Author Mishell Baker Geeks Out About Gaming

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image courtesy Mishell Baker.

Mishell Baker’s urban fantasy series The Arcadia Project begins with the novel Borderline, just released this March. The series is narrated by Millicent Roper, a snarky double-amputee and suicide survivor who works with a ragtag collection of society’s least-wanted, keeping the world safe from the chaotic whims of supernatural beasties. Mishell’s short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede.

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are. In the meantime, she enjoys sending and receiving old-fashioned handwritten paper letters.

I always hesitate to call myself a “gamer,” since my tastes are so specific. But within the very small subcategory of “story-driven fantasy RPGs for PC,” the term “enthusiast” doesn’t even begin to cover my obsession or these games’ effect on my writing. Here are five RPG series I could easily play (and geek out about) endlessly:

  1. Quest for Glory – My first gaming addiction was Sierra’s classic Quest for Glory series, by Lori and Corey Cole. I grew up right along with the game’s hero as I played and replayed a tale that is by turns silly, suspenseful, and heartbreaking. I began the first installment—in which a naive young hero saves a small town from a curse—at age twelve. By the end of the fifth installment, I was in my mid-twenties, and my hero was king of a powerful nation. Talk about epic!
  2. Guild Wars – This one had me at the tutorial. I painstakingly discovered lush forests and fields, quest by quest… and then the moment I completed the introductory section I watched everything I’d just explored get blasted into noxious wasteland. I was traumatized… and hooked. Both the original game and its follow-up Guild Wars 2 gave me plenty of opportunities to crawl back through the ruins of that first memorable area and experience a strange mix of grief and nostalgia. I love trying to recreate this feeling in my work: trying to identify readers’ strongest first impressions, then finding ways to tease, twist, and distort those memories later on.
  3. The Elder Scrolls – The lore of the Elder Scrolls’ world of Tamriel has changed the way I approach world-building. Unlike the typical coherent mythology created by a singular author, the books and scrolls you find lying about in the Elder Scrolls games reveal diverse and uncomfortably irreconcilable views of theology and history that only suggest, never reveal, the truth. The second book of the Arcadia Project series owes a lot to my fascination with this startlingly realistic approach to world lore.
  4. EverquestEQ was the grandmother of MMORPGs, and it’s where I discovered online roleplaying. During my time in EQ and EQ2, I practiced my character creation and dialogue skills and met some amazing writers. Most importantly, it was while playing Everquest 2 that I first invented a deadpan gloved warlock named Caryl Vallo. She didn’t thrive in that world; too many other strong-willed characters steered her story in directions that didn’t satisfy me. So I plucked her out of Norrath, gave her a different backstory, and found her a new home in my debut novel Borderline.

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    Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster. Available on Amazon.
  5. Dragon Age – Put off by the blood-spattered marketing campaign, I tried the first Dragon Age game only reluctantly. But within a week I was wholeheartedly immersed in the world of Thedas, and immediately after finishing the game for the first time I surprised myself by bursting into tears. All three Dragon Age installments differ radically in interface and design (a common criticism), but the world and characters consistently enrapture and move me to the point that I find myself irritated when I have to actually fight monsters to earn another 24-karat nugget of story. BioWare’s writers are astonishing; their games are master classes in how to set up and pay off emotional effect.

I’ve loved computer games as a storytelling medium all my life, and to this day it affects the way I construct story. As a writer I try to address what I think the readers will want to explore, not what I, as the Authority, feel the need to explain. The fun in plotting for me, as it may well be in game design, is trying to guess what the audience would choose. In deciding when it’s best to indulge them and when it will satisfy them more in the long run if I frustrate or subvert their desires. If I’ve learned anything from games it’s that when a story is well designed, losing can be almost as fun as winning.

Visit http://mishellbaker.com/ for more information about Mishell and her books!

Fran Wilde writes science fiction and fantasy. Her first novel, Updraft (Tor, 2015) is called 'Soaring' by Publishers' Weekly and Barnes & Noble SFF blog, while NPR Books says it was "one of the most original fantasy novels I've read this year." Her next novel, Cloudbound releases in September. Fran's short stories appear at Asimov's, Nature, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Tor.com. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, SFSignal, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com/GeekDad.com. She can also program digital minions, tie most of the sailor's knot board, and re-load a fountain pen without spattering herself with ink (usually). She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their tween-minecraft fanatic / book addict / budding Scratch programmer.