My collaboration with Shing Yin Khor was the highlight of my creative life last year. Our work continues to be one of my strongest sources of inspiration and growth, and I'm continually delighted by how well our respective methods dovetail together in what we make collectively and the projects we pursue independently of each other. We reflected on how, even before our current and quite active collaboration, our work shares many central themes: reconnection to the earthly world, love of the outdoors and nature, creating participant-oriented artistic experiences, values of stewardship, community, and the gifts and complications of being members of racial diaspora.
As individual creators and a team, we've been growing a space that feels good for us as well as many players, readers, and participants in our art, and has for a long time. As Shing and I discussed the future, we developed two new descriptive terms to describe the work we've done individually and together, that we both feel reflects our shared and unique voice.
The term keepsake games is a gift that Shing's partner offered up to us and we gladly accepted. It describes how our games are designed to produce beautiful, memorable artifacts through the whole course of the gameplay process, as a collaboration between us as designers and our players' imaginations. In creating their own unique objects by embodying the story we scaffold them with, the artifacts they make are irreplaceable art pieces in their own right, a tangible intersection of all of the players' experience brought to Shing's and my design principles.
Keepsake games are also statements against disposability culture. By imbuing their artifacts with all the meaning of their game experience, our hope is that the thing that makes them precious also makes them enduring, treasured, and kept; the opposite of loneliness.
Connected Path Games
Connected path games incorporate keepsake game principles by retaining the creation of player-made physical artifacts over the course of the game as central to each project's themes, mechanics, and structure. They also focus on the way that these games embrace their seemingly paradoxical structure. Connected path games are designed for players to both enjoy their own company and imagination, and share to the fruits of that imagination with others who are moving through the same in-game world with them. (Players don't have to play alone, nor do they have to share what they've made; but the room is always there for both possibilities in the central structure of a connected path game.)
The unique characteristics of connected path games are both structural and, as with keepsake games, thematic in ways that reflect Shing's and my experiences:
- They are multi-modal.
- The core game experience entails solo play, and the creation of the keepsake game.
- There is an open-ended social component that enriches the core game (example: collective hashtag on social media to share entries with other players in real time).
- The keepsake game is central to the connected path's mechanics, structure, and themes.
- Supplemental text designed toward multi-participant engagement is present (examples: appendix of mini games set in the same world for 2+ players, teaching guides to incorporate the game into academic enrichment curriculum).
Both keepsake and connected path games share the characteristics of our work I mentioned in the first paragraph, which I will repeat here:
- reconnection to the natural world through stewardship and beauty
- understanding human stories as one part of a vast ecosystem
- creating participant-oriented artistic experiences
- exploration of community through imaginative play
- firsthand experience of racial diaspora
Both game forms are, literally, living texts, and I enjoy imagining them akin to something like a rich, robust fungal network. If keepsake games are the fruiting bodies that sprout up for players to hold on to as tangible heirlooms of their experience, connected path games are the mycelium network that connects them not only to each other but to everything else in the land around them. Together, they form the understory of our collaboration, designers and players learning in tandem with each other, enriched by reciprocal artistic exchanges. The opposite of lonely.
There's no one project that precedes Field Guide To Memory that I can point to, no "Ah ha, this is where it started." Shing and I both experimented with games as a creative form before we became friends, and we both have several years of using play, imagination, and interactive design to guide players in our work. Did keepsake and connected path games start with my work in outdoor education, teaching children to whisper stories to the seeds they put in spell vials I taught them to craft as a way of learning local plant identification? Did they start with Shing's Oracle Bird project, an ongoing experience where they craft mysterious, beautiful divination events through the community they've built for years? I don't think it can be summarized or distilled that way, though clearly the whole of Shing's and my experience is what led us to Field Guide, and to the trails we're clearing as we move forward.
Here are two independent projects Shing and I have on our horizons that embody these principles we developed and created together:
A Mending is a keepsake game from Shing Yin Khor, Kickstarting next month. A game about maps, embroidery, and distant friends, A Mending honors Shing's lifetime love of tinkering and making, and like all keepsake games reduces waste by making something beautiful and well worth keeping. Follow Shing on their twitter or subscribe to their Patreon for more news and updates, which I highly recommend because just like Field Guide To Memory, you will want to be one of the first to know when you can back the project and get their beautiful art as part of your experience.
The Shape Of Shadows is a connected path game about show magic and true magic, what it means to be taken under someone’s wing, and the price you are willing to pay to fly on your own. You are a magician's assistant and you still have a lot to learn. But fortune waits for no one, and when the magician gets himself into a bind he can’t escape, you must shoulder the task of restoring him. Ready or not, you're the magician’s only hope. I will launch the game on Kickstarter in late spring.
I am really excited to share this stage of my work and collaboration with Shing. I almost said "new stage," but as established earlier, this isn't really new to either of us. We're just ready to clear some new trails.
I can't wait for you to join us.