As a writer, is it weird that I reference Bioshock instead of like, Charles Dickens?
I wonder how I survived my English degree given that I consider most classic lit that I’ve read good primarily as a paperweight.
In one of the critique meetings, we talked about the target audience and how it’s evolved given new media. Best sellers from years ago could afford to take up hundred of pages with nothing more than setting with a hint of character development. People had nothing better to do. Now we’ve got the immediacy of youtube and the constant explosions in Transformers.
It can be hard enough to use only words to compete with the visual medium, let alone the instant gratification of the internet where there is something for everyone 24 hours a day.
So maybe it’s not so bad that I look to newer media for inspiration and writing tips.
One of my favorite storytellers is Ragnar Tornquist, the writer for the Dreamfall and The Longest Journey games.
Some games rely on their interactivity and skimp on story (I’m looking at you, platformers and generic RPGs!) but those games that really develop the story as any other writer would become memorable–iconic even.
I just finished playing Final Fantasy 7–it’s a legend in the gaming world, almost a crime if you haven’t played it. Despite the ancient graphics and glitchy system, the story shines as a rite of passage in the lives of many gamers and I now understand why.
Well-scripted games are just another type of literature. How many writing books have you read that suggest starting off in medias res? FF7 does exactly this. You are thrown into a group of people in the middle of blowing up a reactor, the whys trickle in. Since storytelling is limited to dialog the writers can’t fall in that trap of narrating things like character relationships–the dialog must say it all and it does. Within moments, I understand that Barret is the tempermental leader impatient with me (Cloud) because I’m just a mercenary while Barrett is passionate about the rebellion.
While there are some instances of telling that extensive backstory the game has, the writing really shines in every moment where the backstory comes through directly in the present action of that game.
Portal is another great. It’s experimental even in the gaming world. There is only one speaker in the game–imagine trying to write an interesting novel full of tension and conflict when you only have one character and the environment as your storytelling tools. Portal does it and does it brilliantly. It helps that the voice actor is very talented! The writers manage to make a cube something you feel affection for….and guilt too. Each moment of humor builds your sense of dread and desperation to escape the test center. You wonder–am I jumping through GLaDOS’ hoops or am I really on my way out? You find hints of other employees who tried to escape…cans of food, and writing on the wall in red: the cake is a lie.
As a hobby, I voice stuff online for fanworks…radioplays, flash animations, etc. Since I’m a writer, I’m really picky about writing quality. I can figure out in two sample lines of dialog whether a character will be interesting to voice or not. I ran across one project recently called “Cracks in the Armor,” based on the Metal Gear Solid games, and instantly fell in love with the original character Olivia. Lucky for me, the director (who just so happens to live in Savannh!) also instantly thought I was perfect for the role 😀 She has finished putting the project together so I thought I’d share it.
I’ve been really impressed with her writing. She’s mostly done fanfiction, but she already has a strong grasp on some writing essentials. Every line was a blast to voice because there was so much subtext, each personality was very vivid. She started out with a bang–not just literally but through the relationship between the characters as well. She leans more toward character building than plot so sometimes it feels slow but most of the time she keeps that thread of tension going.
I’m proud, and not surprised, to be able to say that the project has gotten 13,000 downloads on itunes! You can find it there by searching “Cracks in the Armor” or you can access it here.
Going back to the games topic, as thanks for being in the radioplay she gave me the three Metal Gear Solid games since I’d never played them. I’m about halfway through the first game and already I’m seeing why she’s developed into such a good writer. She’s spent a lot of time obsessing over these games–obsessing over these incredibly well-written games.
One of my issues as a beginning writer is that I’ve read some ‘okay’ books, some outdated market books and I learned things to do from those ‘okay’ books not realizing that they were handicapping my writing as ‘just okay’ when I could write differently and be more ‘GREAT!’ She’s been exposed to this top notch writing and it shows in all her work.
There are no wasted words in the Metal Gear games and every character, even if you meet him only for a boss fight, has a depth of history that has made him who he is and he shows it, not by telling you about his childhood (…too much) but in his reactions to you. And for a story about a betrayed soldier, there’s a ton of humor in it. it’s never cheap, always woven naturally into the personalities of the characters.
Video games are an art just like any other form of writing and I feel privileged to learn from them.