Steffanie Yeakle and Marie Chaplet - Games and Stories
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Childhood was a happy time for both of us. Although we were raised thousands of miles apart, Steffanie in Connecticut, Marie in the Sarthe, we had similar experiences. Our best memories were of playing games and we feel so privileged to do it for our jobs, first in product development for Habourdin / Spear’s Games then Mattel and Creata, and now as authors.
Working from home, we have the added benefit of embarrassing our teenagers who return from school to find us having a tea party with our plush toys. Sometimes just hearing us discuss a game on the phone « that card could push the fart two squares » becomes an inside joke for their friends and them that we don’t find out about until months later.
We are delighted to embrace the whimsical, the silly, the absurd, if that means we can impart some of it to those who play our games and read our books.
What was the most surprising call you got from a prospective client?
The day one of Hachette’s imprints reached out and asked us if we’d like to write a book. Their brief was to tell a story and create over 100 puzzles and activities that would be part of that story. They let us know that an author who’d done puzzle books for them had declined this offer. We had no idea why they thought we might have the skills for that, but we were game to try!
Because our other shared passion is stories and storytelling. Marie fell head-over-heels in love with children’s literature when she started reading books to her small children. Steffanie never stopped reading the science fiction and fantasy that she enjoyed as a kid and teen. And when we began our activity as authors, she was in the middle of learning and performing improv, and fascinated by all the lessons that has to impart on how to build and tell stories.
So writing a book was an opportunity we didn’t want to pass on, however high our levels of impostor syndrome were! Each story takes place in a different city: Paris, London, and for our third book that comes out this fall, Venice. We write with many goals in mind: tell a fun tale of mystery and adventure, travel through the prettiest and most interesting places in the city, impart a bit of knowledge and manage to tie in the puzzles so they seem logical in the story.
As is very often the case, having so many constraints stimulates our creativity. Limiting what is possible gives us a challenging puzzle to solve! So dear editor friends, don’t hesitate to write very specific briefs.
(For the curious amongst you, you can search the French web for the books Disparition à Paris and Disparition à Londres)
How does storytelling tie in with games ?
For one, it informs how we create. Some of our games have a story attached to them. For Paul and the Moon we wrote the story of the Moon’s lost light pen that you must return to her. For Toothy Wolf the story is very simple : the wolf is in pain and you are the dentist. For our fairytale cards games for Nathan we sometimes gave them a new twist, especially by sending the Little Red Riding Hood to ninja school so she can fight back against the wolf. Other games we’ve authored can become part of a child’s make-believe world like Barbecue Party where they can pretend barbecue when they are finished playing the game.
We feel that children, because they are still trying to make sense of the world, tend to take things pretty literally. Even when they follow you into flights of fantasy, there needs to be a strong inner structure and coherence. And this applies especially to games and game rules. Parents have a much easier time explaining the rules if they make sense within a narrative structure, if they are a coherent part of a story. The more rules a game has, the truer this is.
Of course, we have also created a story-telling game, Memory Story, which will be available from Loki early summer 2020. The Storytellers create a story all together with the cards. Afterwards, the Listener - who didn’t see these cards - must find the right ones to recreate the story. But don’t let the lookalikes trick you! Memory Story : invent stories that your friends will remember! The idea for this game was sparked by a NYTimes article about memory competitions and mind palaces.
And, to loop it together all the way, because of our work on Disparition à Paris, we were asked to work as scriptwriters on a detective game for kids 7+ that comes out later this spring.
What were your favorite stories growing up?
Marie: The Famous Five books
Steffanie: The Wizard of Oz books, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider stories, then Tolkien for fantasy, and the classics Heinlein, Asimov, the short stories in Omni for science fiction.