Lately, I’ve found myself doing a lot of “bizdev” – talking to people, maintaining professional relationships, generating revenue for my company by leveraging contacts to land contracts. It’s a lot of email writing and a lot of talking on the phone, things which, in a former life, caused me embarrassing consternation. I still get a bit wound up sometimes and start talking way too quickly, but on the main it’s like anything else. Do it enough and you get better at it. Mostly, it’s about getting to the core of what concerns people, or what they think concerns them (sometimes I think, people aren’t sure, which provides an interesting interpretive guessing game.) People say things just to say things, sometimes, just to have something to say. Once in a rare while, they say things they don’t really mean because they’re after things that they don’t want to just come out and say. Mostly, though, people just have specific, rational, completely valid concerns. If you can identify what these concerns actually are and are willing to work at making sure they’re addressed (and here there can actually be some good, old fashioned, enjoyable creativity) you can maintain a business relationship where everybody wins. This is, in my limited experience, how the business world goes round.
Earlier this week, I screwed up.
I have a contact at a large company, one with whom we’ve done our most substantial business. I like him; he is an affable, extremely intelligent gentleman who’s turned out to be very open minded and is engaged and interested in what we do (game design) despite having no prior experience with it. He’s put up with my awkwardness and lack of corporate experience and I feel I’ve learned volumes from working with him. Long story short, we made a game for them, one that they were very happy with, and we’re working with them on another game project. So, we’re in the initial phase, work is spooling up, and we’re having a bit of back and forth. I got a call from him and he mentioned being out of town. My brain registered ‘vacation’ for some reason and I sent a follow up email that said something like “hope you’re enjoying your vacation – I wasn’t sure when you were going to be back :).” In response I got this:
“Not really a vacation — I was with my father, who passed away on Monday. I will be out Monday and Tuesday for his funeral, but would like to pick this back up again later next week.”
Ouch. When I read his reply, I felt all concern, all my petty bullshit, melt away. I love my father. All I can think about is the moment I had to face, accept, and embrace the fact that his time, like everyone’s, is limited.
So why post this? Well, it’s interesting, it’s something I’m thinking about it, and it occurs to me that there are some interesting dynamics at play here. Lest I wax too lugubrious (and too far from the subject of game design) I was wondering if it would be possible to express the way I felt through interactivity. I will disclose that it was Rod’s “The Marriage” that made me wonder about this. Does a game about something personally significant and emotionally charged like this have the potential to be the most pretentious thing ever? Sure. Does that make it too scary to try? Gosh, I hope not!
So my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, which was a major drag. It was also surprising as he had completed two marathons earlier that year. Initially, it all felt very unfair, very tragic, very “why me?” But, my dad, he’s a pretty amazing guy. He was cheerful and upbeat; he posted a picture taken of the cancer (from a colonoscopy) on the wall of his office with the words “THE ENEMY” written boldly across it in thick black marker. He continued running at his normal level, ate healthily like he always does, and scheduled his various procedures as soon as possible in order to get them over with. He was upbeat, but not naive. He took my shoulder and told me “Don’t worry about it, I’ll make it through this.” Casually, almost as an afterthought, he added “I’m going to die some day, you know. You’re a great son, I’m happy how you turned out. You’ll do great stuff.”
It was a lot to chew on. The cancer was, they surmised, genetic. My grandfather succumbed to a similar malady after a long battle. It felt very recursive; it has ramifications for my father, me, and any children I have.
The following week, we took him down to the hospital so barbarism of the only sort known to ‘cure’ colon cancer could be practiced. They cut him open – the largest and worst injury of his life – and whacked out the offending chunk of colon. They wheeled him out, we were there waiting. He had “done great” and they were “very grateful to him” for being in such great shape. I kissed him. His mustache was prickly. Two hours later, we played a game of chess in his recovery room, and I was soundly trounced. That night, it stormed. Dad had a storm of his own. I think his body finally realized what had been done to it. After that first night, we stayed up in shifts, my mom and I, keeping him company night and day for the rest of his four day hospital stay.
It was harrowing, to be sure, but with the horror came a surprising confrontation of mortality, both mine and my father’s. In a weird way, it was then that I “became a man.” In admitting that my dad is human, that he will someday be gone, I accepted the last bit of responsibility for my own life, my own well being, my own existence. His courage, good humor, and peace with his life are with me every day of mine. It was a passing of the torch. I could imagine vividly a world without my dad. It sucked, it had a massive gaping wound in it, but it was no longer unimaginable to me. When that day comes, as it must, life will go on.
Rod wanted to make a game devoid of representation, that was his criteria. He wants to answer the question “can I express emotion and artistry through rules and rules alone.” I dig what he’s getting at, but I think that his game is incomplete without seeing him explain it in person as you play it. To properly experience The Marriage, you need Rod there coaxing the pink circle “Come on baby, come on, you can do it…” And explaining in complete sincerity each facet of the game and what he was trying to express with it. So, in his own way, he is still representing things. He may not have sound or representational graphics built into the system, but the system he’s constructed needs to include his spoken explanation to effectively express what he wants it to. This is not a criticism, by the way. The Marriage is an extremely beautiful something. I just think that while attempting to express things entirely through game rules is a great exercise because so much stock gets put in representation, one shouldn’t ignore the value of polish.
So what would my game be? Well, I’m not happy with the concept I have at the moment, but I’ll post it here for the sake of continued mulling. An amorphous white shape stands in a storm, absorbing the damaging weather. Underneath it, two smaller shapes huddle, safe from the storm, a smaller version of the white shape, and a soft edged pink one. Over time, one of the small shapes begins to grow larger. As time passes, too, small hands and tendrils are ensnaring the larger shape and pulling it down. Eventually it will be pulled under. As it grows larger, the small white shape can venture out into the storm and collect experiences. If he gets too weather beaten, he will be dragged under, so he must constantly return to the protection of the larger shape. If he never leaves protection, however, he will wither and stay stunted. This is important, because when the large white shape dies (as it eventually must) the smaller shape must have grown large enough to protect the soft pink shape and the tiny white seedling now growing beside her.