Growing up, stories were the most important thing in my life. I was a wild, sensitive, pain-in-the-ass creative kid, trapped in the Atlanta suburbs. Stories held the promise of a glorious world out there, just waiting to be discovered. My best friend, Lailee, and I would spend hours reading Wonder Woman comics to each other. We loved her invisible plane, her bullet-deflecting bracelets, and especially her Lasso of Truth.
Later, I discovered Amelia Earhart, a real-life wonder woman whose plane also turned invisible one day over the Pacific Ocean. I still remember the first time seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark -- Marion Ravenwood was everything. “Who was THAT?” I thought. “Show me how I can be like HER!” I suddenly wanted to run a bar in Nepal and take potshots at Nazis. I wanted to know how it was done.
I only remember one class from college: Adventure Travel 201. For months, we read memoirs about journeys to faraway places like China, Antarctica, Borneo. My favorite writer was Dervla Murphy, who rode her bicycle from Ireland to India - alone. In 1961! Women didn’t even have the right to VOTE in Ireland, much less have the right to live a kickass life. She didn’t care. She set off with only three gears on her bike and a pistol strapped to her thigh, pointing her handlebars towards Yugoslavia, the Khyber Pass, Islamabad.
This, I thought, is my kind of broad.
After college, all I knew was that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know any such people in real life, and had no idea how to make a living at it. Then I found Human Code, a studio in Austin making 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 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 HC. Many Coders 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. So many creative opportunities! So many challenges to overcome! 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 grasp complex issues, and how to pioneer new ideas, and how to turn those insights into action --
And I’m working with creative teams and communicators -- entrepreneurs, content strategists, theater companies, adventure-travel documentary filmmakers, financial companies, women’s rights activists --
- to be a champion for change, and exploration, and adventure. Let me help you take a fresh look at your challenges, come up with ways to overcome those challenges, and then share those solutions with people in a way that motivates them to kick ass.
Because it’s not just about coming up with a new story or fresh idea. It’s about doing so from the heart, from a genuine interest in people’s hopes and fears and dreams, and then finding ways to lead them through those emotional thickets to a better place, where they can live bigger lives.
Mary Oliver said it best. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”