Unlikely Places

Sorry I’m late with the post today…

You see, there was this tiger – a whole pack of tigers! – and these defenseless babies, and I was the only one around to help…

Err, never mind.

I was monkeying around with video games the other night (not a terribly rare occurrence, I grant you) when I happened to grab a copy of one of this month’s free PS-Plus game called This War of Mine.

Now, I had heard of this game before so I knew what I was in for…but it still managed to surprise and impress me. I’m not going to review the game itself, other than to say that it is very good and well worth playing, but rather mention how that game got me thinking about something in short supply in games…and, all too often, in books and movies, too.

Emotion. True, honest, biting, hit-you-in-the-face emotion.

Too often writers – and directors, and game producers – confuse adrenaline and engagement with emotion. Not the same thing. Not by a long shot.

This War of Mine is a game about war. But – and this is a big BUT – it is not about running around shooting people in the face. It is about surviving, and in this latest version about protecting the helpless. It was written by people who grew up during the war in Sarajevo, and is based very heavily on their experiences, as well as on other accounts of cities held long under siege.

You don’t look for ammo, you look for food. You don’t build bunkers, you scavenge wood to build beds. And when the kids come to your door looking for food, and for a bit of warmth in the midst of winter? Yeah, they nailed the emotion of that.

It is all about honesty: being honest to the circumstances surrounding your player – or your reader, for those of us who write – as well as being honest to your characters and to the world you created.

I have played thousands of games, but how many stick with me? A handful…and each of those held emotion and honesty that rose far above the game itself. Can you feel that intensely in a game, I hear you ask? You bet your ass.

Just a bare handful of books and movies have inspired in me the emotion and pain – the grief and celebration – that came from one short, simple game: That Dragon, Cancer. If you’ve never heard of it, change that. Play it…but be warned, it will break you. It is far more than a game, it is an experience. It is grief at the death of a child…and a celebration of his life.

For anyone who dismisses video games as shallow and soulless, those two titles are my immediate reply. They are also a lesson to those of us who write: you can very much create a world of honest and powerful emotion no matter your genre or medium. Let’s be honest – many folks out there dismiss sci-fi and fantasy, just like video games, as being cheesy schlock. And, okay, many of those stories are, sadly, schlock…but that does not change the fact that you can deliver something powerful.

And that is what we should always aspire to create: an experience. It is the desire to create that depth of experience, that honesty about life and pain and love, that drives me to write. It permeates every character I create, and is the subtext to every scene I imagine. Shit, why else would anyone bother to do this to themselves?

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