15 October 2014

Depression Quest – A Review

Welcome back, readers!

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about #GamerGate and their espoused views on women developers and characters.  Gawker actually has a pretty solid article on it, focused around the current GG focal point of Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn.

Given that many of the criticisms I encountered were couched in "but it was a crappy game" language, I decided to play the game myself.  By the way, Depression Quest is free on Steam, if you'd be so inclined to play it yourself.  It's a pretty short game on a per-playthrough basis which is a blessing, because as a person who has struggled with depression for pretty much my entire life, I can say that even a few hours in the head of a seriously depressed individual is utterly exhausting, but before I give you my full take on the game, allow me to enumerate the main complaints against it (which you can see in the Gawker article and also on the Steam Community comments).

1) "This isn't even a game"
2) "Depression isn't like this."
3) "Woman developer – ack outrage"

Let's be contrarian together and tackle that list in reverse order.  "Woman developer - ack outrage"... This is ridiculous as an argument against the game – or any game for that matter.  Does the game have failings? Yes.  But those failings have to do with expectations versus what was delivered, and absolutely nothing to the gender/sex of the writer.

Tackling the 2nd comment is a bit more difficult, because parts of the cohort that argues this are actually sufferers from depression themselves.  The fact is that, yes, depression really is like this – where options are cut off to you, where you spiral out of control in negative feedback loops, where you can't get out of bed somedays, where you are literally stuck with only a few options and sometimes those options really suck.  But not everyone's experience with depression is the same, so part of that complaint that Depression isn't as shown, is true.  The HEART of depression which is shown openly and viciously and painfully in this game is actually honest and very useful.  If you or someone you know suffers from depression or knows someone who does, I have 2 bits of advice for you: 1) Therapy.  Seriously.  Therapy is the single best tool you can arm yourself with in order to survive depression.  2) Get yourself and those around you resources in order to understand depression.  Depression Quest is a great, interactive tool.  Andrew Solomon's TED Talk is brilliant and helpful.  Dr. David Burns's Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy is a great book on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

That brings us to the 1st complaint, that Depression Quest isn't a game.  This argument is understandable, because the vehicle for the game is so much different than most other games.  There's not a lot of interaction, there is a lot of reading, and there's very definite lack of images.  So, yeah, that is different.  The writing is exceptional, the options that are crossed out are every bit as important as the options you do have access to, and like actual depression, the game doesn't really "end" in the traditional sense.  There's no triumphal march, no victory trumpets, just a general feeling that you've made the best decisions you could given what you felt, and that you've survived.

In my opinion, it's a game worth playing.  There were a lot of risks taken in the minimalism of the game, and not all of them paid off, but that the designers took risks is great.  The writing is solid.  The story is super depressing, and that will frustrate people, but it's still a worthwhile playthrough.

As always, thanks for reading.

07 October 2014

For the Planners

Welcome back, Readers,

I realized the other day that I have shown much love to the pantsers, the plungers, the "I only write an outline after I've written the paper" sort of writers.  In short, I've shown love to writers who – like myself – loathed the assignment of writing an outline to hand in for approval before handing in a paper.  For writers like us, we've heard our whole lives that "Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance."  And that mantra is still true, but what proper planning looks like is different for each person.  So our proper preparation for those outlines was to write an entire essay, then back-draft that outline.  Thankfully, none of my outlines were ever rejected, but I did have friends who's outlines were rejected, and they had to write an additional essay to hand in a new outline.  That's miserable, but for some of us it's the only way.  Ian Flemming used this method, so it can't be all bad.

HOWEVER, I want to share some love with the Planners, the Masterminds, those writers who can create a beautiful outline fully formed from their heads, like Dianne from the forehead of Jupiter.  Dear Planners, I salute you.  I salute your ability to hammer your ideas into a cutting narrative in the space of a few bullet points and arrows.  You're in the grand company of John Grisham.

Then there's a third class of writer, too.  There are those who, like Hemingway, must write their words each day, then comb over them relentlessly – again, again – until those words sing.  Then, comforted in the song of those words, the writer can continue telling more story.  This seems an agonizing process, but then we all suffer in different ways for the sake of craft.

For this third group of writers, you can still participate in NaNoWriMo, and you can even win, but it may be hard.  Rest assured that when you finish, you'll have a much more manageable draft than most of the rest of us.  If you want proof of your ability to win, look no further than Ted Boone and his essay featured in Writer's Digest.

Readers, I look forward to seeing you all, regardless of process, at NaNoWriMo.

02 October 2014

Writing Fast. Gearing up for NaNoWriMo


"I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used "terrible" six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren't disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks."  – Ian Fleming

 Well, Readers, it's most definitely October, and that means in one month hundreds of thousands of writers around the globe will be busily working their ways towards as many as tens of billions of words through the smashing success that is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.  As those brave souls galvanize themselves this month by hoarding coffee, candies, and typing-friendly snacks, let us pause to consider something:
1) You (yes, you sitting in that chair right now) could be one of those brave souls.

2) Probably you've already expressed a desire to share some story that you've got burning deep inside of you, so NaNoWriMo can be the catalyst to let that fiery tale into the realms of reality. (Sign up is free!)

3) There's no penalty for failure if you don't meet the 50,000 word finish line at the end of November (I should know, as I've not crossed that finish line a single time).

4) No matter how many words you write or don't write at the end of that month, those words that you did write are more than all those poor souls who say, "I've got a novel in me, but I just never find the time."  By participating in NaNoWriMo, you didn't find the time.  You MADE it.

5) Some of the best stories have been written in incredibly short amounts of time.

(Excerpted from James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers)

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks, writing from midnight to 4 AM, then sending it off to the publisher without changing a word. (You're not Faulkner, by the way).
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote what some consider his best novel, The Sun Also Rises, also in six weeks, part of it in Madrid, and the last of it in Paris in 1925.
  • In on stunning stretch (1953-1954) John D. MacDonald produced seven novels of high quality. Over the course of the decade, he wrote many more superb books, including the classic The End of the Night, which some mention in the same breath as Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Also Cry Hard, Cry Fast which was the basis for the title of this [chapter].
    So prolific was MacDonald that he was needled by a fellow writer who, over martinis, sniffed that John should slow down, ignore "paperback drivel," and get to "a real novel." MacDonald sniffed back that in 30 days* he could write a novel that would be published in hardback, serialized in the magazines, selected by a book club, and turned into a movie.  The other writer laughed and bet him $50 that [MacDonald] couldn't  pull it off.
    MacDonald went home and, in a month, wrote The Executioners. It was published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear. Twice. 
Bell goes on to detail several other writers and their triumphant sprints to finished novels, but the point is that you can be a writer.  Writers write.  That's it.  Period.  

Jack London started writing with zero skill – barely able to put sentences together.  But he wrote.  A lot.  At first he wrote almost eighteen hours a day.  He filled a trunk with rejection letters.  When he died at the age of forty, he was the single highest paid and most prolific writer of the era.  If you're reading this blog, odds are that you're already a better writer than Jack London started off as.  Daily texting, status updates, and constant streams of reading materials across hundreds and thousands of authorial voices means that you've got a SERIOUS head-start on Jack London.  (Plus, he's dead, so he can't get any better and that means you can beat him!) 

So, if you want to write, then write.  

NaNoWriMo can help in a lot of ways – get you plugged into a community of other perspiring authors, give you the nudge to get back to your story, send you free pep-talks from authors like Brandon Sanderson and Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones.  

As always, Thanks for reading.