Calling All Writers—Games Are the New Frontier

We keep tellin’ ya: TV writers don’t have to just write TV. Take this teeny little opportunity, for example:

ocarina-of-time-640x360by Mary Lee Sauder

I live a strange double life, stuck between the diametrically opposed worlds of writing and gaming. When I go to an English class and mention that I’m a gamer, people treat it as a non-sequitur and the chatter moves on to the latest in an ever-growing list of efforts to get John Green to come to campus. But when I go to a game studies class, the conversation (not to mention the gender distribution) completely flips, and I get blank stares or condescending remarks if I try to defend story as an important part of games.

For all the talk of games being a burgeoning art form, these two camps just don’t seem to understand or appreciate one another. And who can blame them? Right now, there is simply no good outreach to writers from games like there is for film or television. A creative writing major graduating this year would have to work very hard and have a lot of other supplemental skills to get hired in the gaming industry, so why would it even be on the average student’s radar?

See, games and stories don’t work well together when they stick only to what they know. Pretty much any writer will tell you that a story has words and is meant to be experienced from beginning to end. But that’s not the strength of video games, so a writer needs to approach developing a game in a much different way. Today I Die has been called an “interactive poem” because it uses the player’s natural curious exploration to evolve the words onscreen in different ways, and the player’s actions reflect the subject of the story—that is, the struggle to tear oneself out of the pit of depression.

When a writer approaches a game as if it’s a film or a book—that is, a more or less linear narrative with established characters and motivations—the game won’t be stronger for it. The gameplay will probably have very little to do with the story, and the whole thing will come across as a lame knockoff of some imaginary movie or book that could’ve handled the material much better.

This isn’t to say that linear narratives and characters with actual identities have to go out the window. But the story and the gameplay should be developed together so that they complement each other, not separately so that one of the elements feels stapled onto the part that the developers actually cared about. I shouldn’t want to skip through endless cutscenes just to get to the exciting gameplay, or watch all the cinematics on YouTube because the actual game is irrelevant.

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