the doll games
shelley and pamela jackson




S: Partly we became fascinated with the tie-in products of the doll games. We became fascinated with making them seem real, by giving the dolls—oh, see that’s interesting. By giving the dolls their own imaginary world in a sense, like having the dolls create other things so that they became like us, masters of a less real domain. Which made them seem realer, because they were making presents, or they were writing stories. And then those things existed as real physical objects that were responsible first to the dolls, and only secretly to us.

P: It also seems like we became interested in building up the virtual world in a more permanent state, in a more filled out, everyday state. So that they could have these continuing everyday lives, and this continuing community amongst themselves. Because—I mean there’s no tension, no real narrative in the making of a giant group Christmas. It was a filling out of the world.

S: More of a sitcom sort of world. This was also the period when we created their apartments, and sort of filled them up. We were giving them a real world but also losing a sense of narrative. I wonder why.

P: Some of it, like the playing out of the school stuff was getting closer to making our dolls stand-ins for us in our real world of school and social performance.

S: And our fantasies of excellence.

P: Playing out our feelings of being better than everyone else, but also kind of alienated.

S: Were our dolls alienated?

P: They were, kind of.

S: Early on more, though.

P: There was a different kind of alienation with the school dolls. It wasn’t bad alienation, like the kind I actually experienced, because they did have friends and they were beautiful. But there was always a sense of the—hoi polloi who were unappreciative or gross, like Dawn and Harvey.

S: That again brings up the Mara and Melanie question. Because I think Aina, and those other dolls that we had first, they really took on the role of the sort of outcast and freak in ways that were written into the plot as problematic for them socially, whereas Mara and Melanie—the only thing that made them outcast was the fact that they were better than other people.

P: Not just better at everything but more sane and good and—

S: Smart—it’s not like we created these monsters, because they weren’t, they were just decent, nice and well adjusted people who were faultlessly good-looking! But not in the way that we considered stupid, or that pandered to gross conceptions of femininity. So they weren’t the black sheep that the earlier characters had been.

P: Once again we’ve arrived at the imaginative poverty of our late-period doll games.

S: We should divide them up into stages. The Renaissance, the Baroque, the late decadent...

S: I wonder whether it’s because of Mara and Melanie that we had the impulse to create these fleshed-out worlds, or whether it was just becoming time for that. I became really interested in making the objects, that was something to do in its own right, and I would fall out of the doll games world while I was doing it. I got so excited about making these miniature objects.

P: Were we even playing the games while we were doing this?

S. The game was on hold, because we had to accumulate a huge number of presents and then wrap them up. And weren’t we keeping them secret from each other? So it was sort of like presents to each other, although wasn’t like we would then own them. Presents of surprise.

P: And then there was a huge day of opening.

S: Which was sort of boring. And interminable. And also, I remember that being the end of the doll games, although I don’t know if it literally was.

P: It might have been, because from that calendar we also know that it was beginning of the school year.

S: What year was it, 1977? So I would have been in eighth or ninth grade, which would make sense in terms of my losing my childhood plot.

S: I can’t remember when this happened, it might have been later, but do you remember when we read that story about these kids who invented a fictional world with a map and they made it so real that they were able to send their enemy into the fictional world and he got eaten by a monster in the swamp? And it was sort of horror story, but also really wonderful to us?

P: Yeah, and we made a map–and I remember doing a sort of natural history...

S: We aspired to that, that idea of documenting and making real a fictional world. I wonder whether that had anything to do with us wanting to create the artifacts of the dolls’ world, like their notes to each other and their writings—

P: It reminds me of Myst and Riven, which I think we would have really loved, because it’s this desire to make and be in this perfect representation of a world, which is a fantasy world but so well worked out with a map and a history and documents that it’s almost real— and one of the really cool things to me in those games is when you can go and open a book, or a box with letters in it, it adds a dimension—

S: I remember being fascinated with making something real by creating its history, and creating this body of documentation that in the non-fictional way made up a web of references that made the things of the world seem really real because they were referred to from all different directions. Which seems like a very postmodern art project, and also somewhat like a hypertext. I don’t remember thinking of that as like what we did with the doll games, but it seems to me that it was a similar impulse to make them more real by making the documents. Although we didn’t do anything about history—

P: But that’s a good point, that’s what was so great about having them write things. And it’s also what’s so incredible now about finding those writings, because they really are documents of a history, and they really are in little old wooden boxes, and they really are artifacts that tell us something about the history of a fictional world. Something about what the history of our dolls is, which we otherwise wouldn’t remember.