Life Should be More Like Metroid

My phone is still not ringing. I find this confusing, since I cleverly hid my cell phone number inside one of my books. I fully expected by now that some random reader would figure it out, give me a call, and want to chat for a bit.

I hide things like this inside my print editions. Little clues, games with the page numbers, changing the size of some of the font to make a word or number stand out, and I’m probably the only one who knows or cares. I think it goes back to my 8-bit fantasies. I used to dream of beating a difficult NES game and finding out that I’d done it in record time, and the programmers had left a bit of code just for such an occasion. A phone number would pop on the screen and tell me to call and claim my reward.

I’ve found out since that I’m not the only gamer to harbor such delusions. In fact, the lure is so common and universal, it was once the subject of a film, THE LAST STARFIGHTER. We didn’t get the idea from the movie, of course. The movie and our ideas were a part of a general zeitgeist. We wanted to be a real part of the action. We wanted a direct connection to the invisible strangers who created the font of entertainment we held so dear.

Life should be more like Metroid. This was the first game to truly celebrate the connection between gamers who hacked and explored and their fellow geeks who coded the games. Sure, Zelda had trees you could burn and walls you could walk through, and Super Mario had shortcuts to skip levels, but in Metroid, you could stand in one of those blue bubble doorways, allow the door to close on your head, become well and truly stuck (this was before true save games, mind you), and then hit up and down on your paddle and jitter through the ceiling.

Well and good, but then it becomes awesome: the programmers not only allowed such a bug, they provided treasure for those who exploited it. You could jitter past obstacles, and even better, you could worm your way into hidden rooms. This wasn’t an accident. Subsequent Metroid games featured the same “bug.” This was designers rewarding the gamer for taking a chance and getting off the beaten path. And this reward mechanism gave me, as a consumer of their product, a direct link to them. A friendship.

This is one of the many geeky reasons I hide things in my books. It’s also why I hide in bookstores, surprising unsuspecting fans. I think life should be like Metroid, with hidden rooms full of treasure, with links between creator and consumer, with surprises around every corner.

Last week, I got an email from an awesome mom. Her son really, really, really wanted whatever book of mine was coming out in the UK. I knew exactly what she was talking about (the kick-ass proof copies), and I hated to break the news that he could only hope to win them, that she couldn’t purchase them. It made it doubly hard that the boy’s 18th birthday was coming up, triply hard that he is an outstanding kid, a product of home-schooling, and quadruply hard that he was an Eagle Scout by the time he was thirteen.

Damn. How do I tell this kid’s mother that the thing she wants for him isn’t for sale? But then I notice something. She mentions where she lives in North Carolina and that her son, Tyler, was stoked to see that I used to live in Boone, even though I’ve now moved to Florida. So I wrote back and let the mother know that I just happened to be in Waxhaw that week and would she like to meet for lunch, maybe give Tyler a signed book since the proofs aren’t available?

This awesome mom jumped on the chance. I told her I’d bring my father, who was also an Eagle Scout, and she said she would bring her husband and daughter as well. We planned to meet at J.D.’s in Statesville, which looked like an awesome Deli online. It was, but it was inside a mall. Since my father and I got there early (we are cut from the same cloth), we killed some time in the bookstore. Which is when I got an idea (a goofy one, Metroid-style). I texted the plan to Tyler’s mom. She heartily agreed.

It was an awesome lunch. I think we spent an hour and a half hanging out. The food was to die for (incredible Reuben and Cuban sandwiches. I wish this place was in Jupiter, FL). We chatted about everything, what the kids were studying, what they were doing with their summer, what Tyler was planning to do for school, scholarships he’d won, scouting, movies, books he likes (he’s also met and gotten signed works from my nemesis, Mr. Card).

And this I can guarantee: I got more out of the experience than Tyler did. It was a blast being on the other end of my 8-bit dreams. I get to do things like hide my phone number and wait for a call from a curious hacker. I get to spring surprises on people. I can reward someone for taking a chance, see their face light up, and marvel at the strange and surreal notion that anyone would get a kick out of having lunch with me.

What an incredible ride. What an incredible family. From the very beginning, the best part of taking up writing has been the chance to connect with an audience, to get to know fellow readers, to forge a bond between creator and consumer. It was the thrill I used to get from playing games like Metroid, where living on the edge often meant getting a glimpse over it, down to a magical vista below, hidden and out of sight from anyone who followed worn paths, anyone who played it safe or simply by the rules.

30 responses to “Life Should be More Like Metroid”

  1. Heather Thomas Avatar
    Heather Thomas

    Tears of joy and happiness. That’s what this kind of awesomeness produces. You are an amazing person, Hugh. You deserve every bit of fame, every accolade, every reward and award that you get.

    1. You are too sweet, Heather.

  2. You’re a good dude, Hugh. A really good dude.

  3. What a neat thing to do! As a former home schooling mom, this really tickled me. He will never forget you giving time and having a personal interest in his life. You can come surprise me any time at work if you are ever in NW Ohio :-)

  4. THIS is exactly why your fans adore you!

  5. Very cool thing to do! (ps I’m curious, have you read READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline?)

    1. No, but I have a copy! I’ll get to it soon.

      1. That was my thought too .. I think you would LOVE it Hugh .. my favorite new book of 2011 (ie that came out that year).

  6. That was an outstanding thing you did. It’s hard to tell who has more fun – you or your fans. And that’s a pretty unique deal. You’re a good guy, Hugh, carry on.

  7. Wow, I bet that kid was thrilled. You are such a thoughtful person. I just wanted to second Linda’s comment….read your copy of Ready Player One! :) Its FULL of the kind of stuff you are talking about! I’m 55, and I remember being a little kid, and always wishing there was more to the plain old board games that I used to play. I would use my “disneykins” (anyone remember those?) on box game boards like Chutes and Ladders, and I would make up pretend worlds on the gameboards with trap doors, secret passages, etc. When I first saw Mario on the NES, when I was a young mother, I nearly passed out from joy. Dropping into pipes and finding secret passageways was the stuff of my childhood dreams. I’m still a gamer to this day, and I loved reading your thoughts on Easter Eggs in your books. You are too cool. Hopefully I will find one some day! Thanks, Hugh.

  8. Great story. Looks like you made his day. By the way, I love The Last Starfighter. One of my favorite movies from when I was younger.

  9. YOU, Hugh Howey, are the awesomesauce. I am all weepy over the kindness and coolness of this act — and what’s more, this is not the first time you’ve done this to me!

    Furthermore, reading your post made me race down here to ask if you’ve read “Ready Player One,” only to see that Linda beat me to the punch. Read it. STAT.

    In fact, I’ll make you a deal: I’ll gak my way through that Zombie mess if you pick up Ernest Cline’s book sooner rather than later. I think you’ll like it.

    1. Okay. I’ll move it up the TBR pile! Promise!

  10. Vanja Malogorski Avatar
    Vanja Malogorski

    He`s doing it all the time!
    Last week I ordered the Omnibus and the next day Hugh emailed me asking whether I am willing to pay additional $35 to ship it to Croatia, or should he refund me.
    I said, forget it and keep the money, I read the book already anyway.
    But being Hugh Howey, he paid the shipping cost from his own pocket!

  11. Hugh, you really are just an all-around amazing guy. I’m consistently blown away by your awesomeness. And it never gets old convincing my friends to read your books (and, subsequently, your blog). It’s so rare to see someone who goes out of their way to perform random acts of kindness. As much as I love your books, I love you more.

    Gotta say, though… really? Seriously? You haven’t read “Ready Player One”? I could’ve sworn that that book must be a direct inspiration for a lot of what you write here. Go ahead and add yet another recommendation to that growing pile! I’d be really excited to read what you think of it!

    P.S. I think your dog is super cute.

  12. Can someone please tell me where the “Like” button is located?

  13. Hi,it’s me.
    SFW would like to cooperate with you,not only WOOL.
    So could you give me your agent’s email?We would like to contact him.

  14. I started reading the WOOL series a few weeks ago, and finish the 6th book yesterday. They are truly awesome! I cannot wait for more. I am going to read your other books soon. I am surprised that I figured out your cell number. I have always felt the same as you. Finding a secret code. I do have some questions about something else I noticed in all of your WOOL books.

    1. Dude! You should try me back. Your number came up as “private.” Hit me up next week, I should be a lot less crazy. You can ask about the page numbers (that’s where you were going, right?)

      1. Thank you. I will call back. Yes, page numbers (not 100% ?)

  15. I can remember Pitfall for the Atari 2600 giving a patch if you could score over a certain amount, take a picture, and send it in.

    I remember how sad I was when I made the score but the picture was just of the camera flash reflected off the TV. Too bad there were no digital cameras back then.

    I can’t believe that I remember that.

  16. Brand spank’n new to Howey fan club. Dude… you’re a rock star, I absolutely loved Wool Omnibus. I’m crazy happy because I’ve got a new favorite author to read. Keep up the stellar work.

  17. Hi Hugh — it was great speaking to you on the phone today. As soon as I found your number I immediately dialed it, totally unprepared for a conversation with my new favorite author! If you’re ever in Baltimore drop me a line and I’ll buy you a crabcake.

    1. Love to! Baltimore is one of my absolute favorite cities. I love the inner harbor area. And thanks for calling!

  18. Bryan Montford Avatar
    Bryan Montford

    I found the number (frightningly easy…) and called, and yes he answered, and we talked. Really an awesome very aproachable guy! And no, I am not telling where it’s found.

  19. Just read Wool Omnibus…enjoyed it very much. It was a breath of fresh air after just finishing the Wheel of Time series.

    I am glad you stay in touch with fans, but do not let social networking keep you from writing more books. We need more writers like you who are thoughtful and well written. Keep up the good work.

    BTW…Is WOOL an acrinum? World Order Or Loss might make sense.

  20. World Order Operation 50. :D

    I’ve yet to read Robert Jordan’s series. Been in his house once, though. Wish he were still around.

    And don’t fear my output. I’m writing three books or so a year! Can’t match how fast you people read, but I’m trying!

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