While I was reading, the title kept knocking around in my mind, both in terms of “abandoned [software/children]” and “with abandon.” What was the first idea or image that seeded this story?
The thing that seeded this story was a moment in Brent Watanabe’s San Andreas Deer Cam, which hacked a version of Grand Theft Auto to make the POV character a deer. I watched it for two hours straight the first time I saw it; when it walked into the ocean and I realized that I was trying to determine the exact moment it had died, I got unsettled enough to close the window. I never shook that experience and that image, though, and since nobody I know was watching it at that moment, it quickly took on a fever-dream quality in my memory. And the more my memory begins to fail me, the more I’ve started to think about how unreal experiences can fuck with and even come to define perception of the real. The need to understand things is so powerful, about such strange things; sometimes it can eat your whole life.
Christine plays with changing identities through Kass, almost the same way her father does so with a new house, wife, and kid named Chrissy. Does the deer catch Christine’s attention because it defies reality in a similar, albeit absurd way?
I think it can be incredibly tempting to predicate or subsume identity on things we have control over; ultimately the chance to define—to name, to understand—is what Christine is hunting for, more than any actual answers about Vanished and Gone (which she doesn’t play) or Fallow (which may or may not be real). For me, the deer in this context isn’t a symbol for Christine herself so much as it is a harbinger forcing her to consider things she has been clearly working very hard not to consider; the pixelated equivalent of a long drive on an empty highway on a flat landscape, which tends to become a hypnotic exercise after long enough, and pull you back into memories you might rather forget.
The deer and the shoe reminded me of the charming animal companions in Disney movies, leading the investigator to the mysterious slipper—such heinous implications for an ostensibly serene prey-animal. Was that why it was linked to Pioneer?
The deer and shoe connection didn’t even occur to me, but I dig this reading! The shoe was actually part of the work I did making the larger framework of the game, which I mapped out in a ridiculous level of detail even though very little of it makes it here, because that is just who I am as a person. Christine’s increasing fascination with the game itself, alongside her fear of actually playing it, makes a liminal space for Christine’s own not-quite-articulated fears to come up as potential game moments (it’s that long drive on a flat landscape).
The way she interacts with Rhodey, Kass, Divorce, and the Deer (in its unstoppable randomness) was striking. Would you say that each toy’s consciousness is a result of her loss of control over her own life, or does her arc take a different direction?
I wouldn’t say every child is internally a little poisonous when they start trying to interact with the world on adult terms, but some children are, and a slightly poisonous child is, for me, the most interesting kind.
You’ve spoken before on the differences between writing fiction, articles, and comic books. Are there any techniques from one mode of writing that help sharpen the others? Can someone become a more agile storyteller, or work through their blind spots, through that breadth of experience?
If there are any techniques from one that sharpen the others, they’re probably not for me to say; the experience of each one is very different, but no one is the best judge of their own success—just the nature of being inside one of the experiences. I suppose, by all means, try them all—if you enjoy one, then it’s helped you, and congratulations!
Do you have a favorite video game? Are there properties you’re a fan of that you’d like to write for?
I have played almost no video games, actually! (RIP Pac-Man at the Pizza Hut near my house when I was six.) As someone with anxiety about the overwhelming variables of real life, I am in general a poor candidate for being on the experience end of things that involve overwhelming variables. For exactly those reasons, though, things like video games and immersive theater fascinate me from a creative and logistical perspective; how they work and what they do in practice is incredibly interesting to me.
Spread the word!