Improve your writing by playing video games [pt1]

Aztec_sword_by_DemocatI wrote a short article with some simple ideas on how to take the time spent in front of the X-box and turn it into quality research that will improve your writing. This will be the first of three articles that cover different ways to use game-time as a tool to improve your writing.

First step: Pen and paper. I dunno about you, but I can write (sort of legibly  pretty damn fast. So whenever you kick off a gaming session, keep a pen and paper handy. I’m going to go through a few things to look out for while your slaying orcs and hunting terrorists.

Play games outside of the genre you write

Seems, ludicrous.  If you write fantasy, you should play fantasy games, right? Getting some outside perspective is never a bad thing. The driving reason behind repetitive, uninspired writing is that the author surrounds themselves by their own niche.

If you write fantasy, play some sci-fi or horror games. You will discover concepts, scenes and characters that you could incorporate into your own writing.

Scene Analysis

Look at the way in which good games set the scene. Take in the environment you are playing through and try to think of why it works. Why is it appealing? Is it the lighting? Is it the textures? Try to think of how you would describe the scene you are playing through. What words would describe what you are seeing?

One of the most important elements of game design is lighting. Some studios have teams of people who are dedicated to lighting scenes. It is integral. Consider how lighting in game affects your mood and brainstorm some ideas on how you could build that same effect in your writing. Describe shadows, the light sources.

…. You should note that I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to lighting. I have pages devoted to research on how light works, and how to use it in building scenes. Read my writing and you’ll be hard pressed to find a scene that doesn’t give at least a short description on how the room is lit.

Level Analysis

Try playing through some puzzle games. In my [hopefully] soon to be released novel, my characters encounter a series of puzzles and traps. The driving force behind including this in the novel as opposed to straight hand-to-hand combat (though there’s plenty of that too), was gaming. People enjoy games, they enjoy puzzles, they like figuring them out. The same applies to fiction writing with well thought out traps and puzzles; it’s interesting.

Some games with phenomenal level design:

  • Half Life
  • Legend of Zelda and the Ocarina of time
  • Baldurs Gate
  • Deus Ex
  • Hit Man Series
  • Theif Series

Setting Analysis

Video games (unlike cinema and literature), are almost exclusively fictional. They each have their own unique settings. Unlike literature and film which is just as often, heavily, grounded in the real world; game developers spend a lot of developing the worlds in which their games are set. Even “realistic” games like battlefield are set in a fantasy world, and so, world builders can learn a lot from gaming.

Consider the intricacies of setting development, and look at the different elements of the world they create. In World of Warcraft, there is tons of lore behind the different characters, and races. This sort of content cannot be ignored by a budding fantasy author simply because of WoW astounding popularity. Consider how their world works and then – more importantly – think about why?

Wrap up

This was not the first, and will not be the last post about using games as research. I’m currently in the process of writing and designing a game, with a couple of friends (info and images coming soon :P), so I have been breaking down an analysing how they work for some time now.

Has anyone been inspired by video games? Has anyone used it as a research tool themselves? Have you ever played a game and just been blown away by how interesting the setting was?

… Anyone been blown away by a beautiful lit video game?

Hopefully you won’t think of your next pizza and mountain dew, gaming marathon such a waste, next time.

Thanks for reading,

Cortez

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4 thoughts on “Improve your writing by playing video games [pt1]”

  1. Very good article; thank you for posting this. I must admit that I’ve never paid much thought to the role of lighting in setting a scene’s mood; I guess I should probably change that 🙂

    As far as setting goes, one of the most memorable games I’ve ever come across is Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. The game has a rather bizarre style of storytelling which wouldn’t really work in any other medium, but its environments are downright gorgeous and the level design is consistently top-notch. If you have anything that can play it, then I’d very much recommend giving it a try at some point.

    1. Thanks a lot! It might be terrible advice haha, I studied digital art so lighting is important to me (I might be a bit of a freak).

      I’ve never played any of the metroid games, but I have a nintendo wii (which I think can play gamecube games) and I buy and sell second hand video games, so I’ll keep an eye out for it! Thanks a lot of the tip. I love unique story telling.

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