Friday, June 19, 2015

Video Games and Writing?

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!


  1. Wow, I had no idea! When I was a kid I played Super Mario Bros. 3, then in high school the first-person shooter games started coming about, like Wolfenstein and Goldfinger. After that I didn't play anything. I knew that they were working on better graphics over the years, but I didn't realize that plots were involved. Very cool!

  2. Alex, this is a terrific article! I never realized that game creators have been growing in the literary aspects of their creations. Being a kid at the advent of Pong and Pac-Man, it was clear that the goal was of a more technical nature and not to learn Steinbeck, Austen or discover the dystopian transcendental nature of Halo 5. With the graphics and programming having taken such large leaps forward over the past five years, it seems reasonable that the creators would want the storyline to keep pace with the impressive technology. Perhaps this is yet another growing possibility for writers: print, ebooks, film/television game novelist. An excellent first 'official' post on MMW. Welcome to the family. :)

  3. So true! I am equally amazed by the drastic improvement in story telling within the gaming industry over the past twenty or so years. Games like The Last of Us, Mass Effect, the Zero Escape franchise, and the Uncharted series come to mind. I am sure many readers out there are unaware that video games are swiftly becoming (and perhaps already have become) another medium with which to stir up compelling stories and address life's greatest intricacies. While they could never replace novels, they do approach many of the same issues with a very different vantage point. Thanks for sharing, Alex! Obviously I couldn't agree more!

  4. okay, not video games, because my fingers can't do that many things at once (aka I stink at them), but it reminds me of some particularly creative sessions of (do I admit it?) Dungeons and Dragons....(stop laughing) where my co-players and I came up with some pretty incredible and intricate plots, and depending on characters' choices, the plots had to change course. Of course, I was playing with 3 other people who write and we always made up our own quests instead of using just the books, so maybe that was just us.....

    1. I will admit that I've never played D&D, but I have always been interested. I've watched a session once (I think that's the epitome of lame...) and it was so cool! The Dungeon Master was like the narrator of this vast, intricate Choose Your Own Adventure book where the choices were only limited by your imagination and the roll of your die. I applaud your confession and if you want to check out one of my favorite authors play D&D in front of thousands of people, just search "Patrick Rothfuss Dungeons and Dragons" on YouTube. (there is a bit of language though so be careful...)



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