Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do You Really Want to Write Video Games?

We’re often inspired by the work of others. Fan fiction and alternate versions of the same trope usually follow a hot trend. We see a movie about love in the time of killer robots and want to come up with our own spin. Or we read a novel about talking farm animals bent on taking over the world and think, “I know a better way to use that idea!” All fine and good.

So, what about video games?

I think fan fiction or new spins on already established games puts a writer in dangerous territory and not for the reasons you might think up first.  Someone falls in love with a gaming genre or trope and decides to write a novel based on their ideas. The problem lies in whether or not they can write a story.

Good ideas are little use if the craft of writing isn’t learned. Gaming ideas are fine, but I can tell when someone is an enthusiastic gamer rather than a writer. How? There is a lot of action, no character development and description is unbalanced. The gamer-writer goes to great lengths to describe their version of weapons, ships, or magical system. Everything else falls by the wayside, especially valuable elements such as setting, other people, culture, etc. The story reads like an arcade game, a play-by-play with the hero/heroine beating up the bad guys one at a time. When the hero gets hurt he continues on as if that gaping gunshot wound in the thigh was a scratch and as if he has a bin of extra lives. In the meantime, the foes go down like a paper plate in a campfire.

No one will want to buy or read a story like this. An arcade style novel is shallow, unfulfilling, and boring. I’m sorry if this sounds cruel.

If you have some great ideas, inspired by video games, go ahead and write them down. Then learn about how to craft a story. Or, look into writing for video games. If you want to make a book out of your ideas, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Forget about making a quick fortune.

Things you’ll want to study up on:
1) Plotting
2) Character Development
3) Inner and Outer Conflict
4) Setting and description
5) Dialogue
6) Action Scenes

 Yes, I did mention action scenes in that list. Gaming style action doesn’t reflect how things are in the real world. I don’t care how good the graphics are. If you’re writing your version of a war story, based on gaming lore, you need to keep in mind that your hero isn’t the center of the world like he is in the game. There are other people out there and they have their own ideas, ways of doing things, are unpredictable, and they certainly aren’t going to approach your hero one at a time.

If studying the craft of writing sounds like more work than you want to invest in, then maybe writing novel versions of your favorite games isn’t in your future.


  1. It's so odd you'd post a topic on this today. Over the weekend I was watching Sithboy play a video game and came up with a great story based on the game. Well, a scrip story. I doubt it'll ever amount to much, but I'm going to write it out anyway. :D

  2. Neat. I'm sure you'll do a good job with it too. =)

  3. Yikes. haha Good thing I did vice versa. I had an idea, didn't know where I was going to take it, and the video games I was playing at the time helped to inspire certain themes.

    (Hi Joyce!)

  4. Hi Debra!

    That's a great point, that video games can add some fuel to an already established idea. I get that with movies sometimes too.

  5. Some great points here! I think another type of writer worth mentioning is the anime-writer. I've noticed this pop up as well. And being an anime fan, I've gone through the stages myself. (The first draft of my current WIP? Awful, AWFUL.) We see a show we love, it's got humor and action, maybe some flat-out violence, and we want to tell a story like that. We can't draw or put together an animated sequence so we write it. But like the video-game writer, we'll hit some pitfalls, mostly in plotting & pacing. Characterization is another biggie. We wind up defaulting to stereotypes in personality (the bad guy that actually has a soft spot) without thoroughly exploring why they're that way (of course he was traumatized as a child by some other bad guy and he's just misunderstood).

    And you're totally right, video game fighting sequences SO NOT REALISTIC. Oh I'll just pull out this bottle of magical red kool-aid that HEALS ALL MY FATAL WOUNDS.

    I can't say anything though, I play the mess out of those games lol

  6. =D Good point, E.F., anime can have the same problem.

  7. I thought you were literally going to talk about writing for a video game. Video games do have writers and I've been interested in the craft.

    I see what you are saying and I don't disagree with it, but you need to understand that this type of writer would be horrible at writing video games as well. Video games tend to go in more depth than books actually when it comes to world building. Good video game storylines, such as Dragon Age, have characters with interesting backgrounds and depth. All the characters are developed in that game, you talk to them about their pasts and goals and help them achieve things they otherwise couldn't on their own. They feel like real people.

    So it's silly if people play video games and don't know how to make in depth characters or write anything except for action scenes because there are much more to video games than that.

  8. E.B. I guess it depends on the type of game. You make a very good point, in that yes, games need writers and good ones, at that. The problem with the novels I read was that they sounded like arcade games, and that's what I meant to compare them to. Not so much the in-depth games that have backgrounds, story arcs, and such. Thank you for helping to clarify that. =)