Joshua Lovatt (2010)

[Flammarion: Flat Earth (1888)]


I was born as a baby at a very young age. As certainly many children are - hopefully all. However, the redundancy of this sentence serves the purpose of introducing the fact that I was younger than most when I was born, for I was born prematurely. This singular fact combined with the circumstances around my premature birth caused me to spend a majority of my early months within the confines of an incubator, suffering from severe breathing dysfunction and asthma.

Upon regaining my health – or perhaps gaining it would be more accurate – as being born needing an incubator one could argue that I was hardly healthy until this point – I was taken by social services to an orphanage where I remained for several more months until 2 months before my first birthday. Which is to say, until I was 10 months old I lived in an orphanage. I was then promptly adopted by a young missionary couple and whisked off to a very tumultuous existence; travelling to Papua New Guinea for a while before moving to Vanuatu and then finally to Australia.

It was in Australia that I settled for the first time in my life. Though we moved from Melbourne to Brisbane, we did stay in the country itself and retained contact with friends; it was a consistency I hadn’t had before. My parents had children, 2 of them, and before long I was old enough to attend school. I had begun attending school once in New Zealand, but to be honest I recall nothing about it, or how I was even old enough to attend school, so for the sake of continuity it shall be ignored.

I started attending school in Brisbane at a small public school. It was a cheap wooden place; no grass on the field, just dust and rocks, a small metal playground and teachers who didn’t bother stopping fights in the schoolyard. I was only there for a short while before my parents decided to buy a house. We moved again and this time I began attending a private Christian school by the name of Christian Outreach College.

It was in this school that I was first encouraged to grow, to expand, and to develop my imagination. While certainly I recall some teachers who hounded my second-grade self day after day that the number “8” was to be drawn in 1 pencil sweep, not as two joined circles, I also recall other teachers, who didn’t bother with inane teaching practices. I was paid in candy and sweets to draw illustrations and write stories for my old first grade teacher, and while they weren’t very good, since I was only in second grade I enjoyed it immensely.

It gave me a chance to develop skills that within the confines of the education system were merely acting as redundant sponges; learning to draw what the teachers wanted us to draw, writing only academically, not creatively. Such a method I now feel is detrimental to much of the learning process. However, Miss Gravestein, in her casual efforts to entertain her class with stories and pictures of a previous student allowed me to develop skills that would soon become my greatest talents.

It was also whilst attending this school that I received my first distaste for the useless authoritarian dictatorship of academic administration. A group of friends, including myself, had been enlisted by Miss Gravestein to write a comic strip for her class; we would each be given a giant lollipop upon its completion and it was to be left uncoloured so that she could photocopy it and her students could then colour it as they read it. We had fallen in love with our characters in this strip and thus formed a lunch time meeting in which we would discuss stories and adventures involving our respective characters.

Calling ourselves the “Tree Gang” for a tree was where we met at lunch we began our amateur role-plays. However, the school did not take kindly to our meetings and perhaps in fear of our role-players guild unleashing some evil upon the school with our imaginations they banned the existence of gangs. We cared not, even as second grade children we understood that if all we did was change our name then the educators could not punish us for our existence, we became the “Tree Club”.

Alas, it was a failed endeavour, for soon clubs too found themselves to be outlawed at our school, on a mildly unrelated note I also recall Pokémon being banned from the premises in that same week – those who played the card game resorted to trading cards in the bathrooms or via mail, children can be quite ingenious about such things. (It's also quite amazing that my spell check told me I needed to add an acute accent on Pokémon. I did not realize it was so popular that Microsoft had included it in the spell check: that's hilarious).

But like all legislation before it , this new Act did not stop us! Nay it merely strengthened our childish resolve. That is, until we all got detention and role-playing was banned. And so for a time everything stopped, until, by foolish mistake we were all of us placed into the same class, a class with a creative writing assignment. And the characters came back.

It was third grade by this time and we had to create a character. After which we were to write a story and design a poster or a comic book in relation to this character. The tree club/gang already had our characters. My friends stuck with their characters and I stuck with mine; he was a magician by the name of Era. I had decided he could control time and in a traditionally childish manner made his name a pun to convey his abilities.

At any rate, the story-based assignment served to reinvigorate our lost role-playing spirit, and while it may be uncommon for second graders to forsake the class’s congregation around the slide for the shelter of a tree, it was a common habit in the society of the third grade, as cliques were beginning to develop. Perhaps I could turn this autobiography into a thesis on the development of social structures in the younglings of the human race, but I doubt it.

And so the assignment was made, the stories turned in and then once again the characters and their adventures faded out of mind and memory. We were distracted by an ant colony which had taken up residence near our tree, and we resolved to dig them up and make them fight in ice-cream containers with termites from another tree. The termites always won.

After a few more negligible years of existence my parents decided to leave Australia. They felt called to the Philippines so we packed up our belongings, rented out our house and much to my chagrin departed from Australia for Manila. The first year was spent much in isolation and misery. I was enrolled into an international school for missionary’s children, run and taught by volunteers in the American system of education.

Unable to adapt, I spent the first year alone, quite upset with meagre grades. As a result my parents considered returning to Australia but instead resolved to get me a puppy. A wiser decision could not have been made. I had never had a pet before and this dog was quite the invaluable companion. In my spare time I took to writing stories in cheap lined books I got from school, watching anime on television – which I had never before been exposed to – and reading the occasional book. In Australia I had been considered a voracious reader, but to be honest most often it was the same few books by Michael Crichton over and over again.

I began “Middle School” (or “Junior High” as it is more commonly known) at the age of 11. I started in what was 6th grade (I had actually already served year 5 and 6 in Australia). However, I had also been a year and a half younger than my class mates and so upon transferring to the American system it was decided that I should be put back with my age group to alleviate some of the stress of the transition.

At the time I felt this to be rather condescending, but in retrospect, given how poorly I took to the adjustments, as it were, I’m quite certain it was a good choice. Middle School brought a slight reprieve to my isolated status; I made friends and soon had purchased a Gameboy from one of them.

This was my first exposure to videogames, a rather momentous event but it passed rather quickly. I was spontaneously offered it in band class by a fellow Saxophone player and we swiftly exchanged my 1,000 pesos (roughly $30) for his Gameboy and “Pokémon Yellow” video game. Video games back then were rather basic, they had only begun to develop and evolve, however, through my Gameboy I had been exposed to an entirely new medium of art, through which I would be able to eventually come to appreciate the nuances of other mediums as well as the benefits of its own.

I realize that idea of considering video games as a medium is often met with disdain, however my stance remains that whilst ignorance may be bliss it is rather pathetic and it is logically fallacious for anyone to judge a medium which they have not themselves fully experienced. However, I had yet to be exposed to the appeal of video games as a medium and as an eleven year old the appeal was purely derived from the enjoyment of the game.

In response to my acquisition of this Gameboy my parents imposed reading limits to match my game time. Naturally seeking as much game time as possible I began reading ravenously. During such readings I encountered The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was around this time that several things occurred; the release of the first Lord of the Rings movie and a friendship I fostered with a tall ginger American. Not recognising The Lord of the Rings as a Tolkien work I was originally hesitant to see the movie, the advertisements on television had somehow left me under the impression it was a horror movie and I had had enough of those. Eventually upon the revelation that it was in fact a fantasy movie and based on a work by Tolkien I felt obliged to watch it.

[Peter Jackson, dir. The Lord of the Rings (2001-3)]

Before Lord of the Rings there had been no movie, bar perhaps Jurassic Park, that my decade-old child had found as stimulating and exciting. Like millions my age around the globe I instantly declared it my favourite movie and raced home to revel in its awesomeness. (I may have misused the word "awesome" in that sentence).

My parents, on hearing of my affection for said movie, logically offered to buy the books for me to read. A child as I was, whilst I liked the movie I was not immediately sold on the prospect of reading the books, however, eventually I relented. Much to my young horror I discovered the books and movies had hardly anything in common aside from a few base themes and names. Luckily, however, I was able to appreciate the literary quality of the work, and soon came to favour it over its cinematic adaptation.

Seventh grade began and I befriended others, making yet another close friend. It was somewhere in 6th-7th grade that we moved again, this time closer to the school, the move changed nothing except the quantity of pets we had, for in moving to our new house we acquired four new dogs, and some turtles. In a joint effort with my new friends I began to grow bored in classes, instead of passing notes to liven the experience we drew maps and designed a way we could play “video games” in class – on paper.

We had stats and ranks and could go on adventures; it was a lot of fun, especially since at the end of class we threw out the paper and got a new one for the later. It was also during this year that perhaps the most momentous event in my life occurred, this is of course an exaggeration, but in hindsight for my book it was this event that sparked its creation; the release of the video game “Golden Sun” for the Gameboy Advanced.

Golden Sun was a Role-playing game, but unlike the typical Pokémon adventures and hack and slash level based games I had played in the past this one had a plot. A plot, a unique one, with characters and friends, the game was linear; however, one could develop friendships in game, which would affect future nuances in the story making the experience far more enjoyable. The plot was what grabbed me though, and to be entirely honest; it was riveting, true fact.

Unable to afford a working real game I had been forced to purchase a fake copy, with this copy I soon discovered I had an inability to save my game. As such I never turned it off. I played it virtually non-stop, dedicating an entire weekend to it, and whenever I wasn’t playing it, it was plugged in and charging so it would not lose my place. The game was addicting, it was the same rush I felt when reading a good book - the same intoxicating elation that races through you as your eyes leap from page to page, consuming the story in a hungry fervour.

This one video game exposed me to the fact that games – like books and movies – had their own merits as a medium. For unlike books and movies, they had the supreme advantage of being interactive, thus it has a powerful twist over immersion, atmosphere and character interaction which movies and books could not match.

[Nintendo Gameboy Advanced: Golden Sun]

In saying this I do not mean to imply that as media they are incapable of conveying such things, only that as they lack the interactive aspect they cannot convey them in the same manner; this gives strength to the video game genre when taken advantage of by well designed video games. The interactive aspect also allows for powerful psychological play and exploitation, but that discussion is not relevant to my autobiography.

Another strength of the genre which I was drawn into by my exposure to Golden Sun was the concept of a non-linear game. Although very basic and only really affecting conversations Golden Sun carried a feature to affect and change aspects of the game based on what the player did. So enthralled was I in this prospect that I decided to take advantage of the freedom in our role-plays and make a game just as plot driven as Golden Sun – but without the limitations of linearity.

What if the ending was not always the same? What if good did not always conquer evil? What if you could choose a side? What if in offending an ally along the way you could trigger an event down the path where they might betray you, thus in turn changing the outcome of the story? The possibilities were endless, however, I could not design video games for the life of me, I had barely touched a computer, my entire exposure to video games at that point was limited to my hand held Gameboy. As such I was forced to develop the only medium I had – my role-plays with my friends.

In order to construct a believable story I was forced to create a believable world. I designed a map, created races, cities, countries, currency, unique products, an amateur alphabet and made up clumsy sentences and words that lacked coherent syntax or sound inventory. From this we created characters and people to live within this world. And from there we went; we role-played, we wrote stories, we crafted adventures for our characters and out of sentimentality I gave new life to my old character “Era”.

Each year the Middle School at which I attended went on a trip known as “Outdoor Ed”. Middle School lasted for years 6-8 and so each year the location of Outdoor Ed rotated to a different site; in 6th Grade we camped on the inactive volcano Taal, in 7th we visited the jungles of Subic and in 8th Grade we were set to go explore the Island of Corregidor where the US and Japanese had fought for the Philippines during the Second World War.

Children are rather spontaneous and irrational creatures, as such early on in 8th Grade my friendship with two of my former friends abruptly ceased to exist. I believe I was 13. The reasons for which were one friend didn’t like what I was doing with our role-plays and rather than reason it out and come to an accord we simply opted to cease being friends; the other friend simply decided on a whim they could get more attention should they pretend to be leaving the friendship of both parties. This attempt failed and they ended up a loner for the remainder of the year. Poor choice. Regardless, this left me without any friends to sign up with in my group for Outdoor Ed during my 8th year. Lacking members in another group the teachers took my two old friends and myself and threw us in with them.

It was in this group I befriended new people, friends who would remain my closest ones until we graduated, and even thereafter. Ian Darwin was the closest of these, a Filipino-American who looked-and still looks, like a panda. Ian liked my world and created a character to explore it. Over the course of Outdoor Ed we reworked a lot of the flawed or blatantly stolen ideas my world had been constructed upon and began refining it as best as we could. It wouldn't be until high school that I truly realized what I wanted to do with this world.

High School began with the return of an old acquaintance, David Pham; a Vietnamese boy who soon became an invaluable friend to me. Though he didn’t role-play he was an avid reader, gamer and he shared my interested in Japanese Anime and Manga. David and Ian encouraged me to become an author, to develop my stories and eventually write a book about them. At the time it was but a casual idea, but I endeavoured to realise it.

I began attempting to craft a story with which I could write a decent fantasy novel. Tragically in my attempts I slipped into the same pit that ensnares so many a fantasy author and has damned the entire genre to being classed as low grade fiction – I overlooked the importance of plot, themes, and characterisation. For all the fantasy I could weave, the best readers I could captivate were my friends. The minds of adults and unbiased readers were not to be ensnared by such feeble attempts at literature. Disheartened, I scrapped my stories and focused myself entirely to making my game.

High School opened up the ability to choose what classes I wished to take. Filling my quota of IGCSE Cambridge classes to give me a better chance of acceptance in a New Zealand University I turned my attention to the slots that my other classes would fill, utilizing them to improve myself, so that I could in turn better the world I had created; Once again I designed nations and to make them believable I studied economics, history, mythology and religions. I drew maps and studied geography and cartography. I took biology and created diseases. Soon I held within my grasp a living, teeming world flowing with depth and lore, religions and cultures. I took web-based design classes so that I could create a webpage for my game and soon enough I began designing it on computer. I was going to make a video game.

Unfortunately, the computer variant of my game was a grand disappointment. It lacked the freedom of scope that face to face role-play had carried and I discovered a tremendous weakness of mine with writing believable dialogue. I scrapped the video game idea and returned to my role-plays.

By 11th grade, I had been lured back to my original intent; to write a book. In order to improve my writing I took English classes, lots of them, where once more I began to read. I read the classics: fell in love with Oscar Wilde, laughed at Jane Austen’s wit, despised Charles Dickens for being abhorrently boring, and delved the depths of Shakespeare and his work. My love for mythology and the classics’ habits of paralleling and referencing myths and lore secured their hold over me. I fashioned myself after my favourite authors as best I could, adhering to the lessons of writing which they conveyed through their work.

It was within the classics and my study of poetry that I began to see techniques and tactics authors used to convey hidden meanings and themes. I saw them tie in personal feelings; expose their souls through writing, and I finally realized how to make a character grow, and do so believably. I began incorporating what I had learned into my writing, crafting stories within the histories of my world and hiding meanings within my world’s “literature” to reference their legends and religions. And finally after six years I created a much needed back-story for my main character. It was then that Ian discovered that my website had accumulated over 150 pages of information and stories about my world. He persuaded me to publish it.

Now in my 12th and final year of school I began looking around for methods of publication. My dream being simply to share my world with my friends I did not need to endure the endearing stress of selling myself to a publisher and facing rejection. No, I saved such treats for later in life. I wanted only a few copies; for those who had journeyed with me as I had forged this world, who had been there when I began trying to write and would be there long after I had published this first book. I wanted three copies, one for Ian, David and myself. Thus, I decided to self-publish it.

I took what I had written on my website, revised it, edited it and passed it off to friends, to teachers and mentors. I received my copies back, revised once more, and finally compiled it. Ian and I found a nice font for the title and an awesome rusted piece of paper to scan in for the cover. We formatted it, converted it to the correct file type and took it down to the printing company that had agreed to make me three copies.

We paid the agreed fee and turned in my files. In one day we returned and beheld the work of six years of learning. All of my education, my work to evolve my world, to better my game, and to create as perfect a book as I could, all funnelled into this very moment. It was amazing.

Of course it wasn’t finished, though it encouraged me in my aspirations to become a real novelist. It was through this amateur book that I was able to take all of my creations, my characters, and my world and draw them together in an amalgamation of all that I was. Through it I could accurately portray the years of friendship that had spawned this world. Through the processes devoted to creating this one work I had learned what it was to devote oneself to a goal and achieve it. I also began to see what it was that I wanted to do with my life.

We picked up the final copies the day before Graduation and shortly after I found myself once more packing up and leaving. I spent 6 months in Australia until I decided I did not want to attend school there before returning to New Zealand. I examined the universities and settled on Massey, I like the atmosphere, Auckland University seemed far too corporate.

My intention in attending university is to improve my writing, to better myself that I may become a good author, and should that fail, to provide me a Degree to fall back on. The advantages shown thus far have been a visible improvement in my writing as well as the discovery that I enjoy writing other forms of fiction as well as fantasy. I’m not entirely sure how to end my autobiography; however I fully intend to finish my book. I have a sequence of them now, chronicles within my world. And one day I shall publish them. We’ll see how it goes.

© Joshua Lovatt

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