The evening’s proceedings began with the formalities of the Society’s Annual General Meeting to attend to. Due to the intense interest and anticipation brought about by the evening’s speakers, it came as a pleasant surprise when the AGM proved to a brief affair comprising mainly of the presentation of the Society’s financial position to date.
Treasurer of this past 7 years, Crispin Drummond, used the image of a steady ship to describe the financial position to date. Year on year the organisation operates at either a small profit (as in this year gone) or a small debt, no upheavals or dramatic fluctuations have occurred or are anticipated. The report was proposed as an accurate reflection of the Society’s current status by Peter Hitchen and this was seconded by Angela Chadwick. Gary Farnell made copies of the Annual Report available to interested parties whilst simultaneously asking if the were any questions, or if any clarifications were needed. There were neither and the AGM concluded in a timely fashion.
Main Speaker, Ian Thomas
Ian is a partner and founder of the games writing company, Talespinners and it quickly became apparent that if there was any aspect of writing for games of which he was unaware it probably wasn’t worth knowing. Such was the depth and detail of Ian’s presentation that he could easily have taken the whole of the evening and more besides to offer his insider’s view of the industry (worth an estimated £2.4b pounds to the UK’s economy alone).
The pace and detail of Ian’s presentation was such that it would take a far better reporter (and note -taker!) than I to do his slot justice. With that in mind, for those who want to get a more comprehensive insight into games writing and Ian’s professional creativity please visit the following links here and here. However, needs must, so what follows really is a broad brush rendering of Ian’s presentation.
We began on generally familiar territory when Ian explained that narratives are just as crucial to success in computer games as they are in general fiction. It seemed that the audience was made up of what can be described as natives (those born and brought up with computers/games) and immigrants (those arriving in the tech-world after computers and gaming was already well established). That gaming is particularly popular amongst certain demographics may have accounted for the unusually large number of very welcome younger listeners in the audience.
A recurring theme in Ian’s presentation was the importance of the concept that games players must believe that they possess a locus of control over what they are doing. Of course, given the nature of predetermination, that’s inbuilt into computer games, the possession of locus of control is always an illusion but an illusion that, in the most successful game’s platforms, remains undiscerned by the players. This illusion of control can be bolstered in several ways and one of the ways is to enhance the players’ perception that the game’s characters actually care for them. The idea of ‘call-back’ helps in this regard. When used intelligently a simple thing like a programme remembering a player’s breakfast choice and then much later in the game recalling that choice (‘would you like your favourite breakfast cereal – Frosties wasn’t it?’) can really convince a player that the game ‘understands’ their wants and needs and in so doing enhance the perception of the locus of control.
The level of collaboration needed for success within a games writing company and the level of outreach into the wider profession is really staggering. Writers, animators, actors CGI experts, voice actors, artists, coders, editors to mention just a few all come together in order to produce a game product. Luckily, for those starting out in games writing access to the ‘tools’ needed is very cheap (and nowadays often free) compared to even a short time ago. There are careers to be forged and fortunes to be made by people who have the willingness to learn and the talent to put that knowledge into original and creative use.
Special Guest, Allison Symes
Allison writes novels, short stories and scripts and describes her writing as ‘fairytales with bite’. Amongst her favourite authors are Austen, P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett and her work can be found online at Alfie Dog Fiction, Cafe Lit and Shortbread Short Stories.
Allison Symes is a flash fiction author par excellence and throughout her presentation offered valuable advice and insight honed from long personal experience about how to write successfully in this genre. Commonly flash fiction is a story that is told in 1k words or fewer. Allison has found herself writing drabbles (stories of 100 words exactly) and she explained that notwithstanding this level of brevity the story must still comprise a beginning a middle and an end and that flash fiction, in general, must be character-led and be short sharp and shocking.
The fast turnaround afforded to those who submit to flash fiction outlets allow writers to generate a portfolio of publications. This can be undertaken alongside that grand opus that seems to be taking forever to complete. Simultaneously the discipline needed to write flash fiction enhances a writer’s editorial skills and this then feeds into all aspects of a writer’s output. In short (!) write flash fiction to exercise your writing muscles, a little bit every day is better than a big splurge once a month.
Finally, on a more personal note, I’d like to finish by expressing my thanks to Barbara Large, Dr Gary Farnell, Hampshire Writers’ Society committee and its members at large for the opportunity to contribute these monthly reports which I hope have been informative and sometimes even a little entertaining. Alas, I must now put the top back on my reporter’s pen and stick my notebook back in its drawer but happy in the knowledge that my successor will do an even better job than I.