Interview With Christine Love
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the mind behind the acclaimed Digital: A Love Story and the controversial spiritual successor, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, Christine Love the other day. What follows is the exchange between us, where we talk about subjects such as her experience as a writer making games, what she thinks about some of the touchy scenarios and subjects in DTIPB, and more. Enjoy!
To start off with the generic questions first. Why do you make games?
Wellâ€¦ I’m a writer. So primarily, I just tell stories, and it’s happened to be that lately, a few of those have been in the form of games. People seeing me as a game maker just sort of came out of nowhere, although I’m hardly complaining.
Quite a few questions, then: Anything in particular about games that made you want to try telling stories in that medium? And, why don’t see yourself as a ‘game maker’? (I know you just said you’re a writer, but…you made a couple of games, no? Programmed them. Do you just see that aspect as a part of the writing process, something you have to do to tell your stories?
There’s just a lot you can do with interactive storytelling. A story like Digital, for instance, really wouldn’t work half as well in any other medium; the immersion gets you a lot more emotionally involved with the story than you might otherwise. I’m really only sort of learning how to do stories that are a little more interactive, but I think there’s a lot of power there.
Very true. How does your background inform the games you make?
That’s a really general question. How do you mean by that?
Ah, didn’t want to frame it too much but I suppose, well…would you say that being primarily a writer influences the approach you have when it comes to making/structuring your games? I ask this, I suppose, because…most of the industry puts writing in the back burner.
It definitely does, and probably not in a great way. I’m very much used to writing strictly linear stories, so even DTIPB’s relatively few branching points wereâ€¦ definitely a learning experience, and a fairly difficult one. So figuring out how to deal with that is certainly a challenge.
Next question: What would you say are your biggest influences?
Right now, honestly, I’m not even sure. I’m sort of at a really big turning point in my writing career. That’s weird, normally that would be a really easy question to answer, but for some reason now, I don’t know who to cite at all. Huh.
Aww, no Sailor Moon? 😛 Hmm, but, what do you mean when you say ‘turning point’ in your writing career–what’s happening right now? (If you don’t mind me asking)
Heh. Not so much on the Sailor Moon; although you can certainly see, say, the massive Utena influence on DTIPB in particular. Right now I’m just sort of shifting more towards games, ever since Digital apparently turned me into an “indie game maker”, and I’m also in the middle of studying English lit. at university. So I’m learning a whole lot right now, and it means it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what my major influences are.
Ahh, understandeable…okay, last of the more generic-y questions: In your games, what do you often try to communicate (if there is a common thread)?
I don’t think there’s that much of a common thread. I’m sort of trying to avoid just doing the same sorts of stories repeatedly.
What was the inspiration behind don’t take it personally, babe? For Digital? Are either semi-autobiographical?
Not so much, no. I mean, there’s always little bitsâ€”Digital is about an adolescent online relationship, for instance, which sure, I’ve certainly had experience withâ€”but not really much more than that.
don’t take it personally, babe is about as straightforward as it seems. The core of it is about our attitudes towards privacy, with the rest of the story is just a way of demonstrating how that actually manifests, and what it means.
I can see that, yeah. What do you think about how intimacy and relationships (if not sex!) are often approached in games? What place should should they have in games?
Either I have a pretty limited experience with games that handle the subject, or there just aren’t many that do it well at all; either way, I honestly can’t think of many truly compelling romantic relationships in games. Which I do find disappointing. And sex is justâ€¦ I don’t think we have many people really willing to explore the subject. The only thing that comes to mind when I think of that is BioWare’s attempts, which are just so painfully pathetic compared to the *rest* of their storytelling.
Ah, so, could you give me an example of a ‘compelling romantic relationship’ that you have appreciated or liked(you said you couldn’t think of *many*, and that makes it sound like there are still a couple)?
Ah, sorry, that was just me giving a noncommital answer. There must be SOMETHING, but I sure can’t think of any offhand.
Haha, no worries. To be fair…there really aren’t many/any. Moving on to more DTIPB-related questions…Why is Kendall your favorite character?
She was just a whole lot of fun to write, even if her whole style of speech is PAINFULLY obnoxious. And in general, she’s an obnoxious person, especially in the way she’s so casually hostile towards John. But I feel like you get a pretty good feel for her; yes, she’s an obnoxious troll, but she’s a delightfully romantic obnoxious troll, who really does care about Charlotte a lot. And I think her friendship with Akira came across well, too.
Totes, bro. 😛 So: Arianna and Rook’s possible relationship. Honestly, not even sure how to phrase this as a question but… What were you trying to accomplish or to explore? How do you balance that with knowing that a good deal of people might miss the point?
It’s awful, and wrong, and the player should just straight up feel bad about it. Most people seemed to feel uncomfortable about it, and that’s the reaction I was going for: pushing her away shouldn’t be an easy choice to make, even if it’s obviously the right one. I didn’t expect many people to actually pursue herâ€¦ at least, not on their first time through, anyway. The path exists as a punishment; if you really do pursue her, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of that. And they’re not really very pleasant.
I thought it was a little bit unfortunate that some seemed to think it was *unintentionally* creepy. And I mean, let me tell you, no matter how much you reasonably shouldn’t care that much, the first time you get accused of being a pedophile on a forum thread, it kinda blindsides you. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about that, it’s just a friggin’ weird experience.
It’s possible there’s a way that would’ve made that come across more clearly that it was deliberate. I don’t know what it isâ€”or I would have done itâ€”and I think it’s inevitable that some people will miss the point. I’m alright with that.
That’s the downside of interactivity, no? Gamers become so complicit with the person they’re playing, they can’t reconcile that the person they empathize with…might just not be a good person. Because that might imply the player isn’t a good person–and in a medium so obsessed with heroes and saving the world, well, it just doesn’t sit well.
Well, in general, I think that’s an upside. I think we’re just not very used to coping with moral choices in games. They tend to be a lot simpler, and more exaggerated. So when you have the option to act in an immoral way, that isn’t completely over the top and evilâ€¦ it’s surprising. And possibly also that usually even the good, truly difficult moral choicesâ€¦ tend to be very disconnected from our reality.
Very true. Speaking of Rook…there’s a screen in Digital that lists ‘J. Rook’. What’s the deal there?
Yep! There’s also a Jennifer Rook in Cell Phone Love Letter, another John Rook in a short story called “Interview with the Supervillain Prosecutor”, a Jake Rook in Lake City Rumble II, and a Junko Rook in Apocalypse Sentai Skyfighter.
Although the Digital and don’t take it personally, babe ones can’t be the same guy. John was only born a year after Digital takes place.
Ahhh, good to know. Now onto…Charlotte! What do you think about people coming to your website (or going out of their way in general) to find out Charlotte’s middle name?
Well, it is in the game for a reason, and I did expect that most players would. Partially, it’s placing the responsibility in the hands of the player. There’s no way John could have access to them, only the player can find out what the password is, through what’s effectively cheating. And it means the voyeurism there lies exclusively in the hands of the player. Past that, the actual sceneâ€¦ it’s there to show that there really still are personal boundaries. There’s a such thing as too invasive, and that’s an example of it.
Ahh, I see! Kinda related to my next question…Do you believe that the idea of privacy, as it exists now, will dissapear/evolve? If so, how do you feel about that?
Right now we’ve got this really firmly rooted idea that privacy is absolutely sacrosanct, and it’s founded on the assumption that everything should be kept secret, unless there’s a good reason not to. And that’s definitely dying.
I think I’m sort of on the exact line where the attitudes here differ. People older find the idea absolutely horrifying; from people younger, I’ve gotten a lot who ask why Ichigo’s speech is supposed to be such a big deal, because it’s so obvious and banal. So it seems clear that we’re heading in that direction, and realistically, it’s probably not going to take until 2027 for that to be dominant at all.
As for how I feel? I don’t know. It’s a scary idea, but all our cultural vocabulary is built around privacy being absolutely sacrosanct. It’s frankly really hard to NOT take that totally as a given. But I don’t think it terribly matters whether or not it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Either way we’re just going to have to learn how to deal with it. I mean, right now we live in a society where a potential employer might turn you down because you have pictures of yourself doing stupid on Facebook; but if we’re going to be living in one that doesn’t share our old concept of privacy, then shit, we’re going to have to learn how to deal with that. Right now we don’t.
That’s the real question, I think. How do we deal with that shift?
Good question! Anyway, though…you don’t consider demographics according to an unpublished interview. How do you feel about the fact most of the industry IS demographic driven? Should the approach be excused on the basis of being commercial products?
I think the sort of cautious attitude taken can just end up being gross and patronizing at bestâ€”really? you seriously think doing an extra female model would be prohibitively expensive?â€”but that’s sort of out of my field, and it’s just generally part of a trend in big commercial games to steer towards mediocrity and away from taking chances. Is there an excuse for it? I don’t know, maybe. Is it good for the medium? No.
I would hope smaller developersâ€”like myself, I supposeâ€”would continue to pick up that slack. I mean, come on, to hell with what your demographic research says would be safe; where’s my shooter starring a lesbian action hero? I know I’d pay for that.
Haha! I so would too. LAST QUESTION: Any idea/news on what you’ll be working on next?
Right now I don’t really have anything announced that I’m currently working on. But I’ve certainly got big plans; I’m trying to move towards working more on games, and getting a lot more done this year. Plus, people keep telling me that they’d like to actually support me by buying my games, so I figure I should definitely be working hard to let those people do that. It’s a hard request to turn down!
I’ll probably have some things to announce sometime this summer. I’m trying to move out of my comfort zone, as a writer and a developer, so whatever my next game ends up being, it’s going to be rather different from the usual sort of thing I do. Which I feel pretty good about.
We’re looking forward to it! Well Christine, thank you so much for your time. I’ll publish the interview sometime within the next few days, I’ll toss you a link when it’s up.
Alright, thank you! It was good talking to you.