Kurt McClung is a storyteller. A specialist in ‘narrative design’, he worked at Ubisoft with Aude de Rotalier, one of our board members at PN Singapore. He now helps us at Passerelles numériques to focus how we speak about our organization and our worldview. Here he has agreed to answer some questions about this commitment.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
I was born 52 years ago in the US. I lived 25 years in France, followed by 2 years in Singapore and 1 in Vietnam. I am married and I have one 16-year old boy. I am from Indiana where I studied IT engineering specializing in database studies. During my studies, my desire to travel led me to take 2 sabbatical years. I went to Paris to work as an English teacher and as I fell in love with the city, I stayed for 3 years before coming back to the US to finish my studies.
I began my career in Paris in engineering working in large scale projects. While spending 10 years in the sector, I also travelled a lot in Asia, particularly in Vietnam and Indonesia.
During this time, a white tiger literally change my life. While managing a project in Sumatra, a white tiger was killed for ‘safety reasons’. I was really shocked by this act which I considered to be wrong and unjustified. As I was always interested and curious about games & entrepreneurship, I decided to quit the project and change gears completely to become a creative within a comic books publishing company.
Then I started to write my own stories, such as Dragonseed, the 3rd volume of which I have recently finished. The title drew the attention of Ubisoft and they asked me to join their team. This is how I became a ‘narrative design’ specialist: creating words with attractive stories with their own codes and rules, languages and characters.
Today I am a writer who creates worlds as I was an engineer who built structures. Piece by piece, I scrutinize the smallest details, ensuring the tightest and most consistent coherence. As I am a bit hyperactive, I am at the same time developing other activities as an entrepreneur in film and cartoon production.
However, my real ambition and joy – my talent, let’s say – is to help people solve their problems through my stories. Though I did not become the pastor that the family tradition wanted me to be, each of my stories is, I hope, a gift – a metaphor that can guide people’s paths. As in games, I want them to win “additional lives”.
Contrary to what one might think about entertainment and particularly games, I don’t believe that people immerse themselves in stories and fairy tales to turn away from their lives, but rather the opposite: to find a way back to themselves. What can be solved in a metaphorical world can be applied to daily life – to the real world. Everyone can return to being the hero of their own lives. In my opinion, this is essential.
How did you hear about PN and what attracted you to us in the first place?
Ubisoft’s former Chief Financial Officer, Aude de Rotalier – today one of your very active ambassadors – announced that she was leaving the company to get involved, among other things, in your organization. I admit that at the time it puzzled me…
I admit being quite critical about NGOs – a world I know quite well having worked in it a lot in communication and for having looked at it quite closely. I was very skeptical about the idea of ‘missionaries’ because I am a believer in teaching how to fish rather than feeding.
I was really curious about Aude’s approach and I wanted to know more. What I discovered really intrigued me…for various personal reasons.
Your model is based on interactions – gateways. It does not work in a one-sided or unilateral way. To succeed, you mobilize partners, volunteers, universities and even the beneficiaries of your In my point of view and in the way I like to think about it, your model is an ‘educational project’. You give to young people useful and longterm tools. You give them the ability to be sustainably independent – to be ‘masters of their own destiny’. You don’t consider them as victims but as determined stakeholders, who, in their willingness and with their skills, take control of their own future. Educated young people represent the unique richness in our world to come. In your own way, like the stories I write for Ubisoft, you allow disadvantaged youth to become the heroes of their own stories.
You contribute to the development of Asia and to its cultural influence… Asia is a place in the world that inspires and moves me… It is a continent that has a lot to teach us: its history, its culture and its accomplishments. Experiencing Asia teaches us that everything is possible, that we can succeed, if we are a hero and not a victim, if we stand as a responsible player.
In your own way, on a very concrete scale, with your mission, those 3 cultures can “come back” to the world with their uniqueness and share with other what they are: Vietnam is the land of poetry, with its emblematic figure Ho Chi Minh. The Philippines is the land of smiles and earns this title ; and Cambodia is the country of resilience, but also one of the most fascinating and misunderstood cultures on the planet.
The development lever you use to support young underprivileged people: education in the digital industry is an amazing and genuine accelerator for Asia. One of the most relevant ways to take a place back into the world.
What would be your 2 words that best qualify PN?
PN is an architect of the future. By creating bonds – building bridges towards the future for those young people – you are also a school for the architects of the future. PN is also a mentor who assists, supports and trains talented young people to be the writers of their own stories.
Thanks a lot Kurt for your time and this great interview. Talk to you soon for further stories!