More on Game Writers, Game Designers

As expected, the response to Adam Maxwell’s opinion piece that I mentioned previously has been swift and zealous. The article continued to elicit powerful responses on GameSetWatch, including an impressively long entry from Era, with this excerpt:

“Interactivity does not have to suffer from linearity. Interactivity does not equate to choice. Very common misconceptions plaguing both designers and people on the outside looking in. Our medium can be used for more than point/goal based competitions. We don’t have to have everything fit into the standard control schemes for platformers, action games, racers or shooters. We can restrict control just as the director restricts a camera to a specific scene. We can restrict the camera on top of control too, but don’t remove any of that for the sake of narration.”

The piece was also reprinted over on Gamasutra, where, naturally, it triggered a shitstorm of response. I suggest flipping through the comments for fun and entertainment, but for those with better things to do with their time, some of the more interesting responses include:

“To my mind, this is a lot like someone working in the movies saying “Why hire a costume designer when I can just hire an actor who can sew?” Writing is clearly not the art of paramount importance in a game. Bad to mediocre writing will seldom ruin an otherwise good game, much like bad to mediocre costume design will seldom ruin an otherwise good movie. But really good writing will add to a game, just like really good costume design will add to a movie.”

“He’s right that talking to people takes time away from “balancing weapons.” And that as a designer, he’s probably got a lot of different teams to talk to. But isn’t that just part of his job? If he doesn’t like managing people, shouldn’t he go do something else?”

“Anyone who says “The work of the writer is inherently linear” has neither read nor thought widely enough to comment on writing.”

“This article assumes that game writers have no idea they are in the game industry–that they just one day woke up and started working on a game, while yesterday they were still writing screenplays for film or prose for a novel. If a company is hiring writers that have no understanding of how video games are made, or how important the gameplay experience is, then it’s the company’s fault for hiring the wrong kind of writers.”

“If your point is that a good writer/designer is more valuable than just a good writer, point taken… but if your point is that good writing in games has no value, then you couldn’t be more wrong.”

And on and on and on. Still, despite Adam’s assertion that his piece was intentionally provocative, and not to be denied the last word, GameSetWatch has provided a rebuttal from Brainstem Games’ Ron Toland, which formalizes many of the comments being spewed about on web sites across the intertube. To wit:

“Game development teams give us new games to play. You can’t have a game without programmers. A game without artists is going to look terrible. A game without designers won’t have good mechanics. A game without sound designers is going to sound cheesy. A game without writers (or someone acting as the writer, even if they’re called a designer or narrative designer or scribbler-in-chief) will probably be full of clichés. Just like movies, games require a lot of different disciplines to come together and make something fantastic.”

Interestingly, Adam gave some additional thoughts on his personal blog afterward, clarifying some of his impressions about why writing in games isn’t where it needs to be. He puts the blame on linear narrative, and specifically, “conventional writers and their influence on our chosen medium of expression.” Not exactly new thoughts, and neither is his main point, that games can excel by collaborating with players to create the narrative of the game:

“I am sure there are specialist writers out there who can do this, but I also know there are plenty of people working in the industry already who can do it – these people tend to be designers, engineers, scripters, or artists… They are people who understand what games are and how you can use them to collaborate with the player to elicit narrative not from some artificial story channel, but through the act of play itself.”

There are a number of people who already subscribe to this approach, although I still have a tough time getting past a disturbingly vague notion of its representation in the real world. It’s an ideal that I want to believe in, but without knowing for certain what it really is or might be, I find it difficult to make that leap.

What I did find most fascinating about this dialogue is that it brought out an abundance of posts on the topic of linearity vs. non-linearity in game narrative, and I’m finding that perhaps what many people believe is non-linear (in gaming terms) is actually a form of linear narrative. Sounds like it could be a good discussion. More on this later.

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