First Draft

From my newsletter

Last week, I delivered the first draft of “Untitled Gamification Book” to my editor. I think it’s going to be a good book! It should have something new for even the most familiar with gamification, but it’s accessible for people who’ve never heard the word at all. I hope it will delight and annoy everyone in equal measure. But this is not the time for self-promotion, with the publication date still unannounced.

It’s not the first time I’ve written a book, but waiting to hear the verdict feels very different this time. My other book, A History of the Future in 100 Objects, had a publisher, but it since it was funded on Kickstarter I didn’t feel beholden to any specific person while writing it. I deliberately chose a more traditional route with my new book, with all the good and ill that it entails.

Toward the end of my draft, I struggled a lot with the knowledge that the book would become dated as soon as I stopped writing. Of course, this is an inevitable consequence of writing any book about technology or current affairs, but the protracted book publishing process doesn’t help when compared to newspapers or magazines, let alone websites or newsletters.

But hey, I knew this going in, and it’s a trade I willingly made. Newsletters are good for some things and books are good for other things. Plus there’s a lot in the book that deals with very recent developments in gamification, but there’s much more that looks back years and decades and even centuries, so I’ve made my peace with it. Mostly.

Anyway, now that the first draft is done, I have found myself strangely free of the need to write 500 words a day for the first time in almost a year. Yes, there will be a second draft and a third draft, but I’m hopeful they won’t involve the same kind of existential dread that greets me when I begin a new chapter and wrangle hundreds of vaguely-connected ideas and references into a barely-coherent outline.

I also just finished a whole bunch of commitments I foolishly signed up to at the same time (giving various talks, reviewing a book proposal, etc.), plus the sale of my company, Six to Start, has closed. So I’m doubly clear. Feels weird. But good.

So, what’s next?

I have a few projects I’m eager to start, including an event series for people in Edinburgh involved in everything immersive (theatre, games, escape rooms, museums, VR, etc.), but realistically that’ll have to wait until next year. And I have a long piece I want to write that has absolutely nothing to do about gamification, on the disappointment that is the V&A Dundee museum, but I figured I should take more and just a few days off from serious writing to clear my head. Hence this not-so-serious newsletter!

Games-wise, I’m finally playing Control now that it has actual difficulty settings. The story isn’t quite as mindblowing as I’d been led to believe – chalk that up to spending far too long reaching the SCP wiki – and there’s way too much repetition in combat and environments, but it’s still a fun ride. Especially if you make yourself invulnerable.

I’ve been working my way through Ursula Le Guin’s entire opus. I began with The Lathe of Heaven because it was added to my library’s eBook catalog, then zoomed through The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, and the first four Earthsea books.

I’ve been told to read Le Guin for years; she’s influenced so many of my favourite including Iain Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Naomi Alderman. But when I tried to read The Left Hand of Darkness many years ago, I just bounced off it. Which is fine! There is a time and a place for every book. This time, I’ve loved every word of hers’ I’ve read. In fact, it’d be hard to overstate how influential and radicalising her writing has been on my thinking, especially during the pandemic, and especially as workers have begun to exert their power.

Reading Le Guin feels like I’m discovering one of my favourite writers as if for the first time. There’s a strange sense of familiarity and consonance, but not so much that I don’t feel challenged. And I think of all the authors I’ve read from the 60s and 70s and 80s, her ideas feel the freshest, sci-fi or not.

Another book highlight this year has been George Saunder’s A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which combines classic Russian short stories with a masterclass in fiction writing. Turns out the great Russian writers were pretty good – who knew?! I took a lot of comfort from Saunders’ advice, which has a lot of specifics but ultimately boils down to “find out what you’re good at, and stop trying to be a ‘great’ writer”.

On TV, we watched all five seasons of The Bureau, a French spy show that’s been doing the rounds of media hipsters and podcasters. It’s the best multi-season show I’ve seen since Halt and Catch Fire and incidentally features some very fine examples of storytelling-by-computer-screen. I remain beguiled by desktop simulator and phone simulator games and stories and I wish we had more.

We also watched a lot of movies – you can see them all on my Letterboxd! Highlights include The Conversation, Kajillionaire, Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love, After Life, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, pretty much all of Ozu’s movies, and surprisingly, Luca. If you want an uncomplicated, sunny coming-of-age story with a delightful score by the guy who Beasts of the Southern Wild (Dan Romer), this is the movie for you.

I’m about to check out a new Disney+ show, The Mysterious Benedict Society, which I can legitimately claim is research for work (but not for Disney), keep reading through Le Guin, and start outlining my V&A Dundee thing.

Keep well everyone,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s