Raids!

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I will admit, I am largely ignorant about gaming. I am not wholly ignorant…I have my intermittent addictions to casual iPhone games. I helped to advise a design thesis on gaming IRL (“in real life” for you other non-gamers). I think that captures just how far from a gamer I am. Part of the problem is that I get really sucked into the activity on the screen, enough so that my vestibular system is terribly confused and it looks like I’m moving when my body says I’m not. In short, I like games, but they make me want to throw up.

Recently, I have become really interested in a phenomenon I’m told happens in World of Warcraft, or WOW, as I’m told the more clued-in members of society call it. This is the phenomenon of raids.

I actually have never seen a raid. I’m not terribly curious to see one. What I love is to ask gamers about raiding, because raiders get very excited. Raids, it’s been related to me, occur when bands of players gather to take on a quest or a boss character. It takes social coordination, strategy, and patience to pull off a raid. In a raid, players need to forget themselves a little and dedicate themselves to some larger purpose. Raids are for people who can see the big picture. Raids are for people who really understand the world and their place in it, and that understand WOW is not just a game, but a parable for life and its challenges and how if you band together you can conquer anything. Or so I’ve been told.

I love hearing about raids in part because I am so much the solitary bookish nerd that I can hardly relate to the frenzied excitement gamers apparently feel for raiding. As I watch them gesticulating and feinting, reenacting their last raid in their retelling, I wonder what in my life would be raid-like. What would a literary raid be? Would we all take up our pitchforks and arrows and demand our favorite authors hurry up and write their latest magnum opus already? Would we all quest to translate obscure literary texts? Is a book club in any way raid-like?

Ah, I’m sitting next to Kiyash, and across from Lee. Let us consult the wisemen: “People need specific tasks and roles,” says Kiyash. Maybe you make a story appear in distributed books and pieces and people have to get together to reconstitute the story. Now Lee is involved: there’s something like this in William Gibson’s Agrippa (1992). Needs to be time constrained. Can’t be persistent. Maybe the bits and pieces need to appeal to different kinds of people with different skills so that you really need lots of people to put it together.

I think what I love about reading is in many ways that it is a quiet, solitary, cloistered activity. It is focused. It is contemplative. It is individualistic. It is personal. Reading occurs at a scale that is as large as my mind, and just as small. It might be the antithesis of the raid, with all its hurly-burly simultaneous collective action. Trying to think of a raid of readers takes me back to my grad school days at MIT. I would take the Red Line from Harvard Square to Kendall, a short two hops. On the platform, on the train, nerds everywhere. I read a research paper. You had the news. That lady there has a well-worn paperback. You could look up and down the cars and everyone would have their nose in a book. Often people couldn’t be bothered to stop reading even when they got to their stop and had to step off, make their way to the turnstile, go up the stairs. We were together, underground, moving in concert, going to the same place. And still. Still. Still. The thing that bound us was that we all had trouble stopping reading.

LitStarter

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It seems the old models for books are changing. Increasingly, audiences expect content to be free, and there is more competition for their limited attention. As we have been talking about future business models for writers and readers, I have started to reflect on my relationship with Kickstarter. I teach interactive device design classes, and do a fair bit of hobby electronics myself, which is why I’m a regular backer of various electronic device projects that are on the site. Could we start a KickStarter exclusively for writing and reading?

On some level, people are already using KickStarter to fund book projects. I backed my friend Jon’s project to make an exhibition and catalogue, etc. called All Possible Futures recently. A little search/research shows that our very own Andrew Losowsky is involved in a project called HRDCVR, “a book-shaped magazine for the new everyone” which currently has 129 backers for $8,369 pledged of its $150,000 goal—I wonder if that will take off.

Of course, this means we’ll have to have trailers for prospective books. Wait. What? There are already trailers for books? (Who knew?) Trailers will work a lot better for famous writers, or writers with famous friends. And of course, you need a budget, roughly $10k—which, let’s face it, if a writer had on hand they probably shouldn’t be blowing it on a video. Would a sample paragraph be enough? Could we train people to read book treatments?

The other thing that Kickstarter demands is a schedule. Every writing project has a schedule, but it isn’t usually the readers who are watching the clock. Maybe this is why projects like Longshot work, because the schedule is so limited, and the success or failure is thus carefully proscribed. There is a kind of work that is suited to this type of sprint, but maybe so many other works that aren’t. Definitely not something for the modern-day Joseph Hellers. Although, maybe Joseph Heller could have been ferried through his many dry years on the contributions of so many high-school-required-readers-turned-fans.

I do think that a site dedicated to featuring literary projects would be better for both readers and writers than a site where you end up finding a cool book proposal when you were just checking in to see how the LED cat sweater you backed is doing. Maybe more experimental work would happen because people would more easily find the audience their weird project ideas resonated with. Maybe the plaintive customer service inquiries from backer/readers would be an antidote to writer’s block.

The New New Media

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Exit Doormat: Serial format. 2′ x 3′ x 1″ or 60 x 90 cm x 2.5 cm in metric system countries. Sends you out towards your day with a bit to chew on. Latest bestseller is a RPG based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) in which your character is assigned based on your social network and the chemical breakdown of the residue on the bottom of your shoes when you return home every day.

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Headbox: Cubic long-form media. You stick your head in the hole at the bottom of the head box in order to dedicate yourself solely to the experience of the medium. Typically used in hour-long bits over the course of a week or so, or one transatlantic flight. Can be stacked in the living room or garden after consuming so as to beg conversation about the experience. Latest bestseller is a voluminous box constructed of crude ore on the dawn of the Iron Age by Neal Stephenson.

Sweet Notings: Stories are packaged in confectionery form and played from within your skull when you suck on the candy. Both serial and long-form versions are available. Popular format for short excerpts from longer devotional texts. Latest bestseller is a hour-long bittersweet lollipop by Nicholas Sparks.

Adventure Shoes: Long-form travel literature built into appropriate footwear genre. Stories can be consumed aurally as you travel, or can be read off the bottom of your soles when you’re cooling your heels. Latest bestseller is a peripatetic retelling of the history of the Panama Canal, packaged in black rubber boots, by Bill Bryson.

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People Watching Glass Apps: Short-form AR format. Popular at cafes. You just set your eyes on interesting passersby, and stories are projected around them. Latest bestseller is a site-specific work by Lewis Black, Delusions of Grandeur, which was offered at the TED 2025 conference.

Toy-based Omni-media: Serial format targeted at children under 12. Toys, songs, accessories, shows, videos, clothes, games, books, magazines, camps, and curricula adapted to popular character properties. Your children will adopt specific character narratives and then allow this property to pervade your home until such time comes that each character becomes “too childish” for your offspring, whereupon another character set is selected and the omni-media experience repeats.

Celebrity-based Omni-media: Serial format targeted at adults. Same as Toy-based Omni-media, only centered around Actual Famous People rather than fictional characters.

Literary House (for Andrew Losowsky): Extended intermittent long-form multi-media real-life game experience. You reside for an extended period in a house blessed or haunted by a narrative. Aspects of the narrative are ingrained in the decor, interaction, and, in particularly bespoke circumstances, confederate actors that can act as roommates or neighbors. Most spectacular recent example is the gothic Usher house which was sold for $11.5 million in 2023.

Why Indeed?

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Why am I here?
Why do I let myself get sucked into strange and quixotic ventures on little more than an email invitation?
Is free coffee and tasty cookies reason enough?
Is it because I have asked more than my fair share of friends, friends of friends, and people I admire from afar on the Internet to write for me, for free?
Why did those people say yes?
Was it the parties?
Was it a vacation from other more pressing work that actually pays the bills?
Is being easy just my way of paying off that karmic debt?
Is it worth making payments on a debt that can never be cleared in full?
Speaking of money, has anyone here cracked the code on making money on writing?
How many people here are real writers?
What makes a person a real writer?
How many terrible things does a person need to write before they write well enough to win a Nebula award? Or any award?
Does anyone else here have difficulty just finishing books?
Does anyone else here have difficulty just starting writing?
Is this the future of writing?
Is the future of writing a series of favors, paid forward, with fun parties and nice snacks, or is there something more here?
Does there need to be anything more?