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.

I’m the author of Starseed Pilgrim, and I’m alive.

Spoiler warning for Starseed Pilgrim. Discusses a piece of ‘what it really means,’ as well as the ending (in somewhat vague terms). Also I swear a bit, because I got emotional while writing.

Dead-authorism appeals to me because I hate looking back and seeing the trail of destruction and confusion I leave in my wake – I make things, meaning one thing… but once they are out there in the world they are interpreted, in the hands of others, they become more. Outside of the period of the work in which it truly was mine, a game has always felt like a played artifact. Something that belongs to its players.

But, part of that is a learned helplessness, perhaps just my response to the overwhelming reception of Starseed Pilgrim. I didn’t decide how that game was perceived… my authorial intent only mattered so much as it helped me to create the work. After that, it was out of my hands.

Nobody wants to hear what it’s really about, I told myself.

Well, I may be about eight years late, but I think it’s time to free myself of those shackles. It’s not for the sake of the reputation of Starseed Pilgrim that I want to talk about what the game was about… it’s more for my own sense of closure, and my own sense of pride as an artist. Even if it’s true that nobody wants to hear what it’s really about, I fucking want to say it anyway.

I’m not writing this because I want you to think about Starseed Pilgrim differently… but, I am writing this because I think it’s a problem that I don’t want to influence how you think about Starseed Pilgrim! I want to get over it. I want to say things and mean them, and part of that is accepting that I’ve been downplaying what I thought I was saying with Starseed Pilgrim.

This isn’t to say anything I said was particularly well-said or meaningful, but I want to know that, whatever it was, my past self’s voice existed… so that I can have faith in my own voice today and continue to say things. To make things.

i've redacted much of the article in which i reveal what Starseed Pilgrim is about to me because... i wanted to. this blog isn't about me baring my heart to the internet. my email is at the bottom of the page if you want to ask a question though. i am still alive, after all.

-- 2021, august 20th

Starseed Pilgrim is about [REDACTED]

[REDACTED]

[REDACTED]

The poetry in Starseed Pilgrim is scattered and hidden in a way that marries perfectly with my attitude at the time and my attitude for the next several years: “What I’m saying isn’t important or real enough to communicate directly, so I’ll hide it behind layers of obscurity until nobody notices what I really meant, and I can forget it ever existed in the first place.”

[REDACTED]

In some ways I think finishing Starseed Pilgrim is missing the point, but at the same time I’m always thrilled, proud, overwhelmed when I hear that someone has beaten it, finished the game.

The end of Starseed Pilgrim.

[REDACTED]

[REDACTED]

Even if the prison was beautiful.

Cruel World and the future.

I have a lot of miserable nihilism about the state of the world today. Cruel World was a pessimistic game about how everything is fucked and how individual action just doesn’t matter. And when everyone had a good time anyway, I was… god, I was overjoyed but also kinda angry! How could everyone be missing the point and having a good time with my nihilistic, pessimistic videogame about the end of the world.

I wanted to pull the strings and have people blame each other (like it says in the subtitle), in good fun, but I wanted the vicious cycle to show itself so viscerally that everyone would agree, yes, what a cruel fucking world.

There was a bit of a turn when Patrick Klepek asked me directly if the experience — of Cruel World’s players actually having a good time and striving to co-operate and connect — made me more hopeful and less cynical. And I struggled, I tried to find the good, but I fell back on how terrible it all was.

People can get used to—and even find joy, beauty, and solace—in just about anything. [..] But maybe it means as the end of the world draws nearer, instead of fighting to stop it, maybe everyone will just endure it.

me, in that article, giving an awfully depressing response

I’d like to take a step back and be able to focus on the beauty in the world around us, in our lives, but it’s really hard. It’s hard.

I’d like to make more games about birds and nature and humans and the plain & simple joy of interaction. I want to make a game that says “the world is beautiful” and mean it. I don’t want to shy away from the sharp edges of reality, but I don’t want them to be the only thing I see, either.

In a way, I suppose the positive events of Cruel World are making me hopeful and less cynical, but it took a while.

It’s taking a while.

… It’ll take a while.

Thank you for reading.