Why I Want to Work in Games
Born and raised in small-town Arkansas, I grew up next door to a herd of cows and spent my summers exploring the woods and making friends with every critter I could find. While on those childhood expeditions, I wove stories around myself until I was shrouded in them completely; I became a hero of my own invention. Turkeys, deer, snakes, and turtles served as my accomplices, and together we completed quests, solved mysteries, and outsmarted our adversaries, though I was always just one shout from Mom away from being summoned home to reality.
Baby me with one of my new friends
I’ve spent my entire life creating and consuming stories, always finding comfort, adventure, and belonging when nestled within a world of imagination. Since I've been able to read and write, I have devoured books and written prolifically, but there has always been special kind of experience that felt uniquely like doing both at the same time: Gaming. Even as an adult, I've never stopped being captivated by my time spent exploring countless fantasy worlds, my controller or keyboard the key to realms that entertain me endlessly. Unlike anything else I've experienced, my time controlling a game character feels like consuming and creating all at once. There is nothing like it! I'm in another world, but the characters' choices are my own. It's invigorating and empowering and ever since my very first taste—when I picked up the NES controller at my older brother’s direction and flattened my first goomba—I've been hooked.
Those days of small-town living are far behind me, but I'm still a gamer and storyteller through and through. Of course, if you’ve been following my blog, then it’s no surprise to you how important games are to me. I’ve written about their social impact again and again. But while singing games' praises and even arguing that games are art, it hadn't yet occurred to me the ways in which games can contain art as well. Jesse Schell says in The Art of Game Design that “at their technological limit, games will subsume all other media.” As technology continues to improve, more and more of the human existence and artistic achievement will be translated into games. “You can put a painting, a radio broadcast, or a movie into a game,” Schell explains. And while games have only recently been considered a more “serious” form of expression, when it comes to creating impactful and meaningful games, Schell advises that “we have no reason to wait.” Games are it. They’re not the next big thing; they’re about to be the thing. As we dive deeper into rich storytelling, immersive graphics, and robust systems that make the game world feel like the real world (or as far from it as you’d like for them to be), games are about to be the way we tell stories. Not only that, but the way we live them, because there is no other form of mass-collaboration in storytelling like gaming.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that of course there is collaboration in almost any writing job. Making a movie, for instance, takes a team of people. Even a novelist, unless entirely self-published, collaborates with her editor at the very least. But writing a story for linear media is akin to giving a lecture or presentation to your audience, albeit often a very exciting one. You have the plot all mapped out, and your audience will experience it in the style, manner, and pace you dictate. It is delivered in a way that is almost entirely under your (or your team's) control.
But if writing a novel is like giving a presentation to your audience, developing a game is like having a conversation with them. The experience doesn’t work without a back and forth. Game developers create a story for the players, sure, but in the end, the devs and players have to work together for the product to be successful. The developers' vision will be both complemented and altered by their audience's actions and choices within their creation, and in this way, an experience is created that will be unlike any other player’s, and often even unlike any other playthrough. The story doesn’t get told without the player, because ultimately, the player is collaborating in the writing process as they play, whether they realize it or not. Unlike other media, a game is collaborative from first conception to every single iteration of its release, because each time a person gets settles in to play, whether it be the first time or the hundredth, a new story—even despite being in the same setting and with the same characters—will be written.
Additionally, when playing a game, the player is put into a position where she really has to be the person she controls. You’re not simply observing a hero’s journey but on one yourself, and the player feels that. On the Get Played podcast recently, the hosts discussed playing Disco Elysium and how their character choices affected them as players. After explaining how her heart broke after her character upset his partner in the game, Heather Anne Campbell went on to say that “video games really do something different than movies and books—a great video game, at least—because it’s your choices that are making you feel the way you feel.” She continues to say that in her recent playthrough, people in the game told her character that he was a horrible person, and she said it hit differently than it would if the main character of a book she was reading had been told the same thing, because she made the decisions that led to that point herself. “I’ll get engrossed in a book and I’ll feel terrible, because I’m projecting myself into the protagonist, but, like, it’s not because of what I did,” Campbell explained. This is part of the magic of games that isn’t easily replicated in any other media.
Of course, developing a form of media that the audience needs to interact with is a unique challenge and a special treat all at once. The player has to use what you give them, which engages their mind, their imagination, and their sense of fantasy in a different way than sitting back and watching a movie does. A player has to truly experience what you’ve built. People have long left movies theaters buzzing after the latest blockbuster, recounting every death-defying battle and witty quip by the heroes, but in games, the player feels as if they are the one winning the battle. They give the witty quips. They are the amazing stunt driver, kick boxer, dragon wrangler, pilot, explorer, hunter, or whatever else they get to be. It’s not that your audience doesn’t know they’re playing a character, it’s that gaming allows them to so fully transport themselves that in that moment, it doesn’t matter.
In short, gaming is unlike any other form of media. There is so much potential, not only in the technology and the utilization of narrative, sound design, and art and animation to evoke and engage, but in the industry itself. These past few years especially have shown us how games can bring us together. How they can be an escape, a lifeline, and a comfort. They can give us a sense of accomplishment. A feeling of power. An opportunity to conquer.
Gaming is a way to engage and inspire; it's an avenue through which you can help players realize their most fantastic goals and find a community with which to share them. And I want to be someone who helps builds that community, who is part of that forever-changing, ongoing conversation, and who gives other people the magic, the wonder, and that unmatched experience of gaming that I’ve been lucky enough to have had in my life all these years. I want to create together with players, to have artistic and collaborative conversations with them that create unforgettable experiences and stretch the limits of what media can do.
To put it simply, gaming has been a big part of my past and present, and with my love for the media and my skills as a writer, I want be a big part of gaming’s future.
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