Howdy! I'm Alex Mathai and I've actually written a couple of posts here on MMW as a guest of Mike Larson. Anyway, here are a few of my thoughts from the past week!
Video Games and Writing?
This week has been an exciting week for gamers around the world. Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) launched late afternoon last Sunday and has continued to stun gamers with premier game after premier game throughout the week. Each major gaming console (Sony, Xbox and Nintendo) and a few of the more popular gaming companies exhibited their new technology and their impressive lineup of games planned for the next couple of years. Fans were wowed and surprised by each reveal, and more than a few plans were made as to which company would be receiving large chunks of people’s paychecks.
By now, you’re probably scratching your head and thinking, “But Alex, why are you talking about video games when this is obviously a writing blog?” Well, curious reader, I’m glad you asked…
The writing in video games is amazing! To outsiders, video games look like cartoons with needless violence and fighting, but I’m here to tell you that it’s so much more! If you look deeper into video games, you can see the artistic elements they encompass. Graphics, game play and voice acting are all important, but to me, the writing and plot are major factors.
Video games have improved immeasurably since the Space Invaders “kill all the aliens” plot line. Modern plots are more complicated than a Shakespeare drama played out before gamers’ eyes. For example, let’s look at one of my favorite games: Assassin’s Creed.
The basis of this sci-fi game is that there are two warring underground factions – Assassins and Templars. Both orders fight for the same goal – world peace – but they go about attaining this goal in completely different ways. The Assassins’ want world peace through free will while the Templars want to imprison and control everyone to create order. There are artifacts in the world dubbed “Pieces of Eden” that have the power to control the masses’ minds. The Assassins want to protect the Pieces of Eden while the Templars want to exploit their power.
Still with me?
In the first game the gamer plays the part of a modern young man named, Desmond Miles, who is an estranged assassin kidnapped by a Templar organization. The Templars want to find the locations of a particular Piece of Eden, and Desmond is the key. In his ancestral memories, Desmond knows the location of the Piece of Eden…he just doesn’t realize it. The Templars have built a special machine called the Animus that can unlock these past memories of Assassins. Forcing Desmond to search (and the gamer plays) through the memories of an Assassin during the 2nd Crusade, they eventually find the location of the Piece of Eden.
Now I don’t know about you, but I wish I had thought of this premise! This is an amazing blend of Science Fiction and Historical Fiction. Think of how many books in a series you could make, how many worlds you could explore, how many plots you could follow! So far the Assassin’s Creed franchise has explored time periods during the Crusades, the Italian Renaissance, the American Revolution, and most recently, the French Revolution and Victorian London. And… while the game writers take liberties with the story, like a good historical novel, they try to keep the history accurate. What an exciting way to learn history.
I’m not the only one who has noticed Video game writing has been gaining popularity and recognition. In January of this year, several games (including Assassin’s Creed) have been nominated by the Writers Guild of America for the 2015 award recognizing outstanding achievement in video game writing. Here is the article if you are interested (Assassin's Creed, The Last of Us, Alien get Writers Guild nods).
Now, I’m not trying to convince you that video games are better than books. Nope! I’m a pretty big gamer, but I still set aside my controller in favor of a good book. I just wanted to draw your attention to the different aspects of writing that you might not have thought about. It’s fascinating to see how writing in video games has evolved. There are even some games that place the dramatic plot arc in the hands of the player. The choices that are made during the game affect the outcome of the story. If a player chooses to rescue one character instead of another, that choice comes back to haunt them later in the game. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but in a more visual way!
Since I’ve made my case, what do you think? By playing or just in passing, have you noticed the changes in the writing of video games over the years? Also, video games are made by a team of writers each contributing to the whole. How do you feel about collaborative writing and have you ever tried it?
Thanks for reading!