Writer In Residence, June 2012
In a recent post at Edge, James Leach wrote,
Niko Bellic out of Grand Theft Auto IV is possibly the first game character not to be an extreme of anything. Yes, he’s tough; yes, he’s laconic; yes, he’s flawed; yes, he’s Serbian; but he transcends this collection of defining characteristics. He’s a weary, damaged bloke clinging on to hope in a rubbish world with a titty-obsessed close relative. Basically, he’s Paul Ross.
Niko works, though, because his setting is original and adult.
I haven’t played the GTA4 myself, and to be honest I probably won’t (it’s a hard game to make time for when you share living quarters with a curious four year old), but what’s compelling in Leach’s post is what it reflects about culture more broadly: the ability to take video games seriously without having to constantly justify that critical lens, and to write about more than just playability, graphics, etc. That this is evident in the sphere of online literature, too, will surprise no one: there’s plenty of writing about video games, but what I find more exciting are the ways in which games as culture creep into poetry, fiction, memoir, and other genres without being “the point” but rather part of the context as much as books, music, and cinema are. I’m excited about the potential for that familiarity, and I’m just as excited to announce that June’s Writer In Residence will be Mike Meginnis, a writer well qualified to explore these intersections.
I’m constantly trying to one-up myself for the reader’s entertainment. Sometimes this gets counterproductive and I can be overbearing about it. Sometimes I get blocked because I’m so worried about entertaining the reader. That same anxiety fuels my work in the text adventures. I try to act as a co-author and collaborator, but some writers are more comfortable acting as equals in this situation than others, and I’m the one who got us into the mess in the first place, so ultimately I feel responsible for the player’s experience. And I’ll twist things and cheat a little here and there in order to produce a better experience, certainly. The fear of boring someone who’s right there with you, waiting to see what you make in real time, does the opposite of blocking you: it makes you practical and sharp, I think.
He’s talking most immediately about his brilliant and thrilling series Exits Are, for which he invites other writers to perform a text adventure with him. But that quote also captures so much of the tension, anxiety, and excitement of writing in general, perhaps especially in a world more excited about louder, faster, flashier media — media with which we can either compete or collaborate. I think it’s safe to say Mike has chosen to make the most of an expanding media landscape, and the culture it makes possible. And it’s clear, too, it’s working, because his story “Navigators” — published by Hobart — was selected for Best American Short Stories. You’ll have to (and should) buy a copy of the journal to read the story, but you can read its bonus material online.
I don’t know quite what Mike has in store for us this month, any more than his player/authors know what’s in store when they sit down for an installment of Exits Are, but I know we’re in for something exciting and for some writing and reading that could only come from a context of taking video games and game culture seriously, seriously enough we can enjoy their influence even when we aren’t reading or writing about games at all.