Okay, so I have a touch of writer’s block. I think it’s Christmas or something. Whatever, it’ll pass and I’ll get the scene done. It’s big and complex, and it’s all mapped out, but exactly how to write it is eluding me just now. Being blocked on that (and annoyed about it) has been stopping writing anything else to keep in practice, so I started reading some old stuff I wrote a few years ago. It’s been interesting, and I want to share some of the thoughts on it because they very much relate to Aneka and her story.
So, once upon a time there was an online game called City of Heroes. Some of you may have heard of it, I know at least one person reading this played it. I can’t say I was there at the beginning, because it spent a year only available in the US, but I got onto the EU beta and was there when it started over here, and I was in there when it closed down. It was my first ever MMO, and the only one I’ve ever gone back to, several times. However, it wasn’t the game play which kept me coming back, it was the people.
Soon after the servers opened someone decided to set up a role-playing event. A spot at the foot of the (very huge) statue of Galaxy Girl was picked, announcements were made on the forums, and people gathered there to pretend to be superheros. It was a success, and the following night people went there again even though it was meant to be a one-off event. And it carried on going. There was a ‘Galaxy Girl Meet’ on the night the servers closed, even though the actual statue had been destroyed by then. Through the years, all sorts of drama unfolded around the characters who turned up to sit around the statue and chat. Friendships were made, both in game and out of it. It was a very long running, very successful, open world role-play environment, and I miss it.
So, what’s this got to do with Aneka? Well, the forums for the game were run by some utterly brilliant people who allowed us to bend the rules a little if it seemed good for the community. A thread I started detailing the events (in character) of the first night was added to by more and more people as the nights went on. There was really supposed to be a limit to thread length, but they made an exception and just let us run with it. It was supplemented by other threads with stories people had written. They were character pieces, designed to put more life into the characters. What did they do when they weren’t dressed in tights? What was their home life like? Who was the man behind the mask? The game had no (official) secret identity mechanism, so we made it up. I won’t say this was the first ‘published’ writing I did, because I’d posted stories before, but this was more regular and it started to set my ‘voice.’ I focused as much on character development, as did many of these stories, as action. I tended toward a light style, storytelling rather than technical brilliance.
Whenever I’d go back to the game, I’d look around at whatever new powers were available and start a character with something I’d never tried before. In 2009, Annette Barrington turned up at the statue. She was a shy late teenager, a big hero fan who was there looking for autographs. Her brother had been crippled in a war against aliens and she wanted payback, so she had created a persona for herself which had the confidence to fight bad guys. Annette’s story was all about humanity and identity. She worried that she was losing the former as her power grew, and the struggle between her two (later three) personas was played out over three years as she went from shy teenager to confident, near god-like, young woman.
In 2011, a new update was issued giving us access to a new would, Pretoria. Pretoria was a dark mirror world where the big heroes were villains and vice versa. Or that was the basic idea. In reality things were a lot more grey (which was good, because that would have sucked). It gave us the ability to have our characters turn up with new colours as their ‘dimensional twins’ could cross over. It also gave us the ability to switch sides; heroes could go vigilante and then villain, and back again. Annette went bad as a new, sadistic, persona developed. The original plan was to have her stay villain for a while her twin got to run around in the sun, but my (and her) friends wouldn’t have it. Worlds were moved to get her back. It came as something of a surprise, but that’s by-the-way. The story of her fall into evil, the New Divide trilogy and its prequels, is where you can really start seeing my writing starting to come together.
Meanwhile, Annette Louise Barrington, who ended up calling herself by her middle name, was escaping Pretoria and coming to Paragon City. Louise had cybernetic eyes and a pair of custom-designed pistols. The new power set, Dual Pistols, was heavy on the Gun Fu style and it seemed appropriate that if Annette’s alter ego, Nitoichi, used twin katana, Louise should also wield two weapons. Louise’s story was about humanity, again, as her cybenetics and the nano-bots in her body slowly made her more and more cybernetic. There was also a strong thread of ‘doing what needed to be done, because you were the one who could do it’ about Louise’s story. She was a political refugee of sorts, wanted for murder, and she was granted asylum so long as she would do a few jobs for the government. Not always nice jobs. (It was, however, awesome writing them because the genre allows you to go more or less anywhere. Louise did a murder mystery in 1927, two sealed environment thrillers on a submarine and a space station… Basically you could do any kind of story you wanted and the genre could cope; gotta love the super hero world for that.)
And so we end up back with Aneka. Aneka was another attempt to get some of these characters out of CoH so I could write more about them. Of course, Aneka and Louise are different people, but you can see the similarities. It’s even more obvious when I go look at the old stories. I’d sort of forgotten about Alison, Louise’s enigmatic handler (her role was actually based, loosely, on CURE from the Destroyer books), but I figure you can see the analogue in Aneka’s life. Aneka obviously has to deal with her own humanity pretty much immediately rather than the creeping increase in inorganic components Louise had to handle. Aneka has Al; Louise had the rather more insidious issue of her vast complex of nanites becoming self-aware. (Annette had an inner voice too as her personalities would talk to each other.) There is the obvious continuing theme of doing ‘what has to be done,’ and whether it does or not.
So, yes, Aneka owes a great deal to Louise (and Annette to a lesser extent), and reading those old stories has reminded me of her roots in the best MMO I’ve ever been involved with. (I think I’ve finally got a handle on a new Annette, though she’s now two different people, body and mind split across two different women which seems rather appropriate for her. More on that some other time.) I miss CoH. City of Titans is in the works and I hope some of the magic will come back when that’s available, but somehow I doubt it will ever be quite the same.
We live in hope. And meanwhile, we write and remember.