Most writers can tell you one of the most fascinating, and often distracting, parts of being a writer is the research. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing. I’ve learned so many things I wouldn’t otherwise because I needed the knowledge for my characters, or setting, or simply to fuel my imagination. From the history of the Incense Trail to Springdale, Arkansas in the 1950s, research has taken me to some interesting places, both online and in person.
Last week I headed out on my most recent research venture to Nerdies located in downtown Fayetteville. Nerdies popped up on my radar last year and I’ve kept an eye on this fascinating place ever since. Here’s Nerdies’ vision in their own words: “Nerdies is a new type of business which focuses on all us nerds out there by offering an environment where people of all ages come and pursue things that they are interested in. Nerdies provides a unique environment for all those people who think ‘smart is cool’ and are interested in pursuing activities they enjoy in this new tech world.”
Pretty cool, right?
So what sent me to Nerdies, besides this cool mission statement? Simple. One of my characters in my current story is a nerd. A video-game obsessed nerd. The only problem? I’m not much of a gamer, although I’ll debate the nerd identity with you. (Believe me, I can geek out on anything space related).
What’s a non-gaming nerd to do? Find a nerd who does love video games and observe. Nerdies is running some pretty awesome camps this summer for kids 8-14. I contacted Nerdies owner Brad Harvey and asked if I could sit in on a camp session. Brad immediately agreed. Soon I found myself sitting in a small room with several flat screens mounted on the wall and eight kids with laptops set up for the Mods to Minecraft camp.
If you don’t know about Minecraft, you’re A) not a gamer B) not a kid C) not a parent. I’m currently none of the above, so I wasn’t aware of the Minecraft phenomenon that’s been captivating kids the last few years until I decided to create this new character. When I started researching which game he would be obsessed with, Minecraft seemed the obvious choice. A simple search returned results like, “Ten Problems that Parents Can Have with Minecraft, and “A Parent’s Guide to Minecraft: 5 Reasons to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Cubes.”
Parents concerned? Kids obsessed? Sounds like the perfect set-up for a great character. Back to Nerdies. I took a seat and tried to stay out of the way. The kids were playing the game that afternoon and trying out coding they’d learned in the morning session. I listened in while they navigated the blocky, lego-like world. Here’s a slice of the conversations.
“It’s raining and snowing at the same time. Oh my gosh, I love it!”
“I’m in a really good world. I don’t want to die. I’m too young to die!”
“I have a dragon on my leash.”
“Stupid creeper just blew up my house. It was so good. Ugh.”
“Did you freaking kill me? Did you do that?”
“Stop killing people.”
“Okay, stop hitting each other.” (This from the 20 year old instructor, and he means hitting virtually, not physically.) “Don’t build something in someone else’s world if you want to keep it.”
Did you understand all of that? Neither did it, but as I watched the kids interacting with the game and each other, I was impressed by how much of a social experience this was turning out to be.
These kids were having a great time building their own worlds, and sometimes destroying them, fighting monsters, flying and interacting in others’ worlds. And their enthusiasm was out of this world.
My expectations for a quiet, introverted character who sits locked in his room alone playing Minecraft for hours may have to be adjusted.
And that’s why research is important, and hands-on, live research like this is the best case scenario for writers. It knocks down pre-held dispositions. It brings up new questions. It spurs the imagination. My character will be different from how I first imagined him. I want my readers, kids the same age as those I observed, to feel like this character is just like them.
Thanks to my day at Nerdies, he will be!
Minecraft photos via photobucket.com users blackbaseballcap and ZimPLUSDib. Nerd Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net