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Why Being A Fiction Writer Helps Me Understand Games

Damn what a long title.

Anyway.

I am a writer. Not just what you expect from any of  the other folk around here. Most people who lovingly write for Platform Nation most likely have a job or education to go to, while I do partake in the latter, I am not chained towards a daily routine. I can freely move about and write on the weekend, that and I’m also based in the UK. It pretty much makes a loner in the Platform Nation world, which is incredibly sarcastic given that I talk with many and many of writers and editors from the site. I understand some of their backgrounds, learned their jobs but I don’t think anyone has one quite like mine.

From a young age, I wrote. Giant stories with little description and narrative, characters and plot moving forward with gross excuses for ‘sentences’, but I never stopped. I have persisted for ten years of my life, writing, learning, crafting; it’s all being a rather lonesome affair. I’ve had obvious help from my education, but there’s only so much they can teach you, I think I’m a natural writer. It makes it all the better that I am a gamer. Both writing and gaming have influenced my life, I look at all mediums for inspiration but mostly videogames are what I take influence from.

It was always hard to combine the two, writing FOR games is hard and grueling. With publishers mounting pressure to push ‘moral choices’ and other empty innovative fair. Writing for games is restrictive, unless you get the right people, then it can be the greatest medium that has ever existed.

It is odd then that I have begun writing about games, but I did all of this out of the fact that I wanted to learn more. I experiment a lot with my writing (for example, I wrote a story in which four perspectives are told, one was blind, one was deaf, one was mute and another couldn’t move) so it was great for me to start blogging. After my blog ‘The Purple View’ picked up a bit I applied for a job here at Platform Nation and now I work for the greatest website in existence.

But enough about me.

Being a writer of fiction I have a sixth sense of sorts to help me sort the garbage and trim the wordy fat. Dialogue looks foreign to me in most video-games, some of it just coming straight out of a bad straight-to-video film. Characters I can pick out of the story and take them apart one by one, maybe it’s because I know what I’m doing but maybe it’s also because I am more than a writer. The writer of fiction isn’t just a simple scribe, he is an observer upon a fictional plain. It’s always just so satisfying to fill a location with characters and see where my mind takes me.

I don’t get that when I play videogames.

BioShock was an absolute hallmark of videogames; brilliant writing, brilliant plot, brilliant characters and most of all: the pacing. I haven’t seen a better example of a game which has a story with actual pacing. More than often its an A to B story, with characters bouncing off of each other. Valve’s games take a strict threshold on the narrative, letting the player experience and think of how Gordon would react. They do this by pulling a BioShock, and making you mute, incapable of reaction. You’re reduced to a status of an observer… a writer. I’m not saying that all main characters HAVE to be mute (that would be awful) but it definitely helps as a writer to let your ready experience your work for themselves.

It’s why I hate Dan Brown’s way of thriller. Setting up all the pieces of the puzzle, while the reader’s head just stumbles around, and instead of dropping hints or letting the reader figure it out for themselves; he just puts it together himself. I prefer to outline all the jigsaw pieces, but not put them together myself, maybe even letting characters drift off in a tangent while letting the reader piece it together.

Once you are a writer, you can’t go back, you start re-writing lines of videogame dialogue in your head, taking apart their very fabrics of personality. It’s harder to enjoy a good story or a story at all, but it changes you as a gamer too. I no longer expect a good story from any game, Just Cause 2 for example, I want critique them for their story because they don’t force it upon my lap. I should outright butcher Heavy Rain’s plot holes and inconsistencies, as its story is always at the front of the stage.

This feeds into my writing too, not just the direct influences such as whole plots or characters, but also the pacing. I still come back to BioShock every time I start writing any story because it’s practically a crash course in how to make your reader think for themselves. Devices and literature symbology is littered everywhere in BioShock, it’s where I always start. I develop a concept, write a draft, play some games, apply the craft and then edit and rewrite until the end of time. It becomes routine.

Nice that I fit playing videogames into it too.

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  • You aren’t alone. I write fiction as well. 😉

  • Wyatt Fossett (Sheriff Earp)

    Same here. This is so true.

  • caroliro

    I am not a writer…I now understand how being a writer helps you critic the poor stories of video games but I missed the part about how it helps you “understand” them.???

  • All I do is write fiction Nathan, a great deal of it actually. Scripts, Poetry, short stories, etc.