Writing Tips

What Video Games Can Teach You About Writing

video games and writing

You don’t have to be an avid gamer to know that video games have evolved. From the simple mechanics of Pong and Pac-man, the medium has transformed into a true art form that can deliver narratives just as effectively as film and literature. Actually, some would argue that games are much more entertaining than books because of their interactive nature. 

With that said, it’s only logical that video games can also teach us a thing or two about writing. In this list, I’ve compiled a list of lessons I’ve learned from playing video games. If you don’t believe me, read on and find out how video games can get your creative muscles working.  

Play with the Form

When writing, keep in mind that the way you write your fiction contributes to the overall meaning of your piece. Decisions like the perspective, the style, and the flow of your sentences must not be made on a whim. They should be the way that they are because they coincide with the story’s themes. 

Consider the immensely popular game Minecraft. The game is all about destroying and building something new. It’s all about creating a unique world out of the blocks that you mine. If you play the game, you’ll understand immediately that each element was made to serve that purpose. The graphics are simplistic, there is no plot, and the world is massive. You have all the space to create, all the materials to harvest, and none of the distractions to keep you from building.   

Keep Your Characters Unpredictable

No matter what genre you’re in, your characters should always be believable. They should have motivations, objectives, and flaws, just like any other person. To get them on a whole other level of realism, they should also be unpredictable. Perhaps, the reader can discern a pattern based on their behaviour, but also remember that some people like to keep their true selves hidden. You can also play with stereotypes to mess with your reader’s expectations; make the jock, or the nerd, or the goody-two-shoes do what they wouldn’t normally do. Just make sure that there’s a logical explanation behind it. 

You can get this lesson from literally any online multiplayer game. In online multiplayer games, you usually don’t personally know the person you’re up against. You don’t know how their mind works, so you don’t know how they strategize. This keeps the game interesting because it adds another layer of difficulty. You’re no longer guessing the predictable moves of an AI, you’re trying to be one step ahead of a human being.  

Utilize the Environment

Don’t make your settings flat. Use it to shine a light on a character’s personality, advance the plot, or add atmosphere. If your characters step into a restaurant to talk about family problems, for example, let the reader know why they chose this restaurant by describing it. Perhaps it’s a loud and lively place so they can talk freely without the risk of being overheard. Or, maybe they’re there because it’s their favourite spot and it provides comfort. 

The setting is always utilized in video games. You’ll see this a lot in games with stealth, like Hitman and The Last of Us, where furniture and other similar objects are placed strategically for the characters to hide behind. There’s also survival horror games, like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, where the environments are used for hiding keys and clues as well as to create an atmosphere.  

Imagine Multiple Outcomes

As you outline your plot, it helps to keep your options open. At each step, try to think of multiple outcomes for your characters actions. Don’t be afraid to explore when you ask yourself the age-old question: What happens next? This makes the process more interesting for you and by doing so you may just come up with the best decision having seen all the other possibilities. 

A classic example of this lesson can be seen in Skyrim. This massive open-world game lets players do almost anything that they want. There is no clear-cut path, and each mission branches out to multiple decisions that would create permanent consequences. Aside from the picturesque landscapes, the fascinating lore, and the sheer size of it, the game’s multitude of options and outcomes are what make this game so timeless. 

Relish Your Failures

All writers know the sinking feeling of staring at an empty page, a plot hole that can’t be resolved, or the empty and polite words of a rejection letter. That’s one of the first things that writers must learn to overcome. 

The counterpart of this to video games is the inevitable GAME OVER screen, a frustrating puzzle, or a boss that simply would not die. Everyone has been there. Everyone has yelled at the screen and thrown their controller at some point in their lives. However, no matter how difficult it gets, it’s important to remember that you should never give up. You may quit for the day, but don’t quit for good. Take a deep breath, sleep, and pick up your controller or pen again the next morning. 

Out of all the lessons that we’ve learned in this list, this is the most important one. You will never learn how to use the form, the setting, the characters, the plot, and the environment in a meaningful way if you just suddenly stop. So, don’t give up until you get the reward that you deserve. Keep writing and keep playing.