Lights Out, Please is a collection of short, fictional games that are meant to do two things: 1) play off a traditional urban legend or ghost story, and 2) reflect how the fear in these stories isn’t extraordinary, but quite commonto a lot of people.
I originally started Lights Out, Please as a way to talk about experiences I was having a difficult time confronting myself. I fictionalized them to allow for greater control and distance, but I think the way violence against women is endemic is an important issue. And for me, the parallel between ghost stories and abuse and assault and violence against women was the best way for me to make this analogy.
But as it is, I don’t think Lights Out, Please is the best it can be, and that’s because it’s a reflection of just my voice and my unique experience. And that doesn’t tell the whole story. Lots of people experience this same fear in many different ways. Lots of people experience this fear more acutely and way more intensely than I do. Lights Out, Please fails because it is just one person’s story, when the idea behind Lights Out, Please is to show that the fear in these ghost stories isn’t an individual thing: it is systemic, and it affects way more people way more intensely than just one white woman.
So, I don’t think Lights Out Please should just be my game anymore. I want it to be our game, a game of shared voices communicating about the important differences in a somewhat similar experience. When it comes to fear and how fear can affect our daily lives, my voice isn’t as important as so many others.
Your voices matter more.
So, howabout this? Help me make Lights Out, Please, into the diverse collection it needs to be. But I don’t want this to be a “you write for me and I run the show” kinda thing, because that’s shitty and not fair. It’ll be a group effort — a collaboration, like You Were Made For Loneliness or Soha Kareem’s upcoming Twinethology.
Anything that is submitted for Lights Out, Please, will be only released if approved by you, the author — and it will be entirely attributed to the author, either through your real name or a pseudonym if you wish. It’ll be a collaborative process between us, so you can have complete control over how your story is told and presented. No decision will be made without your final approval on your story. I will only put everything together, but everyone’s stories will be attributed to them (either real name or a pseudonym). If you would like to code your own story, you can. If you would rather I code it, then I will run every single minute decision by you, so the story is exactly how you want it presented. If you want someone else to do it, that is also totally cool. No matter who does the coding, you have the control. It’s your story, told how you want it to be. I’m just gonna stitch them all together :)
For reference, you can check out my current work-in-progress of Lights Out, Please (the CSS is still shaky and needs to be tweaked in places, and the Red Ribbon story isn’t finished).
Here’s the breakdown:
1) No experience writing creatively or with Twine necessary.
2) Can be any genre you want (poem, short story, etc), as long as it follows a popular ghost story or urban legend (can be repetitions of the same ones I’ve or others have written about for Lights Out, Please). It doesn’t have to be negative, either. I’m a cynic so my stories tend to border on the cynical side, but as long as it follows this structure, your story can be a positive reflection of something that was scary, but ended up being a good thing. I’m not going to say a story isn’t “scary” enough. It’s your story, how you want it told.
3) For the sake of diversity and the intersectionalist point of Lights Out, Please, only submit if you are NOT a cis het able-bodied white dude, please. I’m not gonna ask anyone to “prove” their identity, obviously. But respect the aim behind this project, please.
4) I think publishing by early October 2014 is a cool idea, so have anything in to me by September 1, 2014.
5) I’m open to anything (suggestions, ideas, criticisms, concerns), so please do not hesitate to contact me. If I’ve said something offensive or overstepped a boundary anywhere, I will immediately do what I can to fix it.
6) Payment: since YWMFL was really well-conceived and fair to its writers, I’m going to follow that method. I’ll set up a Donate button, and any proceeds we make will be split evenly between us. If there is an issue with this method, though, let me know. I am happy to revise this if it doesn’t work for the majority of people.
Please spread the word and contact me with anything!
The following short, short, short story was originally published in the collaborative Twine You Were Made For Loneliness, created and managed by Javy Gwaltney. My story is only part of the larger narrative, and it is worth reading because some really amazing and incredible people contributed to it.
There she stands, in an arched doorway, tank top riding up to expose a belly button, arm bent over her head in a fucked-up halo. Slight smile to match a look in her eyes, a look that betrayed mischievous ulterior motives. This is my favourite memory of her. It wasn’t the first time we met, or the last time, it was just one time, like every other time we shared together.
She was, utterly, unlike anybody else. Ethereal doesn’t quite cut it, because she could pack a punch that was heavier and more solid than cinderblocks. Not physically, of course. The fear of physicality kept her contained, limbs always folded in on each other like an ashamed marionette trying to hide her strings. But with her words, wow, her words could destroy cities. Breath like insidious fumes that could seep into your pores, contaminating your blood and rewiring your veins and thoughts from within. She was a force, that’s for sure.
Why did nobody else see her this way? (And no, I shall not compare you to a summer’s day.)
When did I meet her? I must have been sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, some version of “teen” that was too young for how old I felt. Already bone-tired, eyes already heavy, words already laced with whiskey and disdain. This is what I call my “bad times” or the times Before I Got My Shit Together. Every night spent in a house in a “bad” area, with “bad” people, doing “bad” things. The walls were yellowed from smoke, the couches were stained with spilt bong water, spilt beer, spilt cum, spilt Pepsi drank straight from the 2L bottle.
I know what you’re thinking. She didn’t save me.
She didn’t ruin me, either.
She just was.
I don’t tell anybody about this time. Usually, these memories are clouded over with other memories, the really bad stuff. No scare quotes there. There’s no way to be tongue-in-cheek about that one. So I don’t come here often. I save her, this memory, for the really awful times. For the 3 a.m.s with no sleep; the train rides home from work after being stepped on and squashed by work and life, like the ants that trail in the bathroom; the I Can’t Fucking Take This Anymore Times. That’s when I need her the most.
Remember, she’s not my saviour. These memories don’t save me, redeem me, or make me a better person in any way. They are just safe. A quiet corner to retreat to. Blankets to crawl under.
For all her complexity and enormity and thunderous capability, she was simple. And I loved her. And it was all simple.
This memory, she stands there. Slowly lets her arm fall back, stretches out the kinks in it, as if she’s unraveling each bone at a time.
“You look tired today, Lily” she says. She always says this.
“I am,” I say back. As I watch my memory, I mouth the words. I am I am I am I am I am I am
The others haven’t come yet, so it’s just me and her. The rest are out getting pizza, chips, popcorn, and video games from the movie rental store around the corner. Next to the building with the engravings of cows’ heads (I think it used to be a dairy processing plant). So we sit on the couch, a deep kiss that would be ravenous if I could lift my limbs, but it always feels as if my blood was replaced with cement, and if only I could be Snow White (I was never the Pretty Girl, so being a Disney princess was more than I could ever hope for) and her kiss could revive me, but this isn’t a fairy tale, and she doesn’t save me, and we kiss, and then my head rests on the back of the couch.
And that’s it. The others come back shortly after, and we separate. She goes to sit on the arm of the chair across the room, and I remain where I am, my head resting on the couch.
I replay the memory over and over.
“You look tired today, Lily.”
I am I am I am I am I am I am
For those of you who know, my book on Unreal, called Escape to Na Pali: A Journey to the Unreal, co-written with Alan Williamson, was released today. The book contains a shorter form of the following introduction. As a way to announce the book, I thought I would post my extended introduction here. Thanks for reading, and you can buy a purchase a digital copy of the book over at Five Out Of Ten. Thanks, folks <3
I was ten when Unreal originally came out. And to this day, I will never forget how engrossed I became with the world, even with Garbage’s Version 2.0 album playing in my headphones. I still remember the first time I got to Gateway to Na Pali, a level where you walk over rickety looking bridges in outer space. Outer space. I looked down in the game, saw the vast expanse of the Na Pali galaxy, and … got vertigo and almost fainted, and was ill for the next few hours.
But it was incredible.
Unreal was an entirely new experience for me. Growing in a family of all brothers (and all the boys on their respective baseball teams basically acting like brothers), I rarely spent time playing games alone. Between my own baseball games with my teammates, and board games and videogames with all my brothers, I didn’t even know what it was like to have a solo adventure through a videogame until Unreal.
And while I had played Quake and Final Fantasy VII, a lot of it was just playing what my brothers handed down to me (a product of being the youngest sibling, and not of my gender, but that’s just because my brothers never treated me any differently from each other). Those were games he had bought and I had watched him play, and then that I took up afterwards. But not Unreal. Unreal was mine, and Na Pali, the planet that serves as the setting for Unreal, was my own world to traverse and explore. In fact, the expansion pack, Escape to Na Pali, was the first game I ever bought that wasn’t handed down to me from my numerous older brothers. When I asked him about this, my brother said, “Yeah, I played Unreal. But you took it a whole new level.”
It was an adventure, and truly a journey. It was the first time I remember exploring on my own. It was all new. It was all exciting. Unreal is a game about discovery: you’re a prisoner, Prisoner 849, whose ship has crashed, and you have to try and find your way off this new planet. You can select your character skin from six or so different ones, three men and three women. The one I always played with was named “Gina”. She had dark hair like me and that was all I really needed to be taken with her. And that’s it. Unreal doesn’t need a grander set up or establishing narrative than that, because what makes Unreal so good, even now, is the pacing, and how all the details of the world are slowly given to you, level by level, rather than being dumped on you all in the beginning. The joy of Unreal is that it’s a real journey throughout Na Pali.
Actually, playing Unreal is what, in many ways, solidified my dislike of co-op or multiplayer videogames. When Unreal eventually transitioned into the ever more popular Unreal Tournament, I stopped playing it (I liked Unreal before it was cool, obviously). There is something about exploring a whole new world on your own, at an age where my entire life was changing. I was at the age where people would start picking on me for my appearance and weight, and I was changing social circles and escaping to Unreal was a chance for me to just explore, not just Na Pali, but myself as well. I know that’s a pretty standard narrative, videogames as escapism for a kid who was being bullied, but that doesn’t make the impact of it any less powerful. That’s why, when I discovered Kira Argamenov’s storyline in Unreal, she became the focal point of my attention. (That’s all I’ll say on that for now, you can read more about it in the book. As River Song would say, “Spoilers”.)
So replaying Unreal with Alan replaying it alongside me was a new experience for me. We were both rediscovering a world we had fallen in love with at a young age. But this time around, we were rediscovering it together. And let me tell you: who you take with you on that journey matters. You can’t take a vacation with just anyone, right?
Luckily for me, Alan met all my enthusiasm in kind (and often times exceeding it), and so replaying Unreal and writing this book was like introducing a new friend to an old friend and watching them get along spectacularly.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I would write fantasy stories as a kid and then make my entire family read them. My first “novel” was a story called Mark of the Dragon, and it was Dungeons and Dragons fan fiction. I always hoped I’d eventually write a book. But I never thought I’d write a book about videogames, let alone my personal, all-time favourite videogame. I fell sideways into working in videogames, so it only makes sense that I fell sideways into writing this book. And I never thought I’d have this much fun writing a book. Writing it was almost as much fun as replaying Unreal, and revisiting worlds, and maps, and castles, that I hadn’t visited for sixteen years.
So how did it all start? I pitched an article idea to Alan for Five out of Ten, and mentioned Unreal in it. Alan messaged back and said “Bloody hell, I haven’t thought about Unreal in the ages.” (You have to imagine that in Alan’s Irish accent, it’s so much better, trust me.) Then we sought the soundtrack out on YouTube. Then we talked about our favourite levels. Then we bought it on Steam. And then, that’s when Alan said: “So, I read your Five out of Ten pitch, and I don’t think you should talk about Unreal in it. But that’s only because I think we should write a book about it.”
When Alan asked me to write a book on Unreal, I thought he was joking. I laughed, and thought “that would make every single of 10-year-old Kait’s dreams come true.” But he wasn’t joking. Then when he told me we could write it in three months, I laughed even harder. I work in book publishing: three months for a book is ridiculous. It was ridiculous. But it was the best three months, filled with many jokes, anxious emails, deadlines, spreadsheets, Skype calls, anxiety-calming puppy pictures, and lots and lots of talk about videogames. But we did it. And I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Alan is a remarkable editor and writer, and a dear friend, and getting to know him over the process of writing this book has been just as wonderful as writing the book.
So it’s National Poetry Month, which I’ve taken as a flimsy excuse to finally get back into working on a poetry collection I’ve been writing for the past, oh, six years or so. The collection is (tentatively) called Awkwardly Waking Up With The Dictionary (an homage to the collection Sleeping With The Dictionary, the work that inspired my own when I read it in an undergrad creative writing course). So, the collection is what I am calling “linguistic love poems.”
You / I
you: being the one addressed
(or ones, with the potential for
both singular and plural)
after a while it grows on you
(it undefined, irrelevant to you / I),
capable of any relation
(grammatical or — )
except that of possessive.
I: simply being,
the one speaking.
capable of singular declaration
I feel fine. Compare to
me: began to replace I
sometime around the 16th century
(according to Merriam
Webster online) largely
because of word order
you and I
you and me, and I
lose my voice — speaking belonging to
I and not me.
I now only belong
as the subject of a verb.
compare to my:
object of an action,
a familiar person or
my oh my, used interjectionally.
What about we:
I and the rest of a group
that includes me, you and I,
you and I and another and others,
I and another or others not
including you. Compare ours,
our, back to I
or back to you or us:
an objective case of we.
A few months back, somebody was interviewing me about my first ever Twine, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before. They had asked me a question, one that seemed fairly simple, but has become more and more complex the more I think about it. Throughout our conversation, which was about how Stop Me was my attempt to illustrate what it’s like living with disordered eating and the mind-frame behind it through body horror. So the question that has stuck with me so intensely is this:
“Did writing Stop Me help you?”
At first, my gut reaction was “yeah, it did.” This was because talking about hating yourself so thoroughly that wanting to starve yourself into non-existence isn’t an easy thing to talk about, even if having the conversation itself is vitally important. So yeah, it helped because it let me talk about something I struggled with on a daily basis and because it reached way more people than I ever thought was possible.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not that simple. Releasing Stop Me was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy and proud as hell that I was able to do it, despite all my inclination to hide because I was convinced that everyone would hate it and think I was being a melodramatic baby. So that’s something. But it also brought a lot of things to the front of my mind that I’ve been able to somewhat safely distance myself from. But before I get to that, there’s one other thing I want to say: there’s the crash. I released Stop Me, people responded positively, I gave a talk on it where even more people responded positively, and it was all able to shut up the voice in the back of my head that said I wasn’t worthy of anything half so good. That’s what I call the “happiness crash” and it’s been a pretty constant part of my depression for the past two or three years now. So that’s a factor.
But there’s something else that comes with writing so personally about something so intimately bound up with you, it might as well be embedded in your bones.
I started writing Stop Me three or so years ago when I was in a really bad place. It was therapeutic then because I was deep in the battle. I was doing my MA and writing conference papers about depictions of anorectic bodies and how we talk about female bodies in everything from films, to fairy tales, to the marketing behind cosmetics. It was a mode of coping: instead of starving and counting calories, I’ll write this, I decided. And it worked then. But things happened and I stepped away from Stop Me for a host of other reasons. But it never went away because it was a story I felt I had to tell.
So I did, and you all know that. I more or less have been able to find a way to buffer the impulse to restrict and the self-loathing thoughts, and I’ve gotten to a place where I can think about lunch without having a massive panic attack. Well, some days. Some times. I haven’t stepped on a scale in three or so years, and moreso, I don’t have any desire to. (Scales deserve a whole ‘nother post, to be honest. I can’t even look at one without being thrown into a massive panic because numbers are just not a thing I can start paying attention to again.)
So I released Stop Me because I am a solid believer in contributing to these conversations because one of the worst things is feeling alone. Reading stories by women who suffered through eating disorders helped me so much (Wasted by Marya Hornbacher is the closest thing to a Bible I’ll ever have). It tells you: you’re not a fuck up, this isn’t your fault, and those are all necessary things to learn and accept. And I wanted to, in whatever way that I could, contribute to this. And for all that, I am proud.
But it’s brought a lot of the bad stuff back. If not the counting, then at least the constant scrutiny of what and when I eat. And some of the panic. Okay, well, a lot of the panic. Here’s the thing, though: this isn’t about food, it’s about feeling insufficient and extreme self-loathing. Food is just the vehicle to counter these feelings. So Stop Me is contradictory for me. It helped me talk about something I wanted to talk about, but it also put me in a place where I can’t ignore those things. It gave them a little bit of power, while at the same time giving me a bit of power. It’s a weird fight, but in the end, I think it’s a fight I’m at least not losing, and that’s just as good as winning.
So the point is this: I am, more or less, okay. “Okay,” is a state I am figuring out, is not necessarily always happy and stable. “Okay” for me is thinking “you’re worthless” and then thinking “well…maybe not?” And writing Stop Me, while throwing a massive monkey wrench in the cogs of my being okay, is also a major part of me realizing that being okay doesn’t mean always being Great and Happy and Rays of Sunshine.
And well, that’s something.
So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the creation of meaningful choice in games. This question for me arose out of listening to the creators of Kentucky Route Zero discuss how the concept played into the writing of their game. What is meaningful choice? Is it providing in-game options to the players that let their choices dictate the way the rest of the story unfolds, or is it a choice that, while doesn’t impact the narrative flow of the game, reveals more about characterization and the player’s own thoughts and attitudes? (I’m not saying that players who select a violent choice, such as harvesting Little Sisters in BioShock, are inherently violent, but that this choice reflects how the player approaches the game, the choice, and the perceived “right” answer.)
This question really resonated with me, because my first Twine I ever made had very few choices that directly impacted the flow of the narrative and the game play itself. Essentially, in Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, there was one ending, but you could read it in two ways depending on your choice. So for my second Twine I tried to do the exact opposite: create three different endings that could be achieved by allowing for variability in player’s decisions. So There Are Monsters Under Your Bed arose from an attempt to figure out what “meaningful choice” means to me, essentially.
And I’m thinking about this in every game I play, now. In the Twine game Destroy/Wait, choice is available, but only for a limited time: ultimately, you will be forced to destroy everything that you come across. But this doesn’t diminish the meaning behind each player choice. If you chose to wait, rather than destroy immediately, then you get a bit more of the story, the world unfolds and reveals itself in a different way. In this sense, waiting actually makes destroying that much harder, because what you’re destroying now you know more intimately than if you just simply destroyed it in the first place. What is the worse option? Destroy now, or wait?
So for me, the concept of meaningful choice where the outcome is the same holds a greater appeal. I mean, in everyday life, our choice and the ability to make a choice, even if it won’t affect the outcome, is undeniably important. It’s in our choices that we learn and discover, and I think to consider “choice” merely as a vehicle for constructing different outcomes and paths is thinking of “choice” in a limited capacity. Sure, having different endings and outcomes achieves this as well, but providing choice that highlights and illuminates a story and a scene is just as important, even if these choices all lead to the same ending.