sean ellis / flickr (creative commons)

Novelist: The Video Game

In The Novelist—[a video game] which will be out for PC by the end of the summer—the player is tasked with guiding an author named Dan Kaplan and deciding how he will spend his days., 8/8/13


You begin your journey wandering through Inspiration Forest, looking for the perfect Tree of Ideas, while being chased by your family, your boss, and the Banker of Doom, a terrifying creature who grows bigger each time you’re late with a monthly payment. Can you avoid him long enough to explore the forest, or will you be forced to choose the first tree you see, perhaps in the Based On Your Own Dull Life Arboretum, a crowded corner of the woods filled with rotting branches, abandoned stumps, and dangerous dilettantes? Will you find the perfect tree, only to realize that dozens of other writers already live inside of it, and have consumed all the nutrients in the soil? Will you find a portal that transports you deep into the past, far into the future, or off into the unexplored wilds of space, where you must plant your own tree, and hope it grows into something sufficiently recognizable? Or will you settle on that shrub in the distance, unnoticed by most, and nurture it into the redwood it longs to become? Maybe, but more likely you’ll pick the Whomping Willow with the big, blinking lights, surrounded by wizards, vampires, and thirty-six literary agents, waiting for your masterpiece. Make your choice quickly, because Inspiration Forest is prone to catching fire and disappearing forever, for no determinable reason.


Now that you’ve chosen a world for your novel, in this level you must actually sit down and write it. Can you make the journey from your bed to your desk without getting sidetracked by the Trolls of Temptation? Oh, look, one very persuasive troll thinks you should clean your entire house before you write. That seems like a great idea. Do that. Another troll is showing you how easy it is to make chocolate chip cookies. You should do that too. A third troll has his own reality show, and there’s a marathon of the entire season on MTV. Take a break and watch all of the episodes, then blog about it. The Troll of Twitter Temptation is screaming, and the only way to quiet him is to spend twenty minutes scrolling through status updates. Scroll, scroll, scroll. The faster you scroll, the more status updates you can read, and the more points you can collect. Then watch your points vanish because they are meaningless. Scroll some more to collect more points. Oh, look, the house is dirty again. Maybe you should go check the mail. If you can kill all of the trolls and finally spend some time writing, you can eventually beat the level. You probably won’t, but it’s theoretically possible. Be sure to save your work every few minutes, because the Troll of Random Computer Explosion is the most evil troll of them all.


Your manuscript is complete, but you need to get it into the right hands. Click on all of your friends until one of them finally reveals that his third cousin has a son who is interning at a publishing company. Give him your manuscript. Watch it disappear. Find a literary agent on the street and follow her until she notices you and calls the police. Hand her a manuscript. Watch it disappear. Perhaps you need to Build a Platform. Use feathers and string to create the tallest platform you can, making sure it won’t collapse, because feathers and string are very good building supplies. Try to make your blog go viral by posting naked pictures of celebrities. Even if your book is not about naked celebrities, you can still use them to help fortify your platform. Maybe you need to buy some add-on packs to increase your number of followers. Add-on packs are available in our Platform Store, where you can also buy fancy-sounding job titles, admission to writers’ conferences, or an M.F.A. degree. If you buy three M.F.A. degrees, we will give you a fourth one for free. If you somehow figure out a way to beat Level Three, you will find a portal to Level Six Hundred and Twelve: Someone Is Publishing Your Book. Otherwise, keep playing until you give up, and eventually we’ll let you go to Level Four.


Welcome to Self-Publish Island, where there are lots of books, but not so many readers. Grab each reader, one by one, and help them dig through the sand until they find your book. Is that someone else’s book? Throw it away. Did that reader just give you a one-star review on Goodreads? Throw him off the edge of the island and watch him drown. Click on all of your friends again, even the ones who’ve already told you to stop clicking on them. Click on them until they spend 99 cents to buy your book. Even though most of them would give you $10 to buy lunch, no questions asked, getting them to spend 99 cents on your book is a lot harder. Keep clicking on them. Eventually they will give up. Win points when you get a blog to review your book. Lose points when you realize that the only people reading that blog are other people trying to sell their books. There is one spot on the island that contains a secret portal to Level Six Hundred and Twelve. Or there might be. We’re not sure. Keep looking.


Someone is publishing your book. Hooray! Unfortunately, you quickly discover that this level looks a lot like Level Four. Find some readers, and click on them until they buy your book. Keep clicking. Find a typo that changes the entire meaning of your ending. Cry. Keep clicking. Click some more. Click on everyone you know. Click until your mouse breaks, and then, finally, as your reward for finishing the game, go back to Level One and start again.

Thank you for playing Novelist: The Video Game, brought to you by the makers of everything that is distracting you from actually writing a novel. Good luck.