Graphical leaps are the first thing people think of when discussing the ever-evolving video game industry. However, modern titles have leveled up just as much in the narrative department. This is a natural result of the games looking so much better than they did 20 years ago. A potent story is crucial to keep players engaged with the complex worlds that lay before them in the gaming universe.

The increased focus on storytelling in video games increases the demand for good writers. Becoming a video game writer is a much more obtainable goal simply because the more abundant game writer roles must be filled. If you have a passion for both video games and writing, then telling your own interactive stories may be your dream career. Getting started is as simple as picking up that pen or opening a word document. Once you have started writing, you can hone your skills in a game writing program at a creative arts college. They will help you practice your craft and build a professional portfolio to show potential employers when you graduate.

What Does a Video Game Writer Do?

Depending on the specific role at a studio, a video game writer can be tasked with penning any and all text that appears within a title. This can include dialogue, narration, tutorials, menus, and lore. Even the smallest blurbs and loading tips must be carefully written to ensure congruence with the rest of the game world. Studios often employ many writers that each specialize in a particular area. The writing team works closely with the rest of the group to make sure none of the text stands out from the rest. Wild changes in tone or spelling errors can easily break the player’s immersion.

What is Storytelling in the Context of Video Games?

The goal of storytelling in video games is to help the player to become immersed in the activities they are participating in. Having a narrative incentive to completing the next quest or saving the world is a great way to ensure players will complete these tasks. After playing enough games with a compelling story, players begin to expect an interesting tale for each game they play. Achieving emotional investment from the player is the difference between a good game and fantastic title.

Which Elements Form a Cohesive Video Game Story?

There are three key components that games need to address. Even games that choose not to focus on the story must acknowledge these elements to avoid a player disconnect. The more creative energy that goes into each of these sections, the more engaging the overall experience will be. Keep each of these elements in mind and determine which one you would like to specialize in. It is okay to dabble in all three but choosing one to hone your proficiency on will help you land more jobs in the future.

Plot

The first and most basic of game writing is the plot. The plot includes the main events and scenarios that comprise the story. You can think of the plot as the big picture perspective that establishes the setting and characters at play.

Characters

Characters are considered the most crucial part of any story. There are only so many premises and plots available to choose from. To put it simply, everything has already been done before. On the other hand, there is an unlimited permutation of character archetypes and personality traits to choose from. Crafting endearing characters is the best way to get an audience hooked on your story.

World Building and Lore

Since video games attempt to establish an entire virtual world, the onus is on you to fill in all the details about these fictional universes. Creation events, history, religion, laws, culture, and technology are only some of the concepts you can expand on to add more depth to a virtual world. Many of these aspects are viewed through the lens of written diaries and audio logs placed as collectibles in each level. However, there is no limit to how creative you can get when establishing your gaming universe.

What are the Best Ways to Tell a Video Game Story?

The interactive nature of video games means that writers must take special care to ensure enough information is conveyed to the player. Although many of the same techniques apply to films or animation, the chance of a player missing something crucial to the story goes up dramatically when they are being hunted by zombie hordes or dealing with other video game hazards. There are five main tools that can be used to grab the player’s attention when you wish to tell more of your story.

Dialogue

The most attentive players and those with prior experience with the genre at hand can be alerted to what is going on in the narrative through dialogue alone. Dialogue includes both spoken conversations and characters that engage the player through remote communications. It can be used for advancing the story or giving the player some direction on where to go next. Unfortunately, this is the easiest type of storytelling for players to miss during gameplay.

Visuals

Visual elements can be easier for the player to notice. Players must keep their eyes glued to the screen to perform well, so this is a simple way to grab their attention. Storytelling through visuals is common during cutscenes that advance the plot. However, you can also employ environmental storytelling to convey extra depth to players who are curious.

Environmental storytelling involves leaving visual clues in an area that tell the tale of what happened before you arrived. This can be far more effective than simply sharing it through a line of dialogue. Plus, it solves the problem of gamers having control of the camera. Instead of missing out on time-sensitive details of the story because you turned away briefly, you can find each piece of the narrative puzzle at your own pace. This transmutes the player-controlled camera from a curse into a blessing.

Audio Cues

Audio can be used in a variety of ways to get the player attuned to the environment. Ambient sound effects and game-specific chimes can be used in tandem to direct the player through a game world. Directing the player in this manner increases the chances of them engaging with the other elements of the narrative. You can even use music to direct how players feel about any given scene. It can also be used for more practical reasons such as telegraphing how much danger the player is in. Creatively using both sound effects and music can increase how exciting your story is.

Narration or Other Forms of Exposition

Narrators and other characters are often used to communicate the basic information any player needs to understand each level. Exposition can become very boring when overused, but it is often a necessary evil to establish core concepts or raise the stakes of what is happening in the plot. As long as you balance how much exposition you use, it can be an excellent way to ensure the player is on the same page as the development team.

Gameplay

The bulk of the highest rated games of all time reach such lofty heights due to achieving meaningful story elements through just the gameplay itself. This is incredibly challenging to do and is relatively rare despite the sheer volume of titles being released today. To convey narrative through gameplay, extensive planning must be done in pre-production. This is the one type of writing that relies heavily on the coders in charge of the game mechanics. Giving the player a powerful realization through the push of a button is infinitely more impactful than dumping that explanation in a cutscene.

The Influence of Streaming on Video Game Writing

The popularity of streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube have changed how the industry operates. One of the core components influenced by this shift is how games are written. The abundance of game footage posted to the internet must be taken into account by the writing staff. Depending on the style of game you are making, video game story can manifest in plenty of unique ways.

Streamer Games

The term “streamer games” has been used to refer to games that are clearly catering to streamers and the large audiences they often gather each day. These titles can be made purposely silly or fun to keep viewers engaged for longer periods of time. Essentially, you write the game while acknowledging these audiences just as much as the player holding the controller. This shift in writing style changes how you would approach most lines of dialogue or pieces of lore. It is always beneficial to predict how popular your game will be with streamers before typing away.

Player Choices and Multiple Endings

Streaming and let’s play videos have created a new problem for game writers to solve. A linear title with no variation in the story through repeated playthroughs can correlate with a loss of sales. Many thrifty gamers can simply watch their favorite streamer play the latest narrative-driven title and get the full experience spoiled for them. However, providing ample player choice and multiple endings gives viewers an incentive to pick up a copy of the game for themselves.

The choices themselves can also help engage the audience. Streamers are known to pause games before dialogue decisions to ask their community to vote. You can leverage this while writing to keep the viewers interested in your title. There are also ways to tell organic stories during streams. For instance, some games allow the chat to influence how the streamer’s experience is going. Letting the audience decide if the play session has a happy or sad ending can be written into the narrative seamlessly.

Final Thoughts

Overall, writing stories for video games is an excellent career to pursue if you are already interested in both storytelling and interactive art. You can look forward to immense fulfillment and many opportunities to flex your creative muscles. The key to getting started is to narrow down which specialty you would like to pursue. A great way to do this is by taking a game writing program. You become versed in the many types of storytelling and video game writing in these programs. Then you are free to focus on a specific aspect of your writing such as dialogue or world building and keep improving your craft steadily. With the proper portfolio of written pieces in tow, you will have plenty of studios of all shapes and sizes scrambling to get you on board.

Did learning about storytelling for video games interest you? Today, the creative and financial success of major game releases increasingly depend on the strength of the game’s world, characters and story. The University of Silicon Valley’s Bachelor’s in Game Design/ Game Writing degree concentration—one of only a few such programs in the world—was developed to empower and support aspiring writers and narrative designers who want to be a part of this bold new storytelling frontier.

The University of Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to offer a meaningful and valuable education for 21st century students. We believe in an education that directly correlates with the work you’ll be doing after you graduate. Interested in learning more? Contact Us today.