I want to write, and I have spent a lot of time not advancing my writing. Sometimes the right words are just tough to dig up.
I think there are a lot of reasons that people aren’t able to write. Most of them come down to either expectations, or writing the wrong thing. Sometimes those are the same.
So, what am I talking about here. Well, first you have expectations. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, wants to write perfectly the first time. Every person who has ever written anything knows that the best work comes out of editing, maybe many rounds of editing. It doesn’t matter. Everyone wants to write the absolute perfect words in the absolute perfect order the first time. Suppressing the voice in your head that tells you this time it will be different, this time you will write perfectly the first time, takes practice. And time. And even then it won’t work. You will always hope you can write perfectly the first time. It will never, ever happen. Getting used to that is a huge step in the direction of living without ‘writers block’. Knowing that you will have more than one chance to get it right, that getting it right will take many rounds of editing, gives you the freedom to write poorly. Or well. It gives you the freedom to just write and figure it out later.
The second problem is sort of related to the first. Sometimes people just write the wrong thing. Not the wrong words, not the wrong content. Sometimes people feel like they have to write the part that they don’t want to deal with. The busy-work of writing. The ‘get you from here to there’ scenes or sections. This is usually because you got bogged down in the ‘Writing it properly the first time’ trap. You have started to think that there are parts you must write, even though they don’t interest you. There is an incredibly simple solution to this problem.
Don’t write that. Move on to a scene you want to write. Something interesting. Something exciting, or frightening, or powerful, or inspiring. Any of the things that you really want to write. Sticking all of those good parts together is a problem for ‘editing’ you. And ‘editing’ you will have a way easier time of it if all the scenes are exciting or interesting. They will be fun to edit, and they probably require less ‘non-interesting’ bridge material than you originally thought.
As long as you make everything you write a problem for a future version of you to deal with (this includes edits) you will eventually find that there is one version of you that has nothing left to do. That’s how you know you are done writing, and you never had to suffer through ‘writers block’ to get there. You only had to do the fun and exciting parts over and over and over again.
Everything will take way longer than you expect and most part of the process will be hard work, but none of it needs to be so terrible that you find yourself unable to write at all.
I would much rather have been writing a lot of other things, but I went and wrote all this by breaking it down into parts that I liked and worked my way though it in chunks.
Is it great. No. could it use edits. Of course. But I did write it. First word to last.
You can too.
I’m watching women’s Olympic Hockey as I write this. Earlier today, I watched Slopestyle snowboarding. Before that, we watched some Super-G skiing, and some Big Air Skiing.
I like sports. I know a lot of people don’t, even a lot of people who like games. I think maybe they should try watching the Olympics.
It’s the variety. There are just so many different types of competitions and events. All of them have their own rules and goals. Some have judging systems and points. There are so many systems and variables at work. I know that is true of all sports, but rather than having to go deep on one sport, knowing all the players, all the history, each Olympic sport will come with a lot of explanation from the commentators. No one expects the casual viewer to be acquainted with the specific degree of difficulty for a triple Salchow jump. I have been watching figure skating for years, I even used to compete in figure skating, and I could not tell you what, specifically, makes an Axel more difficult than a Salchow. Or why everyone pronounces it SowCow. That’s fine though. It doesn’t matter. As a viewer, you get to enjoy an incredible variety of sports being played at the highest level for a couple of weeks. And if you are a game designer, I think you absolutely have to watch the Olympics.
Maybe physical competition isn’t your thing. You are more of a strategy designer. Watch Curling. The nearly infinite possibility space of a game played with a few heavy pieces of granite and a giant bullseye is staggering. Maybe you like something with some team co-operation where unique roles complement each other. Watch Hockey. A team of players cycling a penalty kill effectively is beautiful, once you figure out what you are looking at. Here’s a tip. The players on the ice are rarely looking at the puck. There is no reason for you to look at the puck, either. Watch where the players go. That’s what’s important.
If you like displays of individual skill, the Winter Olympics have you covered. Any sort of ski or snowboard jumping, spinning, or flipping you can imagine. The judging of these events can be a little arcane, but it will be impressive nonetheless. And last, but not least, If you are looking for simple competitive drama, Speed Skating or snowboard cross has got you covered.
There aren’t many styles of games that aren’t covered by the Olympics. If you rope in the Summer Olympics, you also have a lot of combat sports to enjoy. Snowball fighting has not yet been declared an Olympic sport.
So, right now, the Canadian Women are dominating this game. It’s pretty much a lock. Of course, they will be playing the Americans tomorrow, so that will be more of a nail biter. I’ll probably be watching.