The Case Against Writers in the Games Industry
Adam Maxwell has an interesting opinion piece on Gamasutra, making the claim that writers are an overvalued commodity in the games industry.
A writer might create the characters, and a writer certainly architects the plot of a game’s story, but the work a player actually sees and consumes? That is the work of the designer, even when the writer has written the dialogue, decided the plot, created every character and conceptualized every setting. There’s a critical reason for that, a reason that is perhaps the most compelling fact behind avoiding writers:
The work of the writer is inherently linear – the work of the designer is typically not.
When a writer sits down to build a story, they are usually building a plot. Most games certainly have plots, so you might be asking yourself why a writer wouldn’t be useful. After all, an experienced and well-educated writer will know everything there is to building a plot, and games could certainly benefit from better plots, right? I couldn’t agree more, but I’m afraid that it’s something of a leap to go from there to, “the person to architect a game’s plot is a writer.”
For the same price (sometimes cheaper, I’m sad to say), you can hire a designer who is also an unsung writing hero (they exist in far larger numbers than anyone wants to give the industry credit for) and when the story is done, that same designer can be there to throw his lot into the fire with the rest of the designers and actually make the game fun. He can be re-tasked as needed, and he can be useful at every stage of development.
For those reasons, and maybe even a few more, my money is on the designer over the writer, every time.
To be quite honest, I disagree whole-heartedly with many of Maxwell’s main points. Personally, I think that we possibly missed out on one of the golden opportunities this year with the writers strike. True, writing for a game needs to be gone about in a slightly different way, as the gameplay makes the plot non-linear. But to even intimate that game writing is on par with the writing of other mediums is just fooling yourself, and that’s coming from an advocate.
The truth is too many companies are pursuing more polygons, more pixels, and more blood and gore in lieu of truly innovative, interactive storytelling. Maxwell frets about hiring a writer or an extra designer. You know what? Hire both, and then maybe your game will be better and sell more copies.
What do you think? What about Maxwell’s article rings true, and what need to be taken with a grain of salt?