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World Renewal Song

For some reason, a poem I studied in school a long time ago just hit me like a thunderbolt. Thought I would share it with you, too:

World Renewal Song
by Jeannette Armstrong

Nothing was good
The winds blew
and grasses died

I thought I was pitied
so I longed
for a Whole Time Song
I danced for it
in deerskins

I made thought with paint
in red lines
from little finger to left shoulder
I silent,
listening by dying grasses
began hearing
at dawn

A new fire is lighted
The finished world is here
formed in mind patches.
It is come
the song for rain and green
and good

I sit by talking grasses now
with nothing more
to make a good world of
than thought paint
and dance talk in lines,
but song colours
pour over my world
and my good time
still goes on

It was always that last part that really stood out to me. I’ve been thinking lately that maybe most suicidal lives don’t end in suicide – they end like this.

Nothing more to make a good world of: But your good time still goes on.

You’re absent from the world. It makes no difference. Have as much fun as you can before it falls apart for real!

The Highwayman II

Writing for The Highwayman continues. I think it has the potential to be so much more caustic than Actual Sunlight, because whereas that was about a person who largely decides that they don’t want to live anymore, this is about someone who does. Desperately.

Maybe I want to live desperately. I guess Actual Sunlight is about wanting to live, even if it something has happened to that desire.

Chronic, debilitating pain is a harder subject than depression. The latter has a lot of traction in popular culture, and a certain halo of artistic romance still surrounds it. But what do we really know about people who are in too much perpetual discomfort to really do anything? How can a way of appreciating what they go through be achieved? How can an interactive medium augment that?

I don’t know if I’m really concerned with all that, to tell you the truth. All I know is that despite my back feeling better than it did a few weeks ago, I also feel strongly that there has been some kind of permanent change.

It’s a whole new way of feeling alive and yet knowing that I may not really be alive at all.

Like, this could be it. From here it could be on to serious drugs and being fucked up all the time and just waiting for the world to implode.

But this story I’m doing is sort of, I guess, the opposite of that. I’m trying to do something bittersweet – something about someone who gets what they want, at least for a little while, even though it costs them a lot.

If my last game was a portrait, maybe you would call this one a wish.

But there is really going to be nobody interested in this. No gamers to sympathize with Evan’s character, no mental health hook for the media, etc.

But it’s what I really want to do. And I’m doing it. And a lot of the writing for it so far is pretty great.

So.

The Highwayman I

With artwork and music that I’ve commissioned now starting to come together, I am officially beyond the point of reasonable return. The time has come to start slowly talking about The Highwayman, which I hope to release in late 2014.

At its most fundamental level, the game is about the experience of chronic pain, disability, and how that shapes families and individuals. This is important to me, as last summer I suffered an injury that still hasn’t fully recovered, and several weeks ago I went through a sudden and massive re-aggravation of a long-time lower back issue that was the original inspiration behind my McSweeney’s piece The Society of Pain.

The severity of that most recent event basically put me in bed for two weeks, though, and in that time I’ve been writing a lot. Beyond drawing solely from personal experience as I did for Actual Sunlight, however, this piece is going to require a substantial amount of research, and I find myself looking forward to that aspect of it.

Anyways, I think that is enough said for an introduction. I hope you’ll follow this project, and please feel free to ask questions.

Thanks! In upcoming updates, I’ll discuss:

* The novel variation on the point-and-click adventure game that will drive the narrative
* The overall story and characters
* Whatever else you’d like to know!

Obviously, if you don’t want anything about this game spoiled, do not read any of this at all.

The Yawgh is About the Real End of the Real World

Earlier today, I tweeted out whether or not anyone had yet written a review of The Yawhg that focused on it as an expression of the impending collapse of our planetary environment.

I received no response, and Google yielded no results, and so I can only assume that no such review has yet been written. This is annoying, because it strikes me as the most straightforward way to look at the game. Such a review should exist prior to less obvious interpretations which are sure to follow, as The Yawgh is good enough to deserve all of them.

So: I’ll just do it myself, bluntly, and get it out of the way.

First, though, I don’t know if ‘planetary environment’ is a real term, but you know what I mean: Global warming, the Anthropocene, that sort of thing. When I was growing up, it was mostly discussed in terms of how much rainforest and ozone we had left. Time moved on.

Anyways:

1. The Yawgh is about how the end is inevitably coming and yet the characters just go on with things as if it is not. This is just like how you keep waking up in the morning and living your life and looking towards the future even though the future is irrevocably dipped in shit.

2. The part of The Yawgh after The Yawhg comes is a metaphor for how even though billions and billions will die when the oceans rise and agriculture collapses and whatever else, there will probably be a few people who make it through. Will they be reduced to hunter-gatherers, and slowly fizzle out? Will they live behind giant walls and be guarded by robots and forge a new epoch of humanity even though you are dead and forgotten and could have never lived at all? Nobody knows for sure, but it will definitely depend on this: Whether or not those people are any good at anything. Similar to real life, the game makes it clear that this is by no means guaranteed.

3. The part of The Yawgh where people have to take skills from their former lives and put them to use in new ways is similar to how things will be in our new world as well. If you’re an investment banker right now, for example, your job in the new world will be to steal from people. If you’re a writer, you will still be a writer, but hopefully the deaths of so many other writers will elevate you to some level of regional success.

In conclusion, I love The Yawhg and I think it is a finely-crafted metaphor for the greatest existential threat of our lives: The environment. It is certainly a much smarter and sharper one than anything that has to do with zombies, or viruses, or North Korean invasions of the midwestern United States.

Please, seriously: Enough of all that. Please buy The Yawgh instead.

Thank you. Smarter and better reviews, please proceed.

Actual Sunlight – Template and Guide for RPG Maker VX ACE!

Are you interested in the scripts and event programming that was used to create the original version of Actual Sunlight?

If so, I’ve created a template and guide project for you here:

UPDATED! NOW ON STEAM WORKSHOP: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=232186884

You should be able to unzip it and open as a project in RPG Maker VX ACE!

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas 2013!

Actual Sunlight – 2013 Indiecade Feedback

Below is a copy-paste of my full feedback from the two anonymous IndieCade jurors who reviewed my game. If I had to sum up my feelings about it, I’d say that the lack of well-defined criteria is a problem – as you’ll see, the second juror I drew was entirely concerned with the extent to which ‘play’ communicated the ideas I was trying to express.

I actually think that’s an entirely fair place to come from if that is what IndieCade states they want to be, but they don’t. And you can imagine how things might have gone differently if I’d drawn a juror who was more interested in sheer narrative, or even just in evaluating the game based on what it was trying to be instead of something that it was obviously(?) not. I could go on at length about why only the end of the game should be like the end of the game, or why I don’t think surreal, Eternal Darkness style effects would make any sense at all, but… Well, I won’t.

Enjoy!

Entry: Actual Sunlight

Juror #2 (Rejecting?)

Actual Sunlight seems to follow in the recent influx of personal games, and touches on subject matter that many people can relate to. Along with that, there is usually a question about if a game is resting on the subject matter to be unique, or if the play is something remarkable and in the spirit of innovating the medium.

Most of Actual Sunlight’s themes rests in the exposition, and it’s hard to see where the artist’s intention comes out through play. This isn’t to say this shouldn’t be a game, only that it doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation past using games for personal expression, and that on its own isn’t really the sole domain of this game.

I could have seen this game have more instances of the final scene, where the places the player would assume control and agency are taken away from them because of depression. The character has a lot of self-antagonism and shows through words how self-defeating he is, but the player doesn’t necessarily internalize that. There isn’t necessarily any learning or a chance to establish much of a connection with the character through play. It would be interesting to have the game resist and foil the player in the way the character’s depression gets in the way of his life. There are also some surreal events in the story that would lend well to the game format, playing with perception of reality and how that affects someone with depression.

Juror #1 (Accepting?)

This intimately personal story of dealing with the ups and downs of life and contemplation of death is compelling. It takes guts to put one’s self out there, and I believe that anyone who plays this will appreciate that.

The full playthrough is only a half hour or so, but there is so much text that that half hour feels much longer when playing it. This is very, very, very, very text heavy, and the numerous full screens of text leave one pervasive thought in mind as the game wraps up: “I feel like a jerk for saying it, but this is simply too TL;DR”.

BUT! With that said, please understand that this is only meant as constructive criticism to help you continue to make your impressive game better and better. I am recommending that the game be at the event, because even if there is a lot of text, the game does a fantastic job of bringing your real inner struggle into the user’s world — I commend you for your effort and for your success in framing something so personal in an intriguing way.

The Computer

I’ve mentally been in a place this discouraging before, but the fact that I essentially can’t physically do the thing that I am most addicted to, ruined by and surviving via without my body screaming at me to stop makes the situation a little more real this time around.

While Actual Sunlight was obviously an expression of how depression psychologically manifests itself, the one thing that it didn’t express too explicitly about my depression is the connection of it to the chronic physical pain in which I unfortunately live.

While that was mostly relevant to a back injury that I suffered many years ago, that pain was actually in many ways far more manageable than the pain that I find myself suffering currently.

Back in February, not long after the release of the game, I decided to really try to get my personal life going again, including the gym. Sadly, because I’ve become so out of shape over the years as a result of an extremely sedentary personal and professional lifestyle, I quickly overdid it and hurt myself.

Terrifyingly, however, this injury has become an actual impediment to everything I do, by which I mean the only thing I do: Sit at the computer.

I don’t really know exactly what happened. The doctors I’ve been to don’t really know either, but the short of it is that I’ve done something to my neck or my shoulder that has made it substantially painful in my right hand and wrist to sit at a computer and type. As a writer and a gamer and a developer, this is obviously ridiculously crippling. This blog entry as you are reading it, in fact, is not being typed at all; rather, I am dictating it.

It could very likely be connected to another weird way in which I hurt my hand years ago, and consequently started using my left hand to mouse.

The crazy thing is that between my hand, my neck, my shoulder and my back, my right side is now totally mashed, and my left side is totally normal.

Now, this is the part where everybody jumps in with their chiropractor and their physiotherapists and massage kings and all the rest of it. I appreciate that you just want to help me, but I’ve been through all this before with my back, and I know that the truth is that there just are no easy answers. I’m going to follow up and look into a bunch of things, but at best I expect these things to be mildly therapeutic. None of these guys ever really cure any of this shit. That’s how they make a profession out of it, and it isn’t one that I’m in a position to finance regardless.

Please show me a person who goes to any of these people and does not end up going to them – frequently and continuously – forever.

But I do know this: If there is any chance that my own, actual body will recover from this and be able to type at a computer ever again, I’m going to need to stop sitting at a god damn computer for 12 hours and just biting through the hurt like I am now.

If you really want the truth, I think I’m just permanently fucked up as a result of the horrifically computer-based way I’ve spent most of my life already. Whatever fixed supply our joints/muscles/bones/whatever receive of the ability to sit in one place and just atrophy is a supply that I have simply chugged through in a fraction of the time I was supposed to have in the first place.

At the same time, I’m still a freelance corporate writer, and I still have to make a living. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that through dictation and Advil. But until I get right with myself about this really ominous situation, I am going to stop with the recreational side of this bullshit entirely.

That means no games, no Twitter – e-mail, please, if you want to get in touch – and who knows? Maybe I can even find something to do in the real world this summer.

Or maybe not. Honestly, everything hurts all the time. All I can say is that if I do make it back, I’ll try to at least have something good to say about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep doing some writing for my next game in my head or into a recorder, but I’m not going to overtly give a shit if I do or don’t.

I’m really fucked up and I need to take care of myself.

That’s it.

June Nineteenth, Two Thousand and Thirteen

I honestly can’t think of any reason I want to be alive right now.

Not that I want (or intend) to kill myself: This isn’t about that. I’m not ridiculous. I know how many people that would hurt, and I would never do it.

And there are still a lot of things I enjoy. I still like to see people, I still like to help people, I still like to drink, I still like to get asked to do some work and to do it well. I still like music and movies and games, and art still means something to me.

I guess I just feel so completely without any real purpose that I always detect a striking amount of dissonance between the hedonistic type of joy that I take in doing things I like and the way that I actually feel about who and what I am.

Which is: Empty.

Which is: Crashing.

And yet, I can’t think of any really good reason to pull back on the yoke.

Whatever happens, why not just let it happen? What is it in my life that I should interrupt the downward course of events that I find myself mired in?

I think I gave regular life a pretty good shake. It didn’t want me to be a part of it – probably, it wasn’t really meant to be. That’s OK.

I guess now I can freelance, do a thing here or there. I’ve been alone for long enough now that I can probably keep being alone indefinitely. I can’t even really remember what it’s like to be with someone. Sure, I’ll keep being an artist, making games, though it makes me laugh to think about creative people putting the best work of their life into the universe in the hope of making a few thousand dollars while some sociopathic real estate agent can clock that sucking off a few people over lunch.

We live in a dark, vile world that is entrenched in backward nonsense.

But still, I’m 32 now, I can probably make it to 40 like this. I can make it until my parents get sick, or need me, or whatever the fuck is going to happen.

Hell, it could be me first.

I feel like everything has been a bit of an accident, really. I wouldn’t have been this way if I could have been any other, you know. If I could’ve just been some guy, found a girl, got married, had a job, got promoted, had kids, saved up for retirement, whatever, I would’ve done it.

That isn’t to say it couldn’t be a lot worse than it turned out, but I’m just saying: The gaps ache.

It’s funny how you somehow know you’re missing things you never even really had.

Anyways, I hope I figure it all out, but whether I do or don’t, don’t worry: I’ll take it all as far as it goes, wherever it goes.

It’s just too bad. I just wish – like I said at the beginning – that I could think of some reason that I really wanted to actually be here, staying alive. Putting all this work in to pay this mortgage, buy food, do laundry, whatever.

I don’t want to be on drugs. I was on those and I just felt like an alien.

You just gotta play your hand out.

You just gotta play your hand out.

I’m fine.

I’m always fine.

Analyzing Sunlight III

Analyzing3

This is my third entry about promoting Actual Sunlight, but it might as well be taking place on another planet compared to the first two.

There’s no need for an in-depth analysis of the chart above – the game received a writeup on Kotaku and was instantly blasted into the stratosphere. Writeups from other major sites soon followed (though I can’t say whether or not any of them might not have already been in motion) and I am now in the midst of the first time that large numbers of other people have ever cared about anything I’ve ever done.

These entries, however, aren’t meant to address how I feel about that. Obviously it’s something that every writer hopes will happen to them at least once in their life. Subjectively, the way I feel about it is almost indescribable – I want to thank (and have thanked) every single person who took the time to write about Actual Sunlight, whether it be in the form of a review, an interview, a blog entry, or even just a tweet. I absolutely know that it is not nothing to consider another human being, in whatever form that takes.

With all that being said, I am also wearing multiple hats on this project, and one of those hats is that of a fundraiser: A fundraiser who is bewildered at how something that has had such a significant and intense amount of publicity in a very short period of time would not have generated more financial support simply as a by-product of the traffic.

Now, I don’t particularly or strongly care about my IndieGoGo campaign making its goal. To me, it comes after everything else. For example, it is less important to me than:

  • Exposure for what I think is an important piece of work
  • The editorial integrity of the people who write about the game
  • The integrity of and creative control over the game itself, and
  • The actual necessity of the money, to which I would say that two thousand dollars is a lot of money, but not a lot of money.

With all of that being said – and I realize that I’ve now said that twice – can I really not raise two thousand dollars?

I’m not saying that I care. I’m saying that I find it strange. I see gaming projects that seem like they have a fraction of the profile that AS has had that already have five-figure amounts already locked into them, and seemingly easily.

That being said, I’m sure I’m letting my objective and subjective perceptions of everything get mixed up. Actual Sunlight has been a tremendous success for me as an author, but in the greater scheme of things it is still a very tiny little thing. It was not a hugely popular article on any of the hugely popular sites it was posted on, I haven’t gathered some instantaneous legion of new Twitter followers, and of course there is this: Actual Sunlight is not really very much fun at all.

And I get the feeling that even many of the people who do like it also seriously dislike it.

And I know that even some of the people who think it is well done also think that maybe it should have not been done at all.

And it could stand to reason that maybe those feelings don’t inspire much in the way of wanting to invest in it.

Maybe it’s just that people can tell that I’ll keep writing and doing these kinds of things forever whether they give me any money or not.

I can’t say they’re wrong.

Anyways, I think most of the media attention will be over soon – a lot of the big gaming sites have covered Actual Sunlight at this point, and I imagine that even other journalists who want to write about it are looking at what is already out there, and wondering what more there is to say about it.

I think there’s a lot more, to be honest, but obviously the focus is going to be on the major themes of depression and suicide. I’m fine with that, but it’s sort of unfortunate – depression and how it guides the depressed person may be ubiquitous in how it influences them, and Actual Sunlight certainly reflects that, but it’s not as if depression is the only thing that does.

Analyzing Sunlight IV will probably be about the slow decline to being more or less forgotten and buried. Right now, though, I just want to say that this past week has probably been the best and most positive time of my life. Absolutely of my adult life.

Maybe that’s really pathetic. I don’t know. I’m sure it’s better to be in love with somebody or have children or go to a job where you do something positive in the world, but I know that there are so many people who will never have those things or get to make something like Actual Sunlight.

I think this game might be all I’ll ever really do, or be all I’ll really ever have to say, but you listened.

I don’t know why I feel so sad right now. I’m not. I’m not at all.

Thank you so much.

“Be Reasonable” – A VN For #CRAjam

This weekend, I decided to take part in the #CRAjam to recognize the termination of indie game designer David S. Gallant from the CRA.

Here’s a better recap of that than I could ever attempt here: http://storify.com/cbccommunity/gaming-communities-rallies-around-dev-fired-from-r-1

… And here’s a download link to my game: https://www.dropbox.com/s/60i0qb1gz9lzs07/BeReasonable.zip

What can I say about it? Well, it’s unrefined. Some of the writing is good, some of it is… Not. It’s about sympathy and danger involving everyone. It uses a lot of ridiculous stock photos, hopefully in an effective way to portray the kind of thing that I’m trying to portray.

It’s funny and it’s sad.

It contains a story that will make little to no sense to you unless you are intimately familiar with the details of the situation, and even then you have to intuitively grasp where reference ends and my total speculation begins.

If I had a lot more time, I think I could make this thing a lot better.

I don’t really think I’m much of a jammer. I prefer a much more gradual approach.

But, you know, it’s done now, so maybe people will dig it.

Hopefully it has some heart. I think it’s just the beginning that really bothers me. With its boringness. But I’m too tired to care.

I’m really exhausted. I actually hated doing this in two days and will never do anything like it ever again.

But, if this is my only foray into a game jam, it’s good to do it for a good reason.

Pick up the game David got axed over right here – I dug it before the controversy, and now it’s even sweeter:

http://www.davidsgallant.com/igtced.html

Good luck, pal.

Analyzing Sunlight II

ASII

Support for Actual Sunlight has been great in the past few weeks, with a lot of encouraging words and some more interviews and articles about the game.

Sadly, none of it seems to be translating into much traction. There’s been a decent uptick in the overall download rates for the game, which leads me to believe that I’m improving in terms of how I’m targeting my audience, but the one thing that continues to elude me is how to encourage people to tell others about it.

On one hand, it seems difficult to understand – if a lot of people are getting something out of it, and even more people are reading about it being a good experience, then why does there seem to be so little chatter surrounding it? Why does it seem more and more like my job here will be to literally, personally tell every single person who I think would appreciate Actual Sunlight about it?

My creeping fear is that the game, by its very nature, is something that people only want to like in total isolation.

Nobody wants to say to somebody they know that the game resonated with them, because to have it resonate with you raises all sorts of questions about you that maybe you don’t want other people asking.

Or, to be less over-the-top about it, maybe people just don’t want to recommend depressing and heavy things to other people for fear of implying that the person receiving the recommendation is some kind of sad bastard.

I was out for Christmas Dinner with some friends a few years ago, and in the middle of a cross-table gift exchange, I opened up a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. “You’ll really like that book, Will,” she said. “It’s totally your type of thing.”

“Murderers, cannibals and pederasts in post-apocalyptic America?” I said, knowing about it from a job where one of the execs was a weepy single father, and who had gone on and on about the book ad nauseum while we all psuedo-voluntarily listened.

“No, no,” she responded. “It’s just, you know, serious.”

And this was someone who today has a doctorate in medieval plague literature. No outs there.

I’m just saying that I know what it’s like to think of yourself as something, and hold it up as your self-image, and how different it suddenly seems when you understand that it really is the way that others perceive you. Maybe it risks a significant amount of goodwill to contact somebody you know and say, “Hey, I think this Actual Sunlight game would be totally up your alley – you’re so serious and all. No NHL 94 for you, Pyramid Head.”

Then again, 135 people have downloaded the game, and the vast majority of them have said or done absolutely nothing as far as I can tell.

So, most likely of all the scenarios I’ve discussed here is that it isn’t spreading very well on its own because most people just don’t really like it at all. They don’t finish it, they delete it, and they never think about it ever again.

I do this – we all do this – literally hundreds of times a day, with every kind of consumable under the sun. It’s a noisy world out there.

And that’s too bad. I totally understand that anything will have a stronger impact on somebody who identifies with it personally, but I really hoped that Evan was a character that I managed to flesh out enough for anyone to recognize and have sympathy for.

If I didn’t do that, then I’m just not a good enough writer, and that’s on me.

But I’m not anywhere near giving up yet.

Analyzing Sunlight

Chart

The first full week of trying to promote Actual Sunlight has passed, and I already feel I’ve learned a lot of interesting things. I’ll break it down into some recognizable categories.

The Good: Great Feedback

Brilliant

By far, the most fantastic thing about promoting the game has been the positive reception people on message boards and forums have had to the game. It’s not just an ego stroke – it’s a great way to know that something you worked really hard on wasn’t a total waste of time, and it’s a powerful thing to know that there are people out there who empathize with something you created.

I really appreciate everyone who has taken the time to play the game and say such encouraging things. People have such little free time nowadays that you have to be genuinely thankful to someone who takes an hour of their life to experience something that you’ve created, and then takes the opportunity to say something about it as well.

It was also really great for Chris Priestman at IndieStatik to take the time to review it. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably known me for a long time, and you know that I’ve done a lot of creative things that didn’t take off the way I hoped they would. Actual Sunlight is still a long way from anything like that, but to have somebody actually critically go through what I’ve done is not something I can say has ever happened before. It’s great, and hopefully I’ll be able to attract other reviewers to check it out as well – it’s not the sexiest game from a screenshot and description perspective, so what critics have to say will really count.

The Bad: IndieGoGo

IndieGoGo

To be honest, I don’t know what I was thinking with the whole IndieGoGo campaign. I really don’t need other people to give me $2000 to continue developing what is probably the best thing I’ve ever done – it’s a lot of money, but I’m more than happy to invest it myself.

I think I’d just seen a lot of successful KickStarter campaigns that didn’t seem to be about very much at all, so I figured I might as well be in a position to take money from people if they were absolutely dying to give it to me.

But it doesn’t really make sense for Actual Sunlight – first and foremost, I really don’t have any ‘perks’ to offer. A lot of game fundraisers offer investors the opportunity to materially affect the game in some way. I’m not really up for that. I thought maybe it would work on a pre-sale basis, but… It doesn’t really make sense. The game is pretty much already there. I think art and music will make it better, but probably not radically different.

I’ll leave the KS as it is, and let it walk itself out, but I would much rather have a lot of people play the game and love it than raise a cent.

But don’t worry, faithful backers: I got you covered, no matter what.

The Ugly: A Disconnection of Distribution

Downloads

This is what drives me crazy and is keeping me up at night.

I feel like the game has no really strong commercial or mass appeal. I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Therefore, what the game really needs is to find its niche, and build a powerful following through word-of-mouth among the like-minded people who enjoy games like this.

To make this happen, I’ve tried to make a very strong product, and talk about it in highly targeted communities where I think it will be of interest. I think I’ve largely succeeded in this by virtue of the fact that I’ve gotten such strong positive feedback – I really have struck a nerve with the audience that I’ve found, and the proof is in what they’ve said.

Unfortunately, what it doesn’t seem to be translating into is any kind of movement or viral effect. The actual number of downloads of the game is actually really, really small, and I have a high percentage of people coming to the site who leave without downloading it.

So what am I doing wrong? I don’t know. Or, more specifically, I don’t know why doing what seems to be right isn’t working, or what other promotional path I can go down with something like this. The journalists I’ve pitched are, like all journalists, getting hundreds of pitches a day – maybe I can get lucky, but it doesn’t seem like something to bank on. Advertising is prohibitively expensive, and again: I don’t think it would be effective.

Truthfully, I know I’m being impatient. This was week one, and a lot that happened this week could still echo out into the next.

I just think it would be a shame for this thing to fail because a good way to sling it doesn’t quite exist.

And I’m also concerned that the game is having trouble resonating with a female audience, which was not my intent.

But I’ll talk about that once I think about it a little more.

Actual Sunlight

The game has its own website now, which is located at:

http://www.actualsunlight.com

The feedback I’ve received from those who have played it has been really positive, but I’m finding that it’s not easy to get people to give it a shot.

Part of the problem, I think, is its indefinite genre, as well as how it adheres strangely to the few genres that it could arguably belong to: It’s a visual novel, but isn’t done in RenPy with anime styling. It’s an RPG Maker game, but there is no RPG gameplay.

I’ve been trying to reach out to people from communities for both of these genres, and I get the sense that it doesn’t appeal to a large cross-section of people from either group. Not even ringing endorsements from established people within those groups seems to be making much of an impact, which is exactly what I figured would be the most important thing.

I really have no idea what to do about this.

Pitching media has been largely ineffective as well, but the few responses that I have managed to get have been very good. I’m going to continue on with precisely targeting the right kinds of journalists and writers that might be interested in the game, and hope for the best.

The fact that a few people have found it to be a very powerful experience does mean a lot to me, though. I think it’s the proudest I’ve ever been of something. It took me 8 months to write this thing and 14 years to live it; if nobody is interested in my work at this level, I’m doubtful that I’ll ever be able to succeed. I’m just not much more or much better.

I try not to think about the fact that everything I’ve ever done has either fallen off very quickly or never meant anything to anybody. I’d like to do one creative thing in my life that I can look back on and believe was worth the blood, sweat and tears that it took.

There’s just so much out there.

Still, I don’t want to give up on writing and move on with my life, even though I promise myself all the time that I will. I’ll probably just keep going, starting up some new thing every few years and hoping it will be different. I’m sure I look older and dumber every time I do it.

But I don’t know. I did my best.

START: Writing About Something Else

One of the reasons my writing sucks so much and has been so roundly unsuccessful is because I never shut the fuck up about my own stupid problems. It seems like no matter what I try to write about, the same tedious themes surface without fail. Every protagonist I create collapses into an overweight, antisocial cynic in the neverending grasp of an obsession with loneliness and romantic failure. Every world I weave is described through a narrow lens of scorn, inexperience and doubt.

Animals Who Need Big Kisses started out as a funny series of slapstick observations that won me quick and wonderful success. Within months – if not weeks – it became a cumbersome, unentertaining monster infected with every nihilistic philosophy I could muster.

The Albatross came out of the gate hot, with some incisive articles that got some good attention from the right kinds of people. Inside of a year, I managed to drag it down into random, whiny vitriol against the wealthy and beautiful (or at least anybody with more money or love than me.)

And then, when that became insufficient to drain my misery, I moved on to writing articles that beat up on high-schoolers for winning CBC writing contests.

I felt strongly that it was both moral and necessary to do these things.

All this being said, some part of me thinks that a lot of good authors get away with it; with focusing their work almost singularly on their own personas and experiences. Where would Oscar Wilde be without page after page of sardonic aristocrats who were just like him? How could David Simon have created The Wire without the life he had lived in Baltimore?

But it occurs to me that what creators like these and I will never have in common is not just extremely disparate levels of talent. The more important difference is that they truly have stories to tell because their real lives exist in some compelling, hazy place between victory and defeat. They win some and they lose some. They fall in and out of love. They haven’t wasted their adult lives being nothing and nobody, crawling along at the behest of legal vice and the almighty dollar.

A story is nothing without sympathy, and believe me: Nobody is less deserving of sympathy than I am.

To personalize George Carlin: I was given great gifts.

You see? I’m doing it again.

But my point is this: Somewhere, I lost my sense of the way in which I am actually and simply imaginative. I don’t have to write about myself – hell, I ought to write to get away from myself – and I’m certainly insightful and technically adept enough as a writer to put myself into somebody else’s shoes once in awhile.

Maybe somebody braver, or stronger, or who just made better decisions than I did.

In fact, let me go further: Somebody who made any decisions.

And who knows? Maybe this very decision could be the first one that I make for myself.

STOP: Home Internet

I’ve been reading lately about how addiction can literally cause the brain to reconfigure itself, but I think we are only at the tip of understanding how the intensity of contemporary electronic stimuli can have a profound effect on the inclinations of our behaviour to the point where self-determination can become virtually irrelevant.

Of course, I was a pioneer in this area long before the Internet was commonly accessible. Even in my youth, I was almost entirely consumed with computers, gaming and telecommunications. By the time social concern over constant connectivity had given way to its inevitability and wholesale social acceptance, I was already plugged into the online world as little more than a natural progression from the Atari 400s and Super Nintendos of my childhood.

In fact, from around the age of 10 or 11 up until the present, I’ve probably spent 95 percent of my life in front of a computer screen. I never learned to cook, exercise, and I really have no skills outside of the ones which came naturally to me, or which being at a keyboard naturally complemented. With the exception of socialization with friends and family or the occasional, failed foray into some kind of art, sitting at a computer has been second only to breathing in its ubiquity within my life.

And this is first to say thanks to those friends, family and creativity: I have no doubt that these things are the only things that kept me from being pulled all the way under.

And thanks, as well, to what little talent with language I have, and whatever minor charm it gave me. These things have allowed me to succeed professionally, and even appear normal to other people. Without them, I would only strike everyone I met as a fat, drunken computer crackhead. I don’t doubt for a second that I would be one of those guys who lives with three roommates and plays World of Warcraft with them until we all run out of money from our parents, at which point we get night jobs at FedEx until somebody has a stroke in the middle of trying to box iPods with one hand while eating a slice of Meat Lovers Pizza with the other.

But, of course, that is all I am; thin echo of intelligentsia notwithstanding.

And I do believe – sincerely – that my brain has been literally warped.

And I’ve tried in the past to be moderate about my computer-and-internet-ism, but at this point? I just don’t think my serotonin is up for it.

So the home internet – really, the home computer-ism as a whole, outside of some word processing – has got to go.

Don’t get me wrong: In almost any profession that I am likely to encounter from here until I die, I will assuredly be asked to be both on the Internet and in front of a computer. I’m not pretending to pretend that computers are an avoidable part of my life. I’m still a writer with rapidly collapsing physical faculties on several fronts. I still have taxes to file and tweets to tweet. I’m not headed back into the forest, nor applying to jackhammer school.

I’m still going to have an iPhone, and get bored pretty much everywhere.

But I am also extremely overweight, incredibly depressed, and very regretful about the remarkable coldness I’ve developed in what I know (academically) is a finite and beautiful existence. I know I’ve said it a million different times in a million different ways, but by now I am sure that my never-in-a-relationship, never-really-seems-to-accomplish-anything, looks-like-total-shit record of 6-7 full adult years is turning even the most ardent proponents of mere melodrama on my part into true believers: My life is pretty shitty, and pretty much nothing.

I have nothing and I have achieved nothing, mostly because all I did was sit here instead of working consistently towards a worthwhile goal, nor did I even really take care of myself.

We all know this.

But, at the same time, the ability to just sit here and coast through it in a radioactive glow is not making any of it any better, and it never did.

And it isn’t what I want: It’s just all I know.

So I’m going to hit publish on this post and get rid of my modem and my router and, in all seriousness, hope my brain can start to untwist itself from all of the time-wasting, soul-detonating garbage I’ve put it through. What I’m going to do differently this time around is stop acting like I can do it and then just instantly transform into some super-novelist / vegan chef / fitness machine. It doesn’t work like that.

I’m just waiting for some part of my head to wake up.

Goodbye Seana

While I can’t say that I knew Seana well in high school – or at all, really, in the years that followed – I can say that the sheer senselessness of her passing away this past weekend from ovarian cancer at the age of thirty-two is something that has left me thoughtful about what kind of person she was, and regretful about not knowing her better than I did.

After all: Everything I thought I knew about her was wrong.

At Cedarbrae, I remember thinking of her as diminutive (she got a purple belt in jiujitsu after being diagnosed with cancer), moderately bright (she had an M.Sc in neuroscience, and published in the Journal of Surgical Oncology) and only now do I realize that she was probably just a person with the confidence to know who she was without having to posture over it.

Congratulations, Seana – you figured out high school while the rest of us were still in it.

Most of all, though, I remember the time that somebody told me she was ‘super religious’, causing me to do the thing that any good teenage atheist does when they hear this: Dismiss that person as completely devoid of any capacity to genuinely comprehend joy, life or reality.

I was that stupid.

We were all very young and, I’m sure, made a lot of mistakes.

But Seana stared down the worst in life, and gave back the best.

Even in the short time I’ve spent checking out the community that rallied around her, it’s clear to me that this was someone who was intensely, intensely loved. Somebody who did amazing and passionate things, both before and after her diagnosis. Seana drew the toughest hand imaginable and went on regardless.

Under the onslaught of institutional fundraising, we’ve become so inundated with cancer-battle stories that sometimes I think we risk not appreciating the psychic weight that the condition places on people, and especially people our age.

Think about how much courage it really takes to stand in front of a camera and talk about having a deadly disease when the rest of your friends are making YouTube videos about their newborn children. Think about how much integrity you really need to continue writing and researching in a field of study geared towards helping people other than yourself while everyone you know is out trying to get their requisite sliver of consumer garbage.

Think about how brave you have to really be to face all of this and still fall in love with somebody, and love them so much that you let them fall in love with you.

And I’m not saying that all people who struggle with cancer don’t go through this. What I am saying is that to have to struggle with these things at an age where the world is supposed to be opening up in front of you represents a feeling that, for those of us who are her peers, is unimaginable.

Thinking about it is all we can do, and all we can think is: How could this happen?

But it did. And it does.

And that, compared to the way that her family and close friends must feel right now, would only be the thinnest of shock-waves.

But for those of us who were her peers, but not close to her – those who will hear about her passing from a friend of a friend, or just see it a few times on Facebook, or even only learn about it months from now – I hope that we will look at Seana’s story and be inspired.

Stop thinking you can’t start something new. Stop believing you can’t walk away from something stupid. Stop trying to fix things that want to be broken. So what if your thirties aren’t what your twenties thought they would be?

Stop being so disappointed all the time: You are alive.

It’s hard to imagine that somebody who lived so fiercely, and in the face of such adversity, would have wanted to inspire anything else.

Seana, I have the smallest, music-box-crystalline memories of you: A few plays, a song you posted that I still love, and the one thread of messages that we had about how you were doing after I heard you got sick.

I wish I had those messages right now, but I only have this.

You were beautiful and kind and I wish I had said so.

Goodbye.

(Note: In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to Ovarian Cancer Canada.)

STOP: Sending Depressing, Unfunny Garbage to McSweeneys

Having been on McSweeney’s is one of my proudest accomplishments. After my first piece was accepted by them, though, I saw nothing but rejection.

I’ve stopped walking a fine line, and it’s the price to be paid.

There is no reason that anybody except me would think that the following is funny:

For Whom The Buzz Tolls

When he got home from his job as a dickless mascot, he turned off all the lights and threw the only somewhat-fitting pair of pants he still had into the ensuite washing machine.

“These are the pants I was wearing,” he said. “I will need to remember them later.”

Later, when the Swiss Chalet Man comes: When the Swiss Chalet Man comes to bring the quarter-chicken dinner that will one day render these sad and final pants unfitting as well. The pants were a light blue jean-type, with ends that had been serrated by dragging too long against the pavement.

The fashion of rolling them up had returned, but only for capris.

There was a knock at the door. It was the Swiss Chalet Man. This man had a dark, solemn face and wore a red coat, and he felt shame at the certainty of their economic and vocational contrast.

“Even though I currently owe $16,736 to the Bank of Montreal.”

“Why have you said this?”

“Is that the Swiss Chalet you’ve brought me?”

“It is. You are not wearing pants.”

He surveyed the apartment. Beyond not wearing pants, the landscape of his abode was riddled with the containers of Swiss Chalet dinners from days and weeks in the past. The Swiss Chalet man looked at him simply.

“I’ve not yet had the chance,” he said. “Before you came, I was to have patrolled the dust-caked granite surfaces and unkempt beds that I neither cook nor fornicate in for the old containers that you know you have brought me. As you can see, everything has become riddled with them.”

“And your pants?”

“I had removed my pants expressly to clean the apartment,” he said. “I am not skilled or thin enough to pick up objects on the ground while wearing them.”

“You must have pyjamas.”

He gave no explanation.

Inside the discarded containers, the remaining bits of chicken sealed within them disintegrated slowly, safe from producing any pungent awareness of themselves.

“You, in this condo,” said the Swiss Chalet Man. “You’re just like the chicken.”

“If sitting on your hand and jerking off actually worked, I would do it,” he said. “And if it put me in a hospital, I would confess I had done it to a nurse my own age, and I would say, ‘You would have never loved me anyways.’”

He saw two shelves of his own DVDs that he could not remember why he did not steal over the internet. He wore a shirt with a tail made more for the tall than the big, realizing that without pants he now appeared to be wearing a sundress. He ran around the apartment, collecting containers with a contractor-sized garbage bag for outdoor use. The bags were from a bulk-sized box of them he had purchased years ago, not knowing at the time that he was not a man. He became exhausted and finally collapsed, taking a final garbage bag and crawling into it.

He laid on the floor. In the garbage bag.

“You want your food?”

“They say the suite next to the garbage chute is the worst in any building.”

“I have heard this.”

“But nobody making this estimation has any account of how convenient it is if you are a person who needs to utilize that chute without wearing any pants. All of the people who say this are real-estate agents who are dumb and sexy – people who never had any dreams to wash away in the first place. All they do is drop out of school once they get tired of it; then they get their picture taken for a business card and, before you know it, they are out there giving advice on what it takes to be a success. But they don’t know about anything but themselves.”

“Could this not be said of you?”

Outside the window he could see, with all the lights down, and with the wet hiss of the washer in the background, the distant buildings and apartments that were made of so much other hope. He crawled out of the garbage bag and sat down on the edge of his rectangular, cotton-filled mattress and thought of how much he would never be a part of.

“I am a big fat pussy,” he said.

The Swiss Chalet Man said nothing.

What To Expect From The Pitch

Fully realizing that I was engineered to believe and express everything I am about to say by the selective editing of a reality television show, here is what I expect to see on AMC’s The Pitch every single week, no matter what agencies are featured on it:

A Thin Veneer of Humanity Expressed Through The Kind of Bad Parenting That Nobody Can Afford to Think is That Bad Anymore

To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the sweatshop hours at SK+G, nor its ultimate expression in the form of a guy who doesn’t get to see his own kids. I mean, this is the brave new world we’re all living in now, isn’t it? White-collar types everywhere are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Who can even remember if they saw their parents when they were kids? I don’t.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t your spouse’s responsibility to call you every five minutes and tell you to stop being awful and come home right away, but we all know that it probably doesn’t shake out to much if you do or you don’t.

I can’t even tell if the dark, shadowy look on the creative director’s wife was even that concerned – she may have just been extremely tan. My perception of this is totally Canadian, though.

Concessions to Bad and/or Confusing Management

Two creative directors who never work together and who clearly aren’t sympatico in any way are placed on the same project. Why? This is never explained.

A guy employs his boyfriend who doesn’t seem to have much in the way of insight into anything related to advertising and is continuously berated by his co-workers for it. Why? This is never explained.

An agency has deployed iMovie as its word processor. Why? This is never explained.

The President of an ad agency gathers hundreds of his staff to a party to congratulate them on their success in winning an account while the YouTube rapper who is actually the creative cornerstone of the entire campaign is not even flown in for cake. Why? This is never explained.

And I’ll tell you: These things never are.

The Decline of American Formality

Somewhere along the way, the American Businessman lost his way. Where there once were exotic leather briefcases, we then saw faux-leather briefcases. From faux-leather briefcases, we proceeded to canvas and nylon messenger bags. Then we lost the hats. Prior to any of this, I imagine American Businessmen just strapped Louis Vuitton trunks to the backs of elephants and had the staircases rebuilt as necessary. I speak of decline.

A decline, I’m afraid, that we see at its lowest point today: Today, we see American Businessmen bearing an accessory that even I find fashionably pitiful, and I am a person whose floor is 90% covered in golf shirts that no longer fit.

I am referring, of course, to the knapsack.

I do not care if you are five-hundred years old and pitching take-out to your own wife: Wearing a knapsack makes you look like you are going to summer camp. It cannot be a tool to assist you in the procurement of major accounts for your agency: It cannot be. You might as well hand out business cards from a hot pink fanny pack. Why are you willing to be seen with this thing?

The Pitch Will Be About The Pitch Because The Pitch is About The Pitch

In terms of sheer beauty and simplicity, I really feel like the ‘Trash Can’ idea was a lot cleaner and elegant than the SK+G idea. To be honest, I don’t even know what the SK+G idea was – ‘Waste Into Wow’, or something like that. Suffice to say it had way fewer legs and didn’t really mean anything at all.

But the stuff they built around it was a lot nicer – this is probably one place where the big agencies will consistently slaughter the small ones – and the way that The Ad Store introduced their idea was, in my opinion, all wrong. Crazy wrong. You don’t chuck it out and then show it off: You reveal it in the midst of something. You let it be the dramatic moment that it actually could have been.

It’s too bad, because with ‘Trash Can’, the client could have had a campaign that completely up-ended every negative thing people associate with garbage, casting it in a heroic light that offered a lot more possibilities than ‘HEY MAN WHATS UP UR GARBAGE IS TOTALLY POWER-TASTIC DUDE WOWWWWWWWWWWWW’

But, of course, that’s what young people are into nowadays, isn’t it? The extreme skateboarding and what-not.

Actually, I can’t believe how many skateboards I’m seeing around Toronto.

START: Cooking

A lot of people over the years have encouraged me to start cooking. My mom bought me a slow cooker, my cousin sent me a book of recipes, and two of my friends once dragged me to a grocery store and started chucking bread and paprika into a shopping cart on my behalf until I broke down and agreed to pay for it.

It’s not that I was ever un-thankful to any of these people; I just think all of them vastly overestimated the extent to which I don’t even possess the fundamental skills to make absolutely anything.

For example, I have the basic bachelor appliance setup: A George Foreman Grill, a rice maker / vegetable steamer, and a stove that has almost never been used. With these things, I can lay claim to having made grilled chicken, pasta, vegetables, and several other things.

But I do it wrong.

I don’t know how to get the broccoli heads to not end up like a sponge. I don’t know how to get the chicken to not be burnt on the outside. Some of the pasta strands seem to cook just fine, while others retain some kind of waterlogged, obnoxious rigidity. I feel like these are issues that should simply resolve with trial and error, but for me they never seem to. I use the microwave timer and will change the amount of time I do things by a minute in either direction, trying to land on a solid process, but it never seems to impact the outcome.

What am I supposed to do? Stand there for 15 minutes, supervising? I think what I can’t handle about cooking is the boredom. You just stand there? It seems unbelievable.

And yet if you look at, like, Italian ladies? In commercials? In those cases, that is exactly what they do.

Craziest of all, of course, is the idea that you do this every day for the rest of your life: That this is the toll for healthy eating and physical fitness.

And I wonder: Has anyone gone vegetarian simply for the sake of not having to cook? Can I just buy those tofu cubes and eat them straight out of the bag? I don’t know what’s going on.

Anyways, of everything I’m going to do, this is going to be the hardest one to do without any help.

But I gotta do it, and it starts today. Restaurants are a cornerstone of the grand illusion we live in. Short of raw lettuce, it honestly doesn’t matter where you go or what you order: All that shit is bad for you.

Even I know that.

HOLD: Twitter

Unlike Facebook, I can’t abandon my Twitter account. If I did, some other Will O’Neill would take my account name, and who knows? Maybe I am still the Will O’Neill who ought to have it.

Above everything and anything I say here, please be seriously concerned about me only if I walk away from my Twitter account. It seems stupid, but it would mean in its own way that I had truly given up on any kind of public interaction.

Actually, it could be the opposite: Maybe give up is exactly what I need to do.

But what then? I never put that into place.

And man, I’m really blowing this blog out quick. At this rate, I’ll have weighed in on everything in my entire life by the end of the week.

START: Reading Non-Crap

While I probably read more non-crap than a lot of the people I know, I think I need to hold myself to a higher standard. My only professional goal in life for the most part was to become a writer, and having achieved that – if only for corporations, and not the adoring masses – I know that I should covet the written word more in my personal life than I do.

But it’s more than just a responsibility. The best parts of literary fiction can make you feel and understand things about human nature that can’t be revealed in any other way. I sincerely believe that the English language is expressive on a level that is both unique and which goes beyond any other tool we have, short of life itself.

And even with life, the problem is that you only get to live your own.

The other good thing about reading more is that it will take up the time that I would otherwise spend doing other, much stupider things that I am nevertheless incredibly and sadly obsessed with.

Like the games.

Soon, I’m going to write something much longer than this about the games.

STOP: Facebook

This one is easy, mostly because I quit Facebook a few weeks ago and actually haven’t found it that hard at all.

Unfortunately, the reason it wasn’t hard is because I’ve drifted completely apart from most of the people I know.

This isn’t really a bad thing, though. We’re all older now. Either you’ve gotten on with your life and you have somebody you are close to and are building something – a family, a future, whatever – or you’re really just doing nothing.

I mean, you could be alone and still have a satisfying life, but you would have to be very wealthy or talented. You’d have to be the type of person that even people who have significant others and families look at and say, “Well, they may seem desperately alone, but you can’t deny that they certainly have a perfectly valid reason for being so; why, just observe their body of work to date.”

Of course, they don’t actually say this: They just grunt and clean apple sauce off of something. But you know what I am saying.

There are exactly two types of valid human beings: People with love, and people with important and satisfying work.

That may seem excruciatingly narrow, but I ask you: What could you possibly be if you had neither of these things?

Here are a list of some types of people who think they are exempt from this but who will realize as they die that they are not:

  • People who take a lot of tropical vacations
  • People who are part of celibate religious orders
  • People who spend their entire lives in grad school
  • People who are always in a band
  • People who drink a lot of wine at boring parties that they pretend are amazing

I know this blog seems like it is already turning out to be very depressing, but you are wrong and it is fine.

Synthetic Normalcy

“I am a normal person. I wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night. I come to work and I read the paper. I know what’s going on in the world and I clean my house. But this is not really me. This is my new life. Synthetic normality is where I have ended up.”
- Laura Lang

On one hand, I feel guilty about comparing the deviance of my lifestyle to a heroin addiction.

On the other hand, it seems impossible to reconcile the state of my existence with the idea that I am firmly in control of most of it.

And I know what Laura Lang is saying when she talks about being fully able to eat, sleep, work and know what is going on in the world. She isn’t bragging: She’s taking an account of her last stand in a situation where she feels completely encircled against anything beyond holding up that façade.

It’s life in the new middle-class, I guess: You burn out, but you don’t fade away.

But this isn’t about everyone – it’s about me. I’m a desensitized, overstimulated digital crack-head. I eat at restaurants non-stop. I don’t exercise. I haven’t had any kind of relationship in seven years. I play computer games that I fully realize are all exactly the same. I don’t relate to anything outside the glow of a monitor.

If I am not five feet away from an internet-connected computer or I am not wearing headphones plugged into a telephone or I am not in the company and character of brutal intoxication I literally do not know what to do in any moment. I will literally stand there like a robot that has lost its programming.

And yet, I always find that every time I try to do things differently, it falls apart.

The way I am has just been habituated into me so deeply, and for so long, that it never feels real to be somebody else.

I’ll be half a year or so into some mode of self-improvement and something will happen and it will be a reminder that I’m only capable of running from myself, of putting together some sort of synthetic normalcy; in the end, you are who you are, and in the words of D’Angelo Barksdale: What happened is what really happened.

But even though I have always failed, and have already lost a lot in terms of my health and my sanity and the happiness that I could have had, I am going to try again.

And this time, I’m going to write about it here. Maybe I can succeed if I make it all seem like more of an adventure than it really is. Maybe it’ll be different if I can find a way to feel like I’m helping some type of character I’m inventing on this page.

So, if you think that I could be a better person than I am, please feel free to join me on this blog as I document my attempts to excise enormous parts of my life and replace them with something better.

Basically, my process for this will be to create entries about things that I will stop doing, and also write entries about things that I should start doing.

I don’t see why it needs to be more complicated than that, but I will let it be if I am wrong.