Gamasutra - Rebuttal: Why Writers Matter
A few days back Gamasutra had a piece called The Case Against Writers in the Games Industry by Auto Assault's Adam Maxwell. Let's start with a sample from that:
While I agree with the rebuttal more than the original point, he misunderstood or took out of context several of the points from the original. For example:
Not a biggie but it bugged me in reading …
I'm not knocking you for that - it is a widely held misperception. However, the consensus in the industry is that screenplay authors have too much to unlearn and worse - have great difficulty understanding and recognizing that. They think their screenplay skills apply when quite often, they do not. It leads to a lot of problems. Indeed, it is a very significant and commonplace problem in the industry when developing writing talent.
All professional mainstream writers share many skills with game writers, and on the surface they do have a lot in common; however, it is in the differences where the skill of writing for games is really told and is made. These are subtle and exceptionally difficult nuances to master.
The truth of the matter is this: no past experience as a writer of fiction (novels/novellas), journalism or screenplays is any predictor of success in writing for RPGs. Period. When you are hiring for a position on a game dev team- that's a hugely significant issue. Who the hell do you get to fulfill this viatal role on the team and how do you identify them?
I have tried all of the above as writers. Some of these - and in particular screenplay writers - thought that the task would be easy. It is not. It is very di can be a writer" is the standard response.
That response is right. Anybody CAN be a writer. But that proposition in logic does not end there. In fact, that's the essence of the problem.
Because while almost anybody CAN be a good CRPG writer, almost nobody is actually a good CRPG writer. Because there is no qualification or past experience - other than writing for CRPGs - that is a good predictor of success, it's a horribly difficult position to hire for and fill on a team. And without one or three? You are screwed.
Writing is a bitch and deserves far more respect than it gets. People who share views like Maxwell simply don't know what they are talking about when it comes to Western style CRPGs.
While I mostly agree with Steel_Wind, I do have to disagree on one significant point: Dialog.
It's one thing to write character dialog for paper, and another for dialog that's going to be spoken aloud. Especially now that voice acting is mandatory on any so-called "Triple-A" game. Screen writers (should) have the skills to make that voice acting sound sane when spoken aloud, and not end up with something like DW Bradley's purple prose from Dungeon Lords (which I actually found amusing, but for the wrong reasons), or the horrible writing for Oblivion's Dark Brotherhood (the worst I can ever recall hearing), or the cumbersome translation of Witcher's dialog over to English.
The fine art of making voice actors not sound bad is something screenwriters should be good at. That's a big part of their job. For smaller scale games without voice acting, an experienced writer (not necessarily a screen writer) can go a long ways towards making the dialog a much more pleasant experience, keep all of the characters having distinct voices, etc.
For us niche RPGers, dialog is important, and man does it stink in most games. We may not be able to trust writers to have the skill for making a non-linear story enjoyable, but neither can we trust game designers to have the skill to make the dialog not sound like a horrible caricature, or like all characters are clones sharing the same tone, word choice, idioms, etc.
Finding someone good at both is unlikely. I think most teams would benefit from a skilled writer. But I also think that what constitutes "writing" for a game is different than fiction or screen plays. The dialog is definitely the purview of a skilled writer.
Adam Maxwell reminds me of some of the guys I knew in college. Come to think of it, he would be particularly well suited to make the case against things like putting the toilet lid back down or cleaning up after yourself since he understands that kind of logic so well.
Why would skilled writers make any difference in a business where customers prefer quality writing? For that matter why should talented chefs be considered any more valuable in the restaurant business or beautiful women be any more strongly perferred to magazines like Playboy?
Maxwell's logic is an epiphany. From now on I think I'll walk down the path of self improvement by drinking as much beer and eating as many Fritos as I want whenever I want. It's my inherent nature. What could possibly be gained by resisting it?
Hehe. I squeaked. ^^
Writing is easy. It's doing the necessary re-writing to make what you've produced good and effective, which is difficult!!
The *original* articles "designers over writers", as I call it,
reminds me of a concept I once had (and still hold in part):
Picture Over Word.
Whifch means that a picture is universal and doesn't need a thing like "translation". Pictures can be - if well made - perceived in seconds, minutes, intuitively.
Words need somewhat *more* intellectual involvement, relatively heavy processing through things like "reading", "deciphering", "thinking" about the thing just perceived.
It's as if you would place a traffic sign on the street: The sign alone transports the information much faster and without much hassle at all,
meanwhile a driver would have to activate his or her "reading skills" within seconds, read everything, arragnge words, sentences and meaning within the brain, and then distill the meaning of the "wordy sign" in his or her head.
Summary: Icons are *much* faster to process than sentences.
Pictures over words.
From *this* point of view, the writer *always* loses.
There is a big, big, but:
BUT texts can contain much more suble information. They can contain much more information at all. In general. The contents of a book cannot be hold in a single picture - at least without omitting details, just because of sheer space. Thus, painting is always kind of an reduction of details. An reduction to the rather "core" of a meaning. Of a story.
Plus, you can't paint treatises. At least not in the same way as it is being made in a written treatise.
So now, pictures are in my opinion still much, much more universal. They can be understood by a much, much greater audience.
But they can't transport details, subtleties in the same way as texts are able to.
As a result, the sheer intellectual demand is greater with texts, because if the way it needs to be processed. The people need more education to fully understand (especially complex) texts.
Finally, this means both have their own niches.
There is no "case against the writer", and I think that this is wrong, but both have their own fields where they excel.
I would rather thnk before I place my money on either of them: I would think about in which field each one is used before I place my money.
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