15th Night organization partnered with the City of Eugene, the Turell Group, and Wordcrafters to put together a contest. The challenge was for writers to come up with a “choose your path” style story that could be turned into a game. This was a blind contest, meaning contestants’ information was removed so the judging would be unbiased.
And I won! The story is going to be made into a game and played in middle schools as part of the curriculum in Eugene.
Remember Playing the Oregon Trail Game in elementary school?
I always died of dysentery while playing the Oregon Trail Game back in grade school. Just like in real life, I took too long going shopping at the beginning so that I didn’t have time to reach my destination. The purpose of that game was to teach children about the Oregon Trail and interest us in history. I think it also was supposed to interest us in computers and technology. Since I was raised in Oregon City, a city that boasts to be “the end of the Oregon Trail,” everything was about the Oregon Trail for me growing up. This game reinforced local history.
Plans for a game based in Eugene?
The 4J/Eugene School District will be rolling out a game that might be a little like the Oregon Trail Game, but for eighth graders. The game isn’t so much to educate students about where they came from but where they could be going. The purpose is to show students what it is like to be a homeless youth and what resources are out there to help them and teens they know facing difficult situations.
Local resources help shape the story
15th Night is an organization dedicated to helping homeless youth. They try to get kids off the street before the fifteenth night because that is when they are the most vulnerable. If a teen lasts that long, they have a greater likelihood of being chronically homeless.
In the game, possible resources a teenager might use to get help are Catholic Services, the Mission, Hosea Youth Services, and looking Glass Communities.
A Spirit of Generosity
For the contest, I read the material the contest provided; went to a presentation put on by Eric Witchey, who talked about how to write a “choose your path story”; and I went to a meeting with other writers interested in the topic and contest at Wordcrafters. One of the things I appreciated about the other contest entrants was how willing people were to brainstorm, share resource information, show off what they had created so far (like story maps), and help each other overcoming technology difficulties like figuring out how to make hyperlinks in a Microsoft Word document.
In some writing circles, I imagine this could have been a very different atmosphere. People could have been snobby and proprietary in the resources they were investigating. Our community wasn’t cutthroat. They way I saw people work together, offering to read each other’s pieces and help each other was very much in the spirit of what I think this contest is about.
All the people involved spoke with compassion and were passionate about this topic. I feel like the writers who came together were there to help each other write the best and most compelling story they could create. I worked with another local writer, and we critiqued each other’s submission so we both could enter the best story we could write.
I am grateful for the warmth and welcoming spirit of people trying to make a difference and better their community.
How to balance education without dissing the “unhoused”
In addition to the resources provided by the contest, I put a lot of research and investment into this contest trying to balance the dark, gritty and tough situations and outcomes a teen might face who is living on the street while also trying to speak about the topic of homelessness in a respectful way. It is a very difficult task, and I can only hope I came close.
One of the guidelines in the contest said:
A note about tone and dignity: Young people face, are forced, or choose homelessness in response to many challenging issues. In some cases, living on the street may feel like a safer alternative. This project will respect and maintain their inherent human dignity without judgement or shame. Yes, unaccompanied youth may make mistakes, choose what others (and even themselves) perceive as poor choices, but the story should help us see where they’re coming from as they make these choices, not judge for making them.
I am honored to have been part of this project. Writing isn’t just about self-expression. I think every writer dreams about creating something meaningful that will have a positive impact on the world. Usually I do this through humor, making people laugh; lifting the spirit through comedy is rewarding and satisfying in its own way. I write humorous fantasy and science fiction, so this project is very different from what I typically write. I like to feel awe and wonder—and laugh. In order to help trick myself into getting in the right mindset, I imagined the puppy sidekick the narrator had is really a dragon!
If I understood the objective of the contest, 15th Night wants to start in 4J with this game and expand to other areas, including resources relevant to those cities. I can’t help wondering if in twenty years there will be t-shirts worn by Generation Z that recount one of the abysmal demises of the character in this game with the same morbid irony of “You died of dysentery.”