The Big Idea: Kayleigh Nicol
It’s no surprise that today’s generation of authors might also be gamers… but the influence of gaming on their writing may be more substantial that you might suspect. Kayleigh Nicol, who co-wrote Crystal Awakening with Andrew Rowe, speaks to this integration of writing and gaming, and how the latter informed the former with this novel.
Before I introduce the Big Idea behind my latest novel Crystal Awakening, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Up until now, I’ve been an indie author, writing and publishing my own fantasy novels on Amazon. I’ve been an avid reader from the day I could first hold a book, I’m an animal lover, I’ve lived in more than six states across the U.S., and in my free time I love to play video games.
From side-scrolling Mario games on the NES to Pokemon Red, Blue, and Beyond on the handheld Gameboys, and from competitive party games to massive online RPGs, I have always considered myself a gamer. Some games are purely relaxing and help me unwind, some games include social components that make me feel connected to a community, and other games require intense concentration, which helps get me out of my own head for a little while. I even use rhythm games as motivation for exercise and a gamified website as motivation to write every day. For me, video games aren’t just a hobby, they’re a tool I use in my daily life.
So when Andrew Rowe asked if I would be interested in contributing to his fantasy series Arcane Ascension — a series that I so easily envisioned as a video game from the first time I read it — I jumped at the opportunity. Here was an opportunity to combine two of my favorite passions: writing and video games. The soaring spires described in Arcane Ascension are remarkably similar to video game dungeons, not just by way of fighting monsters, but also with the types of puzzles and challenges found in almost any classic RPG.
Andrew’s six-person climber teams reminded me of dungeon raiding parties, with each team member specializing in a unique and necessary role, most commonly tied to the magic marks called “attunements” which are granted after successfully completing a trial called a Judgment. As soon as I received the invitation to join Andrew Rowe’s expanded universe, I knew exactly the type of series I wanted to write: a dungeon-crawling adventure featuring unique magic and a dynamic cast of climbers.
What I struggled with was coming up with believable reasons why six individually intelligent and talented people would willingly subject themselves to the dangers known to exist within Kaldwyn’s soaring spires.
In video games, players hardly need a reason to venture into dark and dangerous places. “Oh, I’m the chosen hero and some princess I’ve never heard of is in danger? Alright, I’m all in!” It’s only a video game, after all. What’s the worst that could happen?
But as I started writing, I realized it wasn’t quite that simple when the dangers were real. What kind of person really wants to go head-to-head against a horde of monsters? Is earning a bit of treasure really worth risking life and limb? What could be worth risking life and limb? When it comes down to it, why does anyone do anything?
Asking myself these questions helped me develop my Big Idea: There is no one “right” or “only” reason for anything. Even if the goal is the same for the whole team, each team member might have different and valid reasons for striving to achieve it.
This may seem obvious to some, but lately I’ve been noticing a disappointing trend in online video game communities that really takes issue with an individual’s “reason” for playing specific games. There’s an elitist mindset that chooses to define “real gamers” as the people who choose to play games on the highest difficulty setting, who play every single storyline through to completion, or who rank consistently among the best on community scoreboards.
Anyone who plays a game just for the story, or doesn’t dedicate tens to hundreds of hours to one game is considered a “casual” player, and can sometimes face online ridicule. I usually see this on Twitter, or other social media platforms, where someone makes an innocent comment like “I’m really enjoying this new game!” and suddenly internet strangers are commenting on the original post that “real” gamers already finished that game ages ago, or that a different game is more challenging and therefore “better,” or that somehow this player isn’t enjoying the game the right way. This elitist mentality makes it difficult to interact with online game communities and, for me, takes away some of my enjoyment of certain games.
And isn’t that the point of video games? To enjoy them? If someone just wants to play a game just to find out the ending to the story, that’s a valid reason to play. If someone finds enjoyment in seeking out every single side quest, every piece of gear, every last Easter egg, then that’s also a valid reason to play. Many games have different elements of enjoyment, attracting different people for different reasons. One person might revel in the player versus player challenges, while another might prefer completing quests in solitary ventures. Another person might play that same game for exciting endgame content and someone else could just be interested in collecting items, completing achievements, or socializing with friends. Some people even play to enjoy a game’s aesthetics, such as graphics, music, and voice-acting. To me, there are no “wrong” reasons to play a video game, so long as the experience is an enjoyable one.
In Crystal Awakening, the team of adventuring spire climbers has one goal: complete the challenges ahead of them and ascend to the next floor. Along the way, they will collect treasures, defeat monsters, and become stronger and more competent in their areas of expertise. But each of these adventurers possess a deeper reason for why they choose to challenge the dangerous and often deadly soaring spires. One climber seeks to repair their family’s reputation while another seeks only the thrill of risk and reward. One adventurer desires to have an ardent wish fulfilled by the continent’s goddess, while another uses the spire to remain hidden from those who would seek them. One team member only wants to remain alongside friends while another sees climbing as little more than an occupation. While their reasons vary, the team’s goal is singularly aligned: Keep climbing, and stay alive.
The spires of Kaldwyn present challenges meant to be surmounted and overcome through magic, strength, preparation, and most importantly, teamwork. But what happens when team members become insistent on what makes a “right” reason to climb? The slightest distraction could mean the death of a teammate, or worse. The Big Idea is looking past their individual reasons for climbing, and instead implement patience, acceptance, and compassion in order to survive the rigorous demands of the spire.
But sometimes even that isn’t quite enough.
In the end, everyone who ascends a soaring spire is a climber, no matter their underlying reason. Just like everyone who plays a game can consider themselves a gamer, regardless of their reason for playing.