The year is 2065 and you’re holed up in Wigan Central Library, devising a plan for the survival of the human race…. Jake Thorne reports back from the front line.
The windows, which have seen better days, offer a bleak prospect: piles of rubble and the shells of burnt-out vehicles, all that’s left of Wigan after a nuclear explosion at a nearby power plant decimated the area, thirty years ago. Seizing the moment, a race of super-robots (now stronger, and in some respects smarter, than humans) emerged and enslaved the remaining human inhabitants. Those who resisted have found themselves on the run ever since. Known as ‘The Carnegie’, they’ve made the old library their base of operations, hoping to make use of the resources there – defunct technologies, illegible to robots – in a bid to overthrow their oppressors. You’ve been tasked with helping them in their struggle. Where will you go from here?
Rewind to 2015, and after a bit of dimension hopping you’ll find a similar scene imagined as part of Networked Narrative’s project Text Adventure Time. In a series of workshops devised by FACT’s Debbie Chan, young writers in Wigan, Hull and Burnley have been working with artists to develop a text-based adventure game, set in an alternate reality version of the North of England.
For the latest session in Wigan, participants were asked to populate this dystopian world with characters whose stories will shape players’ progression through the game. Cue the arrival of Jain D03, a cyborg with a cyber-kinetically enhanced pet fox; Gadget 21, a seemingly invincible killing machine who is, despite this, petrified of rats; and Jade, a resistance leader fascinated by “dead zones” – areas of the city where technology won’t function – and their potential to fuel a war to topple all robots.
Kate Feld, an accomplished flash fiction and short story writer, was on hand to help with character development and story-writing. She suggested a method that was both simple and brilliant: participants would begin by fleshing out characters’ attributes and abilities, after which they would expand on the kinds of problems and aspirations these individuals might have. This last step would prove an effective way of driving the story as a whole.
Once the characters had been realised, artist Glenn Boulter, armed with sticky notes and arcane knowledge of classic text-based adventure games like Zork and Merlin’s Castle, helped participants use the character portraits they’d devised to begin mapping out the choices players will be faced with in-game.
The result was the basic framework of a sometimes distressingly difficult but wonderfully immersive adventure – which when finished will be sure to enthrall players until the coming nuclear apocalypse(?), at the very least.