Last year, I wrote the cut scenes for a Nintendo DS title called “WireWay” by Konami (now available for iPhone and iPad). The game features a mischievous character named Wiley, who spends his days hanging out with his buddy ReFresh and collecting Elan (stars) to reach various goals (to get rich, win the girl, save the world) as he flings himself through game boards via a rubber band-style game action, which was fun and, for a sorry gamer like me, a bit frustrating. (Apparently, I need to work on my flicking physics.) Try it yourself in this free online demo.
But, I really just wanted to see those cut scenes in the game, and my wife had even bought me a DS and the game to see it work. (There I was giddily unwrapping my birthday gift like a 12-year-old). Of course, I call them cut scenes but they were more like animated two-panel comics. Still, I wanted to see how they looked in the game, but I couldn’t. I didn’t need more practice or another walkthrough. I needed an eight-year-old with mad DS skills. Fortunately, my kids know just such a DS-Wizard. We invited him over, plied him with a pizza dinner, and he went to work. I got to see all the levels as he flipped the game in a few hours and asked, “What else you got?”
Today, I realized I’m not unique in this conundrum: having contributed assets to an interactive project on levels I can’t easily access. I was chatting with a voiceover artist who’d done a fair amount of video game work but, again, wasn’t a good enough gamer to make it to his own cut scenes. He was relying on YouTube.
This is a condition of the artist collaborating on games and other works of gate-restricted e-lit: Your contribution might just become inaccessible to you and to many interactors.
I’ve been trying to think of analogous situations: the tapestry weaver who cannot access the king’s bedchamber in which hangs her work, the upholsterer who cannot afford tickets to the opera? But it’s less about class-based access than skill and time restrictions. Like the person who designs a university curriculum but will never see the courses. Or a person who designs a marathon course but will never see the beauty of mile 21 when exhausted (or designs just the mile-21 water station, which only those who go the distance will see).
Or maybe it’s like designing windows in the space shuttle. They are for the select group of people to enjoy in a very distant altitude.
Part of this is an extension of the Benjaminian actor separated from his body in film. We are separated from our contribution by a wall of time and controller mashing (or in my case, elastic flicking). Part of this is the state of the collaborator in a complex digital work. But it all taps into a sense I have about authors of digital works and their need to let go that sense of dependence on each bit being seen.
For digital works, we might write 10 million poems, but only expect 5% to be seen by anyone person.
Detachment is key, even moreso than for print authors of lengthy novels. Seeing all the content is far less inevitable. Just ask the woman who played the voice of the villain in the side mission in the sandboxed super hero game. Ask the old man who made the stained glass in the belfry of the cathedral. Ask the the e-lit author who wrote the last twig of the collaboratively authored branching narrative.
But we must be content to know our Easter Eggs will never go rotten as they wait for the hand of that most sharp-eyed hunter. We must be content to have sanded the backsides of the dresser drawers. We must be content to write for the virtual reader who decides to turn every corner and walk the maze counterclockwise. And make sure your children hone their button-mashing early.