For those of you considering what writing for a video game would be like, it might be best to hear from people who actually do it for a living. This first instalment will look at two different, experienced game writers from different backgrounds on how they believe writing for the video game medium is fundamentally different from film or television. However, as our guest contributors will explain, writing for games is merely the other side of the coin, with different obstacles to work around but with different tools to work with.
First up is Anne Toole, with a tonne of experience in both the television and video game industries her piece explains one of the most significant differences when writing for a video game, that the audience is constantly interacting with the narrative. This concept is often called ‘Player Agency’.
Story creation is more of a partnership between creator and player, rather than a dictatorship of the writer
"Unlike other media, a game's story ideally should move forward based on player action and decisions, rather than a dramatic scripted scene the player has no control over. Often, this is where more traditional writers stumble.
Furthermore, although there are plenty of linear games out there, games provide a unique opportunity to give players choice and branching narrative. Thus, story creation is more of a partnership between creator and player, rather than a dictatorship of the writer. While some writers might feel that they are abdicating their role by writing a game, in fact, you have more opportunity to get all your ideas on the page. What would happen if Luke had joined Darth Vader? What if Darth Vader had lived? Rather than writing only one ending, you can write them all. The other stories you have in mind — and their interesting implications — still have a place and can be experienced… if the player chooses."
Mez Breeze is a fantastic independent games developer and writer known for her intense and subversive games and digital art. Mez’s contribution goes into a little detail on what kind of things can be achieved within the medium of games.
Hi. I'm Mez Breeze, and I run Mez Breeze Design (which provides boutique digital design and consultancy services, including games). In the gaming sphere, I'm probably best known for writing subversive games alongside my fellow game developer buddy Andy Campbell (who runs Dreaming Methods). Andy and I regularly pool our collective talents to create art and literary games that challenge traditional definitions and can be considered subversive. Examples of our work include The Dead Tower, #PRISOM, Carnivast and Pluto (currently in development).
In relation to writing for games, I've found that it's never as simple as just writing a game "script" or game "screenplay". In the games spaces I've worked on – whether that be Alternate Reality Games or in 3D spaces – the writing process is finely integrated from the outset, with both the game mechanics and the storyworld (or gameworld) being constructed alongside the writing. As a games writer, you write primarily to cater for interactivity and direct engagement, as well as accounting for other more traditional literary concerns (like structure, plot, narrative development and so on).
As I've said in this article about game writing: "If you finely balance the writing alongside other subversive game variables/assets, you’ll create strong narrative(s) without sacrificing a player’s sense of agency (or reducing the likelihood of emergent gameplay instances), resulting in a world that successfully caters for a general sense of player fulfilment." I'm always extremely aware that the end result of what I'm writing is actually intended to be *played* as opposed to passively watched/absorbed, which allows a writer to work in some really lovely touches. For instance, in our #PRISOM game (a player is set loose in a Glass City/Prison under infinite surveillance) I thoroughly enjoyed constructing the 3 alternate endings: players encounter one of the three according to the choices they make in-game. I also found drafting the #Tips" screen text an absolute blast (which forms part of the Help Menu), as I managed to work in an ethical angle, some metacritique and also a well-known pop cultural reference – see if you can pick it – which reads:
Find more about Mez Breeze's work in the links above or her twitter @MezBreezeDesign
Huge thanks to Anne and Mez for their contribution, be sure to look out for part two coming out soon with other guest contributors.