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15 Minutes of Fame: More from gaming industry veteran Liz Danforth

Art by Liz Danforth
From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

You'd think a gaming industry insider like Liz Danforth would be fairly blase about an interview -- but her reaction last week after part 1 of our conversation was anything but. "... For some reason, the idea of a post in WoW Insider made me unaccountably nervous and excited at once," she confessed on her blog. "WoW really has been a huge part of my life for some time, and yet Lisa was equally interested in all the related parts of the gamer me."

All of it, indeed! This week, we're back again with Liz to finish our conversation about all those related parts, starting with a new direction in the gaming industry veteran's life: writing.

Read Part 1: Gaming industry insider Liz Danforth

15 Minutes of Fame: So Liz, after years of being known primarily for your artwork or as a public libraries advocate for gaming, you're now diving head first into the writing pool.

Liz Danforth: I always thought I would be an accomplished writer sooner or later. In honor of Speak Out with Your Geek Out this week, I wrote at length about my long, awkward journey working toward that end. Writing has been a roller coaster for me. Suffice to say that by about 1999, I decided I was truly not a writer and never would be. It was an unhappy decision, but I thought I was simply facing the facts. I still tried to do some after that but, really, I gave up.

Read: Gaming industry insider Liz Danforth, part 1

Liz Danforth
Fast forward six years. I had been playing WoW for a little over a year with no main, just multiple alts, Horde and Alliance. I'd decided I liked the look of a certain style of human male, and I hadn't tried out a mage yet. I rolled up Winter sometime late in November, as I recall, and by Christmas, he was all of level 9, maybe. Leveling was slow back in those days, and I was playing other toons as well.

On New Year's Eve, the Stormwind Commons was the site of a true revel, Times Square in Azeroth -- something I can't imagine happening nowadays. The place was packed wall to wall, and everyone -- and I mean everyone -- danced, drank, flirted, jumped around on the tables, set off fireworks, put on costumes or tuxedos and dresses (or went naked!), and every flashy magic effect was on display for as long as one's mana held out. I had a blast ... and it was like Winter came alive to me that night.

A few days later, I felt the itch to write the first fiction I had even attempted in almost a decade, but I was shamefaced at the prospect of writing fanfic. I was a pro! Fanfic was for amateurs! The first few pages, I was determined to file off the serial numbers, to make it stand alone. Then I realized I had zero intention of showing it to a single other soul, so who cared? I wrote Winter's first story. The words came haltingly at first, then began pouring out of me. Three days later, I had finished my first short story in many a long year.
Liz Danforth's character Winter
I wrote a second story a few days later. To my shock, I found I was still a writer after all. I had stories to tell. I had a character I adored, living in a world that I was passionate about. If there is nothing else WoW ever gave me, it gave me back a part of myself I truly believed lost. And I will be grateful forever.

I regret the years lost not telling other stories, the sheer volume of words one needs to weave to learn the craft. I'm still a greenhorn because I haven't written those decades of lost stories. Yet by the same token, Christie Golden (another friend of long standing) has read my novella and, while she recognizes it's nothing Blizzard would publish, she was also pretty impressed with it. "You have a real feel for creating interesting characters and a knack for action," she wrote.

I've written 160,000 words about my mage, but the limitations of Azeroth are making themselves felt. Recently, I cobbled up a story that opens the door -- or perhaps a mage portal! -- that will allow me to write about Winter as a character in my own work, outside of WoW. He is such a fun character to write. We'll see how that works out.

So is there more fanfic coming?

I actually have just written a very long blog post about fanfic and am simultaneously coming out of the fanfic closet with what I consider my best-told story that has made even non-players cry.

Darlene by Liz DanforthCan't wait to read it! Let's turn back to gaming for a moment. You recently told our sister site Massively that what you saw going on at Namaste piqued your interest enough to bring you out of semi-retirement. What's that all about?

I laughed to see "semi-retirement" in that article! I admit my focus was on getting my master's and some simple real life stuff for awhile, but I certainly never intended to suggest I was even "semi"-retired.

I think Namaste has a lot of great ideas they want to develop. The long-term potential awes me. They are proceeding as a lean start-up, so the first steps will be small. So much is still being decided, and there is a lot of work to be done. I've been asked to help build the first world being created, in addition to having some input about the artistic look and feel. This is an amazing team and I get a little more jazzed about it every time I poke my nose into the ongoing conversations.

Here's one of the central things the Namaste team is working on: the idea that NPCs will think, feel, react, and remember you as they would from the old tabletop gaming days. My mage has bought reagents from the same vendor in Stormwind for literally years, yet she gives him exactly the same discount the other reagent vendors in town do. Why doesn't she at least greet him by name? "Good to see you, Winter! The usual?" When I get my teleportation runes, why wouldn't she occasionally say, "I threw in a couple extra for you; I really appreciate your business."

Why couldn't she come to the shop's door when I walk down the street, gesture me into the building and say, "Psst! Winter, something really special came into the shop last night and I thought of you immediately. Would you be interested in this?" "It" could be anything -- an item, a message, a quest, an invitation to a private party being thrown for some visiting celebrity from ... somewhere. Thrall, maybe! Or a recruitment for that cheese vendor's spy network. Possibilities are endless.

Here's another biggie: the Storybricks tools are being made simple, clean, and easy to manipulate so they can be put into the hands of those who want to build stories of their own in the world. This encapsulates two key points that brought me on board initially: one, the focus on story-creation; and two, setting things up so players get a chance to drive. When Namaste first approached me, I'd just read Diane Duane's Omnitopia Dawn. One of the central threads in that excellent novel is that skilled, creative players inside Omnitopia (the virtual game world) are given tools to make their own pocket universes. Once built, other players can go check it out. If a player makes a niche world a lot of others want to play in, they start getting a cut.

We're not building Omnitopia, and I have no idea how user-created content like that would be integrated, much less monetized. But the rest of the team knows it was those concepts that brought me into the project initially. My understanding is that players will (eventually) be able to play around in their own areas, or with friends, or be able to open the door to everyone to experience what they've built. Discussions have arisen about, say, a player creates something really awesome, how that might be integrated into the core game and rewarded. Things are much too new to say that's what will ever come to pass, but we're at least thinking about things like this.

Lastly, the librarian-educator in me wants to see people of all ages using tools like Storybricks to build stories for themselves and their friends -- and in the process, they will be honing many of the 21st-century skills mentioned in the first article here. They will be learning important life skills but having fun in the process, so it won't seem like work or learning at all. But it will be there, and it will be real.

ALA National Gaming Day posterSpeaking of the librarian-educator in you, tell us what's happening on that front.

My online gaming is part of the bigger picture of gaming that I brought to the ALA experts team and to my speaking as a games advocate in Library Journal. In 2008, Verizon Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to American Libraries Association in support of an initiative on games, libraries, and literacy. I was one of about a dozen "grant experts" selected by ALA to work on the two-year grant. Most of the people were librarians first, gamers second -- only I and Scott Nicholson came out of the game industry originally, and he had gone the route of academia, teaching and researching from Syracuse University Game Laboratory.

Our first task was to identify those libraries already doing in-depth game-based programs, explore what they were doing and how, assemble some of the evidence about the value and benefits of games to libraries and their communities, and communicate what we learned to the media and stakeholders as well as putting that information into the hands of librarians needing to make the case to their stakeholders and local media. We also built a "gaming in libraries toolkit" that libraries everywhere could put to use immediately, to create game programs for their communities.

Our second task was to select 10 libraries from around the country who submitted grant proposals to receive funds to bring their visions of games programming in support of what are called (in education circles) 21st Century Learning Skills. Hundreds of proposals were submitted, and many were amazingly creative and promising. They could not all be funded, sadly enough.

Librarians gather in WoW
I don't talk about WoW nearly as much as I might. It's not an ideal game for libraries, because of the paid subscription model (to date). However, the WoW in Schools project, an after-school program for at-risk kids, has been so successful it is spreading rapidly, shows the potential for a dedicated program to be built at libraries as well as in a school environment. I think you did at least one 15 Minutes of Fame on Peggy [Sheehy] and Lucas [Gillispie] already.

By the way, National Gaming Day continues to take place every year, growing larger year after year. I encourage your readers to find out how they might get involved and share their hobby if their local library is doing something. NGD always takes place in early November -- Saturday, Nov. 12 this year. We're not your grandmother's libraries any more!


Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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