Should games, or game manuals, be treated as books?

I’ve been playing adventure games on computers since I was about ten years old.  I was fortunateto grow up in the 80’s when the computer and arcade boom really took hold.  Take a unique situation like that, throw in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Robin Hood on BBC1, and I was in my fantasy element.

So, it was natural for me, at first, to lean towards the old text-based adventure games. The player is often thrown in to a situation with very little information and expected to think their way out to safety.  Looking back, there was quite the comparison with those games and writing; ever sat down at a screen of text with a flashing cursor and wondered what to type next?  Try GO NORTH!

Fast forward a couple of decades and you’ll find me playing similar games, except now I can see where I am and I’m not just playing on my own; I’m sharing the fantasy world with thousands, millions, of other people.  Whilst the games are successful, it’s the forums, discussions and manuals that drives my thirst for knowledge.  It is in these meeting places of the internet that rumours are spread, experiences are told and knowledge is shared. When I’m in that kind of mood, I can often spend just as much time reading about the game, than I can actually playing it.

With that in mind, I can relate to this post in The Guardian about why we should be treating the RPG manuals as books themselves. The post discusses ergodic literature, which I’ve found to be defined as ‘literature where nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text‘.  This not only takes in account the manuals of many RPGs, but also suggests similarities with that of map-making and world-building; two things very close to me and my Fantasy obssession.

Whenever I’m writing, I always keep either a well-read copy of D&D books around me – quite often, I look something up and, an hour later, I’m still reading.  In those manuals I’ve discovered a whole host of characters, places and an abundance of lore that I would have otherwise never known about by simply playing a D&D adventure. For me, they are the textual building blocks of what the games, and their worlds, become.

Personally, I’d take this thought one step further and suggest that the games themselves should be treated as being on par with books, albeit not ones that can be read.  For every image I have of Frodo whilst reading the Lord of the Rings, of Vin whilst reading Mistborn, or even Kvothe from The Name of the Wind, I have similar digital experiences of sitting with strangers around a throneroom waiting for Ambassador D’Vinn and I’ve joined a raid to kill gods on their very own planes (EVERQUEST). I spent days tracking down the Time-Lost Proto Drake and tamed his as my mount, as well as being just one of dozens as we fought an enemy faction across a corn-field between two medieval villages (WARCRAFT).

The main difference here is that these aren’t stories, or novels, in the traditional sense. We can’t read them, nor can we feel or touch them.  But, we experienced them, we were able to put our virtual selves in the positions that our heroes and heroines are often placed and we could act out our own story.

Of course, there are differences between the two and some very good reasons as to why simply playing “Game of Thrones” isn’t the same as reading the novels. But I do think that there is still a place for those people who choose to act our their own stories, as opposed to reading someone elses.

Surely, it is the experiences that still remain when the final page is turned, or the avatar is logged off, that’s what counts?

Writing no longer buys a champagne lifestyle…

Writing no longer buys a champagne lifestyle

I’m sure the only surprise in this title is – did it ever?

After all, if it was easy to get published then we wouldn’t all be banging our heads against a brick wall grinding out novels one blood-soaked word at a time.  I once watched a TV programme about a man who wanted to give up his current job to become a writer.  The presenter showed the man a pile of telephone directories and said, “this is how many people write books each year”, he then picked up just two of the directories and said, “this is how many books are published each year. Finally, he ripped out a handful of pages from a single directory and said, “this is how many books pay enough for the author to write full-time.”

“..pay enough for the author to write full-time.” The first time around I missed that part.

In the second line of this post, I purposely talked about getting published rather than getting paid.  That’s because for many of us, me included, it’s the ‘getting published’ part that seems to be the initial hurdle, everything else in this uphill struggle seems irrelevant – if I’m running to catch the last train home and it’s about to leave the station, I’ll jump on it and worry about the ticket later. However, what that programme told me, and what the news story above seems to suggest, is that it may not be enough to just get published, even more than once, if your dream is to write full-time.

AJ Dalton talked in an interview recently stating that he still has to teach as it provides a source of income that his books simply don’t provide at the moment.   Furthermore, his book contract requires him to produce a book per year which only tightens the constraints further. He has to juggle writing part-time with holding down a full-time job (no debates on whether teaching counts as a full time job!!)

And he isn’t the only one. According to those figures in the ACLS survey, only 11.5% of professional writers earn their income solely from writing which is a drop from 40% in 2005.

In 2013, Patrick Wensink had a novel reach the top of an Amazon bestseller list, as well as a review in the New Yorker but it failed to rain money down on him.  In fact, he made a particularly apt quote;

It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.

His post goes on to show that even a $100,000 advance, after taxes and expenses, leaves around half as actual money in the bank – I don’t know about you but I earn more than that now in my mundane IT job. In theory, if I can get a contract that pays me $100,000 a year writing, I’m probably still financially better off turning it down and keeping the job I have (but WHAT a choice that would be).

The news doesn’t get any better either. Whilst the link at the top of the post talks about authors earning an average of £11,000 (about $18,500), an older story by The Guardian suggests that most writers earn less than £600 (about $1000) as an annual income.  Back in 2012, when e-books and self-publishing were rising in popularity, Seth Godin went as far as to suggest that, in this age of downloadable movies and music, shouldn’t we as authors just be happy for someone to read our work rather than expecting to be paid for it?  Is it right to suggest that art shouldn’t have a price tag?

Taking a different stance, we have Lynn Shepherd asking the likes of JK Rowling to actually stop writing to give the rest of us a chance at stardom. Personally, I don’t see Manchester United losing matches on purpose, or Sebastian Vettel slowing down a bit so why should the likes of Rowling lay down her pen? Eventually, readers will look for something else, the market will adjust, and other authors will naturally get their chance.

So, where does this leave us as aspiring authors?  The world is changing at a fantastic pace, often quicker than many of us can react to; what we think we want now may not be the same thing we want in the future.  We all know getting published is a huge obstacle and to think that making a lot of money from our work is going to be any easier may just be naivety.

I suppose it depends on whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of person.  For some of us, the monetary value is of little concern and we would write if we were on a desert island with little chance of rescue and a box of ball-point pens.  For others, writing is less of an art and more of a job that must be reigned in and managed with professional accuracy; if it looks like we aren’t going to make money, then it’s onto the next big thing that will.

For me, I’ll just be happy to see my words in print and a smile on someone’s face as they read it.  If there’s enough money left in the pot to allow me to do it again, I’ll have a smile on my face as well.