Author Interview: Gareth Damian Martin
2018-02-06 · by Stewart C Baker
Gareth Damian Martin is the author of our February game, “Salt,” which will be published on February 20th. Gareth is a writer, game designer and artist. He is studying for a PhD in experimental literature and is currently developing a game about Xenobiology and alien oceans called In Other Waters.
This interview was conducted over e-mail in February of 2018
sub-Q: In addition to “Salt,” you also have a Kickstarter going right now for a longer game, In Other Waters. Could you tell us a little about what led you to an ocean theme for both of these games?
Gareth: The root of both games actually lies in the same set of experiences swimming in the gulf of Torreneos in Greece in the summer of 2017. I was there with my daughter, my partner, and her parents, and we swam everyday in what was the most turquoise water I have ever seen. I encountered a nursery of needlefish, an indescribable organism that resembles a bag of luminous organs, and when I swam out as far as I dared one morning I had a strange but mutually respectful stand-off with a barracuda. Those experiences started to crystallise many of my thoughts about the ocean. While I had held these for a long time (I grew up to the rhythms of the North sea on the Orkney Islands) they never felt so relevant and apparent.
“Salt” is about the inward aspect of communing with the sea, the self-reflection it offers and the possibility of escaping the self its immersion seems to offer. In Other Waters looks outward, towards the grim future our seas and oceans have ahead of them, but also to the deeply wrought connection we, and all life, has to oceans.
sub-Q: As well as being oceany, both these games also stand out as a little different from interactive fiction (in the case of “Salt”) and a more typical game (in the case of In Other Waters). What drew you to the game design choices you made in both cases?
Gareth: I would say that “Salt” really is an experiment in expressing something that I experienced in a deep and meaningful way through text and interactivity. I wasn’t purposefully looking to undercut or question interactive fiction with its approach, it just occurred to me as the most effective way of expressing what I wanted. I suppose I am used to turning to experimental work as a way of expressing my emotions, as my PhD concerns experimental narrative and its relationship to the self, but I also really wanted to make an IF game that asked something of the player, asked them to engage rather than just observe.
With In Other Waters I have been guided by an interest in how games are able to build worlds, atmospheres, spaces and narratives with simple, almost abstract elements. Its an interactive fiction or pen and paper RPG ethos I think, but in this case I’m applying it to a UI-based game. As a long-time graphic designer, I was also interested in integrating this knowledge and experience into games to make something visually evocative that didn’t rely on processing power or a huge art budget. I think lone creators in games have to be agile and unpredictable, and thankfully there’s still a lot of unexplored space out there to be just that.
sub-Q: I noticed on your Kickstarter that you have a 2-year-old daughter. How has having a child around changed the way you look at fiction, games, art, and your other creative pursuits?
Gareth: I wouldn’t say that my daughter has changed the way I see fiction or art, but she has changed the way I make it. Her arrival came with a surprising leap in motivation and drive. Though my time was stretched thin I found myself making better use of time, and being able to focus more effectively. In a way, I wonder if that was in part due to a change in the pressures I felt. I am very much a believer in generational inheritance over personal valorisation. My father was the first person in his family to go to university, which paved the path for me, my PhD and my work. With my daughter I have lost some of the pressure I felt to be a “success” and have felt better about just “making the work” in the knowledge that what I am able to do will feed into her life and her possibilities for the future. That’s a deeply reassuring feeling!
I have found myself thinking about our wider inheritance though, and the problems we leave to future generations too, and I suppose that has galvanised the world of In Other Waters somewhat to be a dystopia, a warning, but also a way forward, an experiment in what we might become.