John Joseph Adams, who, along with Daniel H. Wilson, edited the brand new Press Start To Play anthology has kindly asked us to share a series of interviews with the authors that have stories in the book.
Here’s the synopsis:
IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS.
You are standing in a room filled with books, faced with a difficult decision. Suddenly, one with a distinctive cover catches your eye. It is a groundbreaking anthology of short stories from award-winning writers and game-industry titans who have embarked on a quest to explore what happens when video games and science fiction collide.
From text-based adventures to first-person shooters, dungeon crawlers to horror games, these twenty-six stories play with our notion of what video games can be—and what they can become—in smart and singular ways. With a foreword from Ernest Cline, bestselling author of Ready Player One, Press Start to Play includes work from: Daniel H. Wilson, Charles Yu, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, S.R. Mastrantone, Charlie Jane Anders, Holly Black, Seanan McGuire, Django Wexler, Nicole Feldringer, Chris Avellone, David Barr Kirtley,T.C. Boyle, Marc Laidlaw, Robin Wasserman, Micky Neilson, Cory Doctorow, Jessica Barber, Chris Kluwe, Marguerite K. Bennett, Rhianna Pratchett, Austin Grossman, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Catherynne M. Valente, Andy Weir, and Hugh Howey.
Your inventory includes keys, a cell phone, and a wallet. What would you like to do?
You can also check out the table of contents here!
This batch of interviews were conducted by Jude Griffin.
Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.
Now, on with the interviews!
Chris Kluwe is a former NFL punter, writer, one-time violin prodigy, rights advocate, and obsessive gamer. Kluwe graduated from UCLA with a double major in history and political science and played for the Minnesota Vikings for eight years. He is the author of the acclaimed essay collection Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football and Assorted Absurdities and has been profiled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Salon. Kluwe has appeared at TED, discussing the topic of the future of virtual reality technology and its connection to building a more empathetic society, and he regularly makes presentations at major corporations, universities, and human rights organizations.
Jude Griffin: How did “Please Continue” come about?
Chris Kluwe: Well, basically John sent me an email asking if I wanted to submit a short story dealing with video game themes, and I was like, “Hell yeah, I would,” and then I guess a bunch of other fantastic writers who I still don’t know how I got included with made the same decision. I’m assuming this is how every book in the world gets written. For me personally, I decided to write about how real life situations are often the same as fantastic ones we see in the games we play if we look at them through the right lens, and what that can mean to us as human beings.
JG: Did the writing of the story make you see your own story any differently?
CK: Eh, not particularly. Life is always a game, and life is always reality—and though those two views conflict paradoxically, it’s not at all hard to keep them both in mind if you try. The toughest part was trying to keep it somewhat vague enough so that those who didn’t know my story from football wouldn’t understand what was happening right away.
JG: This story clearly springs from passion and conviction and a life lived courageously: was it a challenge to edit the story when you were so close to it emotionally?
CK: Again, not really. Something I’ve always valued is being honest, both with others but most especially with myself, and when writing, I always try to take a step back and examine what I’ve written with critical eyes, as if I was approaching the piece for the very first time. Hagiography for the sake of self-ego is not something that I believe is particularly necessary, so I try to avoid it when possible. It’s much better to have something BE good, than to have it for the sake of it making you FEEL good.
JG: How has your understanding of gaming culture/subcultures evolved over the years?
CK: I’ve been playing video games since I was seven years old (I think), with the original NES [Nintendo’s video game console]. I grew up as what might be considered a “powergamer”–I was concerned with winning and trying to make game systems work to my favor as best I could, whether that be through grinding levels, discovering glitches, or just practicing over and over to memorize combos and movesets. Later, as I’ve grown older, I still play games with the intention of being incredibly good at them, but I’ve also been able to slow down a little and appreciate some games that I may not have played as a kid or teenager. As far as gaming culture, there’s good people, bad people, and all the shades in between, because at the end of the day, a gamer is a human being, and we are incredibly complex creatures.
I like to think most gamers lean towards benevolence, it’s just the crappy ones that make a lot of noise.
JG: Is the litmus test for a game’s value to its fans the degree to which it allows them to be heroic in the game world in ways which they value but are not possible for them in the real world?
CK: To me, a litmus test for a game’s value (much like a book) is the immersion. When I’m playing this game, do I believe this world? Do I care about these characters? Does this story make sense, or are there gaping plot holes chipping away at my suspension of disbelief? Life is about stories, both the ones we tell about ourselves, and the ones we tell about others in the privacy of our head, and video games give us an incredibly interactive way of accomplishing that if done properly.
JG: Which games do you find challenging in a positive way?
CK: Anything that makes me think about something in a different way than I did before I played the game, whether it be about societal issues, mechanical issues, problem solving, or even just what I value as entertainment.
JG: In what ways do you sees games on the leading/lagging edge of culture?
CK: Games can be very progressive, in that they’re a medium, unlike movies and books, where the audience is an active participant rather than a captive observer. This allows incredible stories to be told that can impact on a deeply personal level, because the person playing the game discovers more about themself through the choices that they make. Alternatively, games can also be pure consumerism, created solely for the purpose of making money via shallow entertainment, which is not something unique to video game culture. Ultimately, it’s up to us as to which type we choose to seek out.
JG: Any new projects you want to tell us about?
CK: Sure! I’m working on finishing up the sequel to Prime with my buddy Andy Reiner, which will be the second book in a trilogy, and we’re hoping to have it done by the end of the year. I’m also working on various short stories and other absurdities, which I will no doubt share upon completion through my Twitter handle, @ChrisWarcraft.
Charlie Jane Anders’s story “Six Months Three Days” won a Hugo Award and was shortlisted for the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Awards. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, The McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes, The End is Nigh, and elsewhere. She’s the managing editor of io9.com and runs the long-running Writers With Drinks reading series in San Francisco. More info at charliejane.net.
JG: What was the inspiration for the disease name in “Rat Catcher’s Yellows”?
Charlie Jane Anders: Basically, for this story, I needed a disease that was a neurological disorder, and I decided it should be a spirochete, the class of corkscrew-shaped disease that includes syphilis and Lyme disease. And given the fact that there’s a cat theme running through this story, the notion of a feline disease that starts attacking humans seemed especially pertinent. So when I discovered there was a real-life spirochete called Rat Catcher’s Yellows (or Leptospirosis) that affects cats, that seemed perfect. The fictional part was that Leptospirosis starts affecting humans, and having intense neurodegenerative effects, and yet the people who suffer from it are really good at playing this one cat-themed video game.
JG: How did the story evolve from the first draft to the final version?
CJA: My original submission to Press Start to Play was a completely different story, about a post-apocalyptic world where artificial intelligences have risen up and killed millions of people. The last game developers left alive are trying to create one last video game, to try to convince people to start using computers again. I got pretty far with that story, and even showed it to the editors of this book, before deciding that it didn’t hold together well enough. So I wound up tossing it out and starting over from scratch–although maybe I’ll go back to it at some point.
JG: Was there a lot of medical research behind the diseases and symptoms mentioned in the story?
CJA: I had already been kind of obsessed with Lyme disease because I have a family member who’s suffered from it, along with a number of other people I know. So this was just sort of an extension of that—but I tried to make it at least somewhat plausible, in terms of how the disease strikes. I felt okay with fudging the science a wee bit, partly because I wanted people to wonder just how this mutation of this disease had come to exist. Gaming as therapy: are we just beginning to tap its potential?
I definitely think that games can help people with everything from trauma to neurological problems. There’s a lot of potential for that, especially as games get more immersive and complex. At the same time, I think it’s interesting to contemplate some of the weirder possible outcomes if games become assistive technologies or therapies. I was sort of fascinated with the notion that this was a more complex relationship than it appeared at first—that seemed to be a way to touch on some pretty deep issues around how games touch our lives, but also the symbiotic relationships we form with other creatures as well as technologies.
JG: Any new projects you want to tell us about?
CJA: My debut SF novel, All the Birds in the Sky, comes out in January! It’s the story of a witch and a mad scientist, who become friends when they’re kids, and then reconnect as adults. It’s all about their two very different worldviews, and how they connect up. And the book is also about how to grow up as a total weirdo, until you become an adult and find the place where you belong…except that you’re still a total weirdo.
David Barr Kirtley’s short fiction appears in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, on podcasts such as Escape Pod and Pseudopod, and in books such as The Living Dead, New Cthulhu, The Way of the Wizard, and The Dragon Done It. His story “Save Me Plz” was picked by editor Rich Horton for the 2008 edition of the anthology series Fantasy: The Best of the Year. David is also the host of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast on Wired.com, for which he’s interviewed more than 100 authors, including George R. R. Martin, Richard Dawkins, and Paul Krugman. He lives in New York.
JG: What was the spark for “Save Me Plz”?
David Barr Kirtley: When I was in grad school in Los Angeles, I met a woman who told me that her boyfriend was so addicted to World of Warcraft that she’d been forced to start playing the game too, because the only way that she could interact with him anymore and be part of his life was to appear as a character in the game world. She sounded so sad, and it really stuck with me. Later I found a website called gamerwidow.com, where women commiserated with each other about having partners who were addicted to World of Warcraft. I read through many of those stories, and many of them were harrowing. That inspired me to write a story about a young woman whose boyfriend has literally disappeared into a game world, and ultimately she gets trapped in it as well.
JG: Such a bittersweet ending—why?
DBK: It was important to me that the story capture the sadness I heard in the voice of that woman who told me about losing her boyfriend to World of Warcraft. At the same time, I don’t think it would be possible for me to write a story that was just about how terrible video games are. I love video games—particularly computer role-playing games—with a passion, and so any story I write about them I think is inevitably going to capture some of that excitement and romance. So I think that’s why the ending reflects a complex mix of emotions. I’m exploring the dark side of something that I fervently love.
JG: Which video game would you like to visit/live in?
DBK: My favorite computer role-playing games are Richard Garriott’s Ultima series. (Check out my interview with Garriott in Episode 105 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy!) No other games I’ve played have ever offered such an intoxicating mix of a living, breathing fantasy world combined with rich narratives and serious ethical dilemmas. And because the Ultima series stretched over so many years, and I spent so many years playing each installment, I was continuously inhabiting the world of Britannia and watching it change and grow as I changed and grew, to the point where the cities and forests and dungeons of Britannia are as much a part of my childhood as the actual town where I grew up, and characters like Lord British and Iolo feel as real to me as any of my actual childhood friends. There’s a line from Ultima 6 that still gives me chills: “You wake in a different time, upon another world’s shore. Though the Avatar’s quests bring you both triumph and tragedy, never do you stray from the path of the Eight Virtues.” I would love for that to happen.
JG: Anything else you want readers to know about this story?
DBK: Several years ago I set up a PayPal button on my website so that readers who enjoyed the free stories there could express their appreciation by sending me money. In all these years, only one person has ever actually done so, a college student from France. I emailed her back to ask what motivated her to send me money. She told me that a friend of hers had become addicted to World of Warcraft, and was withdrawing from his friends and failing out of school. She had him read “Save Me Plz,” and said that snapped him out of it, and allowed him to establish a better balance in his life between gaming and everything else. He told her the story had “saved his life.” That’s still my all-time favorite fan letter, and really made me feel like my writing was doing some good in the world. And that really brings things full circle, given the initial inspiration for the story. So if anyone out there is dealing with a World of Warcraft addict, try handing them this story and see if it helps.