Questland - The Prince and the Loser
Interview with Freddy Milton
So you wrote a sequel to Questland after all?
Yes, it took some time before I found the right approach that could expand the concept, so the sequel renewed the story on another level.
What do you mean?
Most sequels fail because the creators have basically used up the story telling potential with their first story but then for commercial reasons still make a sequel with more plot-making of the same nature, and it is rarely enough.
Can you give an example?
Yes, ‘Toy Story’ was a good story, but the sequel was actually better. When they then tried to make a third film in the series, the writers racked their brains to find a new angle, and they succeeded. They created a story about the fate of toys in a larger perspective. Thus, it contributed something new to the concept and had its own raison d’être. But such a strategy is difficult because there are more elements and usually also more characters in the new plot, so it can be a problem to maintain the necessary closeness and identification.
Did you try something similar with your extended Questland concept?
I did. I introduced in the first book the border line element that the avatars from the game could be reborn in our world and I described the difficulties Aciel experienced learning to cope with his new life here on Earth.
Speaking about Aciel, the character is never really confronted with the hard reality that he is an avatar and thereby only a puppet in the hands of a puppeteer from our world. I suppose you have a reason for that?
I felt I had to retain a degree of innocence in him. I wanted to protect him from the hard realization of how things work in detail. I felt he should be allowed to maintain a little naiveté. So it’s no coincidence the he did not learn about it. It was a conscious decision on my part.
What kinds of choices have you made regarding the concept development?
Initially, I had planned to use the same characters as in the first book, but that didn’t work very well. So Sally, Kent, Skrupsak and Tiny were dropped. With them it would have just been more of the same, which wouldn’t have been enough. Aciel and Mankor I kept, but the audience deserved a new perspective.
This is where the Prince and the Loser come into the picture?
Precisely. They were not included in the first volume. The two high-school students quest together in the online game Questland and experience the annoying disturbances that have gotten worse in the most recent update of the game. You also get scenes where you see them maneuver their avatars in the game while you follow the game, for instance the opening scene in the book.
The classic story of ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ by Mark Twain comes to mind. Do the two young heroes here also resemble each other?
That’s how it started actually, but I eventually dropped the details of similarity, since it would only be necessary if the two swapped identities. That was part of the point of Mark Twain’s story, but it not really an issue today’s society which is does not display such strict class distinctions with the ensuing consequences.
Yet you kept that reference?
Yes, I needed for one of them to be very rich and have broad freedom to make decisions. In the beginning there is also contrast between the daily lives of the two players.
Why do Tom and Ian first meet at the computer game convention?
This was a dramaturgical choice. Of course one can ask why the two have not talked together on the phone and exchanged personal data when they chat online about the game. But I wanted to use their accidental meeting as an exciting chapter in the process. It’s the author’s discretion, just as the author always has the right to abolish all cell phones at the beginning of a horror story in which the characters must be left to fend for themselves. The audience accepts that.
Tensions rise as the two team up to go in search of Magnus the Mighty.
Introducing the original creator of Questland contributed something extra I could identify with.
That I believe. He is the creative God of his game world while you play God as the creator of your books.
That’s right. And the frustration at having lost the right to and responsibility for his creation and even the realization that his work will continue and be exploited by commercial owners seeking profit at any cost is something I can also identify with as a writer who operates in world I do not own or control.
The disgruntled players are also active in a different way. Very active, actually.
It seemed to me they deserved to be. Instead of having to pay to appear in a degenerating online game they are now challenged on another level. The same applies to the avatars.
Is that development plausible?
It is, if you have accepted the premise of the first volume. And in our world, it’s becoming more and more obscure who owns and controls what in the big money bins where a lot of companies are gathered in large multinational conglomerates.
The book takes on a political and ideological angle sometimes?
In a way it’s inevitable. But I use it only as a reference, which of course must be credible. The main focus should be on the specific actions that our protagonists are involved in, otherwise you lose identification.
Isn’t that difficult when you’ve made the perspective more comprehensive?
It is, but it’s necessary to deal with that question when the story includes greater consequences than those relating to individual characters. I believe, however, that I have managed to maintain attention, because the story always revolves around our protagonists.
Was it an angle from the outset that Ian had to admit that his own position in society might be based on a reality that meant the exploitation and oppression of others?
I didn’t quite know how it would end up, but I think I managed to avoid too much political correctness, which tends to destroy the intensity of a drama. I boiled it down to a concentrated bit so readers wouldn’t be too annoyed. Personally, I am also quite skeptical when I see know-it-all attitudes unfold in other storyteller’s dramatic contexts.
Perhaps you even have a weakness for simple, non-political adventure stories not burdened by ideological thoughts?
Not necessarily, but I recognize my responsibility. The media products that simply compile as many cheap effects and bash action as possible bore me, too. There should be a sense and an attitude behind things that can be felt, but it’s better to show this rather than just refer to it. It’s necessary to strike a balance, and there is an ongoing challenge to spice the composition, so your cocktail ends up being fizzy and delicious.
Like the first book, there are also chapters dealing with life in Sarlydor.
There are and they are also important. They allow us to see the creation from the inside, and the avatars get to experience what it’s like when a universe is moving towards its dissolution and destruction. It is associated with great anguish and insecurity, but for a writer that is obviously a situation with exciting challenges.
The avatars experience doubt and philosophical considerations.
They reflect the frustration and confusion, which has also spread among the players outside Sarlydor in our world. For them it is also a question of whether the game will continue to work and, on a personal level, who will be the next player to lose his advanced and upgraded character in a black hole. All movement in this universe is associated with doubt and anxiety for the future, and you are filled with frustration and anger which you don’t know how to handle. So in that sense there is a clear parallel between the players and the avatars’ conditions of existence. That connection I experienced as an additional quality, I could play on.
But along comes Magnus the Mighty once again.
Yes, then the conspiracy becomes organized, and the person who originally created the universe now carries out the apocalypse. It is very appropriate and logical as the universe has been destroyed by incompetent administrators in the run up to the collapse.
Is the concept of the ‘nothingness’ spreading in Questland a reference to Michael Ende’s ‘The Neverending Story’?
You could call it a tribute to him. His book is also one of the finest examples of the fantasy genre with a deeper meaning behind it. The universe only exists and functions because people’s imaginations and empathy sustain it. I manage that parallelism in my own way, using computer games instead of literature. My nothingness is a lack of a defined universe or an irresponsibly built extension of the game. Moreover, it is actually quite realistic that additions might be introduced to the game before being adequately tested. This also happens in the real world of computer games, where they also give rise to acidity and criticism from players. In my case, these conditions are simply exaggerated to apply to dangerous consequences in our world as well.
Readers come close to feeling like demigods who can manipulate people in another world.
That is the essence of computer games and on a higher level I am the ultimate creator and god, because I have written the book. In one chapter I let the warriors philosophize on the meaning of it all, and why things seem to be collapsing. It is a very apocalyptic parallel to the destiny of our own world. Maybe there is someone out there manipulating us humans? I also refer to this in ‘Paragon – The Guardian Spirit’ and other books.
You even have a savior figure in Sarlydor. A spiritual leader who also is betrayed and executed.
It’s not hard to make out who he can be a parallel to in our world. I introduced Kantaryn in the first volume without knowing that he would play a crucial role in the new book. I was very happy with that character as I developed him.
Is it logical that the avatars have their own lives and think independently?
Of course it is a postulate, but what isn’t in the fantasy genre? It was important to me to make the characters as credible and sympathetic as possible with multiple facets beyond those associated with the warrior trade. The computer games are also becoming more flexible over time with various new parameters, so I wanted to touch on that development in Questland. And as you can see, the inhabitants do embark on a more varied life, once they finally get their freedom.
Would it be too hard to have Magnus destroy everything?
I comment upon that in the end of the book, where the citizens of Sarlydor contemplate the strokes of destiny. How likely is it that a creative power would destroy the entire creation after going through all the trouble to create it in the first place? That isn’t very credible. Not even based on a slower development model without spiritual interference.
You also have concerns about the relevance of faith and belief?
Since I now found myself moving about in that area, it was a natural angle to comment upon. The quality of human life is essential, and if it can be improved through belief in a higher power controlling everything then it is reasonable to respect this, even if it’s based on something fictional. What matters are people’s perceptions of that connection and the feeling of well-being, not whether it is a correct perception of reality. Obviously care must be taken when speaking of this to religious fundamentalists who each believe they have found the only real truth. I have great difficulty with that kind of thinking, for it creates discord instead of unity among people.
Will there be a third book about Questland?
It was hard for me to imagine. For now I had tied up all the loose ends from the first volume, and there’s nothing hanging in the air now that the game is brought to a conclusive end, but the fact that Sarlydor did continue to exist made room for an idea for a third volume. So, yes, I have written a third book in the series.
There are perhaps still some in Sarlydor who voluntarily commit suicide and come to Earth without having been involved in the conspiracy?
Yes, it is possible that there are some defectors wandering around in our world, but if they speak too loudly about their past they’ll most likely end up under lock and key in a mental institution.
Perhaps with the exception of Kantaryn?
Yes, he is a clever guy, so he might be able to adapt to a life on Earth as a guru of some sort. I’m quite happy that he might have survived together with Aciel and Mankor.
Then a new volume might be about Kantaryn as a spiritual guru on Earth?
I don’t think so. That would bring us out of the Questland universe, and then I might as well write a book about another guru. In a way, I have already done that, it’s just not a religious guru but a political guru of our world in the 1970s.