The Origins of Icarus

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a writer. Which, in some ways, sounds easy – having the same goal for about twenty years – but in a lot of ways it isn’t. I’ll spare you that speech though. Chances are either you’re a writer yourself, or you’ve heard already from the outside perspective how hard writing is. That’s not what I’m here to get into.

Side note: I really wish I could indent these paragraphs.

Anyway.

I’ve started this site as a way to keep myself accountable for my work. I know perfectly well by now that unless other people are going to see my work, I won’t get working. If I know that there’s even a couple people reading the things I write, then hopefully it’ll keep me going.

I already have a few ideas of things I’d like to write on. The first being a recounting of the time my favourite professor ripped a book in half in front of our class just to make a point about materialism. The second being an exploration on why certain themes (water, back alleys…) keep popping up in my writing. That kind of thing.

Yesterday, I (officially) graduated from UBC, with a virtual ceremony due to COVID. (Future me, what is post-COVID like? Is it nice? Is it scary?) But I think one of the things that I’ve found interesting to explore over the course of my academic life is how ideas or pieces of writing can open and bloom once you start taking the time to investigate them more closely. That’s one of the few things I anticipate maybe missing now that I’m done with school. Writing essays was something of a magical transformation for me. I would start with a book and underlined passages that interested me, and by the end of two weeks I had what I felt to be an astute observation that gave deeper meaning to a text (regardless to whether the text itself was something I actually enjoyed).

I’m hoping that through some form of semi-polished ramblings, I can continue to find something like those small epiphanies, but more focused on life as I’m experiencing it. And if someone else – you – can gleam any new knowledge or insight, or better yet, find yourself laughing once or twice, that’ll be even better. That’s all I could ask for.

I started this post intending on delving into my origins as a writer, but I’ve wandered pretty far off here. This will likely be a recurring theme for posts to come. I suppose it just seems self-centered to write in detail about yourself, but… I’ve already made this whole website. It exists. And it exists in the hopes that my personality and my work can in some way or another reach other creators with whom I can collaborate. My hope, right now, is to get into the video game industry, and write for some awesome games.

Okay. So let’s go there.

Like I said, I always wanted to write, but until recently I had it in my head that the end goal was to be writing novels for a living. (There was always the “backup plan” I would have to give as a disclaimer to seemingly Every adult I talked to when I told them I wanted to be a writer, which is awful for many reasons.)

But within my fourth year of university, I took a video game writing class (an introductory one; unfortunately they didn’t have any higher levels after that) and that’s when I started thinking, “Hey, I could try doing this.”

Because I loved video games as a kid. And I still do. The amount of time I’ve put into my Nintendo Switch totals just under 1,400 hours. And half of that is on one game alone. I’m not necessarily proud of that, but suffice it to say that video games are one of the main ways I spend my free time.

The first time I realized just how beautiful a medium video games could be for storytelling was because of The Last of Us. (The sequel, as it happens, releases tomorrow.) I have a distinct memory (and this can’t be said for a lot of things) of watching one video essay explaining how beautiful its writing was, particularly in its characters, and how their roles and personalities switch by the end. It’s beautiful to me, because it’s not something that while you’re watching or playing it jumps out at you, but it’s still something you recognize in the background as being important. Joel, the father figure in the game, starts of as very closed off, very serious. He acts aloof towards Ellie, who, at the beginning of the game, is full of really cheesy jokes and high energy. By the end, Joel is the one telling jokes, while Ellie walks through the streets silent and serious due to the horrors of the world she’s been exposed to. At the moment, a quick search doesn’t bring up the video essay I had in mind (it’s on YouTube, and I remember it being quite long), but hopefully some time in the future I can find it and give the guy who worked on that his due credit.

In fact, I loved this point of Joel and Ellie’s role reversal so much that I wrote an essay on it in my first year of university, comparing it to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m not the first one to point out the similarities between The Road and The Last of Us, of course – the writers of The Last of Us cite McCarthy’s novel as one of their main sources of inspiration. If I let myself go on here, it would turn into another essay of its own, so I’ll let it go there. (Perhaps one day I’ll upload a version of the essay I wrote; it remains to this day one of if not my favourite essay I ever wrote while completing my degree.)

My point is that The Last of Us was the video game that got me thinking about video games as a medium with tons of potential for meaningful, deep, and emotionally moving storytelling. If I could help make such a game in any capacity, I would be ecstatic. Even if it just means writing item descriptions to start. Seriously.

But what I would really love would be to help create characters for those stories. Allow me a short sidebar to explain.

This past year, I’ve started GMing TTRPGs for close friends. (Translation: I started to organize and lead table-top role play games.) It started with Dread, which is a horror game published by The Impossible Dream, which uses Jenga blocks instead of standard dice rolls. I ran two separate one-shot games for my close friends, which helped build my confidence in taking on the daunting task of being in charge of these games, having to know countless rules, and preparing as much as possible for ridiculous feats your players will inevitably try to attempt. Then, for about seven months I ran a self-written campaign of Vampire The Masquerade, a game published by White Wolf. Unfortunately, the campaign never got to see itself through to the end thanks to COVID, but what struck me most during the time it did run was how much my players loved the NPCs I created. (NPCs are any characters that the players don’t control.)

I’ve always known making characters was my favourite part of storytelling since I was in high school, but it wasn’t until running Vampire the Masquerade that I got to explore those characters with other people in depth. What was especially surprising to me was when a character I had written as perfectly unlikable – an intended antagonist for my players, even if I was quite fond of him – was almost immediately befriended by the players. They simply refused to take him at face value (i.e. a ginger asshole), and offered to help him. And they did. They helped him find his missing little brother. He’s still an asshole, but they consider him a friend.

What this meant is that I got to see my characters interact with their audience. Having approached creative writing through novels and short stories for the majority of my life, I could love my characters to death and hope beyond hope that any readers might like them too, but there was always a wall between them. My characters could not know the readers.

This is not the case with video games or other RPGs. My characters get to know the players. The two get to inform and shape each other, and I think that’s beautiful.

Maybe that’ll be something I get more into for some other blog post in the future. But I wanted to explain just what it is in writing that I value, and how my relationship with those values and the mediums I can write in have changed.

Here’s to the creation of many beautiful stories and characters to come.

Thanks for reading.

Much love,
Icarus

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