Late last month, Alan Williamson (whom many of you will recognize as half of Split-Screen and the man behind Critical Distance‘s latest incarnation of Blogs of the Round Table) approached me asking if I wanted to be in on a new webzine of his, Five Out Of Ten. The timing was short notice–he wanted to approach me for the next issue, but another contributor had had a scheduling conflict and needed to back out, leaving him a writer short for the premier issue–so I gathered up some ideas that had been kicking around and tried putting them into words. They each came out decently–at least, enough so that I don’t stand out too awkwardly next to the likes of Brendan Keogh, Lana Polansky, Bill Coberly and Alan himself, all of whom are spectacular writers and whose work here is as grand as always.
The zine comes priced at £5.00, although you can donate a little more, if you like. The cool thing is that revenue for the magazine is split evenly among the five contributors, so basically if you pay £5, you’re paying each of us £1, which is cool because that means I can take that money and start saving toward the things I need to Write More Stuff for you, like coffee and antidepressants. That’s a pretty awesome cause, right?
Each author contributes two pieces to the collection, one pertaining to the theme “new horizons” and the other on a subject of the writer’s choice. Here’s a little preview of my two so you can sneak a peek before buying your very own copy, which is available as a DRM-free PDF suitable for most platforms.
Piece #1 – New Horizons – “Letting the Sunlight In”
On indie games, Papo & Yo and the virtue of an individual voice.
The final summit of Papo & Yo is set far above the familiar Brazilian favela in which the rest of the game takes place. Our player-character, Quico, travels above the clouds on a magical skylift which bears him and the monstrous alter-ego of his father toward the floating island of a mystical shaman. Around them, rusted iron siding and discarded tires float alongside the fragments of family homes, suspended weightlessly across the sky just as other improbable mountains of shacks and lean-tos rise up to meet them.
It’s a profoundly destablizing moment, even in a game premised on a departure from the normal laws of physics. What starts out as an imaginative trek through the muddy, rain-drenched city streets of a boy’s childhood adventuring spaces soon becomes an increasingly desperate escape from violence. Finally the world Quico has spent the entire game cleverly bending to his will is coming apart at the seams of its own volition, as reality starts to seep back in.
Piece #2 – Writer’s Choice – “Unfinished”
On the nature of unfinished things, unfinished people, and The Unfinished Swan.
“This is your college education,” my father says, waving a hand toward the home studio he had invested countless weekends into, to say nothing of far more money than his railroad job paid. It’s lined with hand-made sound insulation panels and stocked with enough recording equipment to make some professional studios green with envy. “So we all need to work together to make this record label work.”
In the end the biggest barrier to our father’s dreams of a music career is himself. Every weekend and most evenings he cloisters himself away inside his home-made studio, plucking at the same chords over and over, searching for a note that doesn’t exist. Later, he loads the recordings into his Mac and plays the clips again and again, iterating by degrees, never finishing. Eventually he scraps the whole song and starts over on guitar, plucking strings, never finding whatever it is that he’s listening for.
Sooner or later he’ll say that it’s our fault that he can’t find it.
The Unfinished Swan isn’t simply the title and explicit goal of the game; it’s the singular work which ties the family of three together, and provides the player with the game’s theme. Unfinished things, unfinished people. Children doomed by their genetics to the sometimes-beautiful, mostly-horrible agony of being artists. Of facing the void of boundless creativity and having to sort out the path to not going insane for themselves.
Those who enjoyed my previous bit in CTRL-ALT-DEFEAT on growing up among hoarders will recognize some resonance here–but hopefully not too much familiar territory. You can go buy your own digital copy of Five Out Of Ten now.