I’m a big fan of a lot of games. Not so much the active sporty type games, and I’ve never really got into hard-core computer gaming, but card games, some board games, and a lot of other types of games. I’ve tried making my own text adventure computer games several times.
If I’m pantsing a story, (as in writing it by the seat of said pants,) having my characters play a game is one of my standard stock tricks. Often, the resulting scene isn’t something that should survive the first draft, but a lot of the time it helps me figure out something new about the characters. For instance, in Children of the Molecule, I had a game of alien hide and seek as one of the events at the Prince’s naming-day party. I was really just going through the motions, as were some of the characters, because they couldn’t leave that planet and go on to the climax of the story until the party was over. But after that game, in the final concert stage of the party, I realized that Aunt Shelda seemed to be fixated on her niece marrying the Prince, and that was a plot thread that I’m really glad I picked up.
“It’s just a way of thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin to emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It’s like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that’s now been taken away and hidden. The graphite’s not important. It’s just the means of revealing their indentations. It’s just to do with people thinking about people.” That Quote, (from Douglas Adams’ ‘Mostly Harmless’) was originally about Astrology, but I think that a lot of it could apply to Euchre or chess.
Do you use games in your own writing this way? Do you have something else that you like to do with your characters to learn more about them, more than for writing the plot?
And I can’t do a blog post about games in fiction without a shoutout to ‘The Game’, from Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept books. When I first started reading Split Infinity and understood the split worlds of fantasy and science fiction that were used as the setting, I thought I’d be more interested in the fantasy side, but I reckoned without the game. I found myself wanting Stile to quit messing around with unicorns and vampires and come back for his next round of the Tourney.
Of course, by book 5 of the series, the game is brought over into the fantasy realm as well, and I can never forget the fate of worlds hanging in the balance – over games like ping pong and the water balloon Glass Mountain