Category: events

Failbetter Workshop: It’s Complicated; IF Meetup

Between a cold hitting all three of us in the household in quick succession, the baby having a plethora of teeth coming through, and a deluge of heartbreaking things happening in the world (let’s euphemistically call them “current events”) it hasn’t been an easy couple of weeks. In the middle of it all was a day of respite.

Failbetter Games (Fallen London, The Last Court, Sunless Sea) regularly hold workshops, both for their writers and for visitors to come and see the process, and join in if they wish. Last Tuesday was It’s Complicated: Writing Relationships in Interactive Fiction, which is so much My Kind Of Thing that it’s not even funny. When the tickets came on sale, I dithered in a cycle of money?-childcare?-travel?-how? but Fay encouraged me to go for it, saying we could sort something out. I’m really glad I did.

Olivia Wood (Failbetter’s editor) has talked about romance and sex in videogames for Videobrains hilariously and sensibly, so I knew I was in for a treat. She gave another talk about the issues that face writers when portraying friendships and romances: how to make characters feel real while still having a point plotwise, how to avoid a situation where an otherwise strongminded character agrees limply with whatever the PC decides they should do, how to balance showing a relationship changing and growing with avoiding interminably slowing the pace.

There aren’t easy answers to these and the other issues we discussed – if there were, decent relationships would be far more common in videogames – but talking about them was inspiring and invigorating.

We looked at several pieces of work from Fallen London and Sunless Sea, plus a piece from Harry Tuffs’ House of Many Doors: a diverse selection of NPC-focused plots, scenes and conversations. It was great to have insight into the writing and editing process, and hear from the writers where they had run into problems.

There was a delicious sushi lunch and a chat with the other attendees and the Failbetter folks, which was lovely. The Failbetter office is a converted Victorian chapel with a heavy wrought-iron gargoyle doorknocker, vastly high ceilings and a spiral staircase; it feels very appropriate for the strange, Gothic games they make. The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly, as was everyone there. It must be weird having interlopers all up in your workspace, but everyone was gracious and I felt at ease. Especially nice for me: I’m a social creature, but pick up awkwardness and start getting self-conscious easily.

Over the afternoon the other attendees and I chilled out, chatted, and walked. I hadn’t been to Greenwich since I was tiny but the tube journey there was surreal: a combination of bright, beautiful Regency pompousness with gentrified Mirror’s-Edge skyscraping dystopia. A rainstorm sent us scurrying back to the offices where we hung out and I fiddled around with writing until it was time for the IF Meetup Group.

We had three presentations: Tory Hoke of sub-Q (a project especially close to my heart), Derek Moody of Whodunnit Manor, and Nathan Penlington of Choose Your Own Documentary. Choose Your Own Documentary was particularly exciting as it was completely new to me and was fascinating – it made me wish I’d known about the show when it was on! Emily Short has done a rundown on the talks here.

My friends Mary and Grant kindly had me to stay with them and their marvellous giant ginger cat, and early the next morning it was time to head for home. The sunshine was perfect, warm and bright but not overheated, and even the rush-hour-packed tube didn’t dampen my spirits too much.

It was a break for meeting new people, discussing fictional friendships and romances, hearing people’s stories, and seeing friends: just right. Talking about nerdy writerly things that make my brain fizz helps bolster me for dealing with the world, and with life, when both are making me wilt.

Event: Invisible Wall

Earlier this month I went to Invisible Wall, a games writing event for women and gender minorities! It was nervewracking but exciting.

Writing is usually solitary, sometimes teeth-grindingly so. People get chatty online, sharing their ideas and opinions and woes. And then comes the kicker: to get a job you need to get your actual face out there – go to conferences, hang out in bars, network.

I don’t have a lot of experience telling people about myself. It’s part of that self-deprecating, imposter syndrome business: am I serious enough, creatively, to be worth speaking to? I’ve published two IF pieces in a semiprozine, but everyone else is clearly more together and competent than I am. And so on.

So it was invigorating to go to an event where this problem was discussed frankly and honestly. Diffidence was acknowledged as a legitimate struggle if you feel like an outsider in an industry, and something to push through both for your own self-esteem and so your ideas are paid attention to.

Then there are the pitfalls of being “too nice” and how it can become habitual, ending up with you feeling shackled to an overly compliant, acquiescent persona that isn’t you. “If you’re can’t be confident, be bad-tempered,” Olivia Wood (editor for Failbetter Games) said.

It wasn’t all about avoiding negatives; it was also a lot about celebrating positives. The speakers spoke about their expertise in a confident, straightforward way that was both inspiring and fascinating. “What makes you great at your job?” was a great question to hear a panel of women answer because it feels like we don’t say that enough.

Soft skills, a term that I feel tempted to put a million air quotes around, were discussed in respectful terms. They’re often underestimated, but as Pip Warr pointed out, one of the major journalism skills is getting people to feel comfortable talking to you, and people are often surprised that she managed to extract some juicy tidbit or other.

Teamwork, too. The idea of The Lone Writer dashing off genius lines while standing on top of a building in a swooshy coat is compelling enough, but it’s not sustainable. Working with others feels like a female-coded skill and it really shouldn’t be, but regardless, making connections with people is important and valuable.

As for my own soft skills, I’m an especially good listener and can nudge people into feeling more comfortable talking. At the same time that can mean I end up flattening myself, especially in a very stimulating setting. It leads to a vicious cycle of not feeling so able to talk – if others don’t ask, my brain stops feeling so forthcoming.

During the Invisible Wall networking session I ended up doing that a bit: the journey, noise, busyness and having had a long day of babycare with little sleep didn’t make for an entirely comfortable experience. I had to bow out early because there was just so much going on.

My comfort zone is more in the realm of the Oxford and London Interactive Fiction Group, but it was fantastic to push myself to try something new and I hope next time I’m in that situation I’ll feel more upfront about my achievements. Being in a room where a group of women talked smartly about their jobs and gave advice, and being with a big bunch of people who are minorities in the games industry eating delicious sushi and chatting about games was stimulating and interesting.

(It was also exciting to meet and chat with people like Olivia Wood and Meg Jayanth who I’m SUPER STARSTRUCK about!)

Invisible Wall inspired me to put out some professional writing feelers that are so far going well, and to consider a writing job that previously I’d discounted because of vague creeping uncertainty. I hope there followup events in the future: it was a great experience.