The state of great game writing

In recent years, there has been truly exceptional writing in gaming. Indeed, top Hollywood talent like David Goyer (Batman Begins), John Milius (Apocalypse Now), and David McKenna (American History X) have written for games, and enjoy the storytelling opportunities the medium provides.

Tom Bissell, who has written for Gears of War, recently spoke to the New Yorker about storytelling in gaming, which he apparently feels is in good shape these days.

“People are doing genuinely cool stuff with games as a storytelling medium right now,” Bissell said. “More and more, I’m seeing that games are mining good, old-fashioned human anxieties for their drama, and that’s really promising.”

Especially now that games are coming under fire for violence, Bissell added, “Games, more and more, are not just about shooting and fighting, and for that reason I’m optimistic and heartened about where the medium is heading, because I think game designers are getting more interested in making games that explore what it means to be alive.”

Not to mention the Hollywood / gaming crossover could actually happen one day. We’ve been watching this closely ourselves, and as screenwriter John August (Big Fish), predicted to TG, “The next wave of cinema is games, or more generally, immersive narrative experience that happen on smaller screens. Right now we have AAA video game titles like Limbo that are that are like indie films. But we’re missing a form of serialized game that compares with our great TV shows. That will be the next big thing. Something that falls between The Sopranos and Grand Theft Auto.”

While writing in games may never reach the great literary heights of a classic novel, Bissell told the New Yorker, “There have already been a few games that approach something akin to the ‘literary,’ at least for me…I’ve grappled with the degree to which games are not really a writer’s medium…I’ve been quietly lobbying for games that are smart and intelligent, even if they’re about blowing lots of sh*t up. At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything. Games are primarily about a connection between the player, the game world, and the central mechanic of the game.

“Immersion is the big watchword that game people use all the time,” Bissell continued. “But to me it’s not a matter of being ‘immersed’ so much as it is simply being interested.”

Currently, the gaming industry is still in a slump despite the late in the year successes of Halo 4 and Call of Duty Black Ops 2. However the market fares this year writers are taking games more seriously than ever, especially in terms of the storytelling depth and intelligence they can provide. Wherever the market goes this year, these days gaming is no longer considered kid stuff, and we should continue to see further growth in this regard down the road.