NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here.
Please tell us about yourself.
I used to play Dungeons and & Dragons with my friends back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We used to make incredibly complex campaigns with hugely rich worlds and mythologies. When my friends weren't around and when I wasn't devising my own campaigns or tinkering with electronics or what used to pass for computers back then, I played Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf.
I was studying maths and physics and had no creative ambitions, but one of my D&D mates - seeing the success of Fighting Fantasy - suggested we try writing and self-publishing our own gamebook. Which we did. It was called The Fortress of Morphillus. Sadly, nothing remains of it, so I have no idea whether it was any good or not. We certainly didn’t make any money!
After I graduated, I started working as a maths teacher, but I found it didn’t scratch my creative itch, so I decided to give gamebooks another go, and started pitching ideas to Puffin for inclusion in the Fighting Fantasy series. After several attempts, they finally accepted my pitch for Siege of Sardath.
For me, gamebooks are about isolation. The protagonist has to be stranded somewhere, or be burdened with a destiny. In my case, with Siege of Sardath, the protagonist is the only one with the knowledge and skills to save the land.
Whilst I was writing, I also retrained as an English teacher. I much preferred this to teaching maths, and I’ve been teaching creative writing, filmmaking and video game design ever since.
How did your current Crowdfunder gamebook project come about?
In 2015, me and a colleague set up a company called Digital Writes to do gamebook and video game design projects in schools. It’s great fun and an amazing way to make a living. Funding is hard, though. There’s a constant cycle of grant applications.
Which is where this project - A Moral Paradox - comes in.
Back in the winter of 2019/20, it was business as usual. We were cultivating partnerships with schools, educational charities and our local library service, with the view to doing a project to write and publish an actual physical gamebook. (Our previous projects had always been digital.) It was shaping up to be a brilliant project. Our funding plan was to apply to the Arts Council, backed up by a grant from the library service and a crowdfunding campaign. Your readers may not know this, but Arts Council applications need to also have match funding in place to show a breadth of support from the community. Crowdfunding from the gamebook community would have been perfect - not only for the money, but as a genuine audience for the young people’s work. The application went off, and we started working with students on the crowdfunding video. And then, just two weeks before we were due to hear from the Arts Council, Covid hit, and they stopped all funding in favour of developing an emergency grant for companies hit by lockdown. So that was it…
Or so we thought. Because we applied for an emergency grant and were successful.
What's your development process like?
The first thing we had to do was develop a huge - HUGE - set of policies and procedures for working with young people through Zoom and so on. That involved months of study, safeguarding training, researching legal issues, privacy law and so on.
And then, in September, we got the young people together again - this time over Zoom - and resumed work on A Moral Paradox.
This project started with genre. And the students decided they wanted to do a simple fantasy game.
And then Lauren came up with the core idea that would kick the whole thing off: the protagonist would have a pet dragon that would grow and change depending on the moral choices you made throughout the game. Because of this ability, the dragon would be called Paradox. It didn’t take much more discussion to settle on the title: A Moral Paradox.
The next step was to find the protagonist’s isolation. After a lot of discussion, involving the theory of The Hero’s Journey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero's_journey) and protagonists from literature, the students came up with a young magician who, whilst an expert in magical theory and magical languages, is not so good when it comes to the real thing, and experiences some bullying. But when a young dragon of unknown species is found, the protagonist is the only one who can communicate with it, and they decide to go on a quest to find out where it comes from and return it home. But there is a much bigger story going on, that this quest will being them to the heart of.
We have developed quite a few scenes already. This involves talking about the scene, developing the overall arc, coming up with ideas, developing options and paths through the scene. This often involves drawing flow charts. The young writers then write the detailed content, and the young artists draw the illustrations.
As you can tell, this is a very rich story. They have produced some great work, but there is still a long way to go. But, sadly, our Arts Council grant finished at the end of 2020, so now we are returning to crowdfunding to raise the money to finish the book and print it and publish it.
We had a great Christmas and are already 20% of the way towards our basic target. But we need a lot more help.
How can people support your Crowdfunder?
Your readers can help in many ways.
Obviously, a donation would be great. But it doesn’t have to be huge. It would be amazing to get a load of £20 Kryokinian level donations. Donors at this level will get a paperback copy of the book, and we will swell our numbers of genuine readers (as opposed to just friends and family).
The other way your readers can help is to spread the word. Tell everyone. This is an amazing project. Young people are writing and publishing their first real book. How often do young people get this kind of chance? This could set them up for life.
The final way people can help is by helping us recruit more young writers and artists. The project is totally free to join (thanks to this crowd funding and the funding from Arts Council England). We need to build our army or young creatives to help complete the book. Participants don’t have to make a big commitment. If you just want to contribute one illustration or just write a few paragraphs, that would be a huge help. And you wouldn’t be on your own - you’d be working with me and the other tutors, so there’s no pressure. (Regrettably, since part of the funding was from ACE, we can only accept participants from England.)
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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy