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Vital Game Narrative: A Conversation With Rhianna Pratchett
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Vital Game Narrative: A Conversation With Rhianna Pratchett

August 7, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

Do you feel there's an inexorable march towards in-game storytelling or more tightly integrated storytelling in the medium?

RP: I don't think we'll be able to do the former until we really master the latter. And believe me, there'll be a lot of hard graft in doing that. But it has to happen. We have to get our hands dirty.

Apart from anything else, there's so much that can be done to just make the stories themselves more engaging and original, before we attempt to remove our training wheels completely. I love this industry with a fiery passion, but even I wish from time to time that developers would just step away from Hollywood's '80s action movie scrap heap and be a little bit braver with direction, theme and content.

I think using the player as a storytelling vehicle is something that will become very important to games narrative in the future. Right now it's unique to our medium, very powerful, and yet we've only just begun to scratch the surface.

The best game stories have always been created with a sense of partnership within the "white space" of the game world; the writer and the player(s). As the ever-eloquent Margaret Robertson puts it "It's not about putting more emotion in games; it's about putting more emotion in players."

Controlling and creating effective game/storytelling pacing is extremely difficult. What can you contribute from your end when working with the development team? What have you learned about the process?

RP: Games writers can be a complainy-pants bunch, sometimes, we really can, but there's a lot that we can do to make the process smoother from our side. Regular communication is at the heart of it and understanding that it's a two way street and everyone is learning from each other.

I know I've banged on about it, but integration really is the key. If you can work one-on-one with a level designer then together you can create a narrative that works across the board. This is much more desirable than forcing them to deal with a script that they've had no input into. If a designer feels that the script is working for the gameplay rather than against it, they are much more likely to protect it in the instances when a writer may not be able to. Like a sort of Narrative Deputy.

Games are collaborative and writers are often external contractors rather than team members. How does that affect the writer's control over the story's overall vision and the ability to craft compelling stories, given those constraints?

RP: It's probably very telling that the words "writer's control over the story's overall vision" seem a little strange and unfamiliar to me. On most projects writers are pretty far down the ladder, whether they're internal or external. The same could be said of other entertainment mediums, as well (aside from the more successful US TV writers) although sometimes it feels like the games industry has added on a few more bottom rungs, just for us. See? I said we were a complainy-pants bunch!

Ultimately, you are working as part of a team, so as a contracted writer or narrative designer you're not going to be the one making the final decisions. Having specific people responsible for the narrative of the game (and nothing else) is still fairly newish.

So unsurprisingly, the power that writers get is usually pretty limited (and often less than wider assumptions may suggest) simply because we're still feeling our way through the narrative-versus-gameplay minefield. So really it boils down to a question of input, rather than control.

Once again this really harks back to the way in which writers are integrated into the team and how seriously narrative is regarded. Things are getting better, but writers are still often underused and poorly managed. When it comes to games writing, it's not just how good you are, but how good you're allowed to be.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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