There's something interesting happening in video games; not good,
not bad -- interesting
in a Chinese proverb kind of way.
Writers are launching into heated debates on what
writing for videogames means and how writers should approach the
matter. There are those who believe the traditional narratives are
the truest way to tell stories. They use Hollywood conventions and
structures to tell the story (think "Prince of Persia"
The second group advocates hypertext narratives,
where the writer helps build the environment and narrative of the
NPCs, but the player tells the story through his or her interactions
with the world. We're talking sandbox games like "The Sims,"
where your characters are the story or that the story emerges through
the character's interactions with the world. Another good example
is "Façade," a free game on the Internet that's
catching people's attention. I recommend you download it (it has
nothing to do with scores or making money
it's about saving
the marriage of two friends). You can find it here: http://www.interactivestory.net/
Other games incorporate the two by allowing for
multiple choices. Think "Knights of the Old Republic,"
"Jade Empire," "Wing Commander" or "Colony
Wars," where choice exists along one of a handful of rails
(rails determined by dialogue choice or based on mission success/failure).
The interesting thing is that I don't believe
the debate has as much to do with defining the future narrative
of video games as it does with making a mark on the medium. Let
me explain. What's happening with video games has already played
out in the transition from radio to television. Television relied
heavily on the format of its predecessor, radio
at least until
it found its voice. Hell, movies were nothing more than showing
scenes of everyday life like an oncoming train (which frightened
the audience at the time). But both movies and television changed,
and with them, how society was entertained.
Now, we're seeing the exact same transition with
videogames, and many writers know this. What we're now seeing with
the small schism that's forming is, IMHO, an attempt by people to
become the architects of this new future. Hollywood writers, for
example, are coming into the field and pushing for Hollywood conventions
because that's their strength. There's nothing wrong with that.
Videogame writers, however, are pushing for scriptwriting that's
imbedded in games as part and parcel of the technology (as a means
of staking their claim on the future).
the debate is moot. They're both
right and they both have good ideas to offer.
The fact is, we are storytellers, and to pigeonhole
videogame writing into absolutes like hypertext narratives or conventional
storytelling is as dangerous as saying First Person perspective
in fiction is better than Third Person is better than present tense
is better than past tense. Wrong. It's not the perspective that
makes a story good or bad, it's the writer.
Perspective and writing are supposed to be reflections
of the writer.
Only we have little such luxury when writing
for videogames. The game is rarely a reflection of the story we
as writers want to tell. Why? Well for several reasons:
1) The game is a collaborative effort. And unless
the point of the game is to push the story, the story ends up appealing
to the lowest common denominator because it's been distilled through
so many people.
2) As a result of the collaboration, you rarely
write the story you want to tell. You write the story that best
showcases the game.*
3) You rarely enter the protagonist's head. Unless
the game employs first person narration a la "Max Payne 2,"
games are rarely about internal explorations. To do so would be
to tell and not to show.
4) Television and movies changed as audiences
grew more sophisticated in their tastes. As it stands now, videogame
companies are making significant money. They don't need to change
because their stakes in games are not diminishing. Just the opposite.
there's no need to explore story when changes to technology
as far as I'm concerned, to ignore
past conventions in how games are written is to rob games of powerful
myth. And stories without myth are hollow, even if that myth is
nothing more than paying homage to in media res or The 9-Act Structure.
To ignore the future, however, does all storytelling an equal disservice.
The genres learn from one another, and a revolution in one medium
might serve as a great catalyst in another.
If you want to follow the articles on writing,
read these. I don't agree with them all, but you might feel differently:
And if you want to read the letters disagreeing
with the articles
here ya go:
if you are interested in writing
for video games, I seriously advise you to join:
* One definition I like is that games in
their broadest strokes, are about the exploration of the game-space.
Writing for games is about supporting that exploration.