This week, I want to share what I’ve been working on lately. I’m incredibly excited about this project, and I’ll be sharing more about it as we move forward.
– HIDDEN BOSSES –
A Young Adult Novel about Women in E-Sports
by Jonny Schneeweiss
A young adult novel about the rise of two teenage girls in the world of competitive gaming.
Hidden Bosses mainly follows the scene of a fictional fighting game (modeled after Super Smash Brothers Melee) but touches on many different games and the personalities who play them. It’s about the ultimate underdogs in a community of underdogs, and the courage and creativity it takes to overcome stereotypes.
Why I’m Writing This
This project deals with two subject matters that are both personally and culturally significant:
It’s a little astounding to me how scarce the presence of gaming is in popular fiction considering how important it is to so many young people.
Video games have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. They taught me to use my imagination and were a gateway for me into creativity as a whole. The first “novel” I wrote when I was ten I had originally intended to be a video game. In the same way that comicbooks pervaded the childhood experience for the generation before mine, video games played a foundational role in the early life of nearly everyone I know around my age.
Gaming is on the rise around the world. With competitive e-sports champions are treated like celebrities in Asia, with million dollar prize pools at Dota 2 championships, with a Super Smash Brothers tournament trending toe-to-toe with the Superbowl on Twitter,it’s clear that gaming, especially competitive gaming, is full of powerfully emotive moments and stories my generation simply cannot get enough of. It’s time we started telling these stories.
For me, the most compelling aspect of gaming is the phenomenon of seeing someone who is truly great at something and being inspired by it. The tale of the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour starting in 1993 and running for four whole years before anyone won two titles, then Kai Budde coming out of nowhere and winning SEVEN was a story that blew my mind to smithereens.
The stories of underdogs, rivalries, upsets, and the unstoppable drive fueling all pros to become the best is truly inspiring to me.
That said, I’m almost more excited to explore the incredible spectrum of unique personalities produced by the hobby of gaming. From years of going to local tournaments to watching late nights speedruns on Twitch to being blown away by the fantastic Smash Brothers Documentary by Samox (to helping a noncommittal Mew2King get medicine when he was sick as a dog at Apex 2015 *facepalm*… now THAT was an experience), I’ve witnessed so many fascinating characters in this amazing community that I believe only COULD exist in this community. Too many non-gamers still see us as homogenous population of awkward nerds, but nothing could be further from the truth. Every genre of game seems to bring out its own unique set of dispositions and traits, and, through that, a whole culture is created.
There’s a whole world here that’s never been explored in fiction. It’s one of the most emotionally dynamic worlds out there and it’s populated by characters many have never encountered before. That, to me as a writer, is truly exciting.
Women in Gaming
It’s no secret that gaming is currently seen as a predominantly male hobby. Though this trend is changing, unfortunately for a long time the most prevalent instances of female presence one saw in the gaming world were various iterations of this:
The way “girl gamers” were conceptualized and understood among the gaming community ended up being extremely skewed towards a few meme-like stereotypes that in reality only represented a very loud and talked about minority. Girls were labeled as “attention whores”, they were called “fake” gamers, they were continually blamed for creating drama they had nothing to do with. At the root of this was the fact that they were seen as so different from the rest of the predominantly male community, when in reality, they weren’t at all.
I’ve been a part of the Magic: The Gathering community for almost 20 years now. Having attended more tournaments than I can count, all the girls and women I’ve encountered have been no different than me or anyone else in the venue. They enjoy the game, they enjoy the competition, they’re just there to play.
When I decided I wanted to write about competitive gaming, I realized I had an opportunity to portray women in the community as they actual are: just normal people who love gaming and love competition for the same reasons everyone does. While this work definitely sets out to deal with many of the unfortunate ways women are treated in this community, my goal in writing this story with mostly female characters is not to tell a story of “girl gamers”, but a story about gamers who happen to be girls.
One day in the not-so-distant future (hopefully), some ambitious woman will win a major for one of the big name e-sports titles in such dominant fashion that it ushers in a whole wave of talented girls inspired by her. That will be an AWESOME day to witness. I want to write that story because I want to SEE that story when it happens for real.
To me, this isn’t about men and women as much as it is about underdogs and the choice to prove people wrong when they tell you you’re attempting the impossible. It’s about being part of a misunderstood demographic and not being able to do anything else except show the world who you really are. That, to me, is one of the most powerful stories you can tell.
Having published a couple short stories this year (one you can find here and one that comes out in August!), I decided to put that work aside and devote myself fully to Hidden Bosses. I’ve read many articles about the experiences of women in gaming, listened to many personal accounts, interviewed to some prominent women in the competitive scene, and intend to reach out to many more.
As for why I’m focusing on a Smash–like game as opposed to a RTS or MOBA title or even one of the more traditional fighters, it comes down to two reasons. First of all, the games I’m most familiar with are Magic: The Gathering and Super Smash Brothers Melee. While the former is an undeniably great game, it doesn’t bring the hype like a fighting game does and is only kind of half e-sports. Second, and more importantly, Super Smash Brothers Melee is, in my opinion, the most exciting game to watch hands down. It’s flashy, it’s crazy technical, it’s fun, and the stories behind its passionate grassroots community are some of the most emotionally compelling ones I’ve come across. In an underdog story about gaming, no title is more deserving, in my opinion.
I’m working at a good pace and intend to have Hidden Bosses finished around the beginning of 2016. I’ll be updating the blog about my progress and, as the project draws closer to completion, I’ll be writing more about my creative process, some of the decisions I had to make, and a few of the real stories that inspired me.