Essay of the Week: “Searching for Story”

By David Eisman

David Eisman

Never had I been so terrified – inching my way across eerie hallways, flinching at every foreign sound. I feared for my life as I was dragged into a prison of terror. Such was the power of the narrative masterpiece Gone Home, wherein I took on the role of a young girl searching her abandoned home for clues on the whereabouts of her missing sister. The danger felt real, even though I was playing a video game. The game was so powerful that I spent two years searching for something similar in brilliance to Gone Home. I never found it. I decided the only way to recapture Gone Home’s narrative power was to develop my own game.

Although I lacked experience with programming, 3D modeling, and most of what’s necessary to make a game, I was determined to learn. I contacted every studio in New York, sending dozens of emails, hoping to intern. I was even willing to scrub the developers’ boots if it meant getting some first-hand experience. Unfortunately, every single studio turned down my boot-scrubbing proposal, sending me back to the drawing board. I saw only one way to achieve my goal: build my own company.

I spent hours every day on dozens of different websites attempting to recruit talented individuals who shared my ambition. It took months, but I formed a small team of people from all over the world. Although we lived in different time zones and spoke a variety of languages, we would still meet online every day to discuss design and narrative possibilities. We struggled to create a meaningful game with a superb narrative, as it is almost impossible to build such a thing on only hopes, dreams, and ramen noodles; we had the talent and drive, but we needed money, and quickly.

After some research, I determined that the best way to raise awareness for our game and generate capital was to attract media coverage. Miraculously, after contacting different publications, Business Insider agreed to write an article describing our journey to build a new narrative experience. Although we didn’t raise money, the level of publicity attracted more job applicants. Still, without funds, my game became increasingly more of a fantasy, and eventually an impossibility. At 16 years old, my life was consumed with relentlessly resuscitating a dying company. After nine months, my team fell apart. The company failed.

The experience prompted me to reflect on what I actually loved about video games; it certainly was not board meetings and market viability plans. I was actually drawn to games that are works of art. Such games possess a narrative that successfully walks the fine line between engaging and meaningful. They leave players with a renewed perspective. I realized that it was not business, but storytelling that attracted me to game development. Enlightened by this cathartic realization, I began to write as much as possible, hoping to capture the fleeting passion in this newfound medium.

I first wrote Internet horror stories focusing on using uncanny imagery that lead to unexpected and striking endings. The first story I posted online, “The Drowned Man,” was based on a poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. Only days after publication, I was ecstatic when it was picked up by a popular creator who narrated it in a YouTube video, which garnered over 100,000 views. This drove me to explore writing further. After experimenting with different genres, I found that screenwriting was the balance of visual and written storytelling that I had been searching for in video games. While I’m still writing short stories, I’m also working on my first feature-length script about a mourning artist’s journey to protect his son from the wrath of the Holy Roman Empire. Hopefully I am now further along the road to crafting a story with the same emotional power and finality of Gone Home.

David Eisman, a graduate of the Professional Children’s School, is a freshman at Loyola Marymount where he is studying screenwriting and film studies.