Triona Campbell is an award-winning producer and creator of GAMERMODE, a TV show about video games. Her debut novel, A Game of Life or Death, follows sixteen-year-old Asha Kennedy, who discovers her older sister Maya’s dead body in their home. Desperate for answers, and to stay out of the hands of the social services she grew up in, Asha turns to her hacker friends for help. Her search leads her to Zu Tech, the hit games studio where Maya was a lead coder. As Asha begins to unravel the riddle of her death, she realises that the only way to uncover the truth is from the inside.
We had the honour of chatting with Triona Campbell today:
A Game of Life or Death is such a fun book! First of all, please tell us your favourite video game of all time.
Thank You. That’s so great to hear.
Also – such a tough question. I think Video Games have always been part of my life. From TI Invaders, a clone of Space Invaders for the TI 99/4A home computer (my Dad had a 1Texas Instruments home computer from one of his trips to the US in the 80’s). Pac Man as a table top arcade game and then the classic shooter game House of the dead, and of course some of the more modern VR games. Games kind of reflect where you are in your life at that moment, so my favourite games are constantly evolving. Right now they are the games I play with my kids – Mario Kart, Tricky Towers, Boomerang Fu, Splatoon, and lots of Roblox.
What is your background in video gaming and why did you decide to write a book about VR games?
Like every parent I watch my kids playing Video Games. Using games to communicate, to enjoy a sense of agency, to find their own tribe as well as to be entertained. That lead me to producing a kids TV series on Video Games called GAMERMODE for RTE (in Ireland). The research for the show meant I got to meet and work with some legendary and inspiring games creators. I also got completely obsessed during that time with coding and the science behind video games. As well as chatting daily to people creating the VR classrooms of tomorrow and doing Minecraft in Education now. Story ideas started to emerge then…
What if you based a thriller in this world….
What if you had someone who grew up in a care facility and then went to work at a large tech giant run by an almost cult-like leader?
What if this too-big-to-fail company had a secret they didn’t want people to know…
What if they killed the whistle-blower to stop her from telling anyone?
What if her only family came looking for answers…. and then revenge…
That’s where the A Game of Life or Death started for me.
Do you still remember the first time you came across a VR game? How did you like them compared to other console games?
Yes – I think it was at a science convention where there were this vast number of stands looking at various projects and then one stand which had a VR roller coaster simulator and just a massive crowd of people all around it. It struck me then, the potential of VR games to grow and create an experience beyond that of the gamer in a seated position in front of a screen. In VR you are fully immersed, you move around and you live inside the game world (you are not just watching the game, you are in the game).
With your background in games, you must already know quite a bit about AI and VR already. Was there anything new you learned from researching for the book?
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI’s) was something I really went deep into when researching the book and I was only marginally aware of it from before. In the story that type of technology is used for evil purposes. But I had previously done a TV series with the explorer Mark Pollock (the first blind man to race to the south pole) and I knew about his interest in this area in relation to solutions for paralysis. BCI’s as an emerging strategy for spinal cord injury – seeing if this could be used to help people walk again. And that research really brought it home for me – technology itself is neither good nor bad – it’s what we do with it that matters.
In the book, advanced technology is most often used for hacking, wiping digital footprint and other Zu Tech’s shenanigans. How optimistic are you that humans can use such technology efficiently and benevolently in the future?
Something I want the reader to take away with them after reading the book, is the power of the individual. The idea that no matter how big the corporation or the obstacle we still live is a time where one person can make a difference. When I think of our future and technology, I am hopeful, and that hope is based on people. Individuals asking questions as we push forward. Governments will never be able to legislate as fast as technology evolves, its up to individuals to really question and think about how we want to shape the future.
You created an incredibly interesting site to accompany your book. How did you come up with that?
I LOVE that site. I got to say it was a Team scholastic idea (Hannah Love, Ellen Thomson and co). I adore working with them. We wanted to create a complementary element for the book. To make the universe of the story world bigger and create a space where additional content could be uploaded in between books.
And we love all the extra details you put on the site that aren’t in the book! What other plans do you have for the site, and will we get to explore more of Asha’s story?
Definitely there is more Asha, Dark and Co on the way. I am in the middle of writing book two right now. In terms of the site – more content is coming (so if you haven’t already, please sign up at www.zutech.co.uk – its free). For me as a writer this is just becoming an incredible way to stay in touch with readers outside of the book and a way to further explore and expand the story world in-between releases.