Video Game Writers – Just not needed?

What? Another video game related blog? Say it ain’t so?

I came across this which talks about how video game writers aren’t worth their money

The basic premise is that video game writers aren’t designers and because they aren’t they aren’t worth being on a team, since what they do overlaps design by such a large margin.

I dunno. I see what is being said but I think the logic stops short of the ultimate conclusion.

I get what the guy is saying – writing a story isn’t creating game mechanics, and his premise is that in order for the story to be good it has to be story driven, not mechanic drive. If it is mechanic driven then the story ceases to be good since it’s about justifying the next bit of action you undertake – the COD games are classic in this regard – the story is just there to string the action sequences together.

His point is that really all you need is justification, not a story line that involves plot development or character development, and if you employ a true writer thats what you are going to get.

And he’s right – in that one example. On soldier of Fortune Raven employed a movie writer and the results were a disaster – the guy wrote an extended cinematic, not a video game.

What he’s not taking into account are writers who are gamers. There are plenty out there – Rhianna Pratchett is a shining example (she wrote the story and dialog for Overlord for example, as well as the story for Heavenly Sword). There are other writing groups who also specialise in video games and understand what their place is, and how they can bend their skills to our unique requirements.

Just like there are programmers who can turn their hands to design (and these people are worth their weight in gold) there are writers who can also visualise design – they are out there and you just have to go out and find them. Obviously a traditional writer won’t work very well in a video game environment but then Hollywood worked that out when they tried to get novel authors to write screen plays back in the 30′s.

The other point I take umbrage with is the statement that good writing doesn’t make the game better – thats just not true. Caring about the characters and situations make the game playing experience that much stronger because your immersion is deeper and you care. The moment we make a player care about the characters and situations we’ve got him by the balls because he’ll play and replay to get past given challenges.

Good writing aids the immersiveness in video games in exactly the same way it does in movies and TV – it’s not the principle aspect (as it is in TV and movies) and narrative is the enemy of interaction (since setting up set situations and then resolving them is what narrative is all about, and we are by definition a dynamic genre) but it’s entirely possible to make good story based games, and you will need a professional writer to pull that off because god knows most of the dialog and stories we have currently appear to come from Die Hard or The Evil Dead. Its one of the things that we as an industry dearly need to work on.

In terms of the Half Life comparison (which others have made, saying that it provides the perfect example of who to write a story into an interactive FPS game) I’d have to say that Half Life does what it does very well, but it’s very limited in how they can progress a story since they can’t do a cut scene, or a scene from a view that isn’t Gordon Freeman, and that really does curtail some of what they can do.

It’s a good example but it’s only one example of whats possible.

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