Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Combat Authorship

One of the ideas that came shooting out of my small maelstrom of designing, last month, is already getting a couple folks excited. Like a spark to a powder keg, Jane McGonigal's Tweet about a book-writing game sent my imagination into overdrive. The resulting banter in and out of the public eye helped fuel my brain-explosion.

The biggest problem that I have with writing - or really, being productive in general - is my inability to focus on doing one thing for long periods of time without becoming distracted. I continually fail to clean my room or finish my laundry because it's just not very interesting. To solve this conundrum, at least for writing, I'm proposing the notion to make it much more of an edge-of-your-seat affair.

Many people rightfully bring up National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) when discussing new ways of writing. However, even though NaNoWriMo is technically a game in my eyes (at least in the same way as a marathon is) it doesn't have the mechanics I personally need to be productive. The only metaphor I can come up with is that of an engine; I need focus engagement for fuel, and momentum facilitation for the road. Something that goes beyond the driver and passengers all using their feet, as community can easily land somewhere between unreliable and dead weight.  

Basically, the idea is to add a captivating power struggle to act of creative writing. The concept that stuck in my head most fervently was a split-screen, player-vs-player (or rather, author-vs-author) assault between their two word processors. As each author writes out their drafts, the game would keep track of the syllables being used, the average length of words, perhaps even more difficult concepts like ease of reading. It would translate these into attacks on their opposing document.

The margins of the player's workspace would have an ablative armor, which followed its relative text as the author continued to type. This would be the primary way of damage control, although mechanics based on particular writing styles could come into play to buff the document's resistance to damage.  If a document does take some hits, it just starts losing random letters.  I wouldn't want people to have to re-write huge chunks of their drafts, after all.

The combat aesthetic is something I'm undecided on, though I do have some definite forerunners. My first idea was that of arbitrary weapons being summoned out of thin air and blasted at your opponant, like those incredibly entertaining gifs.

Another option could be to have two opposing armies along the bottom of the screen, being reinforced based on your productivity.  It would be equally minimalist as the previous suggestion - perhaps Patapon like in its graphic style?  

A third could be a sci-fi ship-to-ship combat, with your diction forging turrets and torpedo bays and lance batteries which blast the crap out of each other at close range.  Since I'm a huge 40k fan, I can very easily see this.

I do not have much else down at the moment, but it still seems promising to some degree.  Hopefully keeping community a part of this kind of game will help foster creativity.  Bonus rounds could pit the two authors into casual exercises of creative writing, such as having two of their current characters have a brief, meaningless conversation about an arbitrary topic.  Checkpoints could allow you to take a moment, finish your thought, maybe plan ahead a little, and also look over your opponant's work for them.

I'm very curious to see if authors playing this for fun and productivity will be as petty as gamers can be in first person shooters, quitting the game instead of falling behind in 'points.'

EDIT: I hopped into #nanowrimo, and they told me about Write or Die.  It's a nifty little program that warns and punishes you for not writing.  Personally, I find this notion extremely stressing, and when it comes to writing novels I don't think it's something that would be particularly effective for me.  Blog posts, on the other hand, and smaller pieces, will probably benefit greatly from it. /EDIT

So, what do you guys think?  I wonder if this would be something good to continue to blog about, if enough interest arises.  I know I'm going to need help prototyping this thing, because right now I'm thinking that the easiest way to do so would be to make it into a math-based version of the idea and go from there.  And just for clarification, the 'competitive' part in this should be considered very light-hearted, and far more closer to 'co-op.' 

I for one definitely have a novel I'd like to pump out using this thing, if it ends up being useful.  


  1. The idea sounds interesting, but how would the game judge the quality of the writing? I'm assuming it wouldn't attempt to, and if so, what is the motivation to write well? Couldn't a play just type nonsense to win?

    Assuming that both players were determined to make an effort to write something meaningful for their own benefit, wouldn't the competitive nature of the game hurt the quality of the writing? For me, making writing directly competitive in that way would cause stress instead of motivation. I would want to "win" instead of create something.

    Really interesting idea, though! I'm interested to see it develop. A great "competitive game" that exists already is a workshop, or simply exchanging work with another person. Though not intended to be competitive, it is great motivation!

  2. Well, the point of the game wouldn't be 'to win,' it'd be to write. I suppose that definitely needs clarification.

    I think that this idea was supposed to be less of a competition, and more of a co-op "let's make these guys blow the crap out of each other" thing. So... entertaining productivity?

    Something the folks in the #nanowrimo chat room brought to my attention is Write or Die. I'm going to edit my post because I need to compare that to my own idea.


  4. I wonder if another tactic would work better, like a very specific set of goals. A number of entertaining writing exercises that would be worth points that could be spent to unlock rewards, such as progressing a narrative, but also develop the groundwork for whatever your actual writing goal is.

    Any number of people could participate, and there would be competition as well as the reward of uncovering another piece of a story that everyone wants to discover, some sort of grand mystery. Each writer could progress toward their goal in a unique way that benefited their writing project, but still earn points. And the writers would also post their writing exercises or progress on a word count or revision so the community could give them feedback.

    I think the problem with turning it into a more traditional game is that it becomes more of a distraction than a benefit. That's a personal opinion, but I think that most writer's would feel that way. Once I'm "inspired" or whatever you want to call it, I don't want any distractions, and inspiration/motivation can come suddenly and without warning.

    Nanowrimo is great, I've attempted once and failed miserably. Unfortunately, for me it's difficult to work that way, because if something's not working and I know it's not working, there's no point to force myself through for that many words. I may try it again this year though and instead of a novel, focus on short stories that equal the total goal.

  5. I'm beginning to hear from more and more writers that they agree with the inspiration vs. distraction argument.

    Though I think I like where your idea is heading. The first thing I thought of was, essentially, class-based authorship.

    But, I think I need some more clarification. Maybe it's because your ideas are making my own ideas split apart and run around my brain like caffeinated children. Do you mean unlocking a pre-written narrative using your own sequential writing? Or is the object of the 'game' to be to effectively structure the rest of your story, while also pulling that story out of you?

    It's pretty obvious to me by now that my main goal is that of facilitation.