The trees on this seaside bluff arched like ribs, sheltering an old house that overlooked the North Atlantic. I drove through the rain and my tires slipped and spun through the mud. I eventually made it past the gate and up the long driveway to the house. It seemed much larger in the distance but from the front steps looked like a miniature victorian mansion. From the driveway I could see down the bluff and to the rocky beach below, stretching out into the rain in both directions. The long lines of rolling waves were interrupted only by a rock just below the house that stretched into the waves.
Games have two different kinds of narratives: Explicit and Emergent. Explicit Narrative is the story that the game tells to the player, and Emergent Narrative is the story the player creates for themselves as they play the game.
Perhaps the most noticeable game featuring Emergent Play is Minecraft, which sold to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars. Since then, Sandbox and Survival games have taken off, generating countless titles, almost all of which are Early Access, only a few of which will ever see completion.
Any time you get your player to say: “I Did ______ in [Insert Game Name]” then you have created Emergent Play [EP].
How do you get your player to put themselves in the place of their avatar? How do you encourage them to make decisions and create their own Narrative?
Broken teeth scraped the inside of my lip. The slivers of calcite bone recently detached from my head caught in my molars and poked my gums. It turns out that it’s hard not to grit your teeth when in stunning pain.
Oh the pain
What fantastic pleasure
What life-giving fucking ecstasy, sending blood pumping past my ears and to the ball of hate in between. The animal in there snarls and bites but I wipe the blood from my lips and get up. I didn’t as much spit a tooth out as I dribbled shattered head-fragments. All the blood I swallowed wasn’t helping the roiling pit just under my ribcage.
But I got back up.
I fucking got back up.
“You want to see how a pacifist fights?” He was fist bumping his friends like he just pinched the ass of a tired waitress. I staggered slightly
“You want more?” He yelled. His neutered jackals laughed as their Mussolini flexed. “Yeah?” He walked back over to me like his dick scraped the floor.
Oh yes please I wanted more. “If you got it in you”
He has a moment of lovely doubt. I think he sees it in me, that whatever pain I’m in now is pale and wrinkled in comparison to what’s left under my fingernails.
Blood, left long enough, passes well for dirt.
I stare him down a second before his sleeve-lacking lackeys egg him on. I smiled as he walked forward: one half menace, the other creatine.
“Come on!” I motion him forward weakly, “let’s get my dick hard”
“Oh, you like this you freak?” His veiny satellites jeered, he laughed. I was back in the schoolyard, standing up for the first time after years of beatings. I wasn’t invulnerable, but I was unconquerable.
I dribbled out another bloody fragment of tooth, “let’s turn this into a hate crime”
And boy, did we.
Three minutes or an hour went by. He only lasted a few more punches before he resorted to kicking me, curled up on the pavement. Truth be told, I think I took the punches better than he did.
But soon they got bored.
They always do.
The entire world became me, my pain, and a night sky that stretched from the roof of one building to another. Stars outnumbered by blinking planes.
Pain shot up my side, blinding me with these new swimming stars rushing down from the sky to fill my eyes. It took a second before I realized: thats what laughing feels like now.
The moment wasn’t lost on me.
This is my revenge against the world. My first and final act of retribution. This is how I get out of bed, this is how I will myself to live. Bloody and beaten, too tired beyond my years with still too little of my life lived.
But I stood the fuck up.
I stood the fuck up, and walked the fuck away.
I staggered the fuck away.
[Chapter 6, for those who want it]
In a city as large as this there are AA meetings every night of the week spread between the campuses and churches and community centers. Somehow I found myself at one of those, still holding onto Kraden’s death threats. It was close to dark and I had been driving around looking for a nice quiet bar to have a nice quiet scotch in while I waited for the first round of blood tests to come in. I don’t know why I walked in here but I took advantage of the coffee at the side of the room and sat as far from the stage as possible. I started flipping through the threats.
12 letters. 5 of them had long essays, innocuous little phrases like “Someone should kill you” or “one day you will get whats coming”. These would barely trip our radar, and were likely overactive retirees who were angry that Kraden had had no plan to open the factories back up. a few more were postcards with a picture of Kraden or his family and crosshairs painted over. These are more serious, but too vague to be actionable. I kept flipping through. One of these is not like the others: Long angry letters, implied threats, and one crumpled sheet of waterlogged notebook paper that said, “What happened to Icarus. I want to meet her” It didn’t sound like a death threat, but why was it treated like one by Kraden. I was just examining the return envelope when I realized it had gone quiet.
“Can you hear me back there? Would you like to come and introduce yourself?”
I didn’t look at who had spoken, I just mumbled some excuse and looked at my wrist like it had a watch on it then left quickly.
I sat in my car. The handwriting looked similar to the pad, but was smoother. The letter itself had been crumpled and smoothed flat many times, probably by Kraden. Most of the letters only showed the wear and tear of the postal service, but this one was special.
I started my drive back to the precinct, stopping in a liquor store to grab a bottle of whiskey. This much coffee in me and I’d need some sleep.
I got back, checked on the blood test and was thrown out of the lab by Julian. I then went and grabbed the pad from forensics. I came back up to the office, set my whiskey on the desk and sat down
Side by side the two looked similar. I would send them off to get analyzed anyways, but I was certain of the link. The pad was shakier, but that made sense. Whoever wrote it pulled someone apart limb from limb afterwards. They wouldn’t have been calm
I leaned back and the next thing I knew it was morning.
Every day I don’t spend Writing or developing a project feels like a waste.
Its been this way for a few years. Time that I have spent, for instance, writing out over 350 pages filling 3 notebooks, writing the better part of 2 plays a pilot and half of a novel. I used to write every single day, Now I’m lucky if I have time to sit and work on my days off.
Its been a theme of my last few months. A constant droning voice gnawing away at what I assume is my mind, telling me in some eldritch tongue that I need to write more to service the elder-gods, or some other nonsense.
Even so, I don’t like to refer to myself as a “Writer”.
The term has too much baggage. Whenever I say, “I Write”, there is an immediate look on someones face. There are always questions.
“Have you written anything I know?”
That would be code for, “Are you published?”. The answer is: Not Yet.
“What do you write?”
A question thats kind of like asking someone what neighborhood they live in when you don’t know the city. I appreciate the interest and will give you the logline, but most of the time its met with the blank look that reminds me how much of a rhetorical question “What I write” usually is.
Words. I write Words.
“But what do you do for a living?”
Starve, mostly. Or, more realistically, I have a job and write when I can.
“Oh that’s lovely”
You can often hear the condescension drip like… Well… Condensation. I hope the inadequacy of that simile illustrates how few fucks I give.
But always it comes down to one essential question that people seem to have: “Do you make a living writing?”
No. I don’t.
Not many people do.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t write professionally.
I don’t know if I have enough experience or gravitas to speak eloquently on this matter. After all, it was only 3 years ago that I even began pursuing writing as a career. But it seems if I haven’t gotten paid for writing, there is an expectation that I should say that I am an “Aspiring Writer”.
But I’m not aspiring to anything, I’m working. Its my second and my third job. I am sure that a lot of other “Aspiring Writers” feel exactly the same way.
Why would we do such a disservice to the work we are doing by referring to our writing as anything other than professional?
After a brief employment-inspired pause, Here is Chapter 6! Here is Chapter 5 for those who want it
What I had to do before anything else was to figure out Kraden’s timeline for the night, something to do before the blood-work was in. After that I had to find out who the “She” was and what she had to do with Kraden’s old job as the CEO of Æthenmus.
Walking into Adam Kraden’s campaign headquarters made me wonder if they even knew he was dead. I expected to see at least an intern composing themselves, mopping tears with a tie or tissue. Paid or unpaid, it looked like everyone still had a job to do.
So I walked up to the nearest secretary, “I’m Detective Grant, here to investigate the murder of Adam Kraden”
He didn’t bat an eye, just stared at me for a second and, “Take a seat we’ll be right with you.”
Nothing makes a man feel more unimportant than the bureaucratic power of the waiting room.
I sat and waited for 10 minutes while catching snippets of the office buzz. It sounded mostly like volunteers assuring constituents; saying that his campaign was being taken over by his campaign manager, yes she is a good person, yes she has the same platform, sadly campaign donations are not refundable, the money has already been used.
Then I heard her. “Sir, you are welcome to withdraw your continued funding… yes I understand… But if you don’t feel I can do as good a job as…” She faltered, seemingly unable to say his name, “Yes, sorry… Yes I’ll be fine. Thank you sir. I’ll be fine.” She was a tall woman coming through the cubicles. When she ended the phone call her eyes hardened and her voice was immediately steady as she talked to the aides around her. “Gretchen Thomas, Detective Grant. Its good to meet you.” She didn’t seem to care that I knew the phone call was a performance.
“I hear you’re running for the seat?” She paused for a second, maybe betraying her humanity, maybe evaluating what I knew. I didn’t trust her.
“There is a lot of money in this campaign. It goes to waste or I run for the seat” The aides around her studied their phones. “My office?”
I followed. She led me to a small room off the side of the large office. Probably Kraden’s. “Haven’t moved yet?”
“I’m going to turn it into a lounge. Something for the volunteers” She sat down and straightened her desk, not looking at me. Everyone is guilty of something and I wasn’t here to be her friend.
“I need to know what Kraden was doing last night.”
“I have his schedule right here-“
“No, I need to know what he was doing last night”
A look of understanding dawned on her, “I don’t understand.”
“His schedule tells me what his schedule was last night, I want to know what he was doing.” Her face was tight. “I’m not press, this is a closed investigation. You can tell me right here or I can drive you to the precinct and do it there.” It was an old trick. But the old tricks worked.
After chewing the inside of her lip for a few seconds, “He had an interview at 7 for a late-night show. After that he came back and was signing letters until he left.” She was lying. She knew I knew she was lying. I’ll still have to do this the hard way.
“Has he been acting weird the last few days? Anything out of place? any calls or mail?”
“Not that I remember.”
“Where do you keep your death threats?”
This made her sputter, “They weren’t serious, there were only a few- we never bothered to report them. How did you know?”
“A leap of faith.” A progressive reform campaign mounted by an ex-CEO? Of course there were death threats. “I’d like to see them.”
She walked into Kraden’s office. It was neat and well organized. On her way in Gretchen passed the desk and straightened out one of the pencil holders offhandedly, like it was second nature. “He kept them in his desk. He liked to flip through them to remind him that he was doing the right thing”
It would have been funny. “Was he ever threatened in person?”
“No.” She was holding onto the death threats. I held out my hand and she reluctantly passed them to me. “There were always protestors, but-“
“What time did he leave last night?”
Her face fell a bit. Not an act like the phone call, but something like guilt or empathy. “I don’t remember”
“Call me if you do. We’ll be in touch Ms. Thomas.”
She showed me out of Kraden’s office and went back to hers. I walked out to the main floor of the office and everyone there was working furiously. They had been listening. I smiled and turned to the room.
“Hello everyone!” I wasn’t shouting, but I didn’t need to. They all stopped, “Hello! My name is Michael Grant, I’m a detective. We need to construct a timeline for Mr. Kraden’s last few days.” I reached into my coat and pulled out a silver case, I pulled a small stack of business cards out of them, “If any of you have seen anything out of place or weird or even worth knowing, please contact us.” I held the cards up high and walked over to the large chrome coffee maker. I made myself up a cup and put the business cards on top.
As I left a few people in the office decided it was time that their mugs needed refilling. This might have been worth the drive.