Sharing your Toys and Playing with Others

 “My toy shelf. You have one? Share it! #instameme” by Mark Krynsky is licensed under CC BY 2.0   “My toy shelf. You have one? Share it! #instameme” by Mark Krynsky is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A lot of the writing I do is in teams, or for teams, or for projects. In a variety of places that I don’t own everything I’m working on. Even when I do, I’m regularly writing for games which means that there are going to be all sorts of people taking it and riffing on it immediately after it is gone from my hands. It reminds me of the phenomenon of writers of prose complaining about people “adding meaning” to their choice to give someone a blue dress. Saying that the academy or whoever adding interpretations that they didn’t foresee is somehow wrong.

The message for today is that you have to be okay with other people playing with your toys. This isn’t to say that once you’re published you have to let anyone and everyone write fan fiction about your work. I’m strictly in the camp that fan fiction should be allowed to be shut down by the copyright holder, though there are tons of reasons not to. I’m just uncomfortable with telling a creator that they can’t stop others from changing their work or even using it to make a name for themselves. That’s a little weird in my books.

This is about those areas that you have to expect people to work with, to play in your world. People are going to want to talk about, deconstruct, or play games in your creative world. You’re going to have to be okay with that.

There’s a phenomenon in the academy that they talk about the death of the author. I’m not the best at talking about this, but the general sentiment is once the work is done and out there, you’re going to have to let other people have at it. It is incredibly unlikely that it will continue to be what you expect. When you’re making a game, a movie, or any number of other things that require whole teams of people, that process speeds up. We saw it with Bladerunner where the question of whether our lovely protagonist is a Replicant or not can’t even be agreed upon by those who were part of the project.

More recently, the amazing Caleb Stokes from Hebanon Games created a brand new game system complete with setting, brilliant mechanics, and more. The book isn’t even in print yet and people are already hacking away at it, using the mechanics or the system for things he never planned for it to do. That’s just going to happen. People get to take your game and play it however they want They might not be playing the Platonic ideal of the game you so thoughtfully and diligently designed, but that’s sort of too bad. Your only recourse is to shrug and tell them that “of course mechanics aren’t going to work right when you aren’t playing the game I designed” (something I’m very familiar with).

When you’re working for an IP holder, they get a lot more say in how these things are limited and how they grow. That’s also just fine – they’re paying you (presumably, or at least giving you access to a high-value IP). The ones that tend to do the best are the ones who clearly demarcate the areas that they want to let people play in, and the ones that they don’t. Locking down too much tends to stagnate the project and result in it being limited in some way.

Take the DragonBall games for an example. The more recent ones add all sorts of different riffs and what-ifs to the gumbo that they’re working with. You’re able to create a brand new character and do some crazy things within the established universe. That gives you a very different experience than the older games which limit you to the established canon. It changes things and allows for new experiences. We’ve seen the slow allowing of more and more options for play into this IP, suggesting that they’re finding increased value from it.

None of this is to say that there’s one best way to move forward, more that you’re going to have to have a measure of acceptance that people are going to interpret or otherwise ineract with your creation in ways that you might not expect. That’s the way that this life is, and something I’ve seen a number of starting out creatives grapple with.

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