Video Game Confidential: Susan O’Connor

From http://tedxbeaconstreet.com/susanoconnor
Video Game Confidential
Susan O’Connor

Susan O’Connor knew from the age of four that she wanted to be a writer. What she didn’t know was that she would grow up to work in the videogame industry, where the audience runs wild. “In games, agency matters,” says O’Connor. “Players want to control the action.” Out of necessity and desperation, she (and writers like her) have found new ways to tell their stories.

Like magicians palming quarters, some game developers hide their plots in plain sight. Their sleight-of-hand gives players the freedom they expect and the storylines they demand. But these magic tricks come at a surprising cost. What are these game narratives telling us about our world – and ourselves?

Games in O’Connor’s portfolio have sold over ten million copies and generated more than half a billion dollars in sales. In her thought-provoking TEDxBeaconStreet talk, O’Connor spills the beans about what she’s learned about writing, illusion, and desire.

A native of Austin, O’Connor now lives in San Francisco and splits her time between game projects, TV assignments, and surfing.

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Huldraheimen

So Huldraheimen is my version of 826 Valencia and Ministry of Stories. I’ve been talking about this for over a year and the name of the project is credited to a dear friend from our work together with The World Peace Game Bergen. I’ve been smitten by the 826 Valencia project ever since I saw Dave Egger’s inspiring TED talk:

Dave Eggers TED talk

Isn’t he inspiring? How can we NOT help him fulfill his dream? So basically Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegaristarted a tutor and writing lab with a street-front student-friendly pirate supply store in San Fransisco for lokal kids in the community, called 826 Valencia. It’s caught on in several cities around the world with different themes such as The Echo Park Travel Mart in LA, Brooklyn Superhero Supplies Co. and Monster Supplies in London.  So when Ministry of Stories was at The Story in 2010 selling Monster Supplies – I was even more smitten. But some ideas and dreams take a long time to take shape – and this one has for me. I’m still very uncertain why it’s so important to me to create such creative spaces for kids. I’m fairly certain that it is personal – so let’s not go there. One thing is for certain, though! I LOVE hearing children tell stories! Their imaginations are just so awesome, pure and uninhibited! There’s something so magical about these places and it’s lured me to start my own.

Huldraheimen logo by the fabulous Tini Malitius http://tinimalitius.com/

The theme I’ve chosen is Trolls. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback that trolls are too old fashioned and boring for kids, but I think so! I believe that through some fun writing workshops we’ll manage to spice up the Troll stories from ancient. I’m also extremely keen on not only focusing on traditional writing. Can we not, for example, have a workshop that is all about developing an app for a Troll? What kind of app would be useful for a Troll? And why not even consider creating a game that a Troll would enjoy? There are so many fun levels that we can experiment with!

Again – I only have the project proposal in Norwegian so far – I’ll get around to translating it soon, I’m sure: Prosjektbeskrivelse Huldraheimen 31_05

So I’m begging for money and also talking to as many educators as I can possibly find! If this is a project that you would like to help with please let me know! I’ve got the interest of the people building The House of Litterature in Bergen and I would so love to have something up and running there when they open in December!

There’s so much more to tell and I’ll be starting a new blog about this project soon so stay tuned! ;)

Wonderful geek tv!

Will Wheaton has a great new show on table top games on the new YouTube channel Geeks & Sundry. I wasn’t expecting to, but I actually watched the whole thing! So he invites guests and they play through a table top game entertainingly and informatively. This time around was Small World. There’s some great camera angles and it’s beautifully edited so that I learn the game as I chuckle and I don’t get bored. Extra kudos for inviting a woman! I hope they do Android at some time because it’s still in my closet after ending play with a big unison sigh after a dinner party over a year ago. Having a program like this to make me understand the goal and rules of the game will be lovely. And Mr. Wheaton is just the perfect game master for such a show! Very cool gaming table!

PS. For non Disneyland explorers, this is the freaky dolls he’s referring to in his intro.

Storytelling cross platform

Last week I attended The Nordic Media Festival and was so lucky to catch Brian Seth Hurst from X Media Lab. Mr. Hurst came to talk to us about cross platform media.

I still get chills and I must admit – a little tear in my eye when I think about The Conspiracy for Good, which X Media Lab is responsible for:

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The Story Part 2

I’m sitting at the airport with bad internet connection – (I mean seriously! Why do they make this so hard?!)  – but I need to get this off my chest before I get to Bergen, for I know that everyday life will distract me.

So where was I?

4) After a brief coffee break came the remarkably enchanting Karl James to talk about the wonderfully simple yet difficult skill of listening. Sometimes, if you just shut up you’ll hear remarkable stories that you never thought you’d hear. And what beautiful stories he had to share. Like the extremely powerful story of a rape victim he had been talking to. An extremely powerful woman who had worked through the grusomeness of being raped when she was 14. A man had snuck in the back door of their house and raped both her and her mother. Gruesome, right? Absolutely horrendous. But my tears didn’t start flowing until he told us that when they were supposedly finished, he forgot to stop recording and they stumbled upon something heartbreaking. The woman told him that she didn’t regret the rape – she had learned to cope with it, survived and it was a large part of who she was. But then she said something completely unexpected “I do regret what it’s done to my brother” – my eyes are welling up just thinking about her minor break down then. She began to cry and talked about how her brother had become completely secluded and was much more troubled than anyone else in the family. It was heartbreaking and a story seldom told or shared, but because Mr. James was so good at listening, we were given this precious gift. I completely agree. I’ve been thinking lately that I’m very good at articulating other’s feelings when they’re sharing them with me. In fact I take pride in being able to describe what they’re going through better than they themselves can. It makes me feel like an excellent writer and gives my ego a boost. This is totally wrong of me! Of course I should give them room to find the words themselves! I’m looking forward to discovering all the magical stories I will encounter.

Please listen here – I know they will fill my ears in the next coming weeks.

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The Story 2011 part 1

So I’m on my annual (2nd year this year) pilgrimage to London. Why? The Story! This has got to be the most inspirational day (I hesitate to call it a conference) of the year. The Story is the brainchild of Matt Locke. As he says, he just wanted to create the conference that he really wanted to go to.

I was there last year, but was unable to rearticulate the pure joy that the day brought me. So much inspiration! This year – all I want to do is write about it. I haven’t felt so inspired to write in FOREVER! But that’s the whole point of this pilgrimage – to be inspired, hear new good stories and celebrate storytelling. I must admit that I feel exceptionally geeky travelling from Norway for the event, but it’s just so worth it. And after, I have the whole weekend to work on my inspiration and write in lovely London.

Margaret Robertson was the perfect MC for the event. She excused herself for only being interested in games, but her storytelling geek surfaced quite well. So I’ll do the talks chronologically:

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Do you or have you played MUDs?

Maren and I are giving a presentation on computer games for librarians next week “Bibliotekdagene i Bergen”.

LambdaMOO mapWe’re both super honored to be asked – as we both consider librarians to be the coolest professionals around. We worked on our outline last weekend and I’m very excited. I think we’ve come up with a presentation recipe that’s going to be a big success. I’m worried that we’re cramming too much in, but I have faith that our structure will allow for it. So we’ll be talking a little about the history of computer games from hacker culture to consumer culture. We both felt it was important for us to focus a bit on computer game genre and all that it entails. And the icing will be a bit of fan culture. I’ll translate and share here later.

But for now I’m in need of some help. I want to at least briefly touch on the subject of MUDs to MMORPGs – text based worlds to graphical worlds. And I want some good text avatars. I thought I had several but after tearing my bookshelf apart (yes – I have no order) I can only find one, which is that of Mr. Bungle in LambdaMOO: ” a fat, oleaginous, Bisquick-faced clown dressed in cum – stained harlequin garb and girdled with a mistletoe-and-hemlock belt whose buckle bore the quaint inscription “KISS ME UNDER THIS, BITCH”. And I’m thinking …. nawww … there must be something a little nicer. I want colorful definitely, but not this grim and dirty. So I’m asking – do you know of any text avatars I can use? Do you have a favorite? I would also love some good room descriptions and any fond memories you have!

And while we’re on the subject. Do you know of any MUDs/MOOs still alive? I ask because I have a sneaky feeling that text based games are on their way back. Just looking at Causal Gameplay Design Competition.

The Story

I can’t believe it! Tomorrow night I’m off to London to attend The Story on Friday! I am soooo looking forward to it – and I’m just soooo hungry for someinspiration. And just the name “The Story” inspires me to start writing and creating!

The Story will be a celebration of everything that is wonderful, inspiring and awesome about stories, in whatever medium possible. We’re hoping to have stories that are written, spoken, described, enacted, whispered, projected, orchestrated, performed, printed – whatever form stories come in, we hope to have them here.

I hope so too!

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Machinima Night III program part 1

Phew – took some time, ey?

So the whole point with organising these Machinima evenings is to create a space for people to relax, share a beer and be introduced to what’s going on in the world of Machinima. There’s people who know what we’re on about and there’s people who are just fascinated by the medium and of course, those who are interested in New Media. I try to give an overview of what machinima is, but the more I learn about it – the more I realise that I’m just barely scratching the surface. So this year I decided to toss out objectivity and completely focus on what I wanted to focus on. I completely choked up, though. Suddenly I realised I had a microphone in my hand and people were listening to what I had to say – I haven’t talked publicly in a long long time! Definitely needed the practice. Luckily I’ve been giving a few lectures and presentations with work lately – so I’m starting to get it down again. So anyways – I’m going to squeeze in what I meant to say inbetween talking about the program of the evening. If you don’t recognise some of it – this is why.
So nuff said!
Machinima stands for machine + cinema + animation. If you think it doesn’t add up with the spelling, blame Hugh Hancock who created http://www.machinima.com. There’s also a story about a pub, a few beers and a cocktail napkin. But in essence it’s machinima stands for machine + cinema + animation. It was the intention to focus the evening on the “machine”-part. What fascinates me with machinima is how the artists are communicating with a machine or an artificial intelligence to create their own narrative or story. The machine I’m talking about is the computer game where the film is made. If a machinima film is made in World of Warcraft, the artist will have to communicate with the game and understand the game mechanics in order to tell their story.