Monday, November 14, 2011

George Ivanoff on Setting Novels in Virtual Worlds

George Ivanoff has written more than 50 books for children and teenagers, both fiction and non-fiction, novels, short stories (including a Doctor Who story), articles and school readers. He also moonlights as an actor and has been in numerous productions including Neighbours. His teen SF novel, Gamer's Quest, won a 2010 Chronos award. Today he's talking about writing novels set inside a computer game. Thanks, George.

It all started with a documentary about online gaming. Watching it reminded me of how much I loved computer games as a kid and teen — how I loved blasting aliens inSpace Invaders and dodging large chunks of space-rock in Asteroids. I was obsessed! But it was more than the actual games. I loved the concept of playing on or with a computer. Consequently, I also loved any sort of fiction that used computer games as part of its narrative. Gillian Rubinstein’s novel Space Demons was a favourite. I also loved films like TRON and The Last Starfighter.

After watching the documentary, I decided that I wanted to recapture my childhood excitement about computer games. I wanted to write some fiction that used games as an integral part of its narrative. And so I came to write a short story called “Game Plan” (published in Trust Me!, Ford Street Publishing, 2008), which I then expanded into a novel called Gamers’ Quest, followed by a sequel, Gamers’ Challenge.

Both novels follow the adventures of two teenage thieves, Tark and Zyra, who live in a computer game world. In Gamers’ Quest, they don’t realise that they are characters within a computer game. To them, their world is very real; their adventures a matter of life and death. By the beginning of Gamers’ Challenge, they know they are inside a game… and they want out!

Setting novels inside a computer game allowed me a great deal of freedom. I was able to play with the clich├ęs of various genres and introduce some rather over-the-top characters — warrior monks, homicidal computer viruses, mages young and old, and some really evil villains.

I was also able to indulge my childhood interests. Thinking back to when I was a teenager, I dug out from my memory all those things that I enjoyed in books and films and games, and then put them all into these novels. And so, we have magic swords, powerful mages, killer cyborgs, zombies, dragons, various mythical creatures, a giant robot spider, an invading army of Roman Centurions, and a climactic video game battle.

Perhaps the most interesting part of writing these novels, has been the challenge of structuring them in the way of a computer game. Part of that is the pace — the story progresses at break-neck speed, the characters moving from one challenge to the next, with short chapters and quick scene changes. Then there is the matter of time — specifically the passage of time. As Gamers’ Quest begins, and Tark and Zyra set off on their adventures, I deliberately made sure to exclude any sense of night and day passing. They never stop to eat or sleep. Their only concern is the quest and the challenges they face along the way. Just like a computer game, the novel progress from one level of challenge to the next. They never have to worry about getting older or dealing with the problems of teenage-hood. They are perpetually perfect 16-years-olds, devoid of acne and angst, their only concern, the rules of game and the challenge of their quest.

Gamers’ Challenge allowed me to play with this concept a little more. Because Tark and Zyra now know they are in a game, they are able to observe the peculiarities of their environment (and I was able to make observations about gaming). They now notice that night never falls, unless it is required for the game narrative; they get tired and feel the after-effects of a fight; they get hungry and need to search for food; pimples now become an issue and hair does not remain in perfect place without product; and they begin to age. So even though they are still within the environs of the game, they are no longer bound by its rules — they are within the game, but now living more ‘real’ lives.

As a writer I am bound by the rules of a very different game — the publishing game! Although I have a third book planned, it won’t get written unless book two sells enough for my publisher to warrant the publishing of another. I’m desperately hoping that I do get to write it because it will allow me to play even further with the concept of computer games. In the third installment, Tark and Zyra will get out of the game and step into the ‘real world’. Readers will find out who controls the game, why it was made and what its sinister purpose is.

I look forward to stepping out of the virtual world and presenting a very different view of computer games in this novel.

Thanks, George. I must be the only person in the world who's never played a computer game, so the world you're writing about is alien, but fascinating.

George's website is here:

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