Jim Munroe writes novels to pay the bills, but would rather be making video games. A couple of years ago, HarperCollins Canada published his first novel, Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask. The experience so bolstered Munroe's hatred of the mainstream publishing industry that he published his second novel Angry Young Spaceman himself. With the same amount of sales and a better profit margin than his first novel, the 29-year-old Jim Munroe seems to have developed a killer strategy for self-publishing. A strategy he threatens to apply to the web, to video games and beyond.
Seated across from my digital camcorder in a downtown Toronto café, the tall and shaggy Munroe postulates between bites of a bathmat-sized slab of pizza. "The thing I find about most 'hot' media is that there's so much hype. I started to think about it in terms of a hype-to-content ratio, and the discrepancy causes almost something like an physical imbalance of the inner ear. I call it 'hype nausea,' because the content's so low."
Jim Munroe's No Media Kings web site is all about relieving hype nausea. Appropriately unleashed soon after the Y2K bull roar came and went, No Media Kings was built on a foundation of anarchistic zines such as Celtic Pamplemousse, Munroe's "two and a half novels." Since its inception, the site has had a satisfying 20,000+ unique visitors. No Media Kings features a wealth of information on independent publishing, something that Munroe claims will be the indie music of this century. In true DIY style, No Media Kings gives empowering information to budding writers and self-publishers.
"You're not capable of speaking to all audiences, so why not speak to the audience that you know, that you interact with, that you have a community with," Munroe explains. "I've discovered that there are other audiences for what I'm doing at No Media Kings, specifically the open-source geek community. They're very interested in the kind of anti-corporate, free information element of the site."
With new audiences came Munroe's interest in new media. Just a click away from No Media Kings is the site's parasitic twin, New Media Kings. This parallel alter ego site is the product of Munroe's realisation and acceptance of the fact that his path is becoming increasingly digital. The entire electronic text of Angry Young Spaceman, as well as animated screensavers and other Spaceman widgets can be downloaded via New Media Kings. Says Munroe, "the stuff I'm doing now is the early stages of where I'm going with both digital video and video games. I'm not good at graphics. I can't draw, I'm not particularly even good at digital collage stuff, but I can write, and I can program a little bit."
And so Munroe created "Punk Points," an interactive fiction game in the old-school style of Zork available to download or play online at New Media Kings. Punk Points is a text adventure starring a 14-year old boy on his first day of Catholic High School. A streaming MP3 soundtrack courtesy of Fat Wreck Chords can be revved up to accompany the adventure. While the Punk Points page has audio and some accompanying illustrations, the actual game has no graphics, something Munroe doesn't seem too concerned with. "I find lots of the thinking around video games to be ridiculous. People [seem to] think that polygons being thrown at your face are more important than good storytelling." The Punk Points story comes directly from Munroe's past. "I was in Grade 9, and I had a friend who I was trying to convince to get an earring. He said 'Okay, but only if we both shave our heads.' So we went and did that. People started to assume I was a skinhead or a punk, even though I really had no understanding [of the scene]. I had to go buy records and figure out what it was about — it was a very exciting and interesting time."
Punk Points is only the opening band in Jim Munroe's marathon hardcore set. "I kind of dislike categorisations. I always have, in terms of art. Often I'll say I write books to pay the bills, but I really want to be a video game maker. But that's just this decade. I think there's something empowering about being able to shift and go into different things. I think there's something to be said for playing in different places. That's where it started out for me, and that's where I've always tried to keep it — in a sense of play." With a proven talent for self-publishing, and the skills to pay the bills, there's not much that can stand in the way of Jim Munroe's aspirations. Keep your eyes on this New Media King as he smashes the state of the video game industry one pixel at a time.
Originally printed in Exclaim Magazine, July 2001 edition. James Keast, editor.