Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)
Sever and preserve the tongues of the dying to steal their stories! Whether you gather their tales and memories for the greater good, or use what you learn to become one of the elite who decide what to call “History” is up to you. As a Death Collector, your job is to visit the dying and harvest their stories by cutting out their tongues. Whether you seek fame, fortune, love, or renown, you’ll find playing Death is more than just a job. Death Collector is a 300,000-word interactive fantasy novel by Jordan Reyne, author of Choice of the Cat. I sat down with Jordan to talk about her upcoming game and the challenges inherent in creating new worlds across cultures. Death Collector releases this Thursday, December 6th.
The world of Death Collector is so different and compelling. Tell me what inspired you in creating it.
There seems to be a kind of morbid, desperate archeology of identity going on throughout the world at present. Although it has a different flavour, I see it happening in Europe as much as it happens in places like the States and New Zealand that have very young identities to begin with. Along with general malcontent, it’s like we, as individuals, feel increasingly disconnected from the world and each other, which perforates upwards into how nations behave as entities. It’s an easy thing to exploit and there are a number of ways to do so.
I wanted to create a world where the search for reflections on who we are, and who we are not, has become as physically and obviously grim as it is in theory. In the real world, there are really two ways you can go about creating or encouraging certain identities and discouraging others: by creating heroes, and by demonizing others. In order to make it seem “objective,” one has the option of raking through history, like the Death Collectors do after harvesting tongues. They are looking for examples of whatever supports the chosen method.
The game focuses on the method of creating heroes, even though in the real world we often chose the easier option of highlighting who we are NOT. That’s where demonization method comes in. Creating heroes has its dangerous and creepy side as well, however. Quite apart from putting people into the categories of special and not-special, which keeps them separate too, we end up overlooking flaws that are important to acknowledge and learn from. We end up relegating part of even a real hero’s qualities into the world of shadow: the shadow being those things we ignore about them, but that will burst through and find a voice on their own at some point, and destroy us if we have not braved facing them.
The world of Death Collector is a world of stealth and subterfuge. Of old-world agendas and attempts at influence that may or may not get you loved or killed. In the end though, it is about who we are and how we construct ourselves and others.
The invisible cloaks are amazing. What would you do if you had one?
Haha! If I answered honestly it would be a definite spoiler! Answering from the info all players will get, though, I would probably just use it to aid in leading a quiet life. Or perhaps to get on trains I cannot pay for and travel through the rest of Europe!
You’re the author of Choice of the Cat, which when it was published was our longest game ever, and it’s still I think the second longest. It’s also extremely different from Death Collector. What kind of contrasts brought themselves out when you were writing this second game?
Cat was really more a comedy, and set to the background of a middle-class life. It was safe, bar the potential for some gruesome violence on one playthrough. Death Collector‘s world is not safe by any means. In a way, Cat was about the potential for chaotic behaviors to meet banality and cause big things (or hilarity, or disasters) to happen. The world of the Death Collector is almost the opposite. All those around the player are engaged in big plans, grand actions, and power plays.
The Death Collector’s challenge is more like steering a boat in a storm of magic, politics and the potential to have their own identity wiped forever. The cat, as a character, is really the author of her own destiny. The Death Collector has to at least pay lip-service to being the author of other peoples’ destinies instead. The Death Collector has more potential to become a sort of heroic introvert (although you can obviously play as someone who wants all the credit and attention) whereas the cat, by virtue of its species, lends herself more to extroversion. She does not have to juggle presenting the austere non-face of bureaucracy with the actual fact of her gore-riddled life. The cat may chose gore or not, the Death Collector has it as their bread and butter.
This game has a kind of general European feel to it, much like Cat does and it’s a really fun and interesting place to spend time while playing your games, I think. What has been your experience living in Europe versus where you grew up?
I could probably write a whole book on that topic, but it might not be as intriguing as the game! I grew up in New Zealand, and it’s different to Europe on more levels than I can mention here. I guess the main thing for me was that in New Zealand, there was this ever-present feeling that the rest of the world was someplace far away, and that it almost might not really exist. It’s a 13 hour flight to Asia, which is really the nearest place that isn’t similar (the States and Australia being similar, colonialist countries, with native populations whose culture and artifacts were all but destroyed, like ours).
In Europe, you can catch a train and be in another country and culture in a matter of hours. There are different languages everywhere, different traditions, different views on the world. I have ended up standing in buildings that existed before a single human being set foot in New Zealand. The first people there being the Maori, who are thought to have arrived a thousand years ago (though at the time of writing, I think this is still contested as being both possibly earlier and possibly later). We don’t have a lot of historical structures as the Maori built mostly in wood and things that decompose. Europeans arrived less than 200 years ago. Buildings get a “heritage” sign slapped on them if they are 100 years old, which is kind of a joke to people here in Europe when I tell them. Though possibly not as absurd as how we paint snow on the windows at Christmas, and then go outside for a swim because it is summer.
In any case, living in Europe is the first time I have ever felt like I belong. My family live in New Zealand, but we have no contact, so the sense of belonging there stopped a long time ago. New Zealand is beautiful, but beauty is certainly not all I am looking for in life.
What do you find most challenging about interactive fiction design?
On the one side, the usual challenges that exist for anyone who is self-employed. You have to manage time very carefully, and hope to hell there are no unforeseen problems, or you can end up in serious trouble. The other side is the challenges posed by anything with a creative element. It is very hard to invoke ideas and inspiration at will. Sometimes you just have to start typing, and then, at the end of the day, you might realise you can’t use any of it, and need to work longer hours to make up for a lost day, and hope to hell your muse comes back. Other times, it’s easy, and the ideas come thick and fast. Of course, then you can’t rest on your laurels, because you don’t know when the next “block” might come.
On that note though, I actually don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I think it exists as an idea because the expectation is that creatives (be they musicians, writers, or any form of arts) will produce in a linear, production-line fashion. I’ve read that a lot of creatives think more in terms of a cycling of periods of production, followed by one of absorption/digestion, where new ideas have time to form—or you are able to actually experience things that become what you will write about. Of course, trying to juggle that pattern with the expectations of the linear, output-oriented business-world can be a bit like trying to fit a circle in a square hole.
Jordan is a writer and musician with eleven albums, two books and two interactive fiction novels to her credit. She has been nominated for several New Zealand Music awards, and made guest appearances on several international projects, the most recent being guest vocalist on Resident Evil’s theme tune “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” She currently lives in an artist community building in Poland, where she is working on her newest album “Bardo.”
You can find her work at http://jordanreyne.bandcamp.