Monday, December 05, 2011

Make Your Own Toys

I have never played Dungeons and Dragons.

You read that right. Depending on how well you know me, this may come as a big shock.

I'm a lifelong board game player. I belonged to a LARP group for about a year. I've played countless MMOs, including Turbine's D&D one, and even worked on a few. But I've never played a classic, official tabletop campaign of D&D. Never rolled a character, never sparred with the Dungeon Master, never cast Magic Missile.

I'm not proud of this, but before you say that this means I should turn in my nerd card in shame, go back and read the part about LARPing.

Like many people, I was first exposed to D&D around fifth grade. Being an avid reader of fantasy from a very early age, I totally got into it. I had all the stuff. The Monster Manual, Deities and Demigods, and the rest of the books. Miniatures, which I painted myself. Spiffy dice. All of which were never used in an actual D&D game.

In my school, the only D&D players were boys. None of my girl friends were interested. Socially, fifth grade is about when Boys/Girls Have Cooties starts to turn to Boys/Girls Are Interesting, leading to a sort of gender terra incognita-slash-DMZ best summed up as Boys/Girls Are Weird. In short, the D&D boys never asked me to play and I was too shy to ask them myself, so it just never happened.

So what did I do? I designed my own game. One that my friends would actually play with me. It was basically a board game version of D&D, a simple path game like The Game of Life where you drew monster or treasure cards when you landed on particular spots. If you drew a monster card, you had to battle it by rolling the dice and beating its stat. This was my first exercise in game balancing: magic-using characters had better stats against magical creatures, and warriors had better stats against other critters. The board, character pieces, and cards were all illustrated by me, and the artistic quality goes a long way toward explaining why I went into the design not graphics side of games. Although I was pretty proud of my Gelatinous Cube.

I bring this up because it feels like we're in the middle of an amazing watershed moment where now more than ever -- and increasingly in the future -- creative folks can blaze their own trail.

The Entertainment-Industrial Complex is a massive piece of machinery and often aspirants get crushed in the cogs. It's expensive and difficult to get a TV show, movie, book, or videogame off the ground-- that is, the conventional, studio- and publisher-driven versions of those things. You get told no a lot. But you know who won't tell you no? (or shouldn't, anyway) Yourself.

As just a few examples, just in the last year or so I've been seen friends and colleagues:

  • Write and produce their own play
  • Write and produce their own web series
  • Direct and edit their own digital short
  • Self-publish their novel electronically
  • Self-publish their own indie games, paper and digital
  • Turn a hobby blog into a profession
  • Raise money to produce their own movies

    I'm so impressed and inspired by these people and that DIY attitude. My new YA urban fantasy/Southern Gothic mystery novel DEAD LETTER OFFICE -- more news on that to come shortly -- is a project that I did with Silicon Valley startup Coliloquy, people with the entrepreneurial mindset to invent something new and in so doing reinvent what it means to be a reader and a writer.

    Not everything out there is gold, of course. And it's hard to find a prospective audience, or help them find you, when there's a veritable tsunami of product out there. But it's empowering to know that you don't need Hollywood or conventional game and book publishers to get your story out. You don't have to wait for yes, not with digital production, publicly available devkits, e-publishing, and some moxie.

    So go ahead, make your own toys! You'll be surprised at how many people want to come and play.
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