(Playing Flash Point at the World RPG Fest in Brazil)
As you probably know (unless you’re new to this web space and if you are, welcome!), I’m a gamer. (For some cool details about how I became a gamer and what my first game was, I invite you to check out the interview I recently did with the great people from CoinOpKids).
What you may not know is that for a long time, I was a secret gamer, a shamed gamer. It wasn’t a cultural thing so much as it was a writer thing. None of the great writers I knew were gamers. In fact, many of my successful writer friends loudly denounced gaming, either as something that was beneath them or as something that had hindered their writing career. One of my favorite science fiction writers once told me that he’d had to break his gaming addiction forever in order to write again.
So I played in secret, or with friends who weren’t writers. At that point, I wasn’t a terribly successful writer (not that I’m terribly successful now, but I am working toward it), and I worried that gaming was the partly to blame for that. Why was I spending time rolling dice, flipping cards and completing quests when I should have been writing? Didn’t gaming keep me from being as productive as I wanted to be? Was gaming just a lower form of reading, one that didn’t teach me about my craft the way that reading a book would?
It took me a long time to come out as a gamer (far longer than it took me to come out as either kinky or bisexual, which is kind of crazy if you think about it). In the end, I realized that no matter what others said, I was proud of what I loved and keeping it a secret was probably a far bigger waste of time than the gaming itself. More importantly, I realized that gaming is actually very, very good for my writing in two ways. First, it is good for my writing lifestyle (productivity, discipline, etc). Second, it is good for my writing craft (plot arc, character, description).
Today, I want to talk a little bit about Button A (writing life), and will do a post later this week on Button B (writing craft).
Two things to know before you read: I play all kinds of games, including tabletop RPGs, MMOs, first-person shooters, board games, arcade games, and a few more, so these benefits are drawn from the gamut.
Also, I know that this is all very controversial. One only has to look at the Jane McGonigal‘s SuperBetter controversy to know that our culture is very divided on whether gaming can be good for you. The Wall Street Journal and Psychology Today both did pro-gaming pieces that stirred the pot as well. So I’ll just offer this caveat: this is just my experience with gaming and writing. Your dice rolls may vary.
HOW GAMING HELPS MY WRITING LIFE
Discipline & Productivity: I know a lot of gamers (and non gamers) are going to argue with me on this one. But I find that games (especially computer games in this instance) actually make me more productive. Why? Because they’re addictive. Step two of that is: because I know they’re addictive. This means I make deals with myself that sound a lot like the deals that every addict everywhere has made with him or herself: I won’t take my next hit until ________.
Okay, that’s a little extreme. But for me it’s also true. Take today. I have this blog post to finish, a website to update, a chapter to write, Geek Love subs to respond to, and a whole lot of emails to answer. I also have Guild Wars 2 sitting on my gaming machine, calling to me eagerly. What am I doing? I’m doing my work. Because I made a promise to myself that I could play, guilt-free, for as long as I like, once my work is complete.
The Promise of Reward: This ties to the above, but part of the reason games appeal to me so much is that I like to do something and then be recognized and rewarded for it. Finish a quest? Get a new sword. Open that locked chest with my well-trained skills? Get some gold. Save my fellow players in a campaign? Get some fellow players who are now in my debt:)
This is also true of my career. Write a good story? Get nice feedback from readers who enjoyed my work. Deliver my work on time? Get some gold. I may not get cool weapons in real life (although, I am open to that as payment, if any of my publishers are reading this!), but I get other rewards that are important to me.
On the flip side, I don’t like it when I do fail at something and have to waste my time and energy to do it again. While this is obvious in games — “Oh, did you fall into that hole and die? Now you have to run across the universe naked and backwards seven times and pay a thousand gold and, by the way, you lost all of your skills.” — it’s also true in real life. If I don’t write my novel on time, I don’t get paid. If I miss a deadline, it means I have to scramble to make it up. If I don’t get my work done, I carry the guilt and stress with me all of the time, and that’s no fun at all.
Health & Fitness: I think that this is a difficult one for many people, including myself, and I’ve worked hard to find ways to combine two very sedentary activities (writing and gaming) into my life while staying healthy and fit. Some ways are easy — For example, I am a Runner 5 in the Zombies, Run! game (a brilliant running-type app where zombies chase you — highly recommended). But I’ve also set up a walking desk — essentially a treadmill that holds my computer. This allows me to use the earlier mentioned discipline bit to walk my butt off on the treadmill while I’m gaming. (In fact, I used to run a guild in EQ2, usually while on the treadmill, and one of my guildies’ favorite past times was seeing if they could make me laugh hard enough to fall off said treadmill). I don’t walk very fast, but I walk a lot. In fact, I walk a lot more than I would if I wasn’t gaming, because gaming keeps the treadmill boredom from creeping in.
Social Skills: I’m a loner by nature, a true introvert. I really, really like the people that I like but I need a lot of time alone to think, space out, read, recoup and write. I’m also very very (okay, one more very) shy. Sitting quietly in a group of strangers is enough to make me panic. Having to roleplay in a group of strangers? Oh dear god. Nightmare. And, yet, I’ve done it. Again and again. Why? Because I know the rewards. Strangers sometimes become friends. And even if they don’t, the time is usually well spent.
My social skills could still use some polishing, for sure. I get tongue-tied around new people, I’ve heard that I can come across as snobby when I’m really just shy and nervous, and I often (oh, gods, so often) say the wrong thing. But playing characters with charisma bonuses have taught me something, as has playing characters who just punch everything in the junk. Usually I can choose the right action in real life. At the very least, I haven’t punched anyone in the junk in a very long time.
I would also like to get all smushy for a moment here and talk about the immeasurable value of having gamers in my life. They are some of the most open-minded, intelligent, articulate, fun, funny and welcoming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with. They are creative and adventurous in ways that push my own mental capacities and get my thinking outside the box, which is good for my writing, but it’s also very good for me, as a person who’s lucky enough to have incredible friends.
Money: This one is two-fold. The first is that gaming taught me a lot about how to handle a freelancer’s finances. As a player, you don’t know when you’re going to “find” money and so if you aren’t careful with your finances, you end up with nothing in your pocket when you arrive at the one store in the one town that carries the one thing you seriously covet. Like the perfectly statted dragon-leather armor that my hunter needed, but couldn’t afford because she’d just bought a moth for a pet (a moth that ended up being useless except for spreading wing dust all over). Same is true with being a freelance writer — payment is sporadic, often late and never what you expect. So don’t buy useless frivolities when you are going to need important things.
The second part of that is: being a gamer brought me more money as a freelance writer, because I get to write about games — and I got paid for it! (This is also how I became an erotica writer. Wait, I get to write about sex AND you’re going to pay me?! Score). Writing about games is fun, it helps justify my gaming habit both in terms of time and in terms of money, since it turns them into a tax write-off, and it keeps me abreast on all the gaming news. Which in turn means I game more, learn more, and then make more. Which in turn means I game more… well, you get it.
Success & Failure: This is a biggie. Games teach you that success is important and fun but that it isn’t everything (there’s always “one more” thing to do). They also teach you that failure is just part of the game; if you fail, you get to try again (even if you are running naked across the continent to do it). As a beginning writer, this was the best thing I could have learned. First, it meant that I understood that each small success was just that: Small, and one of many in a long line of future successes. Gaining a level, completing a quest and finishing a story are all something to be celebrated, but you can’t just stop there. You have to do it again and again in order to reach your end goal.
Failing (or, in the writer’s case, rejection) is just part of the game. Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Eventually, you will succeed, not because the game makes it easier for you (it doesn’t in writing either), but because with each failure you will have learned something useful. That means each time you try, you’re more likely to succeed. Rejection is just a temporary setback on your quest toward successful publishing.
Now, with this article complete, I am one step closer to my reward of gaming later today. I feel like I’ve accomplished something, I know where I’m headed next, and once I’m all done, I can look forward to hopping on the treadmill desk with my gun-slinging engineer.
What about you? Has gaming changed your creative life for better or worse? What you have learned about your career from gaming?
Next time, Button B: What I learned about plot, character, description and other elements of fiction craft.
Kiss kiss bang bang,