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Video game writing is the art and craft of writing scripts and narratives for video games. Similar to screenwriting, it is typically a freelance profession. It includes many differences from writing for film, due to the non-linear and interactive nature of most video games, and the necessity to work closely with video game designers and voice actors. There are many differing types of text in video games in comparison to stage shows or movies, including written text, foreign or made-up languages, and often situation-based information. Especially when developing Triple A games, more than one writer will be required to create the game, split into different roles.
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with Western culture and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (June 2019)
People who write video games are part of the design team, during pre-production, and create the main plot of a video game but can also focus on the dialogue, the character creation and development or the worldbuilding.
The importance of the plot can be minimized by some video game designers, for instance Harvey Smith of Arkane Studios claimed that "The world is very important. The characters are very important. The plot? It can be thrown away. Because each gamer will build his own story.". Moreover, according to academic and video game designer Ian Bogost video games can be much more than narrative media, by putting together, in a non-linear structure, elements of everyday life, as in What Remains of Edith Finch.
One issue specific to the medium is that priority is given to interactive play mechanics over narrative which could lead to Ludonarrative dissonance: a situation when ludic and narrative elements are opposed to each other, as Far Cry 2 director Clint Hocking defined the concept in his blog.
Also as video games are more recent than other media, video game writing is still a field to be conquered.
Video game writing differs from writing for other arts, due to the non-linear and interactive nature of most video games, and the necessity to work closely with video game designers and voice actors. There are many differing types of text in video games in comparison to stage shows or movies, including written text, foreign or made-up languages, and often situation-based information. Subsequently, more than one writer will often be used to create the game, split into different roles, with more specific job titles that can range from being a traditional writer, developing an overview of the story and how it reacts to the player, or creating a translation or localization.
A pitch writer specializes in writing pitches for video games to publishers. They create collaborative pitch documents within a game studio that often contain design mockups or art concepts. The main parts of a pitch document, in order from first to last, are the executive summary, audience analysis, story, competition analysis, market analysis, gameplay, and budget and schedule.
With an increasing emphasis placed on game profitability, especially in the free to play model, the F.T.U.E. (First Time User Experience) and retention metrics have also become important parts of the pitch document.
Narrative designer is a hybrid role of video game design and writing that creates not only the story, but also how it is communicated to players and how the game mechanics work to reinforce that story. Bioware writer David Gaider described the role as "the person who shapes the game’s narrative, as well as the one who writes all the words."
The script writer focuses on the dialogue said by characters and the voice over. The script's dialogue can be written in flowcharts to illustrate the various dialogue resulting from both decision and indecision. Generally, a script writer is less involved with the video game's mechanics, and is tasked with writing and working with voice actors.
Similarly to screenplay script doctors, video game writers can be brought in to assist with writing-related tasks. However, the term is more vague than in screenplays due to the wide variety of potential tasks needed.
Traditionally, game writers used simple tools like Word, Excel or just plain pen and paper. Some game writers also used tools initially designed for the film industry such as Final Draft. As the field has evolved and player agency started to play a bigger role, the need for professional game writing tools has emerged.
- Gaider, David (August 15, 2016). "Do you want to write video games? 28 An industry veteran explains the difficulty in getting the position everyone wants". Polygon. Archived from the original on April 26, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
- How To Become A Video Game Writer, interview with Darby McDevitt, posted on Game industry career guide
- The Gamasutra 20: Top Game Writers, by Bonnie Ruberg on Gamasutra
- Building a Narrative That’s Explosive, by Chris Suellentrop, published on The New York Times March 19, 2013
- (in French)Dans un jeu vidéo, « le joueur s’inventera toujours sa propre histoire » by Corentin Lamy , published 27 december 2016 on Le Monde website
- Video Games Are Better Without Stories by Ian Bogost, published in April 2017, in The Atlantic.
- What In The World Do Video Game Writers Do? The Minds Behind Some Of Last Year's Biggest Games Explain., by Phil Owen
- Your Game Dialogue Is Bad And You Should Feel Bad published 13 October 2011
- for instance the poor-quality of most video games ending : That’s It? Graphics Improve But Video Game Endings Still Come Up Short, by Stephen Totilo
- Hocking, Clint, "Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock", clicknothing.typepad.com
- Makedonski, Brett, Ludonarrative dissonance: The roadblock to realism
- Sawrey, Matt, Ludonarrative Dissonance: we still need to learn from Hocking
- Bad lines by Clint Hocking, published 9 february 2012 on the Edge website
- Despain, Wendy, ed. (2008). Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing. Wellesley, Mass.: A.K. Peters. pp. 21–22, 55, 165. ISBN 978-1439875384. OCLC 814380325.
- "Flowchart a video game script". Storm The Castle. Archived from the original on 2017-09-22. Retrieved 2017-09-25.