Non-Fiction Friday — Industry blog

David Gaider, lead writer and creator of Dragon Age, suggests reading books to develop your writing skills

Hello again!

I hope everyone has been well and has thought about “their question.”

What do you do once you have a thread of thought?

Once you have your first question in mind (again, for myself it was “who writes the stories for video games?”), you have to actually set out to answer it. For a lot of people, this can be quite a daunting step, but don’t get discouraged before you’ve even begun! When the going gets tough, we get tougher. Once we start adding more to our thread it becomes string and from there it can become anything.

A great place to start when you’re trying to get a lot of information for a little bit of an idea is the library. I know, it’s old-fashioned, but the internet is a vast and scary place sometimes. The library gives you the opportunity to learn from a limited selection that will at least get you on the right path. Once you have a foundation of information, you can safely continue your learning online with a buffer against getting overwhelmed.

I started with a few books about careers in the video game industry, creative writing careers, and video game creation. Not only will this help you pinpoint where your career exists (if it exists), but what the name of the position is. In addition to your future job title, it gives you an idea of how all the moving parts work together from thought to console in the video game creation process. This is very important to know because every department works together as a team and almost everything one team does can affect another team. (A warning: Sometimes the books are outdated. This is a fast-paced field, after all — just look how far we’ve come in 30 years!) This is another reason why it’s so important to read multiple books:

The more you read, the wider your net of comprehension is!

From what I gathered along my travels, there IS a position for writing stories in video games. It’s called a “video game writer,” but the more I read, the more worried I became. It seemed that this was a freelance position, typically swiped up by movie screenwriters looking to branch into the video game industry. I also gathered that this is something video game developers rarely use, typically only for the odd-end side quest as a play time buffer. The bulk of story writing for games is done by the developers because they’ve just kind of had to for so long due to position, budget, or project restraints.

But in the spirit of not giving up, I remind us all that “we get what we get, and we don’t pitch a fit.”

Once I moved my search to the internet, I found that the times have moved on since my library books. There is actually a niche position, not offered at ALL companies, but more common the bigger the company is; it’s called a “narrative designer,” and I do like the sound of that.

Another important piece of information I’ve learned from reading many, many articles on the internet is the idea that a video game isn’t just about a story. Rarely is a game made or broken by the story alone. This is not the platform to “get your story out there” for people to appreciate your skills. This is, and will always be, about the gamer. This is their story, their gameplay, visuals, sounds, etc. So if you are a person who feels your work is the end-all-be-all, you may want to look into writing your own novel instead.

The thing about a narrative designer is that they aren’t even the ones who create the overall idea or theme for a story. That’s actually the job of the project director (or creative director in some companies; if there is one thing that’s true about this industry, it’s that it cannot agree on any consistent position titles). The project director is typically a veteran in the industry and very high on the food chain.

Instead, narrative designers are given basic information: what a game is about, what type of game it is, and important plot points. The narrative designer then creates the story around that framework to shape the game. Things continuously evolve and constant rewrites are normal as scenes, characters, and plots change based on new ideas, software limitations, and other obstacles.

So if you can be flexible, enjoy being creative, and can accept that your story is not the most important part of a game — this just might be for you.

Next time we’ll talk about what to do with the information once you have it.

Just a reminder: This blog is not an official resource for anything. This is intended to help people who have no “in” or mentor in this industry. Starting from scratch is really hard and I want to help in any way I can. I have little information to share, but I will share all of it in hopes it’ll help even one person! If you have more information about ANY of these topics, I would highly encourage (if not beg) you to share it in the comments. Let’s all figure this out together!


Virginia Marion Bullard

Full-time Dovah and gaming industry connoisseur. Weilder of Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from the College of Journalism at the University of Florida.