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The Enduring Orphan of the IGF

by Keith Nemitz on 06/19/12 03:43:00 pm   Expert Blogs

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In the last 24 hours two things appeared and synergized, resulting in this post. Brandon announced the new framework for IGF 2013, and Richard Dansky sent out notes from this year's GDC Writers Roundtable.

Mainstream industry has made great strides in recognizing the art of writing and writers in game development. The IGF, not so much.

Here's what writers said, just a few months ago, about their situation in the industry.

• Now, moreso than in the past, people take story in game seriously

• There’s more compelling narrative

• We now have time for it in schedule

• More iteration = more polish = better material

• Narrative is being taken more seriously by the teams

• Not seen as just a wrapper for mechanics

• Increasing diversity

• Devs are coming to writers to collaborate

• Social games require so much content, meaning that much of it is taking form of narrative

• The ongoing improvement of adapting story to smaller/social games

• Designing the narrative as a service

• Writing for social games

• We can never know how long the sessions will be or how long players will have between sessions

• Far less focus on epic story, far more on easily digestible bite-sized chunks

• The focus moves even more heavily to character

• When the player recognizes a character, it triggers memory

• Players need to be taken seriously

• Less and less babying is required these days

• Game narratives are not yet as respected as movie narratives

• More and more mobile games are done silently

• Adapting storytelling to that approach

• Writing should make everyone else’s work better

• A story must satisfy both the guy who wants story and the guy who just wants to chainsaw zombies

• How can writers work with the game so we have story?

• All together now – collaboration!

These writers were not using 'writing' and 'narrative' interchangeably. They know storytelling can be as bound to graphics and audio and gameplay, as it is to writing. A story can be told by any one or more of those media. There's probably a way to tell a story through smells.

Writing, however, was a part of the game industry in the beginning. It's most faithful legacy is now considered niche. Great game writers like Steve Meretzky and Tim Schafer are as memorable as writers in comparable genres; Robert Heinlein, Dashiell Hammett, H. P. Lovecraft. Today, you have to dig deep into the circles of game development to learn the names of modern game writers.

Every year, dozens of promising writers break into games through the Interactive Fiction community. There are at least three companies selling 'choices'/RPG literature on iOS. Also, many indie games rely on the cost effectiveness of text to tell their stories.

The IGF could be a big help to these aspiring artists, but again this year there is no mention of awarding the difficult effort of quality writing in games. The absence of a writing award locks out many indie games that deserve as much attention as games with great graphics or audio or technical merits.

I believe, because writing is an effort equal to graphics and audio and gameplay, there should be an equivalent award. It should be a writing award, not a story award. Maybe there should also be a story award, but to widen door for previously absent, important games and to respect and to ease the marginalization of this foundational craft, there must be a writing award.

Keith Nemitz is an active indie dev, with two shipped titles and two IGF nominations. His next title will release this year. '7 Grand Steps' is a game of guiding family generations through society and history.

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