- Published on Wednesday, 05 September 2012 01:00
- Written by Eliza Ridgeway - Staff Writerfirstname.lastname@example.org
Photo By: Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Local author Max Doty heads to the Los Altos main library to pound out the prose.
If you check the correct sunny corner of the Los Altos main library on weekdays, you may catch local novelist Max Doty typing away on his newest project. But the script may not be at all what you expect.
Doty, 30, followed a well-known path as a young author, majoring in creative writing at Stanford University and pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at Arizona State. But somewhere along the way, he stumbled into an alternate world of code and devices – serialized like Dickens, dramatized like “Dallas,” but delivered … to your phone.
He is scheduled to discuss how serious writing and video games can coexist – and even feed off each other for inspiration – 3 p.m. Saturday at Linden Tree Books, 265 State St., Los Altos.
Doty writes for Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest gaming companies. From its Redwood City-based office, Doty and a team of writers craft episodic narrative games like Surviving High School under the same masthead as famous video games such as The Sims, Madden NFL and Medal of Honor.
“I’d grown up playing a lot of video games, but it never occurred to me that professional video-game writing was a place you could get a job,” he said.
Yet his track record of writing stories focused on high school scenarios suited him perfectly for his first job out of college – the first writer on a game that addressed high school quandaries.
“It’s sort of like playing a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book on your phone,” he described.
Each episode, one plays as a different member of the cast, reading dialogue and then making choices for the character.
“Storytelling is always the thing we hang our hat on,” Doty said, explaining why Electronic Arts proved receptive to his taking time to create a stand-alone novel, “Surviving High School” (Poppy, 2012), which delves in deeper prose detail into the story of a few characters from the game.
Each Thursday, players can tune back in (on their smartphones) to see what the large cast of high school characters is up to. With a tone akin to “Saved by the Bell” or Disney Channel programming, Surviving High School is suitable for players age 12 and older, although Doty said that because “it’s a pretty innocent take on high school life,” the content would be appropriate for even younger players. And parents and senior citizens number among the series’ fans.
As a prodigal son straying from the hallowed path of literary fiction, Doty is unapologetic about devoting so much of his creative life to work that is downright family-friendly.
In the text, we follow protagonist Emily Kessler as she balances Olympic-level athletic ambition, academics and friendship – and then wonders if it will all fall apart as romance gets thrown into her overscheduled world.
“‘Surviving High School’ is a glossy take on teen life – it’s a universe that feels very welcoming and safe. That’s not necessarily a realistic universe, but I would say there is a value to that. Sometimes it’s nice to go to a safe place,” Doty said. “I think it’s a shared experience in our society. Everyone goes to high school. It’s a time in your life when you’re thrown together with groups entirely unlike you. It’s the time when you’re probably doing the most mixing of your life, and also the time when you’re figuring out who you are.”
Despite his pride in the text, readers will observe that “Max” contracts to “M.” on the book jacket. The pen name derives from a market where male writers are so rare as to stick out as anomalies. Doty figures he can sympathize with the insecurities of high school life as a girl, but he turns to co-workers for advice on gender deal breakers like fashion.
“Going shopping and trying to pick out brands is too far afield for me,” he said. “I had the luxury of getting six different opinions after I wrote the draft.”
Doty credited the writing staff of Surviving High School with making life less lonely.
“One of the hardest parts of being a writer is loneliness, being out in the wilderness,” he said, adding that at Electronic Arts, “you get feedback right away.”
Graphic artists draw portraits of each character and developers create code to build the game and then set everything up so that writers can produce each weekly episode independently, with artistic control. The game’s pricing model depends on authors who can craft a narrative to keep readers coming back.
For more information, visit www.ea.com/surviving-high-school-iphone.