As we enter a new year, I am struck by the pile of work I have set in front of myself. It is true, it’s quite an undertaking. Any project worth doing requires work. And work requires diligence, patience, and will. But I am also struck by the weird way the mind works to distract us from our tasks.
Every year I see more and more about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children (and adults) and though I have my moments of focus, such as playing a video game for hours or being engrossed in a book, I find that I am often distracted by the world around me. Do I have ADD? I’m not convinced that I do. Every day presents challenges and occasionally I get pulled from the task at hand by random thoughts or observations. But I am usually able to focus in short chunks of time.
But I would ask the question: Is this really a bad thing?
I like to think of myself as an observant individual. I’m quiet and like to listen and watch the world around me. Everywhere I go, even in the quiet of my own house, I can usually learn something. It often drives my wife nuts that I know more than she does about what’s going on in the lives of the people we know. And that presents opportunities.
So I would suggest that focus is important, but keeping an open mind and staying observant for opportunities around you is paramount as a writer or gamer. Hopefully you can learn to harness any attention deficit issues a bit better for inspiration.
One of the first things you hear as advice for being a writer is to read more of everything and not just things in the same style of writing (fiction or nonfiction) you want to write. I think that applies to roleplaying games as well. But I would broaden it greatly. Everything you watch, read, or hear can be turned into story fodder.
Here’s an example…
Several months ago I was drawn into the show Marco Polo on Netflix. As you might suspect, it deals with the world of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo in China, and it is full of martial arts, history, and philosophy along with the violence, sex, and drama. But it’s an amazing source of inspiration. Netflix just released One Hundred Eyes, which is a short episode focused entirely on the character of a blind Taoist monk who teaches martial arts in the Khan’s court. And it was awesome. Great story. Amazing fight choreography. And some deep moments as the character came to terms with his new situation.
But I was struck by a weird thought. When the character is blinded by the Khan’s people, the Khan is sitting in his throne room and listening to the tortured man’s screams. Yes, it was awful seeing a strong, deeply philosophical man be tortured in such a way, but structure-wise I found it fascinating that the Khan could sit in his place of power and use the screams of his enemies to his advantage. Imagine a group of diplomats coming to negotiate some new contract hearing the pain of some tortured soul. I think that would affect the negotiations in some non trivial way, don’t you?
Acoustics could be used to enhance a mood or destroy one in many places. It was an odd observation from a short program (30 minutes) I sat down to watch when I had a little time over the holidays. But it will likely affect some gaming project in the future… because how could it not?
I can see castles becoming sound gardens, harvested to create tension or reduce it whenever I want it to do so in my games. Or perhaps using sounds in a dungeon to lead PCs to their doom. Maybe even taking one of the new sound applications for the computer and starting to use real life ambient noises to change the flavor of a particular evening of gaming.
To go from the screams of a fictional character on TV to the possibilities of using acoustics in gaming is quite a leap, but it’s not the first time.
I have had similar observations watching other programs or movies, tearing stories or scenes apart in my head to see what makes them tick. I have listened to hours and hours of conversations where I ponder the motivations of friends and acquaintances and use some of those phrases, ideas, or stories elsewhere in my games. I have read more books (fiction and nonfiction) about weird topics that I work in somehow. And I love art books or online repositories of pictures like DeviantArt, Pinterest or Imgur.
Inspiration is everywhere. Keep your eyes and ears open. And don’t forget your other senses. Like One Hundred Eyes, you may find another way to “see” the world around you and make your games even more immersive at the game table!