This is the biggest award-ceremony welcome surprise since Belle and Sebastian won that Brit award: The WGA’s nomination for RPS favourite Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble. Frankly, it deserves an award for the title alone. We decided it was an opportune moment to talk to Mousechief‘s Keith Nemitz about their sudden brush with mass fame…
RPS: Congrats on the nomination. How do you feel?
Keith Nemitz: Overwhelmed at the moment. The WGA gave me a few days notice. By Monday I was considering the use of illegal opiates to keep from hitting Firefox’s page reload button like some Skinner monkey. Adrianne kept emailing, “When the ‘heck’ are they going to post the ‘darn’ news! By 4pm I called the WGA and was told they wouldn’t update their pages until Wednesday, but the press release had gone out at noon. She said she would email a copy if I really wanted… I’m not sure phone lines transmit that moment when the human mind shifts, and the world suddenly seems like something conjured up by Fellini. “Yes, I’ll have two please.”
Right now, I’m a little sleepy but can feel the stress of worry building. Will people really fall for the old line, ‘will the underdog independent defeat the corporate giants?’ Seems a bit silly, but that’s Fellini for you.
RPS: What’s your take on the WGA with relation to videogames?
Keith Nemitz: Clearly, they want to extend their power base in film and television to games. I am mostly a union sympathizer, but when professionals in my core field, software engineering, started talking about organizing, I really felt it was a poor idea. I’ve always wondered about the idea of competitive unions, along the lines of the anti-trust laws that were eviscerated by Ronald Reagan and Co. When the WGA struck over earnings from DVDs, they were largely reviled by the game media. But in movies and TV writing is the backbone. In games, writing is more like a dominant arm. You can do pretty good without it, but it’s really important.
RPS: What’s your philosophy of writing in games? What purpose does it serve? How is it best to go about its purpose?
Keith Nemitz: Depends on the game. I’m a huge fan of Will Wright. He prefers emergent narratives. Customers seem to respond better to the Sims than all the adventure games ever made combined together. Then there are Bejeweled and Peggle and other game games. Who needs a stink’n story? I prefer making interactive stories. Writing stories has been a hobby of mine since I was a kid. I worked for Sierra Online in it’s later ‘good’ days. It was my first game company job.
That isn’t a direct answer to the questions, but games are an awesome art form that can appeal to customers regardless of their story content. Films have been made without stories, but mostly those are films for film nerds. Similar results are true for other arts.
For games that have embedded stories, their purpose is usually the same as in film, the backbone. Gameplay is the musculature. They need each other to go anywhere. Unfortunately, the industry’s development process rarely respects stories. Too often story bones are shit out into a prehensile tail.
RPS: In terms of determining approach and tone in Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble, could you explain your thinking?
Keith Nemitz: The approach was incredibly uneven and disorganized. I would have been fired by any company that had hired me to write the thing. Fortunately, I’m married to the boss. Starting out, I wanted to tell a story that might appeal to older women. It would be a casual game, because that’s where the easier money is for independents. About as many men play casual games as women, but a recent figure put purchasers at 70%. I wanted to write a story that women could respect. Casual games have too many cute waitress chicks, and cute farmer chicks, and cute goth chicks, etc. Sure those characters are tasty like candy, but a candy diet gets sickening, quickly. Casual games have matured recently, but in predictable directions, mystery and romance.
In DHSGiT, mystery is the hook, but the story is about the culture of small-minded people and how strong, truthfully educated women can improve it. I wanted to bring a society alive that players could interact with. The town of Brigiton, USA is a fantastical place in a fantastical period. Before organizing the story, I read a lot of Sinclair Lewis. I read magazine stories from the 1920s. I learned the tone of that period’s writing and strived to write in it. I think it contrasts humorously with the madcap world. I’m not sure I did a very good job reproducing the tone because of the zany events. But it has infected my writing since.
RPS: Thanks for your time. And good luck.
You can download the demo of Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble from Mousechief’s site.