How I learned to appreciate video games (or at least the people who play them)

This is an update to a post I wrote a few years ago, in which I whined a lot about my husband’s quest to get me to play video games. In the past seven years, I haven’t become a gamer, but I’ve gained more of an understanding why people play video games. All of my kids, some of my friends and, of course, my husband, love games.

My latest book in the Sillicon Valley Murder series, Across the Red Sky, features a gaming protagonist. Detective Daniela Grasso loves unwinding with games while struggling with a tough case.

The original post (2014):

For years, my husband had a secret wish.

That he would find the one video game that I would like, that would turn me into a gamer. The man loves video games so much, he can’t understand how someone could not love them.

The more my husband tried to get me to like video games–luring me, cajoling me, bringing home games for me to try–the less I wanted to play them. I dug my heels in even more. Dude, you are trying too hard. I’m never going to be into this.

His conclusion:  My wife just hasn’t played the right game.

So he went on a nearly 20-year quest, fighting creepy kobolds, L.A. gangsters and ill-tempered monks to find that One Sacred Game.

The game that would break the evil spell of…me not liking to play video games.

But the good news is, I’ve found a game that I like. It’s a very old game, one we got a few years ago. Now that it’s been released by the game site, GoodOldGames, my husband has downloaded it on my new computer, so it’s super convenient and I’m playing it regularly.

It’s on Steam now, too. So yay!

It’s a quirky game of space conquest called Moonbase Commander. It was released in 2002, to such resounding success that it received an award for Best Game of 2002:  The Game No One Played. When its maker Atari went bankrupt, the game property was valued low and purchased at auction by game company Rebellion.

Moonbase Commander won me over with its high cheese factor. The graphics are colorful and have a minimalist beauty. Ambiance is created by funky, space lounge-style music. It sounds a lot like what you hear when you push the demo button on a 1990 Casio keyboard.

A narrator moderates the game play in different voices, depending on your team. My favorite narrator voice sounds like the digitally modified voice of a young Japanese woman.

It says things like, “You have removed your opponent’s energy shield! He is exposed! SPANK HIS BOTTOM.”

The goal is to destroy your opponent by eradicating his bases, and when you’ve destroyed the last one–in the words of the narrator–you “have achieved total domination”  You can play against another human opponent (I play my youngest child quite a bit). Or you can team up against a host of computer bots, most of whom are ridiculously incompetent.

Playing this game has finally helped me understand a bit of what my husband feels when he plays a video game. It immerses you in a world. Playing it is like a 30-minute escape to a fun, new place. When my youngest and I play a game of Moonbase, we play cooperatively, working together to defeat the AI (or my husband).

When we win, we’ve got stories to tell: Strategies that worked gloriously and caused spectacular explosions. Huge amounts of energy gleaned from putting collectors on every possible energy pond. Bots who ended up blowing themselves up hilariously and unexpectedly, an easy win for us.

At the end of a game, it feels like we’ve accomplished something. It’s the shared satisfaction of watching a good, but not-deep action movie with friends, the kind where you’re repeating the jokes days later. You’ve laughed, you’ve been through an experience together. You’ve made a memory of some kind, even if it’s short-term.

Now I am beginning to understand why my husband spends so much time and money on these things. They’re fun. Great stress relief. Who doesn’t like blowing things up?

But the biggest surprise to me is, they’re pretty social and kind of a bonding thing.

The most addictive game in the universe. “Play the game, Wesley.”

Recommended Viewing with your Gaming SO:  Watch the Star Trek: Next Generation episode (from season 5), called “The Game.”  A video game with addictive properties is brought onto the ship. Anyone who plays the game falls under its mind control and can’t stop trying to get others addicted to the game. If you have a gaming spouse who has been trying to get you to be interested in video games, this will be hilarious to you. And a great opportunity for discussion. Enjoy, my friends!

Getting through your *%&;$! first draft

Two weeks ago, I finished the rough draft of my second book, Across the Red Sky.

It was, like all first drafts, a mixed bag. Some really good twists, some so-so scenes. There are plot holes big enough to swallow SUVs.

But it is done.

Those plot holes are BIG.

As a perfectionist, I’ve always had a hard time with that “write as fast as you can without stopping” method. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a big challenge for me.

The idea of spilling out a stream of imperfect words onto a page and letting them sit there is torture. But if I wasn’t forced to sit down and do exactly that, I would never write.

Having written three books now (the first I didn’t publish), I am starting to see that the first draft helps you work out something very important.

The shape of the novel.

I have an artist acquaintance, Kevin Courter, who is a brilliant painter. A few years ago, he showed what one of his paintings looked like before color, details and textures were added. It was beautiful in itself, but it was an underpainting–outlines of the painting to be. Trees, buildings and hills, sketched on the canvas in dark, transparent paint.

Over the next few days, the painting came to life. Colors, textures, lighting, depth. It was fascinating to see the full beauty of the painting revealed.

I think of the rough draft that way. It’s giving you the outlines of your novel as it emerges from your head. After you’ve got your shape, you can tweak it. Maybe you’re not satisfied with your protagonist’s arc and want to add some challenges. Maybe you want to switch events around to optimize the tension. After you’ve got your basic shape, you can make changes before you commit to writing all the rich detail. It’s easier and faster to make changes in this rough draft.

Be careful of your self talk during your first draft. This is, as Anne Lamott says, your shitty rough draft. It’s a sketch of what your final novel will be. Yeah, there are probably writers who toss off achingly beautiful first drafts, but rest assured they’re also critical of their work at this point.

Everybody writes a shitty rough draft.

So write like your life depends on it. Like you’re being chased by a pack of hungry wolves. Don’t go back and look at what you’ve just written. Look only at the path ahead of you, asking what happens next?

They’re coming for you. Keep your eyes on the path ahead.

Keep going, even if you’re tempted to stop. You are the only one qualified to write this book.

Five Things to Remember about your Shitty Rough Draft:

1. Everybody’s first draft is shitty.
2. DO NOT edit till you’re done.
3. You’re creating the shape of your novel, not its final form. I find it helpful to think of my novel in three acts as I write, visualizing it like a movie.
4. More detailed ideas will come to you later.
5. You can do this, so don’t give up.

Now, after a few weeks’ break and a road trip, I’m settling down to make revisions. I know there are things to be fixed. I’m actually looking forward to my book improving.

To see how a visual artist handles a similar process, take a look at Kevin’s blog demonstration:

https://kevincourter.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/days-end-the-progession-of-a-painting/

Good luck with your first draft!

Sneak peek: Across the Red Sky

I’m happy to give you a peek into the upcoming sequel to Swift Horses Racing. And tell you a little bit more about the book.

I’m a big fan of historical mysteries, but I also love to explore issues in modern life. In SHR, actions from 80 years ago had a huge influence on characters in the present.

It makes me think of this quote from William Faulkner (my mom’s literary idol): The past is never dead. It’s not even past.


In Across the Red Skies, I go back to a more recent past: the year 2000, during the dot com bust
in Silicon Valley, a time when internet companies failed quickly and much of the country feared that Y2K would wreak havoc on life as we know it.

Four young Stanford graduates start a tech company that turns out to be more successful than they could possibly imagine. But the secrets of these four people—who call themselves The Fantastic Four—surface twenty years later, as what happened in the desert outside of Las Vegas now threatens all of them.

Investigating the murder of the company’s CEO are detective James Ruiz and his young partner, Daniela Grasso, who is heading up her first murder case. Dani Grasso loves video games and is dealing with the unpleasant fallout of her decision not to take her place in the family grocery business. As Ruiz deals with his struggling marriage, Dani finds herself without her wise mentor—on a real-life hero’s quest of her own to solve a crime rooted in the past.

For fans of Swift Horses, Detective Mario Flores does make an appearance in the new book!

Tana French is one of my favorite writers. I love how her books weave in and out of the lives of different Dublin Murder Squad detectives. Her books have been an inspiration to me in writing this series.

I look forward to sharing more with you as the book gets closer to release!

If you haven’t yet read Swift Horses Racing, now’s your chance!

Ebook on Amazon: https://amazon.com/dp/B08ZMDL9X3

Paperback order: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glt_fabc…