Sunday, 2 March 2014

3 Ways Gaming Can Help us Write Better Novels

I haven't touched a computer game since the days when you'd load 'em up via a tape cassette and then play on a greenish coloured screen with a joy stick.  

A State of the Art bit of kit in the 80s... 

We're talking a long time ago. A long, long time ago. 

However, the quest for geekdom continues and this month Searching for SuperWomen leader Emmie Mears, issued a summons to Come All Ye Gamers. As a contributor to SfS I could hardly say no. You can find out what happened on The Day I Learned To Game

It's fair to say this was something of a revelation. Like living in the Truman Show and suddenly realising you could burst through the sky and find a whole new universe. Untrammelled creativity. Whether, Scribblenauts when a simple word can conjure any object you desire, or Skyrim, where you build yourself and your quest from the outside in. 

The more I thought about it, the more I think gaming and writing go together like apple pie and custard. For writers, they provide valuable lessons in how to immerse someone in the story you're creating.  So what lessons have I learnt in the 24 hours since I first disposed of my gaming virginity? 

1. If you want your writing to be exciting, you need to sidestep well worn ways of thinking
More on that here.  In short, games like Scribblenauts comprise a series of short quests or puzzles. To solve the quests you must create an object. Our quest was to transform a small pig into a prize winning porker. To do that we had to make it big. We had to clean it. We had to make it fly. 

So what did we do? Made it enormous. Used a cloth. Gave it wings.  What could we have done? We could have cleaned it with the Niagra Falls, suddenly bursting from a thunder cloud. We could have made it larger than three planets. We could have borne it aloft on a crowd of angels. 

Why didn't we? Because we stopped at the first, closest and most common answer. Later, we got adventurous. By time we were riding flying cthulhu through fire stations teeming with zombie clowns, we were engrossed. We'd made our little, pixelated, world exciting, dangerous and unpredictable. 

Let's do that with our stories too. It isn't the end result that make a story exciting. It's how you get there.

2. Build Your World, its habits, its ecosystem, its language, its culture
Skyrim. Visually stunning. A Choose Your Own Adventure book on steroids. I was so enamoured by how it looked, I felt a fierce jealousy for the creative artists, wonderful storytellers and top class programmers that had the skills to make a game like that. And then I found this: How to Create a World: Skyrim's Director on Building a Never-Ending Fantasy

Megatrix Northborn - the other me

It's a MASTERCLASS in world-building and taught me a salutary lesson. If you want your reader to be immersed in your world, you need to know every stick, stone and blade of grass. You need to know what your characters have for breakfast and how it's different from the people in the next village. You need to know who lives where and does what. You need to know how it all interacts. That's really got my creative juices flowing. I'm imagining and imagining. 

I just need to get it down in writing. 

3. You need to see through your character's eyes
That's the great thing about Skyrim: you actually do. You're the one running through burning rubble. You're the one hearing dragon cries. You want to look up? Your character looks up. In fact, you can't see your character because you are your character, your very own imperfect narrator. 

Now, if you're me you run into walls a lot, because you find it literally impossible to wrap your head around coordinating your sight and movement through a mouse and keyboard, but thankfully, if writing you don't have to worry about such things. But if you want your reader to experience your novel as visceral, gripping and emotional, you need to feel it too. 

Know your world, know your character.

And as for me, when I grow up I'm going to be Game Developer. 

But first I'm off to build my world. 


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