Video game writing is important, whether it is writing great dialogue and awesome sequences for the games we play or writing about our experiences as gamers like the staff does here on TSG. This week we invited some panelists from last weekend’s Comikaze Expo to answer this week’s question.
I guess one thing I found different in my I play is that I try to find more connections between the gameplay and the storyline. I ask, “do the controls and mechanics of the game align with the purpose or message of the story?”, “Do the missions add to the underlying message or are they just filler?”, or “Am I leveling up just to level up or is it adding to my character’s growth in the plot?” Since I am one to chose gameplay over story, none of these questions really make or break the game for me. However, I do find myself enjoying the play much more once I find purpose in it.
This semester I am taking a class (conveniently) called Writing for Video Games. It’s definitely given me a new perspective on how much work goes into crafting a choice-based narrative and how the world needs to be built and populated to add greater dimension and intrigue, both through the dialogue and conflicts, but also the in-game artifacts that can be discovered. I haven’t had much time to play video games recently, but I am much more aware when reading and writing about them of the possibility spaces that are created and how the game mechanics are used in service of the narrative.
When I do play games, I like to fully immerse myself and talk to all the NPCs, discover the lore, and explore every corner of the environment around me. I think, based on my experiences both in my video game class and in writing for TSG, that I will have a new frame of reference when approaching gaming in the future. I’ve learned just how impactful the gaming medium can be and have a much deeper respect and appreciation for how every aspect of the design, story, score, and gameplay work together to create such a multi-faceted product.
Writing about video games and writing for video games has definitely changed the way I play them. Before, I would play a game and determine whether or not I liked it; now, I play a game and analyze it, determining whether a general audience will enjoy it. I like to take more time to explore the settings that video games put me in and get lost in the attention to detail, which I find many gamers appreciate. I’ve always had a wide range of games that I play, but writing about video games has definitely opened my eyes to new genres and has changed my opinion about other genres. Ultimately, I now play video games not just just on behalf of myself, but rather on behalf of the video game community.
I have certainly become more observant of all features found in games since I began writing critically about them, with narrative structure in particular. Good games are often either designed from the start around a mechanic or a story, and great games are able to focus on both. I’m able to spot these things fairly quickly now, which helps with my appreciation of games in general. Writing has always been the weakest aspect in gaming, so as a critical writer, I spend a lot of time focusing on it. It’s because of my attention to writing in games that I’m excited about the ever growing list of narrative-driven titles from this decade. Most of the games I play now I buy for my interest in the story (though that’s not to say that I won’t just kick back with an online shooter from time to time), and I have adopted new philosophies in how I play these games. In any choice based game now, if given the option to remove a character from the story (violently or otherwise), I’ll always choose to keep them around, as I’d only be denying myself potential interactions (read: content) later on if I didn’t.
Writing about video games has given me an outlet to express the way a game makes me feel. Often times I would have a reaction to a game along with a great desire to share with somebody what I experienced. There wasn’t really anybody in my friend circle I could debrief with who would genuinely care or share my enthusiasm so I often kept my thoughts to myself. Actually, Top Shelf Gaming was originally born out of this frustration.
Now when a game has an impact on me, I can write down my thoughts and get it out of my chest. It’s liberating and makes me more willing to jump back into the games I’m playing. I wish I wrote back when I played The Last of Us. It definitely would’ve been therapeutic to write down my thoughts after an emotional game like that.
When I right about video games, I have to really pick them apart and analyze them if I’m going to express my opinions in a sensible way to my readers. Ironically, I feel like this has actually made me less (negatively) critical of games. When you have your opinions to yourself, it’s easy to lambast games for borderline insane reasons (e.g. Donkey Kong’s tie looked slightly more stupid than usual so this is the worse game ever), but writing about games has made me more open minded and aware of my incidentally crazy biases.
Friends of TSG
Up first, some credibility: I helped create and write the bulk of a Cracked series called Escort Mission, all focused on the logic of video game worlds. I also wrote the series 8-Bits for Those Aren’t Muskets!, which kinda does the same thing, but in a higher-budget fashion, and have been a focused, avid gamer (ie, I spend way too much money on them) ever since the Genesis days (R.I.P., Dreamcast). The main difference I’ve noticed while gaming–now that I’ve written extensively about games–is how my brain operates while I play. Games are very zen for me, a way to turn my brain off after a long day of stimulus, and my mind used to be totally blank when I played. Nowadays, I find there’s a part of my consciousness still reserved, like a little pocket universe, for the task of poking funny holes in a game’s logic or plot. In other words, I’m constantly looking for episode ideas while I play now, at least a little. In other, other words, I’ve ruined gaming for myself the same way I ruined movies and TV: overdose! #noregerts
About Michael Swaim
Michael Swaim co–founded Those Aren’t Muskets! and the Cracked Video Department. He has won Webby and Streamy Awards, and his work has been featured on Comedy Central, G4TV, Ain’t It Cool News, McSweeny’s, and Forbes, as well as in Paste Magazine, the New York Times, and on MTV.com. He co-hosts the Cracked Podcast on the Earwolf Network, and is a two-time NYT Bestselling Co-Author. He wrote and produced the indie feature “Kill Me Now” with SNL’s Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, available on iTunes.
For one, I actually try to read all the text and listen to the dialog, even if I’m not particularly into the story. I pay attention to when I’m having trouble engaging with the story, like when I’m thrown paragraphs of exposition. Or when it’s too hard to follow the dialog, because I’m carrying on a conversation with other players. I also like keeping track of what makes me laugh. Basically, I try to be more observant of myself and how I react as a player to the story and the way it’s being communicated to me.
About Anne Toole
Writers Guild nominee Anne Toole is a creative writer whose credits include games, webseries, television drama, comics, and short fiction. She’s worked on such titles as the first Witcher game from CDProjekt as well as the Emmy-winning webseries The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. Next up, IDW will be collecting her comic book series Crystal Cadets into a graphic novel, due out in December. She currently serves on the board of the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) and lives in West Hollywood.
This is a good question, simply put, it makes you think more critically about games and especially the story telling aspect. How are the game mechanics? How playable is it? Does the story make sense? Is the story believable in the world that the game has created?
Now I appreciate good dialogue, plot and characters more than ever before. Now I am far less likely to play a game just for the heck of it, because I am looking for something unique that makes a game stand out. Does the story fall back on clichés and tropes? Here is an example of bad storytelling I recently encountered.
I played Diablo 3 for the first time recently (I know it’s been out forever…). In this game you can have followers and there is also an angel named Tyrael, who is helping you. At the end, when it is time to face Diablo, Tyrael suddenly says he can go no further and that this fight is solely for humans (even though he is now mortal himself). This is bad story telling. You have a character helping you and suddenly he decides he can’t for some obscure reason? Who says this is a fight for humans? Likewise on the path to fight Diablo a trap springs up and catches your follower who tells you to go on without him. Really? It was so cliché. He really can’t break or get out of the trap, even though he has survived all this time?
I know they are doing this to make the Diablo fight more challenging, but it is bad form for a story. Anyway, long story short, it has made me more selective in my games and be even more appreciative of great games.
About Jefferson Jordan
Jefferson Jordan is the writer of Great Moments in OCD History. You can read his blog at www.nerdsinrecovery.com and follow him (please) on Twitter.
Writing about games instead of merely just playing them helps one to move from pure consumer to contributor. As such, you move into the seat of a creator and realize that video games have a profound sense of power, both as a medium and as an industry. Of course with that great power also comes great responsibility and thus you begin to realize that gaming, this thing you’ve always loved, may actually be harnessed to enact change in culture and maybe even the world. When we choose to move from passive bystanders to active participants with video games, there is an amazing opportunity for change to happen.
About 8-Bit Kingdom
For nearly 2,000 years the Beatitudes have helped to craft a social ethic which has worked to save the poor, instill justice, and seed peace. With a track record like that, it’s clear that video games may potentially have an opportunity to make an impact off the screen if they let the Beatitudes be their guide.
8-Bit Kingdom: Changing the World through the Beatitudes of Christ, is the first step in this conversation. Feel free to learn more about this topic at 8bitkingdom.com and be sure to check out the book on Amazon when it’s released in Spring 2016!