Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature: The Wordplay Festival's Kaitlin Tremblay on the intersection of video games and literature

Share |
Kaitlin Tremblay

As our platforms for consuming stories continue to expand and evolve, writers — and readers — are finding amazing new ways to craft and experience great storytelling. One of the fastest growing and most exciting areas in innovative writing is the world of video games, which has come far beyond zombie-killing missions and desperate searches for princesses. Gamers now have access to narratively rich games that blur the line between player experience and interactive fiction.

Sound like fun? Than you won't want to miss the Hand Eye Society's Wordplay Festival this Saturday, November 7, 2015 in Toronto. The free festival celebrates the most interesting uses of words and writing in games across a variety of platforms. Creators will speak about their work, games will be displayed and played, and curious gamers, readers, and writers are invited to learn more about playing, creating, and enjoying these playable narratives.

Today we're speaking to Wordplay's Kaitlin Tremblay, who tells us about how words and games fit together, how the festival came to be, and how games, gamers, and industry perceptions are changing.

The Wordplay Festival takes place from 12:00pm to 5:00pm this Saturday, November 5, 2015 at the Toronto Reference Library in Toronto (789 Yonge Street). Admission is free. Check out the Wordplay website or the festival Facebook page for more details.

Open Book:

Why are literary arts and video games a natural partnership, in your opinion?

Kaitlin Tremblay:

Literary arts and video games are, at their core, doing the same thing: telling a story. Many video games contain a deep narrative as their backbone, and the interactive/gameplay elements act as a means of driving this story. Whether it’s the archetypal warrior overcoming evil, or even something more mundane as walking around your childhood home, most video games tell us something about us as humans and the way we exist in this world.

One of my favourite game franchises, Borderlands, is an over-the-top shooter (the trailer for the second game boasted a 1000% increase in the types of grenades you could use). But it’s also a tongue-in-cheek satire on its genre and the conventions found within in. This self-awareness and ability to weave a story that calls attention to some of the problems inherent in games (the third installment, for example, has you fight an enemy because he is homophobic), while also creating an environment that is incredibly fun to romp around in, is where games can shine.

Not all video games are perfect examples of storytelling, but many are and even more strive to be, and I think that’s what’s important. Both literature and video games share the capability of opening our eyes to different ways of understanding what it means to be human, even if they do it in slightly different ways.


How did WordPlay come together and what is your role?


WordPlay came together in 2013 as a way to showcase games that featured really strong writing – a way to highlight the many ways video games were trying to push boundaries in storytelling and narrative. My role for the inaugural event was as the marketing manager, and I helped facilitate the Twine (a free to use program that lets people easily create interactive fiction games that can be played online) workshop. Since then, I’ve taken on different roles. Last year, I lead a live playthrough of a game on the main stage, with the audience members making the decisions in the game. This year, I’ll be interviewing Sam Barlow, who wrote Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and the critically-acclaimed game, Her Story.


What sort of changes have you seen in video games and gaming culture in recent years?


There’s been an explosion of people defending video games as art, and a wealth of games proving video games are art. Beyond this, gaming culture is growing, challenging what we see and understand as “games” and also fighting to become more diverse and inclusive. For example, Twine is used widely amongst marginalized individuals as a way to claim space and tell their own stories their own way. It’s a slow battle, but one that many people and organizations (like Toronto’s own Dames Making Games) are fighting for.


What are some of your favourite writerly games?


There are so many! Child of Light is one I just played recently, and was blown away by. It’s told as a bedtime story, and subverts the typical telling of Sleeping Beauty. In Child of Light, all the action takes place while Aurora is asleep. Rather than being a passive character, Aurora is brought to life and is forced to learn how to fight, fly, and defeat dragons in order to save her father and kingdom. It’s endearingly earnest and warm, and is written entirely in rhyme!

Others worth checking out are Kentucky Route Zero, Gone Home, and anything by Kitty Horrorshow (who is in the Wordplay showcase!), Javy Gwaltney, and I’m Fine by Rokashi.


What are you most looking forward to at WordPlay?


Sherwin Tija is launching his Choose Your Own Adventure book, You Are a Kitten!, which is from the point of view of a cat. His talk is set to encompass empathy and the nature of interactive storytelling. I’m also really looking forward to Emily Short’s talk, which opens the main stage presentations. Emily Short’s games are wondrous, well-built worlds, and she’s creating unique and challenging interactive fiction games that, in my mind, blend literary arts and video games almost seamlessly. Galatea, for example, explores the mentality of non-playable characters in a game and provides a wealth of provoking symbolism and imagery about how characters who are outside of a player’s control think and feel.

The showcase is something else I’m excited for. There are some really fantastic games in the showcase, including Caelyn Sandel’s Bloom and Todd Harper’s Upon Reflection, two games that explicitly interrogate individual identity and ways of understanding ourselves.


What advice would you give to those who are interested in developing games?


Do it! There is a fantastic community of gamemakers out there who are supportive and friendly and are almost always willing to help. There are numerous programs (some which require zero programming knowledge, such as Twine) available. Don’t let fear stop you. You can tell whatever story you want in a game, nobody is stopping you but yourself. And that’s really an amazing and empowering thing to realize.


What do you see in the future for WordPlay?


I see WordPlay continuing to grow because I think it’s serving a very important purpose right now: that the stories video games tell (and the people telling these stories) deserve to be heard.

Kaitlin Tremblay is a writer, editor, and gamemaker living in Toronto. Her work mostly focuses on horror, mental illness, and feminism. Her writing has appeared in Playboy, The Toast, and Shameless Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @kait_zilla and check out her work on her website.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


Open Book App Ad