Writing in video games

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Thread: Writing in video games

  1. #1

    Writing in video games

    I noticed there isn't really a section for this, but I thought it could be an interesting discussion, and I'm sure there are some gamers here.

    Writing in video games is something that fascinates me. It is the only medium where an entire world can be created without a single spoken word, just letting the player explore and learn. But even with visuals and sound I'd say that games have more in common with novels. Movies are rather strict when it comes to time (90-150 minutes, usually), but a novel can be anywhere from 100 to 1000 pages and a game can last from 2 to 200 hours. In both the audience has a bigger connection with the protagonist than they do in movies. In novels, you read their thoughts and spend a long time with them, in movies you have to try to understand them simply by observing. In games, and here is what makes them unique and great, you are the protagonist, you can play a total scumbag who is despised by everyone but you would still have some sympathy for him simply because you are wearing his or her skin (I like you if you immediately thought of Buffalo Bill ).

    Well, that's my little rant. Share your thoughts please.

  2. #2
    Somewhat tangential to your point, but not quite off topic:

    I recently sat through the entire 13 hours of Naughty Dog's incredible game The Last Of Us and was amazed -- everything that's praised about novel and film writing was there in abundance: smooth, believable and voice specific dialogue, characterization, unity and development of theme, beautiful pacing, and absolute emotional engagement. In addition to that, the gameplay absolutely heightened and intensified the narrative rather than seeming to interrupt or undercut it. Everything -- the many firefights, deft puzzles, even the crafting and upgrading of weapons and skills -- was organically designed to be a part of the story and enhance the experience.

    That emotional engagement, though, is where the game really shines. You're given two characters that you absolutely will fall in love with, fear for, laugh with and understand even when they confess failures and misdeed. Hard bitten, nearly broken Joel and his 14 year old ward Ellie (brilliantly, award-worthily voiced and motion captured by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson) are creations to put against any novel's protagonists. In particular, there's a scene partway through the game

    [spoiler]Joel is grievously wounded and suddenly Ellie must take on the role of protector -- and does so with sheer skill and ferocity[/spoiler]

    that hit my cousin and I so hard that we literally had to stop playing and recover. No game has ever affected me so viscerally. And no game has ever left me with tears in my eyes. Until The Last Of Us.

    So yeah, video game writing can certainly be as worthy, high quality, and as powerful, as any novel or film.
    Last edited by Leyline; September 2nd, 2013 at 11:52 PM.

  3. #3
    I heard The Last of Us was pretty great. I wouldn't know much about it as I haven't played it (no PS3) but with that kind of recommendation from Leyline, it looks like I'll have to look into it more.

    You also said a whole world can be created without a single spoken word. A whole game can also be played without a single spoken word. Zelda games come to mind. But, there are some where to protagonist says absolutely nothing. Half-Life and Portal are games that have the secondary characters make the game shine. The Portal series had it's fair share of villains, music, and one liners. Half-Life made you really feel the part of being Gordon Freeman. I've played other games where the hero never speaks, but I don't feel connected to them. Half-Life made it work. I think it was how the other people in the world interacted with you and the fact that cut scenes did not exist. Either way, in my opinion, they did a great job placing you in his shoes.

    Outside of those examples, I love some writing in games. Others, not so much. I was never huge into fantasy, so those extensive RPGs never caught my attention. Although, I have played quite a few shooters and action games. Those are really a case to case situation.

    Some games use writing as a way to go from playable scene to playable scene. I found very few people enjoyed the COD:MW writing, yet so many people played all three games. It clearly wasn't about the story, it was about the action.
    Other games, use their plot as ways to really get involved with the gamer. The Walking Dead is a great example. It was a choice based game where the atmosphere played a big role, but the writing completed it. You had to make very hard choices and the consequences weren't always quite clear. Basically, it was a very intense choose your own adventure type game. Those are the two exact opposite games. One is almost purely action with a convoluted storyline that most people skip. The other is heavily based in the game's writing.

    Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3 are both very polarizing in the writing department. Personally, I loved them both. Borderlands 2 had a creative/humor take on the entire game while offering some serious parts. It never took itself too seriously and was kind of bizarre. Far Cry 3 had Vas. He alone was enough to make me love the game and was the high point of the writing. I found the other people in the game to be interesting, but no one compared to Vas. His character was perfect and they should have had more of him in the game. Adult themes incoming! Watch the E3 video if you can. It's about 8 minutes long (sorry) and contains a lot of violence and swearing. Mostly the violence part. It's a video that's suppose to showcase Vas and then the game play. So, it might be uninteresting to a lot of you. However, I do like how it ends and I feel like the middle parts are important to separate the beginning/end and make the entire video a more cohesive experience.

    Writing in games has really evolved through out the years. As games and computers/consoles become more advanced, the writing can too. The developers can always make more extensive worlds or add in more dialogue/scenes to let you know the character better. Basically, with increased computing power you get an increased opportunity for character development.

  4. #4
    Heh, incidentally I'm currently playing FC3 and have gotten around 5-6 hours played (the length of MW2's campaign for example) and I haven't even started the story, just played the tutorial and have been exploring ever since. So I haven't really gotten the chance to see Vas yet (except for the intro) but he seems interesting.

    And, yes. The Last of Us is the most amazing game I have played this gen, maybe ever.

  5. #5
    Wow, high praise for The Last of Us. I think you'll enjoy Vas more as he seems like the best villain for the storyline. Other choices might not seem so appealing, but I thought the writing and voice work were great.

    Which leads me to one question. If a character has fantastic writing, but awful voice acting, will the character (and incidentally the plot) seem poorly written? I feel like voice acting can play a huge part in how people respond to the character's writing in games. If the voice actor is bad, I feel like most people judge the voice acting and writing as being bad. A game needs an exceptionally good plot overall to overcome bad voice acting.

  6. #6
    Aha, the inspiration for some of my earliest stories were from playing around in video games... I would imagine sometimes that the characters were on an adventure other than the one the game was actually about...

  7. #7
    I agree about The Last of Us; it's such a shame when people that don't play video games can't experience something so good.

  8. #8
    The Last of Us et al. are a great example of the written word being brought into the perception of "sight".

    They are truly novels; the only difference is you see the action being played instead of reading it in words. Dialogue is still dialogue; you just have defined voices. Yes, I'll probably get slapped in the face by purists, but video games like the Last of Us are literary works of art; those things had to be given a script and an "outline" on what would be played in an action sequence.

  9. #9
    I feel like video games are often poo-pooed as "children's playthings" and not considered the amazingly powerful story-telling mediums that they can be. An amazing example of this is Spec Ops: The Line. Without spoiling anything, the game is an excellent commentary on and examination of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Schizophrenia as well as the perception of war and combat by soldiers. It looks at why we do what we're told, if we can believe what we think we know, and many other amazing topics.

    Though, on the outside, it looks like a generic shooter like Call of Duty. And that's the point. It messes with your expectations to show you that war isn't as it's depicted in those games, but much more three-dimensional, complex, and emotional.

    But, nope. Just a kid's game 'bout shootin' stuff.
    "Don't forget the happy thoughts
    All you need is happy thoughts
    The past tense, past bed time
    Way back then when everything we read was real
    And everything we said rhymed"

    -Chance the Rapper, "Same Drugs"

  10. #10
    Member Novel's Avatar
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    Jun 2013
    I'll second both Spec Ops: The Line and Borderlands 2. If you only have time for one, play Spec Ops. Borderlands 2 lands a few hard hits on nearly every emotion, but in the end, it's just for fun. Spec Ops has something to say and I wholeheartedly recommend listening.

    Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to The Last of Us yet, if only because I have yet to buy a Playstation 3 (I hold that the medium should serve the art, not the other way around). But I can recommend one other game with amazing writing that hasn't been mentioned yet:


    On the surface, it's a solid, hopeful story about coping with loss and rebooting after a major catastrophe, played out over eight or so hours and narrated (yes, narrated) by a voice coated in gravel and dipped in honey. Under the surface, it's got more that I don't want to spoil. I actually shed tears at a certain point in this game, and not from sadness (this has happened once in 19 years of gaming). Play it. It's worth every cent and every minute spent.

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