Wanderlust Travel Stories: Experiencing the World
#language & literature
default, Wanderlust Travel Stories:
Experiencing the World, The protagonist travels to Antarctica following the same course as one of the creators, photo: Mateusz Kubik, center, wanderlust_travel_stories_06-1.jpg
How do you travel through Africa, Antarctica and Thailand – and then hop a train in Warsaw for a romantic date in Barcelona – in the span of a few hours? All that’s needed is loading up the text-based game ‘Wanderlust Travel Stories’ – a new form of travelling, where your main transportation is your imagination.
Imagine that you arrive on the island. Imagine that you are greeted with a flower necklace. Imagine how impatient you are to see the famous moai. Imagine that you live on the island. Imagine preparing for the next batch of tourists. Imagine how busy you are.
This is a fragment from the opening of the game, or perhaps interactive literary text, Wanderlust Travel Stories. The first word of the title has its roots in German, and gestures to the unyielding desire for travel, especially to places unlike those we know. In this case we don’t even have to leave our houses, only turn on our computers, telephones or tablets. The adventure doesn’t rely on simply reading ‘travel stories’, but on travelling to far-flung places with a protagonist whose journey we help create.
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‘Everything you do influences the character’s mood and the mood feeds back to the text, changing how the world is described to fit the emotions of the protagonist’, said Artur Ganszyniec, who, along with Jacek Brzeziński, co-founded gaming studio Different Tales. The studio acts a little like our travel agent. ‘We see the world differently when we’re hungry, or well-rested’, Ganszyniec said. In that way we ‘play’ literature, not just – as in the case of a guidebook – passive recipients of the words. It’s already conquering the world market. The game has a strong following in Japan – ironically, a country many tourists consider the Holy Grail of travelling.
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In the first five minutes, Wanderlust Travel Stories throws us into a remote location on the globe: Easter Island, known for its statues, or moai. Here we meet a few globetrotters, each from a different part of the world with a unique story to tell. There’s Adilia, the retired journalist, who went through an incredible experience in Africa when she visited for her friend’s funeral. Ambitious lawyer Henrietta spent five weeks at the South Pole, while Tomek, following his heart, travelled from Poland to Spain. Martine, meanwhile, discovers the cuisine and culture of Thailand. After a quick introduction, we decide whose story we want to hear first, which dictates who we will travel with. Each story has different geographic boundaries, story lengths and formulations.
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Every story has a different degree of flexibility. For example, in Thailand you can choose whether Martine travels to the north or south. You can’t decide whether the trip takes place by train or by yacht, but you can influence other things.
Artur Ganszyniec, trans. AZ
I hesitate. The trip to Africa seems lengthy, Thailand forebodes heat and humidity (it’s not important that it’s only described as such; I suspect I’ll feel it just the same), and the journey by train means I’ll have to take on a male character. I choose to stay with the British Henrietta, nearing her 40s, the daughter of Henry, who soon arrives in a luxury yacht and becomes my second character to play. In the beginning we set off as two – Henrietta and I – to South America, remembering when not too long ago Argentina and England fought a bloody war over the Falkland Islands. Our goal is further – Antarctica, the kingdom of snow, penguins and bitter weather conditions. Before we reach our final point in the journey, we visit a few small towns where life flourishes. We stock up for the multi-month journey, and Henrietta slowly relaxes and releases the stress of the career challenges that await her in England. I see the world through her eyes, and I can tell her how to react in different situations: whether to let loose on an annoying crewmember or to shrug her shoulders at the conflict, to stay on the deck or hide from the wind, to drink coffee or go to bed. I play Wanderlust Travel Stories with my phone in hand and headphones in my ears – a gentle music play in the background, which helps me submerge myself in the story.
First I ‘travel’ on the couch at home, next during my commute to work, though I quickly cut short my digital journey on the tram because I prefer to experience Henrietta’s journey in peace. As it turns out, it’s not just me.
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I remember, during the games expo where we presented Wanderlust Travel Stories, someone said they had to stop playing and finish at home, because they needed solitude.
Artur Ganszyniec, trans. AZ
The desire for privacy doesn’t come from a need to hide the beautiful pictures that flash onscreen, because the journey and exotic landscapes are only part of the experience the creators offer us. Every journey is a time for reflection: ‘my’ Henrietta thinks about her place in the world, and whether she wants to spend every day fixing other people’s problems. Adilia (the one journeying to Africa), three decades older than Henrietta, has to come to terms with her sensation of missing out in life and her sense of self. Of course, good books can offer us the same experience, but interactive literature does so in a modern way.
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How did this all come about? Ganszyniec and Brzeziński, known for their work on The Witcher, wanted to try out slow gaming (a style of games based on unhurried enjoyment). To write the story, they invited a few travellers – Karolina Sulej, a reporter and writer, as well as Mateusz Kubik, a skipper and photographer (some of his photos made their way into the game). All of the stories were meticulously fact-checked by the creators.
Sulej recalled that during the writing process, she had to forget her journalistic training.
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Normally I had to quash my ego, forget my own feelings, try to deeply understand the world, present an intellectual, moral, cultural reflection. Here it was different – in my opinion, it was writing the world so that readers could feel it with nearly all their senses. I remembered what it was like to feel tired or scared during a journey, how an exotic food tastes or how the air smells.
For her, Wanderlust Travel Stories was an experiment in journalist’s formulas, an attempt to break out of the constraints of magazines or non-fiction books.
Once there were four stories, the Different Tales team added new variables and alternative endings. Next, Artur Ganszyniec, Marta Malinowska and Joanna Wołyńska translated the work into English and put it all together. There are supplemental parts, mini chapters describing additional, much shorter adventures. The final project comes out to 16 hours of reading, or 300,000 words (twice as long as War and Peace, as the creators like to point out), which are both a chance to live through adventure and a list of ideas for where – or how – to travel. The creators hope the work will encourage thinking about the ethics of modern tourism, which often parasitically feeds upon the local country and its people, containing little similarities to the romantic idea of wanderlust. ‘We wanted to remind people, that traveling in earlier times meant connecting to nature, understanding the world and yourself better’, said Sulej. Wanderlust Travel Stories is meant to help us return to this sense of travelling. For now, only virtually, but once we pick up our head from the screen – perhaps the journey can really begin.
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Photo of the Wanderlust Travel Stories team, photo: Agata Wrońska
Wanderlust Travel Stories
More information about Wanderlust Travel Stories can be found at their official website.
Originally written in Polish, 5 Dec 2019; translated by AZ, 10 Dec 2019