Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"I Don't Write For Felt . . ."

This is what was said in the Saturday Night Live writing room when someone had to come-up with material for Jim Henson's earlier, oddly psychedelic Muppets. If you didn't know, during the first season of SNL, Jim Henson's creatures were featured in these really long, really boring sketches. Most were chock-full of borscht-belt jokes that didn't really match the characters and the audience's silence is deafening. This is why they're usually excised from the repeats.

Writing for a concept that you're not really interested in, or one you don't understand is like writing a term paper due the next day. And that's what my initial fear was.

Several weeks ago, the professor for whose class I wrote The Shaft and Antediluvian sent me an e-mail telling me that he passed my writing along to another professor who is fostering a group of students who have been developing a video game. The game has gotten a great deal of attention in the gaming community and they're looking to expand it. To do this, they realized they needed a story. They got in touch with my professor and that's how I got involved.

The team is led by two students who have taken to overseeing the production and design process. I met with them in the commons to discuss what my involvement could be.

It was a cross between an OKCupid meeting, and a drug buy as I walked through the rows of tables -hunched over with neck stretched out, head lolling about as it scanned the room looking for two guys who seemed like game developers.

Let me preface this next thing by saying, I'm not much of a, to borrow the Gerard Butler parlance, "gamer." I can sit through four movies backtobacktoback and see no waste in that, but after playing a video game for half an hour, I feel the need to jog. There seems to be something so wasteful about gaming. Maybe it's because I knew people who dropped/flunked out of college after growing to involved with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and that I knew of no one who dropped out because they got swept up in the work of Jean-Pierre Melville. It could also be that I think video games have shattered people's drive and ruined relationships. I would rather listen to someone talk on the phone for half-an-hour than watch someone play a video game. At least with the phone conversation, I know at least two people are active. If you've ever played a video game for more than thirty minutes while your boyfriend/girlfriend is in the room - you've just given them permission to have guiltless motel fuck-in-one bed/sleep-in-the-other sex with one of your friends, per violation. Now let me put on a heavy sweater and offer the grand kids some Werther's Originals.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to show you what a whore I am.

So I'm meeting with these guys about writing their video game. They're not the nerds I pictured but are instead two kids in form fitting flannels pulled out of the crowd from a Tent Party show at the Pitchfork second stage. We shake heads and begin "the interview."

"So I don't know much about the game, but I'm assuming that it's a first person shooter and you need me to write cool things for the guy to say before he sets fire to a Ukranian prison."

"No. The game isn't that it's . . . "

I pull a sheet of office paper from out my back pocket and begin to unfold it.

"While the character is walking around he can say 'I want to shoot something so bad, my dick is hard.' I think that's pretty good."

". . ."

"As the character is running up on an unsuspecting enemy, right before he shoots him in the back of his fucking head, he can scream 'You broke up Pantera!' though some may say it's too soon. (If you ask me, it's not soon enough.)"

"Are you talking to us in parenthesis?"

"(Is that a problem?)"

The meeting ended up begin structured like an interview. Asking my opinions on video games and how important story is to them. I said that if we're talking about how important story is to video games, and assigning a numeric value with ten being the highest, one being the lowest . . . I'd have to say a ten."

They shook my hand and went into detail about the plot they've conceived.

Out of professional respect for the project and the team, I won't divulge any of the storyline or the surprise twist ending I added that you'll never, ever see coming.

One of the things I've got to give these guys credit for is their diligence. They meet at least three times a week. And per the continuing skype discussions, these guys put the project before everything else.

Yesterday I found out that one of the guys in the project died suddenly in his apartment. I couldn't remember his face, so I checked to see if we were contacts on Skype. We were.

In the first Skype meeting, he was the first to send me a contact request. Then messaged me to say that he'd read through the pages I submitted and that he was really excited about what I was doing.

I was really appreciative of this. Of his going out of his way to welcome me and speak well of my work. It stood out because nobody does that. Nobody goes out of their way to extend a hand to a stranger. And so few go out of their way to say I like what you're doing.

You were kind. You're considered by all to have been brilliant. You would have turned 22 yesterday.

And though we met so briefly, I'm certain that I'll get to know you in the stories I'll hear. About all the things you did. And in that part of ourselves we leave everywhere we go.

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