Learning From Video Games

I’m a gamer. I play games almost as much as I read. And I probably spend just as much money on games in a year as I do on books.

….Actually, I’ll take that back. I spend way more money on books. But that’s besides the point.

Over the years of gaming, I like to think that I learned a thing or two that helped me become a better writer. So here are just a few lessons that I’ve learned about writing from video games:

  1. Take a pause: You know what’s great about video games? The pause button. Sometimes there is a level or a mission that is just so grueling, that I need to take a break. I don’t want to end the game because then all my progress up to that point could be erased and I’ll have to start over. But if I press the pause button, then I can take a step back and try to find a solution so I can move on to the next level. It’s the same with writing. While working on a project, I find that my steam is running low and my ideas are petering out. But I don’t want to abandon the project, because I still believe in it. So what do I do? I hit pause, get up, go for a short walk or make myself a snack. Then, after my mind is rested, I’ll sit back down and find that the ideas are just surging.
  2. Small mistakes are okay, if the story is great: This year, I played an amazing episodic game called Life is Strange (LiS). It was a hit with many gamers because of the story and the characters. But a lot of people complained about the lip sync and the developers said they didn’t have room in the budget to change it. But you know what? People still played the game and most everyone who played it LOVED it, bad lip sync and all. Likewise with writing, I will hopefully catch any glaring plot holes in a story. But there will be some things I will inevitably miss while editing or revising a piece. And while I hope to send pristine, ready to print stories to agents, publishers or magazines, I know that I will miss something. But, if the reader is engrossed in whatever story I’m telling, they will likely overlook a sentence where I wrote there but actually meant their.
  3. Balance the lore and the plot: I play a lot of Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and I think what I love most about this genre is the even amount of lore and story missions that are woven into the game. I immediately think about The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim and all the details in the game. I’m sure the development team was proud of everything they created, but they didn’t want to overwhelm gamers. So instead of front-loading all this information, they packed most of the information in in-game books, which gamers could read if they wanted to learn more about the history of Skryim. It’s the same way in books. Sometimes, as authors, we create these amazing places and people and we want the readers to see the full extent of our hard work. But when we throw people, places, historical events, and other tidbits at the readers, they can feel overwhelmed and put the book down. When I’m working on a book, whether it’s a stand alone or a part of a larger series, I try to find a balance between revealing my amazing world and telling a story. Otherwise, I’ll be 400 pages in and find that my plot hasn’t gotten underway or I’ll be nearing the end of my plot, only to discover that I have no idea where or when my story is taking place.
  4. Endings are key: This is something I’ve learned from a lot of different mediums, but for some reason I felt it necessary to put it here. I think it has to do with just how much of a time commitment games can be. If I spend 15+ hours on a game and the final confrontation is boring or stereotypical, I’ll be beyond frustrated. Again, I think about LiS. I didn’t have strong feelings one way or another about the ending. But after a while, I thought about my ending (since there are two you can choose from) and I found that I wasn’t completely happy with it. There were things that I liked about it but there was a lot that I didn’t like about it. Luckily, LiS was such a good game that if the development team released another season, I would more than likely play it. But there are instances where a bad ending can completely destroy a stellar game. And it’s the same with a short story or novel. If I come to the end of my story and I think my ending could use a bit of work, I take the time to fix it. I tie up any plot points that I may have forgotten about and I try to give the readers a satisfactory ending.

There’s no doubt that reading a lot will sharpen my storytelling and writing abilities. But movies, TV shows, video games and music can impart knowledge that will make me a better writer! Storytelling is the same regardless of the medium used.


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