Thursday, December 15, 2016

Game Like a Writer

Hello All!

As a writer, I find inspiration wherever I look. Stories that tug at my heart, sting my eyes with tears, and fill me with joy can be found within hobbies, outings, and everyday mundane things.

I know I am not the only gamer who writes (or is it the other way around?), so this post focuses on how I question/analyze games to help with my own writing. I mainly play RPGs like Skyrim and Final Fantasy, but I believe these questions could be applied to all sorts of game genres. All games tell some sort of story, no matter how elaborate or shallow it may be, otherwise we wouldn't play. As a fantasy writer, I find many parallels in the storytelling structure of games, and these are some of the questions you can ask to connect your gaming to your writing:

*General Tip: Keep multiple save files of cutscenes/dialogue chunks/anything you want to use for further study. When writing, you can take a look back at these save points as a kind of resource. Some gaming clips can also be found on YouTube as well.

The Pulls of Creative Products

Cover Aesthetic: Describe the cover-> what colors are used, what symbols/characters utilized? How are the different game genres' covers different? (1st Person Shooter vs RPG vs. Fighting etc.)

Back Cover Blurb: Did you read the back cover of the game? What captured your interest? What makes the back cover different from other game descriptions within a similar vein?

Great Reviews: Did you look at game reviews before you bought it? Did they influence your decision at all? What were some of the critiques/high points made about the game?

Word of Mouth: Did someone else recommend a game to you?

How this applies to writing: This section will most likely benefit self-pubbers/those who want to send their work out into the wider public, but all writers benefit from understanding the audience they write for. Those who publish their own work, in particular, need to put on the business hats of marketing and publishing as well as being a writer, so understanding how people consume books and media is useful. (Of course, no matter what path to publication you take, you will have to do some marketing...a writer's work is never done >.<)

A Study in Setting/Worldbuilding

Some games go in-depth in their worldbuilding, therefore here are some questions to help analyze the fictional sandboxes you find yourself in:

How would you describe the setting? How do the characters/in-game lore sources describe the setting/world/magic system etc.?

What about the game's setting do you like/dislike? Is it inspired by any point in actual history?

If you could change something about the setting, what would you change?

How does the setting enhance the overall feel of the game and/or plot?

Is the world expansive? Does it include multiple cultures/races/types of people?

What about their clothes, attire, and other material culture: how is it done within the game?

How this applies to writing: Look at the worlds created by games critically→ do they do a good job at portraying a living, breathing, fluid society with histories, conflicts and nuances specific to that world/time, or is everything done in a slipshod way? Is the world presented in a way that is harmful to actual-world counterparts? 

Learn the red flags and weaknesses of a finished work, and then apply what you've learned to your own writing, both present and future.

When in doubt about representation, do your research, learn and absorb before you attempt anything.

The Game is Afoot

Plots are only as interesting as the characters who enact them, and characters are given purpose, motivation and lasting power through compelling and interesting plots. Games from many genres contain some sort of plot in one way or another. Taking from the types of games I play, plot and character development go hand in hand in producing a memorable experience for me, the gamer. Here are some questions to get you started:

Is the plot strong? Does it have a beginning/middle/end? What about climax and a satisfactory/unsatisfactory ending?

Does it have clear stakes? If not, how could you change this?

Do you care about the characters? Why or why not?

Does the plot make you excited to play the game, or does it just get in the way?

A Word on Dialogue

Dialogue serves many purposes. It can tell us more about who is speaking, about plot, or about information seen from a particular mindset. Dialogue can be tricky, however, so I also use games to gauge conversation within plots. It's nice to do this with games because many of them are fully voiced now so I study the visuals of body language, the sounds from spoken conversation, and how it all translates into actual text. Below I've listed some questions on dialogue you can ask yourself when gaming:

How is the dialogue addressed in-game? Is the dialogue clunky? Unnatural? What is the use of dialogue within the scope of the game?

Are there any regional accents? Are these done well, or are they stereotyping a people or place? (Hint: do your research if you are unsure of stereotypes)

Do you like the dialogue of the MCs? NPCs (Non-Playable Characters)? How does it add to the game or character arcs?

If you could improve on the dialogue, what would you have done differently?

Niches and the Like

I play some games that, at first glance, don't seem all that interesting. For example, if someone were to ask me why I like Harvest Moon and I gushed about how it's a farming simulation type game, I would get a lot of questioning looks from non-gamers. How can that possibly be fun? (^Couldn't find a nice Harvest Moon gif, so I used another one from a different game...can you tell I'm enjoying inserting game references in this post?)

In many ways, writing in a niche or specialized area can feel similar. Some readers will simply not understand the appeal of your work, or they may question the marketability of it until success is proven. But at the end of the day, you are the creator of your worlds, and there's bound to be others that are in need of exactly what you are writing. Here's some questions to do with niche games...looking on online forums are helpful for this:

Why is this game considered a niche game?

What makes this game popular even though "critics" gave it poor ratings/didn't seem like it would sell at first?

Why do you like the game so much? How can you apply these findings to your own writing?

Do you game? Does it help with your writing?


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