Does anyone else have friends or relatives who tell them “you write really well - you should write a proper novel” or, even worse, “you should turn one of your games into a proper novel”?
Leaving aside the fact that most IF games would not translate particularly well Into static fiction, I suppose I could write a novella or something. But I would have to go through the whole rigamarole of getting it published, or else publish it myself, and there’s a good chance that it wouldn’t find any more readers than my interactive fiction does. And frankly I find the inference that IF isn’t proper fiction rather condescending!
I just wondered if anyone else got this sort of thing from their nearest and dearest and how you responded to it?
Well, almost nobody I know will play IF, so I do get this. But they have no idea whether I write well or not; they just know that I’m writing things that they can’t (won’t) access, so I get all the variations on “Why don’t you write something that regular people can read?” This is a recurring theme for most artistic endeavors; for my visual art I get a lot of comments like, “You’re so talented! Why can’t you make things I like instead of all the skulls and vaginas and internal organs?”
All the time from my family. Mainly because they still don’t (want to) understand what IF is and how non-IF work does not require the same kind of action as IF (also I have some distant relation to writers who’ve done well… so pressure on top of that), even though they have no knowledge (or care to look up) how difficult it is to publishe a book to begin with.
I’ve started answering: “Nah, I’m good.” And leave it at that.
All of my friends are creatives in their own right, (it’s a major source of bonding and spending time together for us) so I’ve not really gotten any rude comments like that. Most either write interactive fiction or play it themselves, and several have tried out assorted Twine games like Porpentine’s stuff at my suggestion, since it’s quite an accessible genre if you already like reading and writing. Not having the difficulty in learning how to properly play a parser game helps, I think, as I mostly play and write choice based works. I basically am friends with only artists, writers, and a handful of game developers in more recent times.
As for my dad, he’s vaguely aware that I write, but has never really pried into it, mostly out of respect for the fact I’m very shy about showing my work in person to people- even though I’ve only ever basically received praise from professors, teachers, and peer critique groups: something about standing or sitting by the person reading through your work makes me squirm like a worm baking out beneath the sun even if everything they say is nice.
He does buy me books and journals and writing supplies and accoutrement, (like a very cute linen pencil case I use to store my journalling scrapbooking supplies). Now and then he’ll ask about if I’ve still kept up the hobby, and just nod in approval if I say yes, because he knows that I enjoy it. He hasn’t read any of my games, but was very proud for my having joined SpringThing when he found out about it, because he knows how painfully awkward I am about sharing my writing with other people in real life.
The rest of my biological family does not know anything about my personal life, especially pertaining to my hobbies, more or less, and I prefer to keep it that way (to avoid ridicule and other unpleasantries.)
(I accidentally edited this post instead of posting a new one, I’ll recreate the content from memory)
In this case it was my brother who made the comment, but I often heard it from my parents when they were alive. My brother hasn’t played any of my games, but I was playing my latest WIP with my 12 year old nephew Max, and was reading it aloud (and doing all the voices!) Max has played most of my games (and prefers parser to choice-based). He made some good suggestions too, so he’ll be credited as a beta-tester.
I’m fortunate to have two friends IRL who occasionally test my games, and this time they actually volunteered! I guess I’m pretty lucky in that regard.
I’ve gotten that. “Why don’t you write a crappy fantasy trilogy that sells for a huge pile of money? It can’t be that hard; [relative X] did it and he’s not very bright.”
It’s a reasonable question. I mean, it’s not condescending about IF; it’s just asking if I might like a huge pile of money, which in fact I would. However, I would find the process very stressful and the odds of success are low. So I haven’t tried.
I got a “you should turn this into a proper novel” once after explaining to that person why I had tried and not completed it (Budacanta having started as a conventional, if short, book and later become IF). I am tempted to do some sort of PDF+text file storification of a walkthrough or two specifically to get round this sort of thinking (Yes, you can have a book, and if you want more, the game’s right there ).
My family are interested in computing and think the concept makes perfect sense, even if only one of them is ever likely to deliberately experience it (they find my comments about the development process more interesting than the likely resulting game). Some of my friends understand and others do not, but the person who gave me the “why don’t you write a proper novel?” was a perfect stranger.
Some other people have suggested there’s a book in my story, because they didn’t realise the anecdote I just gave them would be recorded by anything more than a verbal anecdote (parts of the IF stand quite well as gossip/banter exchange materials). Those people were as happy to hear it will be a computer game as they would likely have been had I confirmed there was going to be a book.
I haven’t gotten this exactly. I tend not to discuss my game development much with people I know personally, because they sometimes get the false impression that I’m either: A) a skilled programmer (nothing could be farther from the truth), or B) trying to compete with commercial games and thus completely delusional (I’m not, and I’m not). I do have one friend who tested one of my RPGs and has also played one of my text adventures.
I did have a conversation recently with another indie/amateur game developer who insisted that games are toys (not stories), therefore games should not focus heavily on narrative. He said that if your first question about a game has to do with the story, you should look for a movie or book instead. I agree that the primary mode of interaction with games is play, but (as a fan of RPGs and adventure games) I disagree thoroughly on the role of narrative in games.
In my case, it’s condescension about games in general. In the view of many people, games are all violent and brain-rotting and a waste of time and they cause kids to shoot up schools and be lazy. And what’s worse, I’m not even making any money by perpetrating this evil. My family would be OK with me running Exxon as long as it came with a fat salary. I have tried to explain that most games are not GTA, and that many of them are art and fiction combined. Regarding IF, I have explained until I am blue in the face that being able to participate in a written story is a thing that many readers would enjoy if they gave it a chance, and that part of its charm is that I am beholden to no one in making what I want and not worrying about the financial returns. This is not something that computes, though.
I did recently sway my 84-year-old aunt a little by playing The Good Ghost with her, so there’s a ray of hope. She was so surprised that we didn’t beat up a prostitute in it.
I’m sorry that games carry such a stigma in your family. They don’t in mine. My siblings and I all played them as kids on our old 8-bit machines. We’re a very small family, most of my living relatives are 12,000 miles away in New Zealand, so it’s just me, my brother and sister and her husband, and my sister’s two boys. We all enjoy playing games of all kinds.
That’s a big part of it for me, too. I went into animation because I thought it would be an interesting career, but now I spend most of my time making corporate films for terrible corporations. Writing IF is mine. Unlike a film director I don’t need a big budget so I’m not beholden to investors, and I always have the final cut. I really don’t care that I don’t make any money from it.
I haven’t found parser skills transferrable to regular writing, or even choice-based writing.
For me, I have two game writers inside of me. One wants to come up with clever mechanics and ideas but only sketches them out. The other really likes to write prose with tight constraints.
So the first guy goes and makes a bare-bones Inform game with “FIX THIS LATER” everywhere. The next day, the second guy comes along and thinks ‘hmmm, I have to figure out what this person in this voice would say in this situation’, and they work really well together.
In longform prose I haven’t figured out how to get this to work. It’s just the second guy working alone. When I made my Choicescript game it was grueling and I hated myself every second of the day, and I think the time I was spending on it (with little progress) contributed to my divorce and resulted in the worst-selling Choicescript game in IF history. It didn’t help that, like traditional publishing (I think?) there were milestones to hit so early chapters were expected to be solidified before later chapters were worked on. At least there were some mechanics; a straight-up book would really exacerbate these problems.
So writing a book would just be exhausting, use skills I don’t have, and not be enjoyable, and doesn’t pay much (the median full-time novelist makes less than $21,000/year and the median part-time author makes less than $6500 a year).
There’s fame, too, but in the nearest bookstore near you there are thousands of authors with published books; how many of them can you name? To become an author that is a household name has about the same shots as being an NBA star. So what’s the point?
I know this was an Id Software philosophy back in the 90s but I’m really surprised there are still indie game devs who believe this. If you wanna optimize the game mechanics for gameplay, that’s totally valid, but that’s not how games must always be.
I mean, has this guy ever watched kids play with toys? I dunno what you did with your legos and cars and action figures, but I was busy building insanely convoluted stories while playing with them. (Usually with very bad improvised voice-acting on my part.)
I write both traditional fiction and IF (came to IF after many years of traditional fiction writing), and it’s been interesting to note the difference in experience between the two. What stands out most of all is the IF community–seeing this small, passionate group of people engaging with this year’s Spring Thing games (the first major IF event since I got involved in the community) really made an impression on me, and made me so glad I found my way here!
Regarding the “pile of money” question, there are so many things that have to line up, and so much work and effort unrelated to sitting down and writing the actual prose.
Keeping a fan base once you’ve grown one is also incredibly difficult. I’ve intersected with a number of writers who’ve hit it big one month complaining three months later they were ghosted by their fans. A year later, they’ve given up.
In the self-pub world, I see writers putting out new books in their series every nine weeks. Using AI for writing assistance (or simply out-and-out writing the book) is no longer considered optional when you’re on that kind of schedule.
If you want to make solid money writing fiction, write romance. Seriously.
Otherwise, write a book because you want to write a book. If it goes big—congratulations. If it doesn’t, at least you wrote the book you wanted to write.
I don’t get that, but like most I don’t know people who actually get what I’m doing (except probably one friend from school, but that person already self-published a quite interesting murder mystery at 7) and yet I try and get everyone i know to play out the game. They don’t understand what they’re meant to do, and just type in stuff like “IS ANYBODY THERE??? HELLLOOOO”
But I also get what some of them mean: I spend too much time programming. Peers know me as “the coder” as we use laptops all the time to work (luckily I don’t do coding during breaktimes), and outside I’m starting to wonder how interesting it would be to take a week break (I mean I just had a 3-week one; I should be fine for the moment).
Relating back to the question: none personally, but reading through the experiences you’ve had: it’s quite… It seems like a lot of pressure.
(The only form of IF that I feel could be classified as a ‘toy’, in my opinion, is the sort of stuff going into the single-choice jam: for example, Aisle, because it has lots of cool additions to it but no working story or proper puzzle.)