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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Games Writers Play

"Those who like to exercise their minds with crossword puzzles can now do so doubly. Bantam Books is publishing a series of murder mysteries by Parnell Hall in which a female crossword constructor is a main character, with some of the clues in crossword."
--Martin Arnold, "Making Books," The New York Times, February 8, 2001.

I approached the door of Ludic Literary Productions with some trepidation. I didn't really want to be here, but I had no choice in the matter. My last book--a mystery novel titled The Burglar in the Pergola, and issued without any gaming support--had tanked. My publisher, Hasbro-Knopf-Sega, had insisted that my next book be released with complete "interactivity," or it wouldn't be printed at all. I forebore from asking how much more "interactive" I could get than the traditional, ages-old process of having another human being interpret the words I had written, and instead headed straight for the offices of this middleman-packager, Chester "Checkers" Ludic.

Once seated in Ludic's inner office, I sought to compose myself, vowing to listen objectively and non-emotionally to Ludic's salespitch. The man himself possessed an appearance that was reassuring enough. A rolypoly, tuft-haired, sharp-nosed chap, clad in a plaid vest and checkered pants, he resembled no one so much as Superman's silliest Golden Age foe, the Toyman.

"Welcome, welcome, it's so good to see you, Mr. Di Fallopian. I've already brought myself up to speed on your novels, and feel that your talents will synergize nicely with many of our programs here. Let me begin by saying that I see you as a boardgame."

"A boardgame?"

Ludic held up a placatory hand. "Oh, I know, it's a bit old-fashioned. But so are your books. And the boardgame is eternal. Every generation discovers it anew. Do I have to quote the latest sales figures on standard Monopoly and its many fine regional variations to make my point?"

"I--I guess not. Please continue."

"I've already taken the liberty of having our design department construct a few prototypes for your inspection. Now of course at this stage, we've labelled them with pre-branded names. But your game-novel will of course bear its own title."

Ludic reached down a construction from the shelf behind him and unfolded it across his broad desk.

"This is the Risk version of your novel. Exciting geopolitical thrills, combined with your page-turning thriller! Each player begins the game with a set number of random pages from your book, distributed across his various countries in place of armies. With each roll of the dice, each 'battle,' pages change hands. And every time any player conquers a country, he assumes the remaining pages associated with that nation. The ultimate winner of the game finishes with a substantial portion of your novel in hand, pages which he may then use in future games. Multiple playings, of course, are required to complete the novel."

Ludic sat back with a self-satisified air. I could hardly choose my first question out of all the many troubling ones that arose. But finally I asked, "And when do these jolly gameplayers find the time actually to read my book?"

"Now, now, Mr. Di Fallopian, don't assume the worst. Why, the purchaser could read your novel immediately upon opening the box, if he or she wanted. It's all included, of course, beneath the shrink-wrap, on laminated sheets for easy cleaning. People do tend to snack heavily during these play experiences. But of course, no one will immediately jump to the straight text. People nowadays want a challenging play experience to precede their literary one. They'll get to your text in due time, I assure you."

I had my doubts about that, but could only say, "What's the next option?"

Ludic put away the first game and displayed another. "Here's the Clue version of your prose. Perhaps a tad too predictable for a mystery novel, but the public likes reassuring formats. The cast of perpetrators mirrors your own cast of characters, just as the gameboard mimics your setting. I'd advise you to keep your locales simple, or the lithographing costs can shoot through the roof. In any case, every round of the game brings us up to another plot-point in your book. Our test audience, by the way, reveals that they prefer at least a dozen murders to achieve satisfactory play."

"No, no, this just won't do!"

"Well, here's the Monopoly version. Your novel is printed on the Community Chest cards--"

"No!"

"In the Life format, each career milestone completes a chapter of your--"

"No!"

"Battleship--"

"Argh!"

"Operation--"

I carefully cradled my head in my hands and began to weep. Ludic came around his desk to comfort me.

"Sorry--"

I jolted upright. "Don't mention another goddamn game!"

"Checkers" hastened back around to the refuge of his desk and waited until I had ceased seething before speaking.

"Mr. Di Fallopian, apparently you regard boardgames as too lowbrow and frivolous a vehicle for your exalted prose. You seem to demand something daring and dramatic. Therefore, I am not even going to try to interest you in many of our other fine programs, such as the Carousel, where riders on festive wooden ponies snatch pages of your novel instead of brass rings as they whirl gaily around. Or the Flag Football experience, where pages are plucked from the butts of the rival team. Instead, I am going to do something I very rarely do."

Ludic opened a desk drawer and took out a revolver. He examined the chambers, spun the barrel, then placed it on the desk before me.

"Mr. Di Fallopian--allow me to present your book as Russian Roulette!"

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