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What Do Video Game Writers Actually Do?
Rid yourself of misconceptions and learn the value writers bring to video games.
The current strike by the Writers Guild of America has encouraged writers from all industries to share their stories of being misunderstood and, as a result, undervalued and underutilized. The fact of the matter is that most people, even game designers and writers themselves, don’t fully understand what “video game writing” actually means or what it encompasses.
If you’re a writer who wants to learn how to write for video games, you should know what that might include so you can prepare yourself and understand your worth. If you’re a game developer looking to hire a writer, you should know their true value to your project so you can utilize it to make the best game possible.
What Is Game Writing?
Video game writing varies. It encompasses a wide range of skills and responsibilities, all of which can vary depending on the writer, their team, and the project itself.
My first job as a writer in the gaming industry was to write fictional in-game emails for a cooking game. They could be about almost anything and they are entirely optional to the player, having nearly nothing to do with the gameplay itself. Furthermore, the game had no real story to speak of outside of these in-game emails as well as some location and food descriptions I also ended up writing, making them the sole source of information about the game’s setting.
If you think that sounds like a bad example of video game writing because it’s so unique and specific to that project, you’re wrong. Every single video game has its own unique, specific writing demands, which is precisely the point. The possibilities are limitless.
Since then I’ve also written fictional company backstories and other lore, menu text, story outlines and scripts, character dialog, cutscenes, barks, tutorials, social media posts, newsletters, press releases, marketing copy, and song lyrics. Writers may also craft interactive dialog, comics, puzzles, blogs, technical documents, and poetry as part of their work. But that’s not all there is to being a video game writer.
Video Game Writing Isn't Just Writing
Video game writers do much much more than writing, and remain an important part of the development process after the writing is seemingly “complete.”
It’s common for developers to contract writers to work on a script or other content and then end ties with them as soon as the writing is apparently done. I recently read an anecdote from a video game writer explaining that at one point in their career, their entire writing team was laid off from a big project several months ahead of the game shipping because “the scripts were done.” The presumption in these cases is that because the writing task is seemingly finished the writer is no longer necessary. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The very first job of a writer is often to spend hours reading and researching. Yes, researching is writing. Writers may also provide feedback on artwork to ensure it lines up with the setting, characters, and lore they have written or will be writing. Similarly, writers may provide feedback for cutscenes and help tweak the pace of gameplay. They’re also incredibly beneficial during voice and performance capture, as writers can discuss character arcs and motivation with actors, direct actors’ performances based on motivations and subtext, and perform on-the-spot rewrites and edits when inspiration strikes or something that sounded great on paper doesn’t sound as well in person.
Crafting a video game is an incredibly collaborative process. After all, video games are the only art form that can (and often do) contain all other art forms. While there may be others in charge of directing, game design, or cutscenes, writers play an important part in ensuring that all these elements of a game work in unison with the story, setting, characters, and lore. The fact of the matter is that the job of a writer, like an artist or programmer, is never truly, fully complete until the project is completely wrapped.
How To Write a Game is a free publication written by Ryan Matejka, an organic human who loves to write. If you like this, please consider making a small donation.
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