This isn't a story about overcoming the odds. It isn't a story about struggle. It's a story about surprising yourself and those around you. It's a story about what happens when people do good things for others. It’s a story that begins with a woman named Janet, a letter and a song.
Janet Carr gets more email than you do. Way more. Apparently the average corporate user sends and receives an average of 121 emails every 24 hours. On a good day? Janet receives 2000.
But it wasn’t an email that captured Janet Carr’s imagination one morning; it was a letter. A hand written letter. From a fellow mother. A mother who watched her son do something completely unexpected and, as mothers do, wanted to share the moment with as many people as humanly possible.
That moment came in the shape of a song.
Janet Carr is the creator and producer of Good Game: Spawn Point.
Or 'Spawney', as Janet likes to call it — an ABC TV show aimed at young gamers. A show where presenters Bajo, Hex and DARREN (Data Analysing Robot for the Ruthless Extermination of Noobs) talk video games to hordes of sticky faced children each weekend. Good Game: Spawn Point is a blisteringly paced cavalcade of viewer involvement, reviews and general insanity. It’s wildly popular. It’s the reason Janet Carr wakes up to 4000 emails on a Monday morning.
But it’s not just the sheer volume of emails that motivates Janet — that's almost intangible — it’s more than a number. Much more.
Sitting down at her desk, Janet runs us through some emails. She shows us her favourites. Some of them have us cackling with laughter, others just make us smile. This is the language that children use.
“Bajo you rule,” writes one.
“Hex you are awesome,” says another.
“DARREN just admit it you are a MAJOR noob And Hex tell Bajo he needs hi-five lessons you don't!”
The kids themselves, and the way they respond to every single detail of the show, make Good Game: Spawn Point worthwhile, says Janet.
“There’s something different about them,” she explains. “There are no trolls. They just want to share their passion. They want to see that passion reflected back at them. They’re so innocent in the way they love things.
“It's incredible, and reading their emails is just my favourite part of the day. You come out of a difficult meeting and you just say, 'alright, I'll just go and have a look at the Good Game: Spawn Point inbox for 10 minutes!'
“It reminds me, every time. Wow. This is why we are making this show.”
But then one morning Janet Carr opened an envelope addressed to Good Game: Spawn Point, and cried.
Inside was a hand written letter, and a song.
“Dear Good Game Spawn point,” it began. “Enclosed is a song written by my 10 year old son Jordan.
“[W]hile he is bright in some areas, communication, writing stories, coming up with ideas and a lack of imagination has been a challenge for him.”
“I was simply blown away when Jordan showed me and sang to me this amazing little song. It is a remarkable achievement for Jordan.
“Jordan would love for his song to be read out on your show, and if this is possible I would appreciate knowing when so I can be sure he is watching. If it is not possible for it to be read out, some sort of acknowledgement you have received his song would be a wonderful encouragement to Jordan. Maybe a letter he can keep and show his friends...
“Thank you for taking the time to read Jordan’s song. I hope you can do something to encourage his imagination. Kind regards, Sharon, Jordan’s Mum.”
Janet flipped over the page, and read the attached song. Laughing in disbelief.
“When you read the lyrics — mushroom with a wyvern on the top. It's genius!” Says Janet. “Wyvern is not an everyday word! People in our office didn't know what a Wyvern was! And it's such a great image.”
Janet goes through thousands of emails a day, and hand-written letters arrive at the Good Game office each week. But, for some reason, this particular letter stood out among many. She knew something had to be done.
“I was like; we can do more with this than just read it on TV.”
“It's a lovely little story, isn't it?”
Eliot Fish is a producer at Good Game. But he also happens to be a musician — a successful one. At one point, as the bassist for Sydney band Big Heavy Stuff, Eliot regularly toured with Powderfinger. His band once supported Radiohead on an Australian tour.
He vividly remembers Janet rushing to his desk, clutching a letter and a song.
“She just came up to me at my desk saying, you've got to see these lyrics that this Spawn Point viewer sent in. They're just so creative and fun,” remembers Eliot.
“I can't remember if Janet suggested I write music, or whether I suggested it, half jokingly. But I said that I could write music for these lyrics and have DARREN sing them.”
DARREN is a robot. On Good Game: Spawn Point he is the fount of all gaming knowledge and the butt of all the jokes. Sometimes he lasers people. The Good Game producers love DARREN and openly discuss him as though he were a fully sentient member of staff. Almost every email or letter sent to Good Game: Spawn Point mentions DARREN. Usually to call him a ‘noob’.
One of the running jokes on Good Game: Spawn Point is that DARREN loves to sing.
“I love coming up with excuses for DARREN to unleash his vocal powers,” says Eliot.
“So I said I would try to come up with something over the weekend, to see if it was worth doing. I printed out Jordan’s lyrics and took them home.”
The weekend came and went. Eliot Fish rolled Jordan’s words around in his head; he dabbled on his keyboard and strummed his bass guitar. Eventually, after two hours of prodding he had something. Eliot walked into the office the following Monday with a demo in hand, and doubts in the pit of his stomach. He wasn’t completely sure about the music he had written, but he showed it to Janet regardless.
“For some reason I decided it should be a bit like a pastiche of a few things,” says Eliot. “It was originally just a cheeky Prince throwaway with some bad 90s scratching.
“I brought it in on the Monday, and showed it to Janet. At that stage it didn't have any singing on it. I just put the melody in as a keyboard part. I said, 'this is the song!' I don't know if anyone was really sure whether we should really do it.
“But then we listened to it again because Steven [Bajo] and Steph [Hex] came into the office and sang it. After we listened a couple of times, the little melody started to get its teeth in…”
Janet Carr was a little more enthusiastic. She tells it a little differently.
“When Bajo and Hex sat and actually sang the song. That was the magical moment. That was when we said we’ve actually got something here.”
A few days later Eliot and Janet gathered the troops and marched them into the ABC's recording booth. Everyone — Bajo, Hex... even DARREN had a part to play. The production team recorded everything on camera, each step of the way — Hex blasting We Are The World-esque vocal gymnastics, DARREN belting out his parts with an actual pair of headphones on for some insane reason. Bajo was persuaded to bust out, as Eliot puts it, "some authentic Aussie rap".
Janet and Eliot listened to the final product. They watched the footage they had already recorded. Both of them came to the same conclusion. They had to make a music video for Jordan's song.
"At that point I was like, Eliot's written such a catchy tune, and the lyrics are so good," says Janet. "Initially I thought we'd just sing a bit of it in Ask Good Game, just the chorus.
"But when the lyrics were set to the music. I said, nope! This has to be a music video."
Galvanised by the quality of Eliot's song, and driven by Janet's enthusiasm, the entire Good Game team set about stretching their resources to build something unforgettable. People began spitballing and ideas could not be contained.
"To begin with we were still thinking we'd use 10 seconds of it or whatever," says Eliot. "But when all the ideas for what the music video should be started coming out, it just became this massive thing. Everyone just started shooting lots of stuff — we shot a lot of stuff that didn't end up getting used."
"I think everyone just fell in love with it as we went. We had to do the original lyrics justice."
The team went to extra lengths. Lin Jie Kong, a producer, dragged the DARREN robot outside to get some guerrilla style hip-hop shots for Bajo's dubstep breakdown. Tim Pearce, Good Game's sound engineer, came in on his day off to meticulously mix the music. Their graphical artist Shahane Bekarian spent hours building and animating an actual Wyvern for the video.
"Shahane took this way further than I thought he would," says Janet. "My favourite bit is when the Wyvern matches Steph's dance moves! He could have just shoved anything in there..."
But he didn't.
As far Janet was concerned, the project was an all or nothing deal.
"As a producer you have a choice," says Janet. "One choice is... do nothing. Just don't even acknowledge the letter. Number two choice is read it on the show maybe. But once you've taken the step to do something you have to do the very best you can.
"Jordan's work deserved that, it was so special."
Jordan was fast asleep when Sharon, his mother, got the email. But she had no qualms about waking him up with the news. Sharon received a message from Janet after the initial letter was sent, but hadn't heard anything for a few months. She had no real idea what was going on. Just that she should make sure Jordan was ready to watch Good Game: Spawn Point the next day, and that there would be music.
"It was probably a couple of months later when I got the email telling me they had written music for it, and they were going to put it on the 100th episode," says Sharon. "I got Jordan out of bed to show him the email. He didn't sleep very well that night, he was too excited."
Some members of the Spawn Point team were just as excited, in particular Eliot, who had written the song for Jordan's lyrics. But he was nervous, worried he might have destroyed Jordan's idea for the song — Jordan had sang the song to his Mum after all, and he had his own idea of what the song would sound like.
He needn't have worried.
"Jordan had sang bits of it to me, and he did have his own tune in his mind," says Sharon, "but I said to him, the song probably won't be the same as the one you've got in your head.
"But he didn't mind at all. He said when the tune came on the TV that he thought it was better than his. He loved it! We were amazed. It was fantastic, he's very proud of it."
Even Bajo's "authentic Aussie Rap?"
"I thought the rap was great," laughs Sharon, "really well done!"
A couple of weeks later the teachers at Jordan's school discovered the video. In the school's gymnasium they set up a projector during the school assembly, so Jordan could show his song — the song he had written and sang to his mother just a few months ago — to his friends at school.
Most of them had already seen it.
"The week before they showed it in the school," says Sharon, "I was on a school excursion with my younger daughter. Suddenly some random kid, I didn't even know his name, but he was singing it! He was singing it over and over again. He must have watched it on the show.
"It's very catchy like that!"
And it all started with a single handwritten letter, and a song. A chance for Janet and her team to give something back to the audience that inspires them.
"Every single day the show receives amazing letters from kids who watch the show," says Eliot.
"Every single day there's some really incredible story, and it's rare that there's much you can do in return — other than keep making what you think is a great show every week for them to enjoy.
"This was just a great opportunity to give something back."