« Failures in Edutainment: the mid-’90s “girl game” fad | Nerd Notes: game-shopping with Brian Taylor »

Second-Person Shooter: or, this is much more comfortable for me

Screenshot from 'Diablo III'

You know how we love it when you talk about your writing process, so have at it!


If you can’t produce a single original thought about something, you try to stay away from it. Right?

Well. This is a terrible attitude for a would-be writer to have. As a result, you will finish your column on May 20, then sit on it, waiting for thoughts to clarify and the final, original idea to strike. You will be able to use that glimmering original thought as the article’s resolution, you hope, and then you will be able to send this shitty mess of writing to your editor, apologizing the entire time.

But you have, meanwhile, been reading reviews of Diablo III, because these reviews are written by peers and friends. That is when you realize that your summation—that the game is “cute”—is hardly a revelation at all. You wait for inspiration to strike, but soon you have stopped thinking about Diablo III completely.

By yesterday you have decided the piece is dead in the water. So you have to make a choice. Kill it? Or email it to your beleaguered editor?

You finally decide that having an original thought is not the most important thing after all. The most important thing, instead, is to read zero reviews of Diablo III anytime you are trying to write about Diablo III. Because you have, from inside your vacuum, been searching for a point nobody else has already made, but everybody already made it while you were off fretting, and anyway, it is silly to try to make a unique point, since you live in a universe of simultaneities and timely, collective experiences.

A few days ago you went ahead and added a little bit about “spatial working memory,” which is actually a concept you tried to introduce in an article you wrote a long time ago, and boy are you ever a fraud, the way you are recycling material, here. You feel really guilty about this.

Also, the points you make about the third-person vantage being more comfortable than the first-person vantage, you kind of owe all those arguments to a phone conversation you had with your friend Brian Taylor. But at the time Taylor was all “oh, don’t bother mentioning me,” and you realize your writing improves when you cut him out of your column, so you don’t bother mentioning him (in your endless, nervous quest to cite every source, you’ve already mentioned Kurt, Julian, Andy Pressman, and “Sega Juice,” you goddamn name-dropper). (You also guiltily tweet about how much you owe Dave, not in any specific way, but in a vague “thanks Dave” way.)

And now you are helplessly sending your overdue mess of a column to your editor, all the while acknowledging that it is baggy fluff with no honed direction. Great! Now you are supposed to go on your merry way. Do some laundry; live a little.

But you don’t do your laundry; you are supplying your editor with line edits instead. Then! Just as your editor announces he is preparing your piece for publication, you suddenly write five new paragraphs in a span of twenty minutes, all of which insert wholly new ideas about “spatial distortion” into a column that was originally about a game being cute (and then you bizarrely add something else about Disney World). Nice job! These five new paragraphs are supposed to go between the sentences “I can see through walls, here,” and “I have difficulty reconciling ‘space’ and ‘distance.’”

Somewhere in the next time zone, your editor is rolling his eyes. Your poor editor.

So it went with “Diablo III is Adorable,” your newest column at Unwinnable. It is a stupid, nonlinear mess, and you forgot to use spellcheck.

Your editor helped you with line breaks. Smart move, Stu.

second-person shooters

6 responses to “Second-Person Shooter: or, this is much more comfortable for me” »

  1. Several ideas for 2nd person shooters were posted on the (now defunct) blog of Kent Sutherland & Laura Michet. Switchbreak made one on the back of this article.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      Wow! I love all those people! (Switchbreak is a Chicago dev, you know.)

      But yeah! It’s a great subject. I’m trying my best to save my thoughts on death, war, and death’s “specificity” for a scheduled future thingie—I’ve been thinking a lot, thanks to a conversation with a writer-friend called Cian O’Day, about the “specificity” of “death” in literature, and how that relates to movies’ and games’ “cameras”—but there is no death more immediate or horrific, maybe, than the death of the second-person “you.” It’s a fascinating way to script violence, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the ways game-makers can treat “death” and “violence” more responsibly (which owes no small part to you, Mr. Goodwin).

      • Interesting, I’ve also been kicking around an idea this week about the actual experience of second-person death – although I hadn’t realised that’s what I was thinking about until your comment. Although I won’t get round to writing until probably near Christmas because my site schedule is already booked for the next few months, so it’s fair to say you’re going to be first to publish =) My middle name is Frank so no one will get us mixed up, not at all.

        Comments are terrible places for giving away half your articles before they are written; happens all the time. I should ban myself from making any pronouncements down here in the comment basement.

      • Jenn Frank says:

        Well, don’t worry about me—I’m not actually planning to remark on the subject of “second-person death.” Although it certainly relates, I’m really going in another direction entirely. (Boy, I sure use a lot of adverbs.) It is true, though, that it’ll probably be up before wintertime, so there is that.

        No, in the case of this blog entry—which, if you follow the Unwinnable link, pertains only obliquely to “violence” and “vantages” and “distance” and, in a more literary way, “tense”—I wryly tacked Ryan Duffin’s tweet to its end. Just thought it might be fun, after writing something about “first-person” versus “third” versus “isometric” violence, to write my follow-up in the second person. Anyway, on the whole I tend toward abstraction, as indicated by the phrase “on the whole,” so I don’t have any concrete ideas of my own about how one would ever implement “second-person death.” (Yet! But no, I’m not actually planning to talk about that specifically.)

  2. Jake says:

    I hope I’m not undermining your whole “writing is hard” thing – writing is hard! – but I’ve reached a conclusion today: You’re the best writer in the world of video game criticism/journalism/musing/whatever. Seriously, I’m in awe of everything you write.

    And while I’m being awkward (giving compliments to people I don’t actually know makes me feel awkward), have you ever played Be Good? Have I asked this before?

    See, it’s an awkward question because it’s a game I made, and I’m mondo-uncomfortable with self-promotion, especially when ignoring the topic at hand to talk about ME. But! It’s all about the “alternative timeline”/”alternative self” idea you describe in your comments on Unwinnable, and I think you might like it, or hate it, or at least not feel totally indifferent toward it. It got an Honorable Mention at IGF, and Scott Sharkey put it on one of his “101 Free PC Games” lists, among some other awards and positive reviews.

    https://sites.google.com/site/jakespencerdesign/my-games/be-good

  3. Stephan says:

    Media artist Julian Oliver made a 2nd Person Shooter in 2005: http://blog.game-play.org.uk/?q=2ndPersonShooter

Leave a comment

Psst... This site supports gravatars and OpenIDs. You may also format your comment using Textile markup, if you'd like. Comments may not immediately appear.