Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When Authors Game

I am not a gamer. Not really. I attempted to game as a teenager. Turned out I was exceptionally skilled at dying. And getting lost. I played Duke Nukem for a bit and even tried Half Life. My gaming days came to an abrupt end when I spent more than hour running around in circles in Half Life utterly lost and totally inept at reading maps.

Not much has changed since I was a teenager except that I've spent a lot of time watching others game. I've always been more interested in the story world and narrative rather than actually gaming. I adore Final Fantasy, I love the world of Morrowind and Skyrim, and have read all the EVE: Online games. But I've always felt like an outsider... until recently.

In the last two months or so I've spent 128 hours playing Borderlands 2, a hilarious cyberpunk post-apocalyptic first-person game that has had me utterly captivated. Now that's 128 hours I didn't spend on writing, or reading, or doing just about anything I usually do. I've abandoned all but my most beloved TV shows in favour of running around the Borderlands killing bandits and saving rainbow unicorns (yes, really). When I think about all the hours I spent gaming instead of writing I want to weep, but then I remember how much fun I've had and it makes it all okay. Also, I've learned a lot about story-telling.

1) Mission-orientated narrative. Every scene in a story should do something: expand character, set the scene, or advance the plot (preferably all three) while also being exciting and keeping the reader engaged. While the mission-stories in gaming tend to be somewhat episodic, the idea of keeping the story goal-orientated has really made me pay more attention to my own scenes and chapters in terms of their function and what they add to the overall arc.

2) Backstory reveal through character interaction. This seems obvious but I know I have a tendency to want to info-dump up front, but through gaming and having my character interact with various other characters and gradually piece together the complete narrative of the world, has made me more aware of how I can better use character interactions to shed light on shadowy pieces of the story puzzle.

3) Subterfuge. Twists really are cool and fun and I need to use more of them. In fact, it was the 'twist' in Borderlands 2 that made me rethink the entire plot of my current WIP! I definitely want to incorporate what I've learned from gaming about leading readers down the 'wrong' path, surprising them with the unexpected, in my own writing.

4) Humour. Really, really dark humour. One of the reasons I loved Borderlands 2 so much was the humour - from the names of certain races clothing plug-ins to the delinquent missions an explosive-happy adolescent had me run - and I want to incorporate more and more of this in my own writing.

I'm now starting to tire of Borderlands 2 and have started looking for a new game to explore (feel free to recommend games in the comments). While this may seem like time away from writing - and it definitely is - it's also proven to be a huge learning curve for me and is teaching me invaluable lessons about different approaches to story-telling, ones I hope to incorporate into my own writing.

Do you game? Do you think gaming has influenced your writing at all?


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