Directed Project 2020 – Entry #3

The following are mostly random notes that are somewhat part of my creative process. 

Being creative under stressful times is hard.

Stress is a spectrum, there’s never a real zero (as all other feelings I may be experiencing) but it doesn’t cancel other feelings. Various parameters (gender, racial issues, social status, global context etc.) influence stress.

It’s tough to find meaning in the ‘mundane’ when there’s a distorted sense of scale. Things happen in the world at large, yet my current agency is on the ‘small’ thing — a small project, a small job, a small world. It’s the dissonance between the two that’s causing some stress, I suppose.

That dissonance is partly ‘fabricated’ — deeming something big or small, it’s largely influenced by social constructs and norms. Binary thinking. Success/failure, meritocracy. Mundane/Important. The necessity to see contrast to be able to see anything at all. Relying a lot (too much?) on visual thinking, which has become more and more static — trapped in power dynamics beyond our control. We’ve been filtering, layering, transmitting, conditioning our visual space(s). Our auditory space is slightly less controlled at the moment (I think — selfies are photos. We have more and more video and sound but things are still ‘collages’.)

We’ve been both flattened and expanded by the many virtual tools surrounding us. I guess our sense of space, sound, and time is evolving unconsciously. I’m trying not to judge — to avoid a good-vs-bad thinking. It’s so hard though.

Maybe there’s something about collages — how to replicate the complexities of our bodies in a physical environment, we’ve turned toward collages. Pieces on top of pieces (filters on top of filters) like a French mille-feuilles, hoping that the whole bulk will produce a semblance of realness. At least mimic some of its depth. But it’s all about perception, right?

I don’t think this text is very readable, but moving on. 😀

Going back to the Directed Project. I’ll be reading/thinking/browsing the book referred in this article on First Person Scholar: A Multimodal Approach to Video Games and the Player by Weimin Toh.

I’m intrigued by the ‘semiotics’ approach and the breakdown between the various ‘ludonarrative dissonances’ (or resonances, or contrasts) that we could read and detail a bit more in games.

I’m personally interested in the themes around intimacy and playable characters in games. There’s a sense of intimacy in games that’s different from other media (I think?) Current suspicion is that many games systems and mechanics are creating virtual worlds where intimacy is almost always jeopardized. As a marginalized person (of some sort) I’m thinking a lot about boundaries and how intimacy is always under attack VS privileged people do not need so many differences between intimate/public or social spaces. (Hence our social media, where everything is blurred because it’s tailored toward people who are not overtly threatened in their intimacy on a day-to-day basis.) I have seen how the more privileges I’ve gained the more comfortable I have become in social/public environments and also at ease with my sense of self (and notice how I would become more white in some contexts not only as a way to survive, but because nothing else was encouraged in these environments).

Intimate moments in games are often done by accident. I guess games that rely less on overt violence (but even Animal Crossing can be a violent game — see all the people trying to get rid of their ugly neighbors, among many other things) give a better room for intimate moments… but even so. I can name so many books where I felt truly intimate moments with the character, with my sense of self. It’s so different in games because of the systemic thinking that’s almost its core. Not that there is no systemic thinking in writing or literature, but possibly because it had more time to evolve, is more accessible than most media, its ability to question itself constantly and turn something on its head is a bit more obvious. In the end, can we really design systems that are not oppressive? That’s one of my questions.

Going back (or further?) on my project: Building a sense of intimacy between characters (playable or not) is one of my goals. When you build a fictional world there’s always a lot of back-and-forth between ‘the world the characters are living in’ and ‘the characters’ needs’ and how they could echo, interact with each other. I’ve written a lot of stories about outsiders — a world VS character type of conflict is always easy to write, to sell, feels familiar to me, has a lot of potential for things evolving from both the world and the character. When intimacy was involved, there was still that sort of dynamic — 2 characters trying to build some intimacy despite the world around them threatening that intimacy. I wonder if I can do things differently or not this time.

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Directed Project 2020 – Entry #2

I’ve been reading Michel Foucault’s Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish in English — it’s interesting how ‘surveiller’ has been translated by ‘discipline’), mostly out of curiosity after seeing it mentioned so many times in various conversations. I’m reading it in French because I’m a French speaker. It’s quite enjoyable to read — and I’ve been enjoying reading more philosophical texts over the past months thanks to my PhD.

Questions that arose while I was reading (I’ve only read 1/4 of the book, I haven’t reached the Panopticon’s description yet):

  • Are video games elaborate systems of punishment? => Can you design a reward system without also designing a punishment system? (Like, the absence of reward is a punishment)

I usually hate that, games punishing me for not doing the ‘right thing’ according to the game’s system. Or the game judging me I’m not good enough yet to ‘enjoy the game’ yet (I don’t like competitive games). I don’t believe in meritocracy anymore anyway. It is quite a challenge when writing a story, and even more so when writing stories for games. I hate these stories where only the ‘most deserving’ get to learn something. The whole narrative about ‘you have to go through pain to make it worth it’ is boring me to death.

It’s not to say that there shouldn’t be any depiction of pain or endeavors or struggles in games. I’m just not a fan at all of the narratives highlighting things that need to be overcome. Anything with ‘over’ in it (overpower, overachiever) kind of makes me grind my teeth.

  • Is the playable character necessary a ‘monster’ in game stories? => Monster in a sense that they do not obey the same laws as any other character in a game. Could that inherent duality of playable characters — of being able to coexist in two realities (the player’s world, and the character’s world) be seen as somewhat ‘monstrous’ by other characters?

When ‘non-playable’ characters are aware of that duality, usually it’s through tutorial texts and it’s not seen as an issue at all (with a NPC telling you ‘press A to kill that guy’ with the subtext of ‘and yeah as a character I’m perfectly comfortable with interacting with an entity that has agency in my reality and outside my reality’). Sometimes non-playable characters have a vague hunch, and in this case the playable character is seen as godlike (the chosen one, the one who has a power no one else has, the one that has to make all the decisions).

I mean, if I realized that I was a non-playable character in a game, I would totally freak out if I suddenly had to interact with the playable character.


Not exactly related but somewhat a bit: Dramatic Irony in game narrative

I’ve rewatched recently Six Feet Under and have been amazed once more by the level of depth all characters have in that show. At some point all characters lie to each other (not only about major plot points but also for more mundane things, they obfuscate or remain elusive on many aspects of their inner lives). Also there’s a lot of dramatic irony.

Dramatic irony is a super powerful tool. It’s usually when the audience is aware of something that some of the characters in place do not know (yet). In great stories, it’s often layered — one character in a scene knows something that the audience also knows but another character doesn’t know at all, and everything has a double meaning.

I don’t have many examples in games where you have such intricacies between characters in a game (regardless if they’re playable or not). Or the playable character knows almost everything, has access to as much information as they need to progress (transparency being a criteria for fairness) and almost at any time.

To have dramatic irony you need characters who are capable of memorizing something — so many times most NPCs don’t have memories of their own, they don’t have any tools to collect information and be able to use it for their own good. At best they have intricate backstories with other game characters (besides the playable one) — which makes for cool side quests in the best case scenario. Unless the game’s narrative is fully focused on that — on making a NPC remember things the playable character does and react to them (but again, it’s not about agency — it’s more reaction than taking actions, it’s about making things more interesting for the playable character).

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Directed Project 2020 – Entry #1

I’ve had this crazy idea of working as a game writer on a multiplayer AAA game while starting a Humanities PhD at the same time. It’s been going rather well — I’ve attended classes for the past year, flexing my academic skills that were mostly… dormant for the past ten years or so.

The following entries will be mostly about my student life. My PhD is ‘Research-Creation’ meaning that I get to write and make creative things to support my research (in my case, game prototypes! yay) at the same time. I’m only at the very beginning of all things, since I’m doing things part-time.

Things that I’m planning to explore the next [insert vast number] years: Games, Narrative and Ethics. Sub-themes: Challenge how we think about players, agency, non-playable characters, protagonists, narrative from a Western POV (based around conflict), power dynamics, responsibility, empathy

I’m trying this new format of ‘journals’. I’m expecting these notes to have lots of typos, not very well-structured, but still a good way to keep track of things for me. At least it’ll be fun for me to read these notes again once the whole experiment will be over. Maybe it’ll be fun to read for someone else? Who knows.

For the next months — from May 2020 to the end of August 2020 — I’m going to work solo (I think, even if I expect to poke friends and colleagues around for playtesting and occasional technical help) on a narrative game that I’m currently calling ‘eBuddy‘. It’s planned to be a mobile game using push notifications à la Lifeline, Bury Me My Love etc. It’s also gonna be text-based.

My main ideas at the moment for that project:

  • A lighthearted game with 3 characters: A virtual counselor (eBuddy), a teenager (who’s getting advices about their life) and an advisor (who acts as a mentor to the virtual counselor)
  • What playable / non-playable truly means: As far as I know we usually say ‘this character is playable’ VS ‘this character is non-playable’ = playability as a set of principles, attributes, and parameters that we tie to a character (agent?) or not. It’s almost a moral pact? If you break such pact then people are not happy (and it often happens because of narrative like the infamous Aeris’s death). I plan to challenge that… mindset on a narrative design level, questioning if playability (at least the way we usually think of it) can be seen more like… a way of accessing information that’s not tied to a specific character but maybe something on a different level (currently investigating about Foucault’s subjectivity and see if I can get some inspiration from him, we never know) OR if playability as a parameter can be better balanced with other parameters for the characters who do not have such parameter.
  • Protagonists in games have too much agency: In narrative games choices are always ‘points of tension’ between players and the game’s system. My current argument is that instead of giving more agency to the players, maybe it’s more that non-playable character not having enough agency makes things dull (limited memory of the events, limited ways they can actually change the story)

TL;DR the way characters in a story access information is so critical in other media (movies, books). I’d like to find more ways in games for all characters (playable or not, or whatever you see them) to access information and challenge some of the preconceptions we have.

TL;DR playability especially in Western games is often too OP, hence boring stories with OP protagonists who are too emotionally static. Let’s try to do something different.

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Finement sans acompte on se prélasse feintement, l’angoisse au bord des lèvres on étreint l’absence

Et l’on songe avec trouble aux accents d’avant et puis le temps, le temps


Tandis que l’espace


tout petit tout

fébrile si volatile

qu’on balaye d’arrache-pied

Il perd une dimension

Il semble si plat

Truffé d’aiguilles pourtant

De ces pointes de peur de manque d’os sans chair

On surenchérit alors

On devient aveugle et sourd

Tandis que la cacophonie augmente

Tandis que les chiffres dégringolent

Ou grimpent à une vitesse folle

On ne sait plus à quel curseur se vouer

Mais je pense tendrement j’écris beaucoup vainement

Je rejoins sans atteindre, j’étouffe sans me plaindre


La vie pointille tandis que d’autres se meurent

Comme toujours comme avant

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Il y a six ans que j’aurais pu commencer, tel Meursault : “Aujourd’hui”. C’était un haut jour dû, oui. Trop tôt, trop tard, trop vite. Une balafre béante venue scinder ma chair pleine d’abîmes. De ronces, d’errances. De rendez-vous à jamais ratés. Depuis elle me brûle tous les jours dûs, oui. Pas toujours si fort. Mais elle creuse et porte à faux, cette charogne de manque.

J’essaie d’échapper à tant de gravité. Comme une muette je tombe beaucoup.

Aujourd’hui le temps latent s’attend à ce que j’atteigne les joies d’antan. Qu’on s’entende. Je ne peux tant.

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Esquisse 1

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Prêche Vaincu

— Maintenant on ne peut plus rien dire–!
— Ah cher ami privilégié, moi aussi je suis parfois nostalgique de ce temps où la seule réponse possible pour moi était de te faire plaisir. Où la seule réaction socialement acceptable était de ne rien dire — simplement d’applaudir tes maux d’esprit, ton écrasant pouvoir de rire de tout avec n’importe qui tel que moi. Il aurait été en effet assez peu souhaitable que je prenne le temps de t’expliquer la pointe aiguë de tes plaisanteries, touchant parfois à une partie de moi plus intime qu’il n’y paraît ; de souligner que tu ne me connais pas assez (ou feins l’ignorance) pour blaguer aussi légèrement d’un sujet parfois lourd de sens pour moi. Comme une porte qui claque mal et qui laisse passer un courant d’air glacé par intermittences ; comme une plaie que l’on égratigne sans cesse par accident ; comme une insulte qu’on prétend balayer d’un revers de faux rire ; enfant quand je souffrais des rires des autres on me disait donc “ignore-les”. L’indifférence n’est pas une arme ; c’est un rictus d’acier placardé sur un silence qui en dit trop long. Oui je suis, comme toi, en un sens nostalgique de cette chape de plomb qui me permettait de mettre mon coeur sous cloche et de masquer mes fêlures d’un fou rire aigre-doux ; qui me donnait l’illusion qu’en avalant la moquerie sans cesse répétée, l’humiliation qu’elle portait n’était plus un virus mais un vaccin. Ainsi acculée dans ma différence, je pouvais rire de moi avec n’importe qui — et c’était bien tout. Ton réel avait toujours plus de poids que le mien ; aussi ma légèreté était la seule chose qui pouvait peser dans ta balance.
Maintenant je m’autorise un regard, une faille ; je montre soudain que j’ai une part d’intime qui m’est précieuse, et que ton rire n’a pas droit de regard sur ma peine ; que mon plaisir a des accents de souffrance que je souhaite honorer. Ami privilégié, je prends un peu de cette parole qu’on m’a toujours dit d’étouffer ; et si cela irrite ta confiance, j’en suis par instants navrée, mais songe à toutes ces écorchures que j’ai dû taire et je te le souffle enfin : laisse-moi respirer. Je te donne enfin une chance de comprendre plutôt que de tout prendre pour toi.

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Dans la danse s’attisent des vices sans constance mais les sires qu’en stance et tranchent à leur guise les bises s’effritent brûlantes soumises j’épuise exquise mes sens marquise je souffle j’agis à outrance qu’une once qu’importe j’écope les clopes sans syncope j’écourte utilise subtile ta bouche et souple j’aiguise ta coupe ton sourire au râle de ta croupe j’halète arrête au faîte ça fêle élance ma chance quel toupet sauté fouetté enchassé en avance au souhaité écoute ton cou écourté tout perlé tout ourlé sautillent tes cils graciles mes îles ta vague mon soupir je roule tu ris en dessous tu plonges tu grésilles je te goûte belle brindille scintille j’appuie et tu gîs gorgé tu t’essuies d’un revers du jet puis pense j’ai rêvé qu’au travers dans tes airs à ne pas y toucher sans coucher dans ta louche cadence que cuisent tant aimées ta caboche aux couleurs échappées amorce je mords tes braises et t’apaise bien aimé

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Dans un sursaut fragile
Le printemps se pare d’un âpre grésil
Et les branches se figent dans leur linceul d’eau claire

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Ton rire racle dans ma gorge

Je sursaute je me souviens

Juste au ciel

J’ai traîné

J’ai dérivé

J’ai manqué

Et ton sourire s’est éteint

Trop vite

Le moment est passé

Tu n’es plus je le sais bien



Grande mer

De ta chère


Je creuse

Sans faim

Personne n’y peut rien

En moi ta chaise vide

Laisse une plaie vaste

Comme ton sourire

Mais j’entends toujours ton rire

Dans ma gorge béante

Qui me casse la figure

Et fissure ma gaieté

D’un accent de ta bonté

J’espère t’honorer, un peu

Mère d’été

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