Recently, I’ve struggled to return to readings. I peruse the newest offerings for Prairie Lights Live, hoping for that fire to engulf my attention like a new FromSoftware-esque cycle. There’s a nap and my son waiting for me at home. However, how could I turn down an evening with the creative director over at Sledgehammer?
I know my focus here has been on poetry and literature, but that really is only half of the story: when I’m analyzing data at my desk, I’m almost certainly listening to a podcast on gaming news or design. When I’m walking my westie, my tempo is set to remixes of the Bloodborne soundtrack. Unlocking my home or office includes the incandescent glimmer of my key ring Hunter’s Mark in the light. It’s such a different, but equally valuable, form of artistic influence. No collection of poetry has left me more environmentally conscious than Horizon: Zero Dawn. I am hard-pressed to consider what better encompasses mental illness than games like the haunting award-winning audio of the pseudo triple-AAA breakout Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (which, by the way, deeply earned its wins for “Games for Change” and “Best Voice Actor”). Dark Souls has reignited my appreciation of high fantasy that was sapped away by cliched pages years ago. Books and games deliver what the other lacks and carry a purpose the other simply cannot handle in the mere nature of their presentation.
Thus, you must imagine the thrill when these two worlds blend – to hear fiction from the man who bridges these separate continents, wrote for Blizzard, EA, and beyond, and crafted the world of Overwatch. Even better, he explains his own experiences with psychology and morphs them into the main character.
This is one of the more well-received readings I’ve attended. However, the room was packed with animators and computer designers in graphic tees and casual overtones (I, along with one other person of the 20 or so attendees, was the only audience member not currently enrolled in a technological field). He read with confidence before he discussed his artistic overlap of literature and games. World-building was a topic of focus, how essential it is in game and fiction writing. He’s even carried over Easter eggs into writing (which elicited a couple chuckles). When asked which story was his favorite, he expressed his love of writing about the World of Warcraft dwarves. In his mind, they lacked a true saga, so he decided to tackle this and give these characters what they deserve. Though I am not familiar with this series, others nodded their heads in agreement. The major characters, such as Arthas, may have truly noble stories in place, but he definitely had a soft spot for the hidden heroes. Another interesting point he posited is how the vision in video games is, essentially, controlled by the player – he recounted stories told to him by fans that neither he nor the other developers ever thought would come from the scenes they so meticulously crafted. This rings deeply of Dark Souls for me, where the wonderful lore is woven in places as subtle as flavor text or item descriptions, or the placement of items in the world. You could absolutely play it mindlessly and never even once think of the story – this happened for my initial playthrough of Bloodborne. The first run was a vacuous display of aggression, while the ending to my next profile left me gasping. Overall, I’m excited to see how a gamer weaves his words and plays these niche details on the page.
While signing, he was extremely amicable, listening to the dreams of the aspiring developers and designers play out before him. I only wished I could be a true cog of this industry. Waiting in line, watching the data scientists and artists animate their hopes before him, a waterfall of doubt consumed me when I’ve always been so sure of my career path. I introduced myself as a misplaced neuroscientist who hopes to find their place in this world of programming and imagination. He assured me, there is no one way into video games anymore. He encouraged, it is the passion that determines this more than anything. I believed this after his displays of love for his own children of creativity, and I too believe I can pursue all of my occupational kin equally. Lastly, we were all drunk off the excitement of his announcement – that he may be eyeing the Midwest, particularly Iowa City, as the home of his next business endeavor. Here, we chimed, he will find an enthusiastic pool of gamers from all facets of life.
If you are ever in Iowa City, I beg you to pick up a drink over at Pullman’s – sipping on my own rendition of their powerful Bee’s Knees sweet gin cocktail, I’ve read the first few chapters of this book. The writing is as captivating and smooth as the character’s tactful reading of patterns. It bears just enough reality in a world of advanced technology and old fantasy to relate with the outcasts. For weeks, it topped Amazon’s techno-fantasy search, garnering a 4.5 rating on Goodreads. I do not know what carries more worth: the experience of this gathering, the book itself, or the inscription that pushes me more towards a different path every day – “Jenna ~ The world of games awaits you!”