I feel obliged to point out that, by popular request, I’ve set up a way for you to pre-order a copy of Dreamcast Worlds if you missed the Indiegogo funding deadline. Just go to this page.
Last week I sent Dreamcast Worlds supporters the first extract from the work-in-progress, and asked what they thought about it. It was the first step in an experiment in ‘crowd-editing’, though in reality, the ‘crowd’ part isn’t really appropriate – it’s more that a small number of backers are generous enough with their time to discuss the book with me and share their opinions. But the principle is that as a self-publishing, crowd-funded writer, I have a direct connection with my audience – and as such, I don’t have to make guesses about what they want from a book. I can just ask them.
I decided to start out at the deep end, sending a part of the introduction that – I hoped – would do the theoretical work that I enjoy so much, without sacrificing the sense of humanity or losing people’s interest. Those who shared their thoughts – either by email or by joining in the Google+ hangout – were honest, constructive and kind. They said that the extract was still more academic than they would like. One person put it particularly succinctly – “When I backed Dreamcast Worlds,” they said, “The two things that excited me were ‘Dreamcast’ and ‘Skies of Arcadia’. For me, it’s important that they show up early in the book.”
I’m so, so glad that I’m being told that now, while I can still make changes so that my backers can be proud to suppport Dreamcast Worlds.
So in response to the feedback I received last week, I’m trying to change the way Dreamcast Worlds approaches historical writing. I’m trying to get rid of signposts – I’m told that people don’t actually want or need to know where the book is going, they just want to get on with it – and I’m experimenting with what happens when you stop writing about theories, and instead tell stories about theorists.
I don’t have anything to share yet – and I’d rather that the next extract I release be about the Dreamcast or the games – but I do want to share some reflections on what happens when you stop writing about theories, and start writing about theorists instead.
I started with Le Corbusier. He had some really neat ideas about architecture. But it turns out that he was a bit of a diva, and that when his ideas were put into practice they didn’t have entirely positive effects.
Le Corbusier wanted to be famous, and he wanted to change the world. He chose an arty pseudonym, created a bit of a myth of personality around himself, and made lots of money as a consultant to urban planners.
Since his days at school in the early 1920s he had been imagining a future filled with skyscrapers and automobiles, not necessarily because he believed in their benefit to society – more because they were technically possible, and technology, as any console gamer knows, drives progress in its own image. Right?
Le Corbusier could easily be cast as a Final Fantasy supervillain – he wanted to remake the world, to cleanse it and purify it of the filth of poverty, make it logical, rational, mathematical. He liked to apply the golden ratio to everything, and he dreamed of bulldozing the slums of Paris and replacing them with skyscrapers.
The problem was, he forgot about the people in those slums. When he designed smart, fast urban freeways, he forgot to put exits near their homes – or he deliberately didn’t bother, figuring that they wouldn’t own cars anyway. Many cities were remade according to his designs, and the result was unemployment, entrenched ghettoisation, and a whitewashing of local culture with cold, clinial modernism.
What does this tell us about game developers? Well, originally I just used Le Corbusier’s theories about archictecture to make sense of virtual space design. And I still do that, but with a caveat; having a rational theory behind your designs doesn’t necessarily make you a better designer. It can lead you to focus on the technologies and forget all about the people living with them. Sega learned too late that you do that at your peril – the Dreamcast was a beautiful piece of kit, but that wasn’t enough to bring people to it.