I was on board very early in the appointment. Crawling down a pitch dark tunnel, feeling my way through a winding path, a light source finally revealed a library. One very similar to the Myst library, albeit smaller. I knew I was in for something special. What I soon gained was a community of wonderful people and a part of myself I had lost: My desire to create.
This is my story of Nonchalance’s The Latitude Society.
There are a number of things written about the closure of the society. One of the best is from my friend Jessica. There are many others that tell the story as presented by Jeff Hull (both the money and owner), but without challenge. There’s a surface narrative in press that points not the failure of one business, but of the art form itself.
I completely reject this narrative. I’m here to tell my part in this wonderful experience in hopes that better lessons are learned. This will be the first of more posts to come, but this will cover an overall picture. These were once secrets not kept from people, but for them. With the secrets revealed, I’m now at a place to start telling my story.
A Special Gift
It was mid-January 2015 that my friend @giantspatula asked if we could go out to lunch, mentioning in passing that she had something for me. We went to Homeroom. She asked if I could keep a secret, which I was then presented with a small black card case with two words: Absolute Discretion. Contained within was a credit card looking object, a code, and instructions to make an appointment.
I didn’t know what this was, but I knew this was something very special. I trust Giantspatula, but this production value alone was the key to something much bigger.
It took me two months before I went to that appointment. Changed jobs and other unexpected twists and turns. Jessica also presented me with an invitation at GDC, and I declined saying I already received one. Finally on Sunday March 22 at 12:45p, I slid my invitation card on a reader at a door on Capp and 17th Street, and walked in.
The Missing Groove
When I was very young, I wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. I was very interested in creating narrative environments. Spaces that told stories at a pace set by the audience. I went into video games because Myst did that in a digital realm. The seemingly easier approach to use digital media to create unique and meaningful experiences. I went to two colleges to shape my education and after 7 years, I found a studio that I called home for over five years.
I haven’t talked about it publicly much, but my layoff from Telltale completely ruined me. A year after the layoff, the management told me I wasn’t going to get another job in games again. Some studios confirmed this. It took me over 17 months to get a job and I had to switch career paths to do so. Along the way, I lost people I loved, my livelihood, and the very foundation of my artistic abilities. By March 2015, my basic needs were met and I made significant progress of recovery from the previous two years. Still, I couldn’t find the spark to create again. My mentors specifically told me that my work with them was worth nothing to them and others. I know deep down it wasn’t true, but when all sides tell you otherwise… That damage is hard to repair.
When I found myself looking at a book — animating a fable on it’s pages — I was reminded about why I am a storyteller. Mystery. Good storytelling balances between enough mystery to be interested, but not too much to lose meaning. There is beauty in that space between the audience and the artwork. It’s not about graphics or engineering. It’s ultimately about the resonance the individual has with the art. If there is nothing else I gained from my experience with Nonchalance’s Latitude Society, I got my groove back.
But I gained much more.
Totally Not a Cult.
After completing the “appointment” known as “Book 1”, you’re allowed access to a community. At first glance this is an online forums from the society’s website, but there are other events listed as well. These events were called a Praxis. There were Greenhorn Praxes as the introductions to the society itself. There were other praxes with how-to activities such as bookbinding or storytelling exercises and a great many other things.
In all honesty, I never went to any of the Greenhorn praxis. Apparently it was a requirement, but I was so on board with the society and finally had a steady income, I was all in with due-paying membership. They didn’t account for someone going in for membership without doing a Greenhorn. My reasons for paying dues was to insure others who do not have the funds could also experience what the society has to offer.
Then there were the Speakeasies. Bi-monthly gatherings at the lounge (a clubhouse of sorts). From here, I found a new group of people, some of whom became friends with. People who also shared the ideals of creating meaningful experiences. Some (like myself) have a technical bent to experiences, where others provided different aspects and elements to creating experiences.
I joined the guild responsible for technology and magic in the society. This was the space for me to rebuild my artistic skills. Though work was more on the imitate needs, we were building a foundation for a platform. A series of devices made by systems guild, but easily setup by members of the society at large with little or no technical knowledge. One of the society’s tenants is “experiencial tithing.” Which is a fancy way of saying giving the gift of experiences to others. The devices we were planning would allow non-technical members to deploy devices to their own tithings to share with others.
There’s a lot of stories to tell. The Summer Gala especially, but other events and experiences that make up this crazy bunch of people. I’ll leave some of these stories for other blog posts, others to tell around beverages, and some kept only to the people I shared experience with. Because, you know, not a cult.
On Tuesday September 22nd, I attended a guilds members meeting at the newly acquired Oakland location. There Jeff Hull outlined a new plan for the society. The books would become public where one would ‘buy a ticket’ to experience. The society on the other hand would need someone to sponsor them into. While not preferred, the situation was workable.
On Monday September 28th around 3pm, the society’s website change to a short, notice that the Latitude Society had ended.
I was working from home that day, which was a good thing. This was literally the opposite of what Jeff said 6 days earlier. I was simply floored by the news and trying to gather what details I could get.
About 20 people suddenly lost their jobs.
After wrapping work up, I went to the Sycamore where many Society brunches happen. That evening was our season finale of French Tarot, and it was an open question if it would even happen. People were gathering as time rolled in. Word came out that the two praxes at the space would happen. One being a Greenhorn praxes, the last would be Tarot.
As Tarot came to a close, we prepared for one last experiencal tithing in the space. We gather people to come in, then lead to the library one last time. Holding space for everyone, we gave the chance for a few others to experience the space and tell stories. Many tears and stories were shared, including my own. I didn’t end up home until 2am that evening.
Before we let everyone in, I sat in the library alone for a while. Looking at this book before me.
This was the closest experience to a linking book I’ve ever had. Since I was a kid with the Packard Bell computer playing Myst, I wanted a gateway to a fantastic world with much to discover. I wanted to share that gateway with people, one at a time. But this particular experience is no more. Jeff Hull wasn’t able to continue this wonderful thing. So he took his toys home.
Think From the End to the Beginning
There is a saying I got from the entertainment business class I took at Emerson College: “Think from the end to the beginning.” Starting from the final delivery of a work, go backwards to trace all the steps needed to achieve that goal. I’ve been trying to do what I can to trace what happened from my albeit limited view as a participant.
While financials have an absolutely key factor, I think claiming it was too expensive covers up detailed reasons. There were plenty of people who were rewarded by this experience — even for “The Game” aspect, if not the actual society itself. The rise and continued existence for embodied curated experiences (like escape rooms or the work of 5-Wits) is a real demand. Once thought to only happen in video games, we’re all seeking experiences to happen in actual space.
I need to believe embodied experiences can work. Hard as hell, but I know they can happen even on limited resources. I need to believe that the kind of experiences we create in digital media — the space between a resonant work of art and the audience — isn’t limited to a screen or a small number of people. I need to believe this can still happen. If I don’t believe this can work, what else do I have left to dream?