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Educational Feature: The Law of the Land for Game Writing

Writing for video games is different from writing for any other medium – and knowing that is half the battle. A new article on sister web site GameCareerGuide.com shares some mainstay
April 01, 2008
Writing for video games is different from writing for any other medium – and knowing that is half the battle. A new article, “The Law of the Land for Game Writing,” on sister web site GameCareerGuide.com shares some mainstay tricks of the trade. Game designer and author James Portnow references a number of well known games in the article, including BioShock, Call of Duty 4, and Ace Combat 4, so aspiring writers have clear examples to learn from. Here’s an excerpt from the article: “The first thing you need to know is that writing prose and writing for games are two very different skills. The second thing you ought to know is that script writing and writing for games are two very different skills. Once you know that, you should nevertheless polish your traditional writing skills. If you can’t put a sentence together, you can’t write for games. The key difference between writing for a traditional medium and writing for games is understanding the concept of agency. In most written works, the author has all the agency. This means the author controls exactly what happens. The author has complete autonomy over the outcome of every situation. In games, the agency is shared by the player and the author together. The player can’t exceed the bounds of what has been created for him, but he can choose when, how, and in what context he will experience it. … Like any other element of game design, interactivity is the key to good writing. The writing itself should either be interactive or contextualize the player’s interactions in the game world. Interactive writing can be anything from a chatter system in a first-person shooter to dialogue of the NPCs in an open world RPG or MMORPG, which changes based on what the player has done and whom he or she has talked to. For an example of a chatter system, play a little bit of IO-Interactive’s Kane & Lynch or EA’s Army of Two. Within a few minutes you’ll probably have had enough of their loathsome characters’ inane babble, but at least you’ll know what a chatter system is.” The complete article, “The Law of the Land for Game Writing,” is available now on GameCareerGuide.com.

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