Emmie Mears
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Video Game Fantasy and the Evolution of Experience

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Video Game Fantasy and the Evolution of Experience

I’m a gamer. When I’m not writing, reading, or hanging out with my husband, I can often be found in the world of Kirkwall (Dragon Age 2) or the various cities of Albion (Fable), or sometimes in Renaissance Italy (Assassins Creed). Right now, the flavor of the decade might just be Skyrim.

As I’ve been playing with my new Kinect and sweating appropriately, it’s made me think quite a lot about some of the other possible venues for fantasy writing. Namely, video games. If you’ve ever played a large scale, open world RPG, you’ll know just how much writing and world building goes into those things. I get tingly thinking of writing for Bioware (home of Dragon Age and Mass Effect), and the more I play Skyrim, the more I’m convinced that the writers have a ball down there in Bethesda. I’ve even met a few of them — I think I have their autographs floating around somewhere.

I got a taste of where fantasy RPGs might be headed when I played the in-store demo of Puss in Boots at Best Buy. You slash your arm like a sword, claw things, jump, etc. In Kinect Adventures, you dodge obstacles, jump over things, duck under other things, and reach to collect pins and gems. If this sounds easy, it’s not. I broke a sweat, and my arms are very sore after a couple days of this.

As someone who has always loved the sword and sorcery type of games, the idea of slicing, shooting, or slamming enemies with magic is intriguing, to say the least. In Puss in Boots, you can jump to pounce an opponent, then scratch your hands over and over to claw him. HA! And don’t even get me started on Fruit Ninja.

As I played Skyrim with a controller last night, I thought about how it might end up, with our bodies going through these adventures. Granted, without the long miles of walking and the sleep/food deprivation, but I think it’s safe to say that thanks to Kinect (which destroys the Wii, by the way), gone is the gamer couch potato. Oh, I’m sure he’ll turn up here and there with some crumbs stuck on his butt and a ghostly pallor, but no longer is “gamer” synonymous with “lazy bum.”

As someone who has been a gamer for a long time, I neither take offense or mean any insult to my peers on that count. We all know what the stereotype is, and we accept it.

How cool is it to move your hands and see something respond on screen? Well…very. To slash at something and have it fall into chunks in front of you (Fruit, silly…not people. Yet.), to punch and kick and move your body to play a video game? Extremely. It’s not the equivalent of a kung fu class, but it sure as hell beats having your blood congeal in your arse for twelve hours while you play. It’s tiring — I played Kinect Adventures for a half an hour and had to take a break. I’m sure games will still be released with controller options, but I’m really curious to see where the world of the fantasy RPG goes from here. For me, all I see in the future is an evolving, evocative experience of game play — and I can get behind that.

And if I can’t make a living as a novelist, maybe Bioware could find a place for a fantasy-loving gamer-writer.

Hey, I can dream.

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Author | Emmie Comments | 4 Date | December 27, 2011

comments

Clay Schroeder

Noob

December 27, 2011 | 6:03 pm

    emmiemears

    Feelin’ the love, Clay. 🙂

    December 27, 2011 | 6:05 pm

Ben

I may be a little ‘late’ with this reply, but hey – everyone loves comments.

Game writing is very, very hard. I got stranded so many times whilst writing the plot for Project seven; it took almost a year to get the outline finished. The difficulty comes from the difference in ‘audience’ interaction. In a novel, you control everything. In a game, you don’t control the main character. While writing the plot for Project seven, I had to keep an ‘open mind’ to allow the main character to be whoever the player wanted him to be. And I wanted to do all that without falling into a generic plot.

The Second difficulty game with the fact I needed to convey the plot though a game setting, not a novel setting. I needed to have things interactive changing and evolving around the player as they play. A novel has a logical structure, a flow that follows the characters through a story. In a game, that flow is lost when you try give the player choice and freedom. Especially because we wanted to give the player lots of choice that could have major effects on the plot, ending, and game-world. In a novel, you only need to show the effects of what the character actually does. In a game, you need to plan for the effects of everything a character could do, including their doing nothing. In Skyrim there is a supposed war going on between the Stormcloaks and the Empire. But, unless you are directly taking part, nothing actually changes. It’s like the world is on ‘pause’ unless you are there. As a game designer, I know why. But, I also know it’s possible to get around.

I always had a lot of respect for game-writers (and people who make games and/or write in general) But after writing for a game myself, that respect has changed. In some ways, it’s grown hugely. In some ways, it had dropped.

Playing Skyrim, I could see where the writers fell into all the ‘easy’ holes I felt myself dying to crawl inside, but stopped myself. And I saw the consequences. Sure, the world was graphically beautiful. But at no point did it ever immerse me. At no point did it ever feel like a real world, inhabited by real people. If a 2D Zelda game could do that 10 years ago, What’s Skyrim’s excuse?
I’d have to give the ‘best story’ award of recent times to ‘Metro 2033’ – It’s not fantasy (sci-fi) and it’s not an RPG, but it has a better story than many recent RPG’s, and a much more Immersive world. And good Graphics, ontop of that, though the gameplay is a little rough. It is based on a book, so maybe that’s not fair.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you check out Morrowind, the ‘grandfather’ of Skyrim. Despite its graphics its few gameplay flaws (combat) I found it a far more compelling story in a far more immersion world.

December 29, 2011 | 6:33 am

    emmiemears

    I agree with what you’re saying wholeheartedly in regards to Skyrim. I’ve had a hard time getting really invested in the game. I loved Dragon Age Origins and probably played it through about five or six times — I can’t see myself doing that with Skyrim. I think they substituted scope for story. I’ll still play it through, but I loved the wit and goofy stuff in DAO (I really enjoy that franchise in general).

    I can definitely see how difficult game writing would be, but I still think it could be enjoyable and rewarding — if nothing else to have a chance to write different possible outcomes for the same story. What if Bella had been turned into a vampire by James at the end of Twilight and subsequently rejected by Edward? Now THAT would have been interesting. Ha.

    December 29, 2011 | 3:16 pm

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