To Game or Not to Game and The Art of Story by Cheryl Owen Wilson

Herein lies the tale of a six-year-old boy named Max who taught his nana, whose writing had become flat and lifeless, how to rediscover the joy of story.

It’s the year 2016 in the town of Eugene, Oregon, where Max and his mommy live with his nana and papa. Now Max is a typical boy of this era. When not in school you will find him on any number of electronic devices from his mom’s I-phone to her laptop, to his I-Pad or, as he prefers, his Nana’s I-Pad and on occasion you may find him interacting with the television through a device called a Wii. All was well in Max’s world until one day he heard his nana and mommy talking.

Nana whispered in her serious voice, “Hilery we will abide by whatever you decide, but his papa and I think he spends way too much time on his electronic devices. What do you think about having a, no electronics at the dinner table, rule?”

Max could not believe his ears when he heard his mommy say, “Ok, let’s give it a try.”

On the first few nights without his I-Pad Max answered the questions posed to him with one of two phrases. “OK” or “I don’t remember.” Max, by nature was quite a chatterbox, so by the next week Max was bored with his self-imposed silence at dinner. That is when he came up with his game.

That night at dinner he looked around the table and said. “I have an idea. Let’s make up a story. I’ll go first, then papa, then nana, then mommy, then me.” Everyone agreed and thus began several nights of creating stories around the dinner table. Max always started the story, and felt it necessary to correct anyone else who added something to the story he did not agree with, and Max was always the one to end the story. So the story was ultimately just as Max had envisioned it.

After the first week he heard his nana, once again whisper to his mommy, but this whisper was different. “His stories are so complete, plenty of conflict, a protagonist, an antagonist and always a resolution at the end. And his world building is complex. Is he just repeating things he’s seen or heard? “

Of course Max knew his mommy would say, “No, they’re his own made up stories and places.”

Now Max knew the secret to why his nana liked his stories, but he also knew his nana would never believe him if he told her. So, he came up with another plan.

The next night at dinner he looked over at his nana and said. “Nana, now, we’re going to write a ten chapter book about robots and the things who built them. “

Over the next few weeks Max’s nana not only participated in the building of the chapters in his book, she started writing down every word he said and over time it became just Max and his nana writing the story. During dinner he’d whisper things to her so his mommy and papa couldn’t hear. Things like, “Nana when we get to chapter eight there’s going to be a new villain or when Robot X gets poisoned, what the villain doesn’t know is that Robot X has pipes in him that will turn the poison to a healing potion, so he can give it to the other poisoned robots.”

One evening nana came to dinner late and saw Max at the table with his I-Pad. He tried to show her what he was playing. He called it Minecraft and began to tell her about the city he’d created. He offered to build one for her, but she just said. “I’m going to get my dinner now Max and you know the rule, no I-Pad at the dinner table.

The next morning Max had to ask his nana if it was OK to put a new game on her I-Pad as her device was newer than his and supported this new game. He excitedly went to her, and said. “The game is called Love You to Bits and you have to travel all over the universe to find the pieces of the robot girl and put her back together after a dragon blows up her ship.”

“A dragon blows up her ship? Isn’t that scary?” His nana asked.

“No nana, it’s really cool. You have to find clues and when you do you can put her back together just like new.” Max was surprised when his nana sat next to him so he could show her his game as he continued to explain the rules.

The very next day his nana let him show her the city he’d built in his Minecraft game. He couldn’t believe it when she asked him to build one for her. Then he showed her the Plants vs. Zombie game. She really liked the zombies.

That night at dinner he listened to his nana with her happy, excited voice telling his papa about all the games he played. He always knew she’d like them since she liked the stories he made up. He was happy she now knew it too. He didn’t really understand everything she said, but he liked that she was talking about him. “You wouldn’t believe the worlds in these games he plays. Watching him play them made me realize how they’ve given him the tools for world building just as well as any class or book I’ve ever taken or read on the subject. Because of these games when he creates a story it just comes naturally to him.

Papa smiled at his nana and said. “Back when you were a teenager didn’t you ever play Dungeons and Dragons?

“No I always thought it was a waste of time, just like I thought…well never mind what I used to think. What I know now, is gaming is perfect for a writer to learn how to add conflict and tension. You know, amp it up one more notch? In these games there’s another obstacle around every corner so not only is he learning story structure but conflict has become instinctive to him. Not to mention he has to resolve each conflict before he can continue to the next part of the game.”

Max’s nana looked over at him and said. “Max you just taught this old dog a new trick.

Max had no idea what nana was talking about. They didn’t have a dog. So he just watched as papa, and his mommy, and then nana started laughing. He didn’t know why they were laughing. But he started laughing too, because now his nana knew how he made his stories and that meant they could write lots more.

When everyone stopped laughing he said, “Hey nana we need to finish chapter nine and ten. Cause I have a new story for us and this time you’re going to really like it ‘cause mommy says you like ghosts and this one is going to have 20 chapters!”

So all was well once again in Max’s world. He still couldn’t have his I-Pad at dinner, but it was fine, because he was writing stories instead.

Nana says. “The moral of this story is to remember the most common rule in any artistic endeavor. Always try new things, and never say never.”




8 thoughts on “To Game or Not to Game and The Art of Story by Cheryl Owen Wilson

  1. I think two things after reading this. First, there’s another moral in addition to the first, and it is to keep the child within alive. Second, we should set up a weekend retreat with Max as the teacher. And, just to be very clear, I’m actually not joking. I think having a child lead a group of creatives through an experience would be a very freeing thing. Hugs to all.

    • Eric, my grandson would be in his element round tabling a story with a group of writers. I’ll have to think on it :-). I like your take on keeping the child within alive. When I started writing this you and Matt came to mind, because I know each of you are gamers and I also know you each write amazing science fiction stories. Thanks for re-posting and your added comments.

  2. Another comment from the peanut gallery. I recently discovered that my sister-in-law, who has known me quite literally all my life, told my great niece and nephew back in small-town, Ohio that their uncle Eric is proof that you can make a career from having watched TV and read stories all the time as a child. I want an “I heart Max” bumper sticker.

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