The title of the talk was ‘Writing Games: Tall Tales of Triumph and Terror’ and it was held last Thursday at the Writers’ Guild of America, West headquarters in Los Angeles. It went alright, with some discussion of what it’s like to be a game writer, the new and growing position of game writers within the WGA (which allows game writers to join according to lower standards than film or television writers), and lots of nods to Uncharted 2 and Half-Life.
Everything pretty much went as I expected, but I found it very unfortunate that we did not see a discussion of the art or craft of game writing. We only really heard about the differences in work environment and technicalities. For example, it was generally agreed that game development involves far less clearly defined roles than filmmaking, so a writer can expect to play some role in game design and should expect the game designer to play a role in writing. A script writer should also expect his usual 125 page script to shoot up to around 800 pages for a game, since games are longer and a player may only experience a fraction of a game’s writing in a single play through. We did not, however, hear about anyone’s ideas on game writing, how a game is structured, approach, how they use the game to convey meaning or feelings. At one point it was mentioned that while in film it is said that a writer should ‘show’ and not ‘tell,’ in games a writer should ‘do’ and not ‘tell,’ but that was the extent of artistic discussion.
I stood up for the Q and A at the end and asked about the difference between games with mute protagonists and those with talkative protagonists, citing Half-Life and Uncharted and asking how each writer felt about the different approaches to game writing. This, I thought, was a question they could bite into. Surely one of these guys struggled at one time or another with the contradiction of a game’s protagonist being both a unique character and being played by the player, or at the very least, thought it was interesting, thought something could be done with that. Right? One of the writers reiterated that Uncharted 2 and Half-Life were both great games and simply said sometimes you go the one direction with a mute, and other times you go with the yapper. Nobody else had anything to say. So that was my shot. Oh well.
Anyway, I had a good time, especially talking to some of the writers over cokes. I even met a flash developer by the name of Tamar Curry. Seemed like a cool dude.
This is my second IGDA meeting and I recommend checking them out, especially if you want to meet some local LA game developers. Students and indie devs show up in addition to folks from some of the larger companies, so it’s a good bunch.
-Christopher J. Rock