In Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, friendship and game design intertwine

by Gabrielle Zevin Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow is a novel about two game designers who are best friends and collaborators. The book is about the love they share in work and play, and how it transcends the boundaries of romantic love and physical spaces. Meeting by chance in a hospital as children, Sadie Green and Sam Masur’s lives revolve around games – both use games as a means of escape. Sadie, whose sister is being treated for cancer in hospital, seeks companionship in her otherwise lonely world. And Sam, who is recovering from a devastating car accident that left him disabled, speaks for the first time since the accident while playing games with Sadie.

Zevin’s novel charts the two’s path to becoming successful game designers by teaming up with Marx Watanabe, a helpful and kind college theater actor turned video game producer. Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow covers both the joy and the devastating nature of the video game industry – tackling themes of changing technology and the challenge of being a woman in these spaces – through the decades-long complicated friendship between Sadie, Sam and Marx.

Polygon spoke to Zevin about the complexities of love and friendship, the intimate nature of gaming, the growth of the video game industry, and how it all comes together in Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

[Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Polygon: what is it? Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow on? What is the connection with one of your previous works?

Gabrielle Zevin: I find Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow somewhat difficult to describe. I vaguely said it was about love, art, video games and time. This is the story of Sam Masur and Sadie Green, who have a 30-year friendship and artistic collaboration. Sam is not a physical person, and Sadie is a physical person, and yet they are the most important people in each other’s lives. For them, it’s this impossible puzzle: what do you do when the most important person in your life isn’t one of the usual suspects? He’s not a child and he’s not a spouse. This is essentially the subject of the book.

Regarding the relationship with my previous books, something that interests me is that the game is also a kind of storytelling. I think it’s pretty clear to say, The troubled life of AJ Fikrywhich is a book about how we create experiences from the stories and things we consume.

This is the book I was thinking of when I asked this question.

It’s funny. I think there is a certain percentage of AJ Fikry readers who wonder, “What does the game have to do with what she’s done in the past?” And I think it’s just a disconnect on their part in terms of – and it’s not most of them, just a certain percentage – of understanding that a game can be a story.

One of the blurbs on the back of the book describes Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow as the next great American gamer novel. Have you started writing a book that could be called a gamer novel? Or did the themes of friendship, love, work and time come first?

I think they both came at the same time, really. The first generation of people to play video games as children were born in the late 70s and early 80s in what we call the Oregon Trail generation, as they are said to have played Oregon Trail in a computer lab at school. This generation was approaching their 40s and even 50s, and I was intrigued by the fact that you could see the coming of age of an industry at the same time as the coming of age of people within this industry.

If you look at video games, you can clearly see the evolution of something like pongwhich is like two lines and two dots, to something like The last of us, which has cinematic-quality graphics and is basically indistinguishable from a movie in many ways. I knew I wanted to write about video games as a cultural experience before I knew exactly what the themes of the book would be. I didn’t know what would come of it.

After the release of my latest novel… Young Jane Young — I was looking for a particular game that I played when I was a kid. You can’t find every game you played as a kid anymore, because they’re so tied to a particular hardware. It occurred to me that games, which had been foundational storytelling experiences for me as a child, could actually be lost. That’s probably when I started thinking, “Oh, I want to write something about games, which obviously tons of people do.” If you’re using Facebook, if you’re using Duolingo, you’re playing a game. You’re participating in some sort of reward-based system. Almost everyone on the planet plays at this stage in one form or another.

It’s funny. I never really talked about the fact that I played for 40 years. My father was a computer programmer. The first games I played were preloaded on his work machine. I actually played for 40 years and never did it with an ulterior motive – I never said to myself, Boy, I think there will be a book in there someday.

There are so many intersections in the book – race, gender and class with work, technology and art. It also covers how the video game industry has changed over the years. Can you talk about how you approach writing these characters through this 30-year cultural shift?

I wanted to write about something that happened over a long period of time, and the history of video games was a great way to also talk about the history of being an artist and a person on the planet. Games are a big topic, and attract other topics to it. It’s like a big bowl. You can look at the history of almost any subject and see a ghost story of the world over the past 10 years.

I think the book was always about the conflict between the perfect worlds Sam and Sadie are trying to create and the imperfect world they lived in. I wanted it to be about the history of games over the past 30 years, but also just the story of what it meant to be a person over the past 30 years.

On the title of the book, when and how did you make the connection between video games and macbeth word?

There was a theme that I was playing with, which was the connection between play and play, like theatrical play and games. It occurred to me, especially if you’re playing a massively multiplayer online RPG, that it’s very similar to being a theater nerd. Maybe the person playing the massively multiplayer online RPG isn’t necessarily the same person doing the theater, but it’s not necessarily the same person.

“Tomorrow’s Speech” is one of the first bits of Shakespeare I ever memorized. I gave some of those interests I had in Shakespeare to Marx. I loved that he could interpret one of the darkest speeches in all of Shakespeare as the opposite. But of course I have to point out that he’s in sales mode, he’s trying to convince people to name his company Tomorrow Games, whether he really believes in it, I don’t know.

You can look at any piece of art, like many times, and eventually it takes on a different meaning. It depends on the context in which you are looking at it. It’s always been interesting to find new meanings to old things.

There’s been some really cool stuff over the last few years with people recreating plays or staging live shows using games like The Sims 4.

I’ve seen some of these things – they’ve really thrived during the pandemic. I don’t think anyone who’s ever played a massively multiplayer online RPG ever realized they were in for some kind of theatrical mishap, which I think is cool.

The scene that takes place in Pioneers, the game created by Sam, is truly beautiful and captures the depths of people’s online lives. Why was this play space the perfect place for Sadie and Sam to reconnect?

They’re game designers, so that made sense to me. But also, there are things that Sam and Sadie can’t say to each other in the real world that they find easier to express in the virtual world.

I thought of it as a Wild West, a radical love story that happens to be a video game. What they play in my mind is this love story in the Wild West. It has a lot in common with Portrait of a lady on fire or something like that as is the case with some massively multiplayer games.

I’m interested in phenomenology games, in general. Why do we move piles of stones in Stardew Valley, but not move piles of stones in our real lives? I think it’s just an extension of that. Why is it sometimes easier to express things through play than in our real lives? And I think that’s because acting isn’t just acting. To play means to be vulnerable. To play means to be open. Gambling can be so positive and wholesome. And yet, unfortunately, for many people, the game ends or officially ends when you become an adult. But there is so much potential for growth in the gaming world.

What makes the game so intimate?

I think it’s that you have to say, “I’m going to be vulnerable. You risk being stupid, you risk being hurt, and you risk revealing yourself in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.

Do you have any favorite games that tell particularly good stories that you turn to?

Some of my favorite games are probably the games I played as a kid. You make favorites when you’re young, and I think you might be looking for some of the same elements in them.

When I researched the book, I must have played games that were beyond what I usually play. I’m not a Grand Theft Auto player, but I was like, I will if I will write it. I dove into pretty much everything mentioned in the book, at least for a while.

But when I think of my most formative gaming experiences, I think of games made by Sierra – Sierra action-adventure games. I think they were really beautiful, especially King’s Quest [4], which was the first game I’ve ever read that had a female protagonist. They were really difficult to solve. And you often have to use your literary knowledge to solve a game like King’s Quest 4. And I think people may underestimate how immersive they were. Because at the time I was playing them, you couldn’t easily google the answers. So you would spend 60 hours figuring out, like, I have to put the rock under the knife, or whatever. But I think these games even like the lamentable Larry Leisure SuitSpace Quest, King’s Quest – all the different quests they did back then – were probably the first games that I really, really liked.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow was released on July 5.

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