After Eighteen: Erin Sullivan writes from Vineyard Haven

Erin Sullivan, a 2013 graduate of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, has turned a lifelong love of video games into a career. Now he's headed to college in the fall.
Photo by Eli Dagostino

Erin Sullivan, a 2013 graduate of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, has turned a lifelong love of video games into a career. Now he's headed to college in the fall.

I’m Erin Sullivan, a 2013 graduate from The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. I’ve been playing video games since I was only a year old — I love creative writing, e-sports, and visual media.

Since graduation, I’ve been living in Vineyard Haven and working continuously on a fictional Bishoujo Visual Novel — which is, in short, a text-based dating simulation game — called “Driftwood.” I’m the lead developer and writer.

What started off as a senior project has grown into a multinational effort to create a small game worth remembering. Being the lead developer of such an ambitious project has required me to recruit people from across the globe, all with different and unique talents that fill each aspect of the game, including visuals, audio and music, and the game’s overall design. Members of the Driftwood developer team live all over the world — in places like South Africa, England, California, and even South Korea.

Driftwood is about a teenage boy from Boston named Marcus, whom after a tragic event is forced to take his schooling to a fictional boarding school on Martha’s Vineyard for his own safety. As he starts his next year of high school at the new boarding school, Marcus is greeted with a variety of cultures and personalities.
The story and game focus primarily on five main female characters that can affect Marcus’s life positively or negatively, based on the player’s choices when prompted. Each character is designed to teach Marcus a profound life lesson which helps him better understand his world and assists him in the difficult process of becoming an adult.

So, now that we know what Driftwood is, the question to ask is. Why?

Well, ‘Why?’ is never an easy question to answer, but I’ll try my best by explaining why all of this means so much to me.

It started in the fall of 2011. I returned to school with the idea of making the year better than the last, just like everyone always does. That awful lie you tell yourself at the start of each year — “yeah, I’ll try to get better grades. I’ll actually do my math homework!” This of course didn’t last, because soon after, my life was swept in a different direction.

I started dating a girl and ended up spending more time with her, but kept my overall interest in video games. This did very little to help with my academics.

Things were good, because even with me doing no homework, I managed to keep decent grades, and I was happy.

But as time waned, my personal life began to deteriorate. I spaced myself from my friends and family as I mulled over simple but very delicate choices in my life, which only led to me being less and less pleased with where I was heading.

There was nothing interesting or cool to do, which is the case on the Island for most teenagers, and the games I was playing no longer made me happy. My escape mechanism was no longer helping me escape.

Things got worse and worse: I was unmotivated, angsty, a genuine pitiful mess. Then, I discovered something that caught my attention. A game called Katawa Shoujo, which in translation means “Cripple Girls.”

So, of course, seeing a title of a game called that, I was disgusted. The thought of a dating simulator based around crippled women made me figure that it must’ve been made for people with sick, gross fetishes.

I downloaded it with the intention of maybe having a good laugh or two at the concept. Because, hey, how could anyone take the idea of that seriously at first? This intention was quickly ushered away and I was greeted with a heart-touching storyline and a wide variety of relatable characters.

I was hooked. From nearly 4 am when the game was finished downloading, to 8 pm, I read and read, and read. I related more and more with each character; laughed and smirked at the cleverness of the writers; smiled at the adorable art and hummed along with the beautiful music that accompanied all of it.

It was a strange feeling, but from the depths of my depressed unmotivated self, I slowly found the light I needed to lead me back into the world with a happier outlook.

I didn’t even have to finish the entire game to revitalize myself, and after only finishing two of the five characters’ stories, I was on my way to a better, happier me. Months later, after my junior portfolio had passed and summer vacation was slowly looming closer, I was left with the question of what I wanted to do for my senior portfolio.

I happened to accidently click on the game’s icon on my desktop, which I had nearly forgotten about. I smiled at seeing it, and for a time let myself dip back into the story that had managed to give me hope once again. By the time the class I was in had ended, I had come to the realization of how much this simple game had helped me overcome my troubles and how meaningful it all actually was to me.

That small flicker of emotion sparked the fire that now motivates me to continue with Driftwood, in the hopes that one day, my creations will make others happy, perhaps inspiring them to follow in the footsteps of other artists, with an aspiration to make the world a better place.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from Erin and other 2013 graduates.