Monday, March 26, 2012

A petal for your thoughts, Part 2

...And then, I played Journey.

As the trailer suggests, it's a game in which the journey is the most important part. As the trailer also suggests, there is a co-op mode, meaning you can play alongside someone else. The co-op is very unique, however, in that you don't choose who you play with. In fact, you don't even choose if you get to play with someone. The co-op is randomly selected, depending on whether or not someone is playing in the same area as you at the same time. They could also leave at any point, making your experience different every time. Sometimes they'll be replaced by someone else and you'll have multiple companions. You can't talk to your companion. You can only communicate in symbols, song notes and chirps. You may not believe this, but it actually becomes a feasible means of communicating, and you may find yourself understanding what your companion is saying by the end of the journey.

I was lucky, in that I had the same companion throughout. I wasn't sure if I had switched companions, but my suspicion of having the same one was confirmed at the end when I was told the screen name of my buddy (thanks for the great time, mrconkin! Sorry I kept falling off stuff; I have terrible depth perception).

Near the beginning of the game, I was walking alone when my companion, very suddenly, appeared beside me. We were both overjoyed, and we sang back and forth and chased each other in circles before progressing in our journey. The wide expanses of the game's setting are enough to make a player feel very small, so having a second person just like you to help you and stand beside you is startlingly powerful.

My companion was very helpful, and tried to protect me and signal me where to go when monsters appeared. He would sing to me to get my attention when he found something. At one point near the end of the game, we had been momentarily separated. I knew we were near the end, and I couldn't even see the white bloom glow that hinted at his whereabouts. I felt lonely and sad that we wouldn't be completing the journey together. I actually started crying as I looked up at the beautiful, glowing expanse I was soaring through, quietly wishing that my companion was there to see it with me.

My husband, who was watching me play behind me, saw the golden glow of my companion soaring up a long line of scarves at the same time I did. Knowing how attached I had grown to this guy in the mere span of 2 hours, he pointed him out, saying "there he is!". I laughed, and the two of us were reunited once more. After another brief separation, we were rejoined again, and we completed the journey together, walking into the bright white glow side by side.

Reading this, you would think I went on some sort of life-changing pilgrimage. I almost feel as though I did, and I don't care how stupid that sounds.

The game made me think of communication, and the inner workings of things like language. The entire game, nothing is ever verbally communicated, and it's not needed. You form ways of communicating with your companion, and you learn more about the story by visual representation. Your relationship to your companion reminded me a bit of ICO, in which you also can't communicate other than by calling out. The bond is made stronger, though, in Journey, by your companion actually being a real person on the other side. A story I heard online was that someone played a game of Journey with someone and sent them a message afterwards. That person replied to them in Japanese, meaning they were both able to play this game together when they may otherwise not have been able to do so. It's incredible that a game can bring strangers together like that.

I am truly captivated at the way these games can convey strong stories without using any words. They both have linear stories with a beginning, middle, and end, but the only way to communicate those stories is through strong images and powerful music. And yet, I feel I have a stronger response to these games than from any game I've ever played. It seems that the games with the most minimalist storylines and gameplay are the ones that really tug at me and make me think outside of the story.

I don't want to turn this into a video game review blog, obviously, but being that both Journey and Flower are games that have heavily inspired me (and the blog is called "When I'm Inspired, after all) I felt compelled to share my experiences in writing.

If either of these games appeal to you at all, I really urge you to play them. My experiences are just that: my experiences. You cannot truly know these games by listening to someone else's commentary. You have to play them yourself to truly know. Some people have talked about which is "better", but in my opinion they can't be compared. They are separate, unique experiences that stand alone.

Both of these games are great advocates of non-violence in video games, as well as art in video games. Journey is an excellent example of teamwork, as the only reason to work with someone else in the game is for the sheer gratification of it. I feel there is a little something in each thatgamecompany game that suggests harmony and peace. If we all had that little something in us, I believe the world could be a better place.

Our world is so full of "stuff"--cars, buildings, and machines. In a world like this, it's nice to find some simplicity, such as the simplicity you find in Flower and Journey. The landscape and scenery can make you feel this unexpected elation. It's too bad that can't be enough for all of us.

That is how these games have affected me. Have they affected you, too?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A petal for your thoughts

Anyone who has ever tried to pass off video games as mindless entertainment really owes it to him/herself to check out the game I have posted a trailer of below.

This game is Flower, a game in which you control the wind and a stream of petals to make flowers bloom. Each flower that blooms adds another petal to your stream. It sounds simple, but watching the trailer alone should tell you that it's actually a very intensive emotional experience. It's a game that is directed at everyone, and that anyone could pick up and play and enjoy.

I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll recommend that if you have a PS3, you at least download the demo and give it a shot. I hope you won't be disappointed.

Playing through this game got me thinking about the things we do to this planet and have been doing, and all the things that are happening because of us. The bees disappearing, climate change. The earth is slowly falling into ruin. It's not pleasant to think about, but it's sadly what we face from day to day. Most people prefer not to think about it at all (including myself, some days), and some deny it. The reality is that the planet is declining, and we aren't helping that. In fact, we're helping it decline.

I notice a lot of negative connotation when the topic of environmentalism is brought about, and I've always really wondered why. I read a letter to the editor in a local newspaper once that said that "tree-hugging" wasn't the way to secure a sustainable future, and that a creating jobs (that negatively impact the environment, in this instance) was. I can understand and support the need for jobs in any community, but why would that ever take precedence over the world we live in? If it's an immediate threat to our world, why would we choose that over our planet?

We've taken the earth into our own hands, and we haven't been very careful with it.

I'm not saying I'm perfect. None of us are. But we can all find ways to live a little more purely, whether it's by recycling more, composting, turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, planting more flowers, or turning off the light when you leave the room.

Earth Hour is coming up on March 31, 2012, 8:30 PM. If you're able, try to make an effort to use little to no energy during that time. Light a candle and read a book. I plan on doing just that.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Burning the midnight oil

Some nights, when I'm up really late and can't get to sleep, I get some of my best writing done.

Tonight is not one of those nights.

I did, however, want to take the opportunity to talk about a talk and workshop I gave at the Moncton Library two weeks ago.

I was very privileged to have been invited to come speak about my creative process to a welcoming group of 13-18 year-olds. I discussed inspiration, writer's block and other things to a fantastic audience, then we paired off to do workshops. I was presenting alongside talented comic artist Rene LeClair, who did a comic and illustration workshop as I gave a writing one.

A surprising amount of people in the group expressed that they had some trouble with writer's block, so I took the opportunity to talk a little more about it to them.

I don't want to say that I have never suffered from writer's block, but I've noticed that in recent years, I have had less trouble finishing what I've started than before. I think part of that reason is because I have stopped placing the bill of urgency on things to be completed, which is something I was guilty of in the past. I would get so preoccupied with finishing the work in a timely matter that I would lose focus of what was important: the actual writing. Last year, I started my NaNoWriMo project and had hit the 50,000 word mark, but I didn't write the actual ending to the project until a full year later.

My best advice for writer's block is thus: continue with life. Find something else to write about. Give yourself exercises, like describing an item or a place. Take long walks and look carefully at the things and people around you. Start a field journal and write about your surroundings. Write. Write often, about everything. Take those experiences with you as you finish the work you're stuck on.

Also, never edit as you go. Once your words are on paper, leave them and come back to them later, with fresh eyes. If you get too caught up in the details of your own work, you risk being stuck in the details and never seeing the big picture. If you must, set time aside for editing, but try to make it a goal to write first, and edit later. A first draft will never be a perfect, groundbreaking piece of literature. You can progress from there and turn it into a second, third, and fourth.

Everyone writes differently, so please don't feel that I'm trying to preach. This is all simply what I find helps me if I'm stuck in a rut. If I pace myself and don't think of finishing the work, I'll find, more often than not, that the answer will subconsciously appear when I'm writing something else. That is the time that having a couple of spare notebooks lying around becomes very useful!

And with that, I'm going to try and get some sleep. Sometimes, writing becomes such a force that it keeps you up at night, even if the things you have to say are, really, only for yourself.

But on a note that is not directed to myself: a big thanks to the Moncton Library for having me to give a talk. It was my pleasure and an honor to be invited. Thank you!

And with that, good night.

(To add, Population 1 is still coming along nicely. Feel free to visit the blog and join the story!)