Thursday, January 6, 2022

Narratopia is an open source game

Two blog posts back, I said I was going to work on Narratopia again. I said I planned to work on two tasks: (1) trim the print-on-demand version of the game to make it cheaper, and (2) make the game easier to translate. 

I did try. For weeks. But both of the tasks turned out to be much harder than I anticipated. I could not find a way to trim down the print-on-demand cost very much. And I could not find a way to make the translation process easy for you without creating an ongoing burden for myself.

Eventually I found a solution. It happened through a chain of events that I would like to tell you about.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a visual artist, so I took every art class I could find. At first I had trouble getting started on new drawings. Every time I faced a blank sheet of paper I would freeze. So I developed a mantra: There's always more paper. I would look through my drawing pad, of perhaps 200 pages, and say to myself, "If I try to draw this thing" -- whatever I was drawing -- "this many times, probably at least one of them will be all right." And then I could start drawing. 

I've used that mantra for everything I've done since then: for every drawing, but also for every blog post, article, book, software package, game, and so on. That's why every project I've ever worked on has gone through so many versions. And that's why I intended to go back and work on Narratopia for a fourth time. I did work on it. I got stuck. I was trying to get unstuck.

Then, over the holidays, I decided to take a rare week off and play video games. I was playing a nice little puzzle game called The Last Campfire when I realized something about my mantra.

In The Last Campfire, you are a little pillowcase being, and you walk around a fantastic landscape helping other little pillowcase beings find the energy or hope or something to move on in their journey to . . . I don't know, I haven't finished the game yet. Anyway, so far all of these little pillowcase beings have been super grateful for my help, and I've been getting a nice warm feeling every time I help one.

But it's a lie. I'm not playing the game to help the pillowcase beings. I'm playing the game because the way you help the pillowcase beings is to solve puzzles. Solving the puzzles is interesting and fun. That's why I'm playing the game. The pillowcase beings are basically just animated buttons I click to get to the puzzles. 

So anyway, I was playing this game, and I thought: this game reminds me of my life. 

I have spent a good portion of my professional life as a speculative entrepreneur. Over the years I've worked on project after project that nobody asked me to do. I've written blog posts, articles, and books. I've developed concepts, frameworks, exercises, and methods. I've built software and games. I've started professional networks. I did all of these projects because I wanted to help people. But I also did all of these projects because they were interesting and fun. To some extent, the people I helped were just the buttons I clicked to get to the puzzles.

My next thought was: ah, but there is a critical difference between The Last Campfire and my life. In The Last Campfire, after you solve each puzzle and free its little pillowcase being, you get to walk away. In my life, it has never been easy to walk away from projects. Every project I have started has taken on a life of its own, and it has lingered, clinging, demanding my time and energy. For years, sometimes for decades. The downside of "there's always more paper" is that, well, there's always more paper, and more, and more.

Thus arose a new mantra: There's always more fire. An infinite capacity to create requires an infinite capacity to destroy. You can't have one without the other.

I can't believe it took me forty years to figure that out. This year, I resolve to get better at walking away from projects I no longer find interesting or fun -- even if I think people still need them. If people need them, people will step up.

So, when I got back to work, I decided to release Narratopia as an open source game. You figure it out. You can now download all of the files I used to make the game and mess with them yourself. If you want to print the game more cheaply, go ahead. If you want to translate the game, go ahead. I'm moving on to the next puzzle.

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