Why We Write Games
Did you enjoy your holidays? Because the Story Board Blog is back, and will continue to post thought-provoking and helpful essays, hints and tirades about the art of writing adventure games, right up until the deadline for story submissions.
Tonight, we set out to ask ourselves: What’s the point? Of game writing? And to answer that question, we have to ask another: What’s the point of playing in adventure games?
Obviously, there are a lot of answers to these questions, and I’m hoping to make you think, when you’re writing your game, about why you’re doing it. What do you want for yourself? What do you want for your players? But if I had to take a stab at the biggest and best reasons… well, I’d come up with three, and coincidentally, they’d all start with the letter “E.”
Adventure Game Objective #1: Entertainment
The easiest answer to the question “Why play adventure games?” is “Because they’re fun!” As game writers, we definitely want people to enjoy and to be entertained by the game we’re writing. And ultimately, the process of writing the game should also be fun!
What are the best ways to ensure that a game is entertaining? Well, in general, audiences like to experience familiar material as though it were new again. That’s the reason that storytelling is so full of tropes, and that most stories of a specific genre and medium have similar structures and content. A game which is too abstract for the audience to relate to may disengage their interest, but a game without any innovation at all will feel like tired, oft-tread ground. What’s most important, perhaps, when writing a game, is to keep the audience of the game in mind– advanced players will likely want to see something zanier and less familiar, but new players need to have a foothold into your world because our brand of roleplaying, itself, is new to them.
Adventure Game Objective #2: Empowerment & Evolution
All of Wayfinder’s promotional pamphlets and flyers say something along the lines of “Find the hero inside!” and that’s because of a philosophical stance that our community takes on the purpose of roleplaying. There’s actually a good deal of scientific consensus that role play is a vital part of human growth. Children naturally develop roleplaying games with one another as a form of emergent play, which helps them to understand both the roles they could grow to fulfill in their adult lives and to learn empathy– by identifying the rational and emotional truths behind the actions of others.
We’ve come to believe, however, through direct observation, that this kind of personal growth isn’t just accessible to young children, but people of all ages. Because Wayfinder’s sword and magic systems are uniquely designed to enhance verisimilitude and immersion, when you’re in character, even if your rational brain is aware that everything is a game… your lizard brain doesn’t quite understand. It thinks, when monsters approach, that you’re really in danger, and it’s really putting out adrenaline in preparation for fight or flight. You can run faster, in character with a demon on your heels, than you can in your ordinary life. You can also talk more smoothly as your character, even if you’re usually shy, and – because for two hours or so, the boundaries you use to limit yourself are lifted, because you’re pretending you’re someone else.
Of course, it really is you doing all that awesome stuff. So if there’s anything we want people to take away from our games, it’s this: You’re more capable than you think you are.
We’ll talk more about how to empower players later this week, but at the most basic level, you have to look at your game and ask yourself, “Is there space for people to prove to themselves that they can do things they’d never have a chance to in real life?”
Adventure Game Objective #3: Expression
And, lastly, a goal of gamewriting, as with all art, is to express an idea, philosophy, question, emotion, or some other ephemeral and nuanced thing. Audiences enjoy taking part in what amounts to a dialog about these things, and they’re emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
Some game writers begin the process of creating a game with their themes, and that’s a pretty good way to do it, so long as you hide your symbolism until it’s too late to avoid. But even if you just wrote a series of fun-sounding scenes with as many cool ideas as you could, I’ve got a surprise for you: Your game has latent, unintentional symbolism! We gave you a crash course in media analysis very briefly in our last post. Give it another glance over, if you’re not sure how to do this, and then look back at your game. Maybe even invite a friend to discuss it and its themes with you. And then, once you’ve isolated those factors, tweak backgrounds, scenes and flow to further support those ideas, so that you can have a game united by a few fluid strokes of genius.
Why do YOU write games?
There are many more answers to this question, and we want to hear from you! What’s motivated you to write a game? Which of these objectives do you most heavily favor? What big, important objectives did we miss?