Spotlighting virtual murder mystery games by The Daggered Pen
Welcome to Creative Humans (formerly Creative Fridays), a feature of On Humanity to engage and inspire readers to create new things and share your own creative journeys. The following interview was originally conducted for and published in the HiH magazine and later featured in On Humanity. Now it is presented to readers of the Interintellect. If you’d like to be interviewed on anything you do for inspiration — or know someone who might — please reach out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
Jamie Wong is a queer multiracial writer who is currently working on a YA novel about a queer boy, an enigmatic witch, and a moving house. Gods and madness ensue. She is a twin (but not a Gemini), and she enjoys when her girlfriend serenades her with the guitar. She is an alum of the VONA/Voices of Our Nation Writers Workshop for writers of color with Shay Youngblood. Her work has appeared in InQluded and Edible Jersey.
Can you tell us a bit about the murder mystery games you write?
I started writing virtual murder mystery games under the moniker The Daggered Pen at the start of the pandemic as a way to help people connect digitally and build a shared experience together. The online environment requires a bit more structure to flow well, so the games have a scripted portion that are followed up by a more flexible discussion round to allow for that spontaneous interaction that we all miss from in-person communication. So far I’ve written three games: one set at the tavern in a fantasy city, another at a wizard castle, and the final one at an Ivy League institution.
What had inspired you to write these murder mystery games in the first place? Why murder mysteries?
One of my friends loves murder mystery games, and we played one together at the start of lockdown for the pandemic. Then she suggested I try writing one myself, since she knows I’m a writer. And I thought, Why not?
At the time, I thought I would be going to grad school for writing, so I thought I would write these murder mystery games as a small way to make money on the side. Grad school didn’t work out because of the pandemic, but the games are actually a great way for me to stretch my writing muscles in ways I normally don’t. For instance, I normally do not outline my stories, but with these mystery games, I find that I have to impose a lot more structure than usual. It’s also a low-stakes way for me to practice writing humor and planting clues and red herrings, since I normally don’t do funny or mystery in my regular fiction writing.
What does your planning process look like?
I come up with character names first. I want them to sound interesting of course, but the names are also my only opportunity to make the characters sound non-White without explicitly saying so. Because I don’t know who will play these characters, I don’t want to say “so-and-so character is Black/Asian/etc.” to avoid any instances of people engaging in black- or yellow-face, for example. But I also don’t want it to sound like the world inhabited by the characters is lily white.
Then I’ll come up with connections among all the characters. For example, character A and character B share this secret, and character C and character D don’t get along because of this other thing. Then I make sure to give all the characters a motive for the murder.
I won’t decide who the murderer is until I’ve already written two-thirds of the game.
Do you employ feedback from early players to make revisions to games later? Any memorable examples of changes you had to make in the past?
Absolutely! Feedback and revision are a crucial part of the process, just like with any other kind of writing. I love when my friends come up with great lines off-the-cuff while playing a game. I’ll steal the funniest, snarkiest lines and sometimes even tweak a character’s personality a little if I really liked the way someone played a character in a test round.
How do you publicize your murder mysteries?
I started a Twitter account (@TheDaggeredPen) to publicize my games, but I have to admit that I’m not amazing at marketing. Coming up with regular content is a puzzle I haven’t yet cracked.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about The Daggered Pen? What does the future look like for this endeavor?
The more games I write, the more I’m realizing my niche is fantasy-oriented murder mysteries—which makes sense, since I’m a fantasy writer. I want to write a mystery that’s a riff on the Hero’s Journey, a superhero mystery, and a fairy tale princess mystery. Let me know on Twitter @TheDaggeredPen if you have any other ideas!
Photo credit: Eyan Yeung