I still remember the first time seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark -- Marion Ravenwood was EVERYTHING to me. She ran a bar in Nepal. She could drink any guy under the table. And she took pot shots at Nazis.
This, I thought, is my kind of dame.
After college, all I knew was that I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea how to turn my love for writing into a paid gig. Then I found Human Code. It was a small studio in Austin that made CD-ROM games for kids. They were about to start pre-production on Girl Talk - “the slumber-party game for girls!” Of all the writers who applied for the job, I was the only one who had ever BEEN to a slumber party -- so I was a subject-matter expert. I got the job.
Human Code was magic. It was the Muppet Show, minus the chickens. None of us really knew what we were doing -- games were a new thing, for all of us -- but we meant well, tried hard, and did our best. My best friends are all from Human Code. Many coworkers went on to marry each other and raise families. It was that kind of place.
Later, Human Code was acquired in a foolish dot-com merger, and months later we were all laid off. This was terrible news. But the $30,000 severance package made me feel like a GOD - a wealthy, emancipated god. I decided to start working for myself.
It was a good time to be a game writer. Consoles were coming into their own. The XBox was right around the corner. I started working on over-the-top action titles. (Adios, Girl Talk!) Suddenly, I WAS taking (virtual) potshots at the bad guys - just like Marion.
It was an adventure, and a revelation. This was a new medium. There were no rules of the road. The learning curve was a line, and it went straight up. I had to learn how to combine narrrative with gameplay. I had to learn how to work with designers and engineers, as well as actors and animators. I had to grasp the big picture, sense the emotional implications of the game design, and translate those feelings into characters, desire lines, and plot points.
Above all, it was my job to know how the player felt, so that our story would connect. It was my job to be emotionally open and empathic - to see the world through his eyes.
I loved being able to break all the rules: the rules of storytelling, the rules of engagement, even the rules of gravity.
Games made the impossible feel possible.
A lot happened over the course of a few short years. I contributed to a Microsoft title that became a franchise that has gone on to sell nearly 20 million copies. I collaborated on a project for 2K that sold 4 million units, earned critical acclaim and spawned a franchise. And I worked on a title for Square Enix that sold 8 million copies. Our projects won writing awards -- Best Narrative, Best Writing, Best Character. I was named one of the top writers working in the industry.
As time went on, the industry changed. And I changed. I realized how much I cared about what was happening in the world around me. We don’t need to fight virtual monsters on a computer screen; there are plenty of monsters in real life. We need courage to face those monsters -- not the courage that comes from strapping armor on, but that comes from taking that armor OFF, to show up in the world in a real and genuine way.
I watched comedians like Louis CK and Tig Notaro talk about life in a way that was so real, and honest, and most of all vulnerable. It reminded me that THAT is what I have always loved about stories -- the way they give us permission to be ourselves. To be imperfect. To be flawed. And to still be worthwhile, despite all that. I saw people like Meryl Streep and Amy Poehler change the narrative about what women can do, and be, and say in the world. I marveled at the way The Daily Show told the truth about the world, in the most brutal and funny way, night after night.
And I said "Yes. That is what I want to do. I want to help make sense of things." Because that is what stories have always done for me.
So now I’m taking what I’ve learned about how to connect with audiences --
And I’m working with teams from all walks of professional life -- entrepreneurs, content strategists, theater companies, adventure-travel documentary filmmakers, financial companies, women’s rights activists --
- to tell stories that matter.
Mary Oliver said it best. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
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