#1ReasonWhy More story != more words My mystery flight

More story != more words

(1) October 19th, 2012

You know how people blog about being under-appreciated or that no one thinks their job is important?

Ain’t that the WORST? You should be glad I’m not going to do that. Cuz that is SO boring when people do that. On their blogs and stuff… Man…

INCOMIIIIIIIIIIINNG! Duck and cover, kids!

So this morning I was reading an interview TheLovelyLauraParker™ had with Rhianna Pratchett on Tomb Raider, and was pleasantly surprised to see echoed some conversations I’d had with writerly friends about writerly things (in our smoking jackets, in libraries that smell of rich mahogany). Particularly this bit:

“[Rhianna Pratchett] says developers need to put more thought into creating diverse, nuanced characters that accurately reflect the wide spectrum of demographics found in the real world. And they can start by paying more attention to game writers and encouraging more women to work in game development.”

This has been bugging me for quite some time, too. There’s a perception that everything in game development is the dominion of the artist or the programmer. I see this often, when asked what I do, so much so that I’ve (consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know) started to adjust the way I answer the question.

“What do you do for a crust?”, he asked.
“I’m a game developer!”, she answered, trying not to think of food.
“Oh cool! Artist or programmer?”, he said, unfortunately.
“Neither, I’m a writer”, she mumbled, craving validation and acceptance.

“SO, what do you do?”, she asked.
“I’m a writer!”, she answered, thankful for the lack of reminders about food. (But then that reminded her of food too, Leena don’t blog when hungry.)
“Oh cool! What kind of writing?”, she asked earnestly, whacking Leena with The 2×4 of Affirmation™.
“I make videogames!”, she grins, still not believing it’s actually her job. ^_^

Now if people’s perception of my job actually bugged me, this might be a thing. But it’s not a thing. If I gave a shit what people thought, I probably wouldn’t be playing games let alone making them. So it doesn’t bother me too much. But it does (rather simplistically) point to a deficiency in our medium. A blindspot if you will.

It’s getting better, it really is, there is more importance being placed on the role of a writer in game development. It’s better than it has been in the past, that’s for sure. But it still isn’t seen as important as I think it should be. Which brings me to my point.

Making games, we need to forget about the “writing words” part of a writer’s job.

Many games don’t require dialogue or even written copy about the storyworld. No introductions, no tutorials, no dialogue trees, no written word.

A writer’s role is to communicate the storyworld with the player. They build the constructs of that game world’s reality, they tell you where your place is in the world, and they give instruction on how to navigate it. Games as a medium are completely okay with this being out of the abstract and stated very plainly in a tutorial or instructional section at a beginning of a game, that’s already been established as a thing we’re cool with. As have the non-verbal ways of communicating this information. We see a lot more of the former, though.

The want for “more story” in games is not synonymous with “more words”.

When I want more story in games, or I want to see “better writing”, I want to see someone in charge of story. Ideally it’s their main focus. They are the advocate of the narrative. The missionary. The dungeon master. The torch-bearer of the world you’re creating. It’s the centre of their attention, and what they strive to make better.

Journey was a moving experience that contained no copy. The world was communicated to us in no uncertain terms. You can move more when you have a flaggy thing. Snow is fucking cold and will stop you moving. Moving is paramount. Mastery of movement is your objective. Go go go.

Obviously in small teams it’s hard to have someone who has just one role. We often take on many roles out of necessity, so having writing being someone’s only focus is not always practical. But every game benefits from at least _someone_ thinking about it in great detail. Outsource it if you need to. I KNOW A GUY. WINK.

Some games don’t have story, but every game has a world, and it’s a world worth considering. You’re doing a disservice to your game if you haven’t got a person whose job it is to look after and nurture that.

Story that’s tacked on as an excuse to use a cool mechanic is very obvious that it’s tacked on as an excuse to use a cool mechanic. We can tell. Your coincidence is poking out. When the priority is on the mechanic because a designer or programmer made it and thought it was an amazing thing to put in a game, and they quickly rummage through their limited box of knowledge when it comes to narrative devices and grab the first thing that seems to fit, it shows. Whereas if someone works with the mechanic-maker, or if indeed the mechanic-maker is skilled in writing and narrative construction themselves, the mechanic and the story can be cohesive and complement each other.

You wouldn’t put someone with “limited knowledge” of coding in charge of programming. You wouldn’t let the work experience kid be your lead artist. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. Sorry. Lost it for a sec there. Point is, don’t fudge your way through it and you’ll have a better game, duh. Regardless of how much “story” is in your game, you need someone shepherding that. It’s midwifery.

The job of world builder, narrative lobbyist, and story advocate is one that people are realising is more important, and that’s super exciting for games. So let’s turn it up to 11!

One Response to “More story != more words”

  1. Ashton says:

    I like this. Gives me more hope for the possibility of a future as a game writer :)

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