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Gamasutra - Rebuttal: Why Writers Matter

by Dhruin, 2008-03-25 09:21:24

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:

When we discuss of the role of the writer, we have to be clear. There is a huge amount of writing in game design -- and good writers tend to make better designers (all else being equal) -- but being a writer doesn’t automatically make one a game designer. Writers do not dictate the way players interact with the world, nor do they dictate the way the player experiences the content that they themselves may create. These are the responsibilities of the game designer.

A writer might create the characters, and a writer certainly architects the plot of a game’s story, but the work a player actually sees and consumes? That is the work of the designer, even when the writer has written the dialogue, decided the plot, created every character and conceptualized every setting. There’s a critical reason for that, a reason that is perhaps the most compelling fact behind avoiding writers:

The work of the writer is inherently linear – the work of the designer is typically not.

When a writer sits down to build a story, they are usually building a plot. Most games certainly have plots, so you might be asking yourself why a writer wouldn’t be useful. After all, an experienced and well-educated writer will know everything there is to building a plot, and games could certainly benefit from better plots, right? I couldn’t agree more, but I’m afraid that it’s something of a leap to go from there to, “the person to architect a game’s plot is a writer.”

Today, Brainstem's Ron Toland rebutts with Why Writers Matter:

“When a writer sits down to build a story, they are usually building a plot.”

There are two mistakes in that sentence. First, building a story means building characters, the relationships between those characters, the setting around the characters, and the conflicts—plots—that involve the characters. Second, game writers should never sit down alone to build a story. They should meet with the entire team so that the art, sound, game mechanics, and story all work together to craft an interactive experience.

"The work of the writer is inherently linear – the work of the designer is typically *not*."

A bold but bogus claim. Has he never played D&D? Read an RPG module that accommodates several different paths to play through? Read a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book? All of the above were created by writers. All use non-linear storytelling.

Conversely, the work of the designer is often very linear. Super Mario Brothers is an incredibly linear game. So are Portal, the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and many others. All of those games were designed to be linear, and are great games.

Games are often linear because of limitations in technology and time. Writers can help make that linear experience feel more free than it really is, by involving the player in an unfolding story.

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