Back at the dawn of literature people who could write books could only draw inspiration from their own lives or from the verbal tales and folk lore that had been told to them. As writing became more prevalent, authors could draw more and more upon the work of others. It is as the famous phrase goes: “To write you have to read”. This was the status-quo for many years until the advent of the moving picture. With movies and television came a new way to tell stories. With these new, popular narrative devices, the audience to began to change. Things needed to happen and they needed to happen fast to keep people’s attention. As writers though we were also able to see a whole new way to tell a story. The idea of ‘show don’t tell’ really came into fruit and we were able to better improve upon so much that had stayed the same for years. It also made the process of absorbing the inspiration easier as you could watch a dozen movies in the time it took to read a book.
And then, only a few decades ago came the advent of video games. At first they were not things of narrative but simple forms of entertainment, a toy. It took a few more years until games became a viable way to tell a story. Now we can look at games and truly see their potential as narrative vessels. Examples such as ‘The Last of Us’ prove this wonderfully.
The interesting thing between games and writers though is that the gaming generation is only just taking to the fields of literature. Those who started to game in the eighties are beginning to break through now but for the most part, professional writing is still the pursuit of older people. We have yet to truly see how the gaming revolution will affect the story tellers of tomorrow.
So let’s have a look at why video games could provide fresh inspiration and ideas for writers. Games, unlike any other medium, can create a world that is at the audience’s fingertips to explore. It is visual like movies and television but it is also not limited to just what the director chooses to reveal to you. Games such as ‘Dark Souls’ demonstrate this perfectly by never openly giving the player any story. Everything is shown rather than told and nothing is explicit. As a writer, this method of story telling interested me greatly as I enjoyed piecing together ‘Dark Souls” story yet was not sure how to represent this narrative style using a written narrative.
The interactivity of games is another huge draw for the audience. Telltale Games’ ‘The Walking Dead’ is massively popular and is highly acclaimed for its story telling and emotional depth. It has little in the way of gameplay though and is more an interactive movie, as are games like ‘Heavy Rain’. The literary equivalent of these types of games would be the ‘choose your own adventure’ books. As we all know, there is no real literary value in these books. They are simply children’s books without any merit. Why is that though? Why is it that a game can present an interactive narrative while a book cannot?
Another interesting note on games verses books and movies is the idea of side quests. These are things that do not further the main story but can develop either the world or characters. In books, almost always, anything that distracts from the main story is bad. Not always though. If done correctly an author can use such methods to create a fully fleshed out world. A good example of this is Robert Jordan’s ‘The Wheel of Time’ series. These books have so many characters of varying importance who play all sorts of roles in all sorts of places yet every single one adds to the believability of the world. How do you fully flesh out a world by sticking only to the main story? You have to indulge in external distractions to get a sense of scale.
But this is all just musings. There is a whole debate about whether video games are art going on at the moment. I believe that they are and I also believe that they can inspire works of traditional art, whether they be paintings or literature. I will be very interested to see how they shape the up and coming authors of the world. They present many interesting problems in translation from game to written word but we as writers have always puzzled out how to draw the best features from all mediums to create works of wonder. Only time will tell.
So my friends: Work hard, write hard and change the world. Peace.