Ludic Writing: Lady of the West

Have you heard about Ludic Writing? It’s a new series I started up on Entropy last fall, using gameplay as an engine to drive fiction. The newest work generated from this grand experiment is “Lady of the West,” inspired by a play of Tim Fowers’ original deckbuilding word game, Paperback. When the mayor of lawless Narrow Gulch, Wyoming, is shot dead, it’s business as usual…until a mysterious stranger rides into town and announces her inclination to stay awhile. Read up on Paperback in the accompanying Session Report, then check out the story here:

Ludic Writing: Lady of the West

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The Slaying of the Grendelgrinch

Every year at Entropy, we do a holiday poem exchange. Below, you’ll find a prose poem I wrote in 2017 for Dennis Sweeney, shared here with his permission. This piece meant a lot to me, as it was one of the first purely creative works (not a review or supplement) I had written in a long time. It showed me that, in spite of the depression and the self-doubt and the mental fatigue, I could still write creatively, and in doing so, it played a big role in encouraging me to spend more time in 2018 writing fiction. It’s a collision between two behemoths of English literature—you’ll need to read to figure out exactly which two. Thank you, Dennis, for making me feel like a writer again. It was the best gift I could have asked for.


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The Slaying of the Grendelgrinch

The interior wall of a bubble trapped in a column of water. Follow the curve. There, collected at the bottom like a mound of dew. Push in. It’s a little town, isn’t it? See the lights strung up between the houses? Can you hear the singing?

You may have heard this story before. That’s all the Whos of Whoville, gathered for their Giftmas feast. Except the question of the season isn’t Who, it’s What. As in: What made that noise? What snatched up the Carpenter girl when she was wandering among the Giftmas tree lot? What left nothing behind but a yellow sock, a butterfly clip, and a pelvic bone? And What are we going to do about it?

Those aren’t songs of peace and joy. They’re battle-hymns, passed down from the ancestral Whats of Whatville who fought tooth and nail to establish this colony on the bottom curve of the great rising bubble. And those aren’t fairy lights among the houses; they’re torches. Fire, the ancient enemy of my enemy. The same fire that roasted the Giftmas Beast will now spread out from the village square in fine, incandescent lines like spectral imaging of a shy girl’s blushing cheek. It will spread into the dark wood and the cave warrens where monsters dwell. Because tonight, the Whats of Whatville aim to catch themselves a Grendel.

The evening snow blankets everything. Except in the dark wood, where it clumps in the branches of the trees, causing them to creak and crack and moan; or in the cave warrens, where it forms an insulating barrier, a cozy seal for the things that sigh upon their beds of bones; or in the Giftmas tree lot, where it gathers in the blue-green fir of the proud pines, causing them to droop and sag. But on the edge of the lot, just past the small dirt mound whence they exhumed the remains of the Carpenter girl, the tracks are clear. Grinch tracks.

The song changes. The question is no longer What; it’s How, as in: How to slay a Grendelgrinch? The Mayor of Howville delivers a long, booming oratory to the assembled Hows. The beast must be routed with fire. Its heart (two sizes too small) must be dug out and immolated to prevent it rising again. This Grinch has been a nuisance for far too long; it’s not enough to simply chase it back to its warren in the mountains. It must be destroyed, the nest razed, eggs scrambled, earth salted. Yesno? “Yesno!” answers the booming voice of the mob.

The Mayor of Howville sends a runner to rouse the great How hero Beartrap Jones, who emerges from his longhouse clad in sun-colored metal. Across his back is slung a blade crafted from the spindle-leg of a flea, the great beast the hero slew bested in the famed wrestling match. Royal blood and godly ichor pulse in his veins, commixed with stranger stuff.

The crowd falls silent as Beartrap Jones expounds his plan to trap the Grendelgrinch. The singing of the Hows, their merry, piping voices, is a thing the monster cannot stand. As they march into the dark wood, their torches spilling red upon the snow-laden branches, they begin to sing their Giftmas carols, hoping to draw out the beast. Their tiny voices echo off the bubble’s distant vault, their reflected torches glittering like stars.

The Hows reach the mountain. But when they search the Grinch’s cave, they find it empty. Where does the beast hide? Where do these cramped tunnels lead as they quest down, down, down like roots, deep into the mountain’s belly? And to Where does this bubble rise as it climbs up, up, vertiginously up?

Among the bones that form the Grendelgrinch’s nest, the Mayor of Whereville unearths the skull of a small girl and a tattered, half-digested red ribbon. The Wheres of Whereville call for blood. As Beartrap Jones follows the Grinch’s spoor trail down, down, deep into the belly of the mountain, the Wheres of Whereville torch the nest and, when they’ve finished, most of the mountainside. The torchlight pours down the tunnels like a river of molten gold.

Down at the mountain’s root, Beartrap Jones discovers a cool, dark, subterranean lake. And there, by its shores, he fights the cornered Grendelgrinch. He unsheathes his flea-sword, and it sings for the monster’s flesh. The Grendel’s claws glance off the hero’s sun-colored armor, spitting out brief sparks that illuminate the dark cavern. The hero’s spindlesword pierces the beast’s heart once, twice, thrice. It falls into the water, gravely wounded, and Beartrap Jones strips off his armor and dives in after it to retrieve the fell creature’s shriveled heart.

But alas! The bards of Whereville sing lamentations for Beartrap Jones! For he dives to his death. As he swims down, down, down, until the molten torchlight cannot penetrate, until he sits suspended in liquid cold as ice, the Grendelgrinch rises from the dark, red eyes smoldering like coals, a twisted grin on its bloodstained lips. At the bottom of the lake, it has secreted a bottle containing a life-sapping poison. This poison now coats the Grinch’s claws as they lash out and find the hero’s unclad belly. And now—the gods cry out for the loss of their own son!—the poison finds the hero’s heart. A last song escapes his lips, unheard in the dark water, as he buries his spindlesword in the creature’s heart.

The hero’s battle-song forms a bubble. Trapped in a column of dark water, it rises up, up, vertiginously up. The mountain burns; beast and hero share a watery grave. And the question on everybody’s lips is: When? When will this bubble burst?


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Shattered Restless Rooms: Remembering Silent Hill

Silent Hills PT

In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. We used to go there often. Well, I’m waiting for you there now.

The Silent Hill series was a crazy important influence in my life. Actually, that’s an understatement. I first played Silent Hill 2 not long after my dad took me to a Robert McKee seminar on horror. This was, if I recall correctly, a few months before I left for college, and watching McKee celebrate the tropes of the genre, culminating in a scene-by-scene analysis of Ridley Scott’s Alien (my first time watching it, and none too soon), primed me to have my mind blown by that game’s oppressive, surreal melancholy. Up until that point, I’d played around with humor, absurdism, and science fiction, but that confluence of events led me to realize that horror—specifically, surreal or metaphysical horror—is my genre.

It also helped me form the first principles of my theory of interactive storytelling: that the emotional, the psychological, the internal are all exploded outward, transformed into environments to be explored; that key moments should never be shown to the player when they can be experienced, so that the player becomes complicit in the protagonist’s journey. A few other games—Fatal FrameRule of RoseShadow of the Colossus—helped finesse and cement this theory, but Silent Hill snuck in there first. It also introduced me to David Lynch, to Jacob’s Ladder, to Mark Z. Danielewski, and to many others.

I’ve come to accept the fact that Silent Hill is dead—not just dead but, in series-appropriate fashion, reanimated and debased and paraded and tormented and killed again. But I’m still grateful for what it gave me.

In the spirit of that gratitude, I authored a series of pieces for Entropy called Biography of a Place. In form, they’re all over the place: some function like reviews, while others focus on a specific element of character development or symbolism, based on what grabbed me about the game and the mood I was in at the time of writing. Where I’ve said the least, I trust the games to speak for themselves.

I’m all alone there now. Waiting for you.

Silent Hill: Biography of a Place

Silent Hill 2: Biography of a Place

Silent Hill 3: Biography of a Place

Silent Hill 4: Biography of a Place

Biography of a Place: Silent Hill (the movie)

Silent Hill Homecoming: Biography of a Place

Silent Hill Origins: Biography of a Place

Silent Hill Downpour: Biography of a Place

Silent Hill Shattered Memories: Biography of a Place


Intrinsic Value

My word, is it 2015 again already? These universe cycles go so quickly these days. Next thing you know, it will be the Big Squish all over again.

2014 was a good year for me. That’s how I plan on thinking about it, at any rate. While some aspects of my personal and professional life were less than ideal, I believe that I produced and helped to actualize some works of great intrinsic value. Here are a few recent highlights:

I began the new year with a reinvigoration of my Session Report series on Entropy. Session Report: Mage Knight Board Game and the Sandbox represents the next evolution of the series–not an evolutionary leap, but a subtle innovation, like a new pattern of stripes or spots. The newest concept is that, in addition to providing a narrative retelling of a single play session and an overview of the game’s mechanics, I will launch into a monthly theoretical discussion of a different aspect of game design. In this article, I talked about sandbox games and how to tell a good sand castle platform from a stinky catbox.

Near the end of the year, I replaced my singular Session Report with a marathon of smaller reviews, called the 12 Days of Gaming. Although these reviews are (slightly) more succinct than my norm, I couldn’t resist gushing over a few favorites, such as The Lord of the Rings, Flash Point: Fire Rescue and Hey, That’s My Fish! Also worth checking out part one of an ongoing solo roleplaying game (or creative writing exercise, by a different standard), generated using the excellent Storyteller Cards.

I haven’t been alone at Entropy, though. Late last year, I invited Chris Holly into the fold, and he’s been generating some fantastic content. In January, we launched his new series, Playing Detective, wherein Chris discusses his love of the detective genre and analyzes the successful and failed attempts to combine it with the realm of the interactive. The debut post covers the one-of-a-kind Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, while the next leg, coming this week, discusses the Tex Murphy series of computer adventure games.

A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures is another essay from game designer and publisher Phil Eklund on Entropy. I am increasingly convinced that Eklund is board gaming’s greatest thinker–he might not be the savant of game design (I can’t personally comment, not having played his games yet), but he’s a great font of intellectual discussion. In this essay, inspired by his upcoming title, Neanderthal, Eklund discusses the impact of vocabulary on human cognitive development.

Outside of Entropy, I launched a new series on NerdSpan called The World on My Table. The World on My Table is a monthly concept that explores a more casual side of my gaming obsession. Rather than involved final-word reviews and essays, it represents my shifting thoughts on whatever I happened to play that month, alongside quick nuggets of tabletop gaming news. In January 2015, I discussed my two most-played games of the month, the indie game Shadows of Malice and the ultra-flavorful deckbuilder Legendary Encounters: Alien.

Finally, I continue to contribute board game reviews for Indie Cardboard. Most recently, I reviewed David Chott’s colorful and creative tile-laying game, Lagoon: Land of Druids.

Well, that’s all for now. Until next time, kiddos!


Season’s Bleatings

 

It’s true that I haven’t posted on this website of late. I’ve been too busy transforming my life into a nightmarish montage of self-imposed deadlines and unquenchable exhaustion. But now! Now I have something for you, darling readers.

Halloween is my favorite time of year, and I have been exceptionally busy (even for me) making sure I had some ghoulish content going. Just look at these puppies:

 

On Entropy

Session Report: Mansions of Madness

Silent Hill 3: Biography of a Place

Five Monster Movies That Aren’t Really About the Monsters

 

On Indie Cardboard

Review: The Demise of Dr. Frankenstein

Preview: I Hate Zombies.

 

But that’s not the extent of my recent activity. Check out these other recent posts on Entropy and Indie Cardboard:

Review: Star Realms

Tabletop’s Most Wanted: SPIEL 2014 and Beyond SPIEL

Letter To You (a guest post by Todd Michael Rogers, creator of the world’s first tabletop novel)

D&D: Entropy Style (an ongoing D&D campaign with my fellow Entropy editors)

 

Last but not least, I’m getting back into fiction writing this month as I tackle…

NaNoWriMo!

 

Follow my novel’s (pathetic) progress here: my NaNoWriMo page

 

Have a spoooooooky November!


On Games and Gaminess

I haven’t done an actual career-related update for a while, and with several recent and upcoming articles on Entropy that I’m immoderately proud of, I figured, oh, what the hell. For writing!

Entropy is “A new website featuring literary and related non-literary content.” It’s been going strong for, oh, three weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier with the community that I’m now a part of (as a contributing editor for the site). I’ve made the acquaintance of some awesome writers who share many of my interests, and even though I don’t get to read the e-magazine as often or as thoroughly as I’d like, I can tell from what I do read that I’m in the middle of a network of great writers and thinkers.

But enough of the mushy stuff. Here’s what I’ve been doing for Entropy so far:

My first post, on March 21, was an interview with John Clowdus of Small Box Games. A small, independent card game publisher who has stayed small and independent, I really admire John’s work both as a publisher and a designer. His games tend to be small and quick but full of tense decision-making, not to mention gorgeous to look at.

On April 5, for International Tabletop Day, I wrote about  the Allure of Allegory; or, a Case for Cardboard, in which I argue passionately for a medium that I didn’t even know existed, in any serious, modern form, 2 years ago: board games.

On April 7, Janice Lee posted a piece titled Interface Culture: On Narrative & Video Games, which features a few citations from one of my previously published articles on the Black Clock blog. It’s a great, reader-friendly tying-together of modern thinking around the medium of electronic games.

And today, on April 9, I published When Play Isn’t Fun Anymore: On Games and Discomfort. It was originally three separate essays until I realized that they were all talking about the same thing: games that manage to work in spite, or because, of failing at being “fun.”

I also edited Mike Molitch-Hou’s Why-To Like Poetry and last Sunday’s list of Top 3 Unfinished Books. In the next few days, I’ll be posting Part 1 of a discussion I participated in, talking around the subject of video games and aesthetics, and there’s much more on the way, including more interviews, reviews and…wait for it…session reports!


A New Challenger Approaches!