The Writer's Circle – Week #5 [Game On!]
Hi everyone! Due to the holiday weekend (Independence Day) I just had, and the subsequent consumption of too many, although yummy, alcoholic beverages, this post had to be delayed by a day. I just didn't get a chance to work on it the past weekend. But, I have redeemed myself, for here is Week #5 of the Writer's Circle! It is an article on a topic that I'm sure many of you, including myself, are interested in. This article is by Carolyn Handler Miller, a writer/author/developer/collaborator who has worked on the storyline/background/dialogue/etc of over four dozen video games and other new media projects. She has written this article to help point aspiring video game writers in the right direction. Have you ever wanted to write the story behind the next great video game? Mayhaps you have been dreaming and scheming it all up in your head and your looking for some way to get your thoughts realized? This article will hopefully give you some ideas as to how you can achieve such things. Please enjoy! At the end of the article there will be a resources section with websites, books, organizations, conferences, and other things for you to peruse. Cheers!
Game on! Writing for video games
An interactive-media writer offers advice for breaking into this exciting market.
Article by: Carolyn Handler Miller
Carolyn Handler Miller is one of the pioneering writers in the field of interactive media, where she has worked on more than four dozen video games and other new media projects. She is the author of Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment,now in its second edition.
Not long ago, video games were looked down upon as a form of lowbrow escapist entertainment for teenage boys. As such, they were beneath the radar of most writers. That's just as well, because for the most part they contained only a meager amount of writing, work that generally went to the game company's programmers or designers.
But the games coming to market these days are far more sophisticated than their forbears, and there's an increased emphasis on compelling plots and dimensional characters. This is good news for writers, because game companies are increasingly turning to professionals for various writing tasks.
What do game writers do?
Writing work on games may involve any one of a number of different jobs, depending on one's experience and particular skill set. Fortunately, being a computer geek is not a job requirement!
One of the biggest jobs going to writers is the creation of dialogue scripts, which can add up to hundreds of pages. You may also get the chance to create original characters. On of the first game jobs I ever had was writing dialogue for the cast of characters for the Carmen Sandiego titles (e.g., Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?), and I also created four new characters for the series. Writers who com from the screenwriting field, as I did, are particularly in demand for dialogue work. They may also find themselves writing “cut scenes,” film-like sequences that open or close a game and that are also used as important transitions.
In addition, writers are sometimes asked to work on specialized materials like “design documents,” detailed documents that describe every aspect of a game, and “character bibles,” descriptions of all the game's characters. Highly experienced game writers, working in conjunction with the project's designer, may create the overall story world for a game and work out major challenges the players will have to overcome in order to succeed at the game.
Some types of games call for more specialized tasks. Take Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), for example. In this popular new genre, players become involved in dramas that seem intensely real. ARGs are played out in real time, and the narrative and clues are typically disseminated via a mix of media, often using everyday forms of communication to advance the game. Writers of ARGs may create faux Web sites and blogs, phone messages, press releases and TV commercials, all in the voice of the game's fictional characters or entities.
Educational and training games are another major subset of the market, and here the writer may be asked to help incorporate educational or informational material into a game format.
As to be expected, game writers have to deal with a unique set of challenges. For one thing, these works are interactive, meaning that the players' choices largely determine how the narrative unfolds. Consequently, traditional techniques of plotting and character development have to be greatly modified. Furthermore, writers have to accept the fact that story is always second banana to “gameplay” and is there to support it. Gameplay, as the term suggests, is what makes these works something you play, rather tan something you watch or read—it's how the player and the game interact with each other and what makes the experience fun.
How do you break in?
Unlike many forms of writing, game writing does not have a clear-cut entry path. There are, however, a number of steps you can take to break in.
Look into formal and informal education. A number of universities and community colleges offer classes in video-game development. Such classes mot only give you training in specific skills but may also lead to valuable internship positions at game companies.
If enrolling in classes isn't an option you can embark on a program of self-education. You need to play games, and as wide a variety as possible. Become familiar with the various genres of games and understand what players enjoy about each of them, and become knowledgeable about the different types of hardware that games are played on.
If you aren't much of a gamer, you can educate yourself about popular games by persuading a gamer you know—perhaps a young relative—to give you a tour of his or her favorite games. De-construct some successful ones and analyze their scripts, their structure, and how their narratives and gameplay work together. In addition, read books, articles and reviews about games.
Network. Networking is one of the best ways to find work and stay on top of the field. One of the biggest and best organizations dedicated to video games is the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). The IGDA has branches in many communities and also has an online group just for writers. Conferences and trade shows also offer opportunities to network and learn about new developments.
Create a portfolio. Companies that hire game writers want to see writing samples. Ideally, they should be specific to the game industry, such as dialogue scripts and design documents. In addition, it's smart to be able to show a “prototype,” a small working part, of a game that you wrote. No on will expect you to have built the entire prototype yourself—you can team up with a few others who have complementary skills, such as animation, programming and audio—but the script itself should be your own.
Parlay existing skills. Having skills in specific areas can be a major asset when you are first breaking into the field. My experiences as a print journalist, screenwriter and writer of children's TV programs were helpful in getting my first game jobs, which were educational projects for young people.
Almost any specialized knowledge or writing can be channeled into video-game writing. I know comic-book writers, mythologists, former army officers, a physicist and a physician who have all found work in the industry.
Research the employers. You need to know who the major employers are, and of these, which is the best fit for your interests and skills. The two major groups of employers are game publishers and game developers. The publishers either develop projects in-house or farm them out to developers, who do the actual work. Make a list of the companies whose games you like and research them online.
A wide variety of other organizations also make video games, especially games geared toward pragmatic purposes like teaching, military training, public information, or promoting products or ideas. These games are known as “serious games.” Producers in this part of the industry are often more receptive to newcomers than the game companies are.
Most game writers work as freelancers. Freelance assignments can be substantial and may employ a person for a year or more. Staff jobs are less common and usually go to people with substantial industry experience and desirable skills such as producing or designing.
Another option is to sell original game ideas. This is fairly difficult to do, however, since game companies usually develop their ideas internally. To sell an original game, your ideas should be clearly articulated on paper, and you need a working prototype of the project.
Whatever path you take to get into game writing, it's well worth the effort. The work is fun, and you have a chance to create new kinds of narratives, ones that are rich, complex and multilayered. As a bonus, the young kids you know will think you are incredibly cool.
Alright, as you can see, writing for a video game or video game company isn't exactly easy work. And even if you can get it, it could become time consuming and life swallowing...BUT! It can also be a very fun and enjoyable experience! I have been talking with THQ and EA games about freelance work for some upcoming games that they have in store for the next couple of years. Unfortunately I am forbidden to talk about such things as the content or to put it bluntly, anything at all about the games. Basically, I could get sued for leaking info. So I don't want to risk losing what minuscule amount of money I have left to my name by letting the secrets out. Sorry, but wish me luck and you may find my name on some new video games come 2012-14. Anyways... Below are some resources for you all to check out regarding the information that you have been given above. These range from names of books, to organizations, to conferences that you can attend and more.
- Break Into the Game Industry: How to Get a Job Making Video Games by Ernest Adams. A good basic guide.
- Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment, 2nd edition, by Carolyn Handler Miller. Covers video games and other forms of interactive media.
- Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, edited by Chris Bateman. A compilation of essays.
ONLINE NEWS, REVIEWS, PREVIEWS, DEMOS AND ARTICLES
- The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten. Written by two well-known writer-designers.
ONLINE INFORMATION ABOUT BREAKING IN, SELLING GAME IDEAS
- Alternate Reality Gaming Network www.argn.com. Specifically about ARGs.
- Game Submission Guide www.igda.org/biz/submission_guide.php. Practical guidelines for selling original games. Free, but you must be a registered user of the IGDA Web site to download it.
Ok, I guess this article really isn't a genuine discussion article. But that is OK. I saw this article and I felt that it would be an asset to those of you who are interested in video game design and writing for video games. Please let me know if any of the above links were helpful to you. And also, what you thought about the article. I'm thinking about interjecting informative/directional articles like this into the mix every once in a while and I wonder how well received an idea like that would be. Please send me your feedback/ideas on what other targeted articles you would like to see, or you can just post them here. Thanks again for reading and stopping by for week #5 of the Writer's Circle.
I don't have any discussion questions this time around because this is a more targeted article.
Once again, thanks all for stopping by!