when the paracosm leaves my hands

John & I had planned to do a proper HANDMADEDEATHLABYRINTH issue 1, but… it’s been nearly a year. Similarly, I’d like to do sequels to many of my other games, but… well, have I ever made a sequel? I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I have a new piece of the theory of how I make games.

A paracosm (also known as a mental wonderland) is a kind of thoughtspace that you can create, control and immerse yourself into. It is a lot less hard to create and immerse yourself into than people expect, almost deceptively so.

paracosm-immersion, retrieved June 17, 2021 (Someone linked me to this wonderful site a year or two back — on twitter, I believe. If you were that person, let me know!)

I tend to create little worlds through a process that involves both writing the code for a game & imagining things that might exist in this world-made-of-code. The videogame. This is a sort of assisted paracosm immersion, the mechanics of the game something I develop alongside my internal theory of the game-world.

Lately I’ve been making a lot of quite small games; in particular my game design “playable” experiments are very short isolated experiences. It’s seemed to me like I should learn how to make prototypes and then develop them into full games.

But, ah, I don’t think I can do that.

when the prototype leaves my hands

drones (above) is a little prototype, a little world, that I often think back to fondly. I’d like to revisit it, I think occasionally. But I know I won’t. There’s a certain moment when a game leaves my hands, when it really leaves my hands, that it ceases to be mine. Or rather, that’s how I’ve operated. I let go of it completely. Its time with me, living in my mind in this way, is done.

This is probably related to my last blog post, but now I question what the right approach is. I let go of it to make way for… whoever plays it. If I’m not developing the game anymore, if nothing will change as a result of my imagining, there’s no reason for me to continue to maintain the paracosm in my head.

When it leaves my hands and you play it, it’s no longer an imagined world in my head, but some other thing; a shared place, now occupied by the mechanics and your play. It feels hard to come back from that. It’s a new thing — not worse or better, just definitively no longer mine.

creative sanctuary

If I’m right, and this really is a crucial part of my process, I need to spend some time keeping my projects to myself — visible development and playtesting erode the strength of my personal worlds, my imagined places, my paracosms.

Until now, I haven’t been able to figure out why I shouldn’t be sharing as much as possible. Feedback and visibility seem like unambiguous upsides. But the cost is a weathering of these fragile mind palaces, until all that remains is ugly pillars of code.

I’ll try keeping my secrets a while longer.

p.s. remaining personally connected

I have a tendency to turn sharply inward when I’m in these paracosms and I need to not do that. Strategy: stop talking about what I’m working on, but keep talking about the other aspects of my life. Play more games. (I’m going to play Wanderhome for the first time, in a park with my sister and a couple friends, sometime this summer.) Talk to more people about food. Go on more walks. Live more life.