Monday, October 31, 2011

Chasing Dragons

A few days ago, my wife and I watched Get Lamp, a documentary on the rise and fall of text adventures and the persisting genre of interactive fiction. I had heard about it on Richard Bartle's blog and have been eager to watch it. I grew up playing text adventures on my C64. Although I spent a lot of time reading Byte and Compute magazines—mostly typing in BASIC programs and reading advertisements for games, as I recall—I did not have a larger context to understand the industry and the personalities behind it.

I found the documentary fascinating, but I'm not sure how strongly I can recommend it to those who didn't cut their teeth on text adventures. The documentary assumes a certain amount of tacit knowledge: how could a viewer appreciate the discussion of mapping if they had never been in a maze of twisty little passages, all the same? I'll definitely bring it up for a potential movie night next semester when I'm at the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

The documentary consists almost exclusively of interviews, and one of the interviewees was Chris Crawford. I had previously only known him by reputation as a respected game designer and as the author of The Art of Computer Game Design. I enjoyed his interview in the documentary as well as the extended interview in the DVD extras, so I decided to read more about him.

Of course, I turned to Wikipedia, on whose page there is a section devoted to Crawford's Dragon Speech.   Wikipedia's summary piqued my curiosity. Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, this 1992 speech is available on YouTube, despite its having been given a year before Mosaic ushered in the World Wide Web revolution. I've embedded part one here; parts two through five should come up as recommended links after.

This goes immediately into my list of great presentations (which someday needs to migrate from my old blog to this one). Crawford is clearly a master of the topic and has carefully crafted the presentation. I could go on about the specifics, but really, you should just take some time to watch it. I am envious of the opportunity he had to study under another one of my heroes, Alan Kay. I'd love to have a day to shadow either of these visionaries, to get a better sense of how they see the world and of what drives them.

Crawford is passionate about his work, and it's his well-calculated passion that helped me to understand that this presentation isn't really about games at all. It's about dreams. It's about working to identify what it is that you really want, and then consciously and intentionally deciding to pursue it, even if it means making painful decisions.

Presentations like this make me uncomfortable, but that's a good thing. They induce introspection, resulting in an honest evaluation of what I am doing and where it is leading. I feel like I am in Crawford's six years at Atari: I'm working diligently on what seems right for now, but every now and then I see the shadow of the dragon.

No comments:

Post a Comment