Video Game Writing

This says something about our changing culture:

Recognizing the essential role of writers behind the creative, cultural, and commercial success of the videogame and new media industries, the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced the creation of the WGA’s inaugural Videogame Writing Award to be presented for the first time ever at the Los Angeles ceremony of the 2008 Writers Guild Awards on February 9, 2008.

Developed by the WGA and spearheaded by the guild’s New Media Caucus “to encourage storytelling excellence in videogames, to improve the status of writers, and to begin to encourage uniform standards” within the gaming industry, this new award aims to spotlight a wide range of quality work by videogame writers, raising their profiles and validating their contributions to this rapidly maturing medium.

Now, bear in mind that WGA has a nefarious background plan here, which is to gain new members from the video game world of things, and to extend its influence into that area. That said, it’s nice someone is going out of their way to point out something which should be obvious, which is that good writing matters to games and will become even more important the more certain games leave the “twitch and shoot” school and develop real stories and have genuine objectives for their narratives.

Also, I would personally nominate Marc Laidlaw for this, since, as I’m fond of saying, the Half-Life games are ones I re-read on a frequent basis, and I’m itchin’ to see what happens next in Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Indeed, I’m more excited about the story there, then I am for the story of any upcoming film or TV show I can think of. That’s what good writing does for you — and, to tie in to yesterday’s Funky Winkerbean musing, reminds us that good writing can come at you from any angle.

12 thoughts on “Video Game Writing

  1. Makes perfect sense to me.

    I thought it interesting when 38 Studios (a gaming company started by Curt Schilling, of all people) signed R. A. Salvatore to help them create a new MMORPG.

    I play World of Warcraft and it’s amazing the efforts that Blizzard makes to try to connect up their continuity. What began as throwaway background for the original Warcraft games now has to survive and come together into a coherent world. It’s a bit bumpy, but the fact that they pay a lot of attention to it says something in itself.

  2. I’m gonna have to really energetically disagree on a smallish point, although on rereading it sounds like maybe I’m not actually disagreeing… A careless read makes it seem like you don’t think “twitch and shoot” games can have real storylines, and even a careful read makes it seem like the storyline needs to be tied in to game objectives to work and have resonance.

    I think even the most basic of twitch and shoot FPS or platformer can use and benefit from an interesting storyline and backstory. As an example of a game in which the storyline hardly affects gameplay but seriously increases game enjoyment, I cite Max Payne – that was one of the absolute best FPS games I ever played, and the writing had everything to do with why.

    So I guess I agree, I just think you’re giving too short a shrift to the utility of writing in even simple reflex games.

  3. Fuz:

    “So I guess I agree, I just think you’re giving too short a shrift to the utility of writing in even simple reflex games.”

    What, like Tempest? It and games like it (which are now your basic three minute flash games) are what I’m thinking of when I think “twitch and shoot.”

  4. “What, like Tempest? It and games like it (which are now your basic three minute flash games) are what I’m thinking of when I think “twitch and shoot.””

    Yeah, even there. The gameplay for Astropop, for example, is barely more complex than Tempest, but I nonetheless enjoyed finishing the game (a dozen or so hours of gameplay), based solely on a fairly rudimentary plot. I think Tempest would be a great deal better with plot breaks every few levels.

    There are of course lots of other ways one could improve Tempest, if one were so inclined; I’m just saying that having a storyline is a valuable addition to any game, and doesn’t require any complexity in the gameplay to support it.

    Vaguely apropos, have you been approached for video game rights to any of your universes?

  5. I have to second that. Ken Levine and his team of writers for BioShock. No disrespect to Laidlaw, but BioShock raises the bar on game writing, just as Half-Life 2 did.

  6. I think it’s good that WGA is trying to work into games. I work at a video game developer (in Los Angeles, so we’re right in the Hollywood Zone) that’s done a bunch of movie games, and we’ve wound up with writers who’ve done movies but who love games and like to work in the medium. Since there’s now so much crossover it makes sense.

    More importantly, maybe, is that once a Hollywood creative guild/union can get a foothold in the games industry, perhaps others will follow suit. I think game artists and programmers could benefit from some aspects of collective bargaining and pooled health insurance/retirement benefits. It sure would make freelancing a lot easier – and in that respect might even make some parts of game dev less costly, as you might not need to have certain functions on staff full-time. Different phases of game dev require different types and levels of staffing, just like doing a film.

    Some game devs hire a permanent staff and try to keep them busy all the time, but most hire up and fire down as needed; having an artist’s union would give talent that goes thru the hire/fire process all the time some better stability and consistent pay rates.

    Everyone I know who’s a Hollywood union artist working in films is doing a crapload better than I am financially, while working about 6 months out of the year usually – yet videogames make more money than Hollywood (in terms of box office vs. sales anyway). I’d like to see my fortunes improve, of course!

    So I’m all for WGA getting their foot in the door.

  7. Scalzi wrote: What, like Tempest? It and games like it (which are now your basic three minute flash games) are what I’m thinking of when I think “twitch and shoot.”

    There are people working on a Joust movie.

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