ARGs in Charity and Education Conference

Despite the real and growing interest in ‘serious’ ARGs from companies and broadcasters, there hasn’t yet been a conference dedicated to the subject where people can share knowledge. There’s so much potential for what serious ARGs can do that I’ve worked with the guys at Law 37 to organise ARGs in Charity and Education, a conference being held in London on Friday 5th December.

This one-day conference will be the first in the world to explore the use of ARGs for educational purposes and to aid charities. With speakers from the BBC, Channel 4, Oil Productions, Six to Start, Leicester University, Open University and more, commissioners, developers, academics and educators will all be represented.

ARGs in Charity and Education is a great opportunity to learn about the latest serious ARGs around the world, gain behind-the-scenes insights from developers, and also find out what the two biggest commissioners of ARGs in the UK have planned for the future.

Channel 4 have kindly donated a very nice venue at their headquarters for the conference, and all profits will be going to Cancer Research UK. Tickets cost £70 (£35 for students).

‘ARGs in Charity and Education’ is run by Let’s Change the Game and Law 37.

The Shadow War: Getting Boys to Read

How do you get boys to read? One way is to write entertaining and dramatic books, preferably including some violence. This is what Charlie Higson did for his Young Bond series of books, and judging by the fact that they have sold close to a million copies, it’s a pretty good strategy.

Of course, in this new era of digital TV, YouTube and videogames, it can be difficult to attract boys to books, but that’s exactly what we’re attempting with Young Bond: The Shadow War, a web-based point-and-click adventure that’s fused with a book.

Working with book publishers

Being an ARG designer has put me in contact with a variety of semi-famous film, TV and game producers, but I’ve particularly enjoyed working with book publishers.

The publishers I’ve met have all had a very healthy regard for authors. Given that it’s authors who write the books that they sell, this may seem perfectly normal, but in other industries, these people are not called authors – they are ‘creatives’. ‘Creatives’, who include everyone from designers to writers to artists – in fact, everyone who actually makes stuff – are treated as a black box, into which any number of woolly and contradictory notes can be placed, with predictably unhappy results.

(NB: I recently interviewed an actor for an upcoming project, and unwittingly used the word ‘creative’. The fact that she failed to stifle a giggle confirms to me that I have fallen so very far from grace…)

Six to Start‘s first project with a publisher was We Tell Stories, in which we created six online-only stories for Penguin Books. We worked with six different authors, and Penguin placed a refreshing amount of trust in us and our work, which allowed us to get on with the matter at hand – making some really fantastic stories. 1700 blog posts later, along with features in Newsweek, Wired, the Guardian and BBC News, this trust was borne out.

This experience meant that we jumped at the chance to work on a game to promote the final book in the Young Bond series, By Royal Command. Sure, it wasn’t for the movies, but it was still James Bond. And the books were very good. Continue reading “The Shadow War: Getting Boys to Read”

Anathem and neologisms

A lot of people are criticising Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Anathem, for containing vast quantities of invented words. Instead of mobile phones, he has jeejahs; for video, he has speely; for church, he has ark; and so on.

I had been warned about these beforehand, and yet I still became irritated during the first couple of hundred pages (at which point I would be nearing the end for most novels, but for Anathem, not even up to the first act), since I regularly had to turn to the glossary to remind myself of what they all meant. It wasn’t particularly clear to me why he insisted on doing this.

However, once the words had bedded down in my mind, I realised that there was a very simple and good reason for inventing new words; they are free of the baggage and connotations that we automatically associate with ‘normal’ words. If I say Plato, or Aristotle, or Science, or Humanities to you, then a certain notion may immediately pop up in your mind. This notion, however, is probably an amalgam of various things you have read, or heard, or seen – it is probably not the product of actual considered thought on your own part. Which is not surprising since most people don’t have much reason to be thinking about these concepts.

Stephenson replaces these well-worn characters and concepts with new words, and in doing so, forces the reader to consider their meaning from first principles, which is a major point of the book. It is often painful to do this, but definitely worthwhile if you can get through it. Speaking for myself, it was one of the most engaging and dramatic philosophy primers I’ve ever read, and it’s one of those few books that makes you think there might be a better way to live your life.

None of this requires jeejahs and speelys, which (at least to me) correspond directly to things we have in our world, and frankly it seems a bit bloody-minded for Stephenson to insist on giving them new names when he still calls a train a train. What I can tell you is that there are actually very few such words, and most of the invented words have good reasons for being invented.

Ultimately, Stephenson opened himself up for unnecessary criticism with his use of jeejahs, which has allowed people to dismiss the whole book as being sophomoric, when in fact it’s just a small niggle that is merely trying to play along with the far more worthwhile invented (or rather, disguised) concepts and characters.

Austin GDC talk

After becoming irritated about putting in a lot of work to prepare talks for conferences, and then for all that work to promptly vanish into the ether once my hour is up, I resolved to do something about it. I’ve bought a reasonably good microphone and have started recording the talks that I give to different people; I am also going to start posting edited transcripts.

The first talk is ‘We Tell Stories: A New Form of Storytelling’, which I gave on September 17th 2008 at the Austin Game Developers conference.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1887664&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Unfortunately the slides didn’t quite work in this recording, but I hope to start using screencast software for recording talks in future, which will be far more interesting and useful – particularly for one like this. In fact I may end up re-recording this one. There are also things I would do with the gain and such.

This talk starts out well, and then begins to ramble a bit towards the end when I realise I’ve lost one page of my notes. The ending is also slightly uneven, although arguably the most controversial, since telling a room full of game writers that I think most of their stories are mediocre, was enough to make me think I was going to get lynched. Fortunately that didn’t happen, and while some people were unhappy, a majority of people agreed with my basic argument – that we have to do better.