Robin’s Rants – ‘Video Game Writing’

As a quick little starter before we get stuck into the main course of today’s article, I must offer an explanation and an apology. You see, since I founded CubedGamers nearly a month ago, we’ve seen a lot of content posted. Phil’s been hard at work crafting mines, Sian’s been tapping her keyboard to the beat of funky Sims music and all three of us have attempted a leap into the world of podcasts with our wonderfully unedited ramblings.

But what about me? Since the video on game interfaces a couple of weeks ago and a few updates on my side project, you’ve heard very little from me. I guess this can be put down to starting a new school, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. The other team members have been shifting their education too and their workflow has remained pretty solid. I could offer flimsy excuses about the extra work I have to do, but ‘Bull poo!’ you’d cry, ‘Phil is an admin too, and he’s been consistent in his content!’

You’d be right. The simple truth is, I’ve had the worst writer’s block since Schubert decided to write one last symphony. For that I’m sorry, which links nicely into my main topic for today:

A new weekly series!

You see, what with my new school taking up most of my time, videos aren’t going to be too feasible any time soon. They’re time consuming, difficult to write, and sometimes I fart halfway through recording. I’ll still be recording them, but mostly in large batches throughout school holidays.

Until then, you can enjoy my weekly series of deliciously incisive chats about gaming, aptly titled ‘Robin’s Rants’. We’ve been meaning to fill the midweek hole in our lineup, so I’ll be publishing each Wednesday. Yes, I’m aware it isn’t Wednesday, it’s from next week. Shut up.

Now, without further ado;

Writing in Games.

Where were you the first time writing in a video game made you sit up and take notice? For me, it was Christmas morning, 2003, when after sneaking downstairs to open his presents early, an eight-year-old Robin sat wide-eyed with his first Gamecube and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

A newly cel-shaded Link provided the best this pajama-clad youngster had yet seen, and wouldn’t be surpassed until some time the next year when a certain paper plumber tentatively stepped out onto the mean streets of Rogueport.

The Wind Waker remains one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played and is a definite must-buy for anyone who has a Gamecube kicking around, or one of those new-fangled Wii things. It’s got it all – great graphics, sound and gameplay – but it’s the immaculate writing that gives the impression that one is truly sailing round a living, breathing world.

So my question for today is this: Why don’t many games have writing this good? Is it the difficulty of localisation? Laziness? Or do they genuinely sit chimps behind typewriters and hope they stop flinging faeces around long enough to formulate a story?

While Hideo Kojima’s office may well be a little messy, I’d hope the latter isn’t how he writes. It’s a quirk exclusive to gaming that bad writing is tolerated. No publisher would publish a badly written book would th- no, sorry, I can’t finish that sentence without The Da Vinci Code and Twilight shoving their rancid pages in my face. But they were at least competently written. They may be completely awful for many, but at least somebody enjoyed the writing enough to buy it, right? Now think, when was the last time you heard someone sing the praises of Resident Evil or Call of Duty’s stories? If you ever have, I’m unsure of your mental health.

So why is this tolerated? Short answer: Fun.

Long Answer: Writing in games, as in films, is able to be a secondary aspect of enjoyability, taking the back seat to visual spectacle and interactive challenge when needed. Unlike books, writing is not intrinsic to the quality of the product. Cogs may be wonderful, but it lacks any real writing at all – the fun comes from challenging one’s intellect.

But why should we settle for less? Can’t we have wonderful games coupled with great writing? I don’t just mean plot – I referenced Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door earlier, and the story there is ripped straight from Baby’s Big Book of Video Game Cliché. It made up for its shortcomings in story with the way the dialogue, narration and even unimportant flavour or easter egg text was written.

A game with literary class as well as visual and interactive flair is one we as a community can truly be proud of. Once in a while, we need to stop with the junk food of Call of Duty and Gears of War and relax with the healthy green salad of L.A. Noire or Fragile Dreams.

But for those of you who want to bridge the void between these two sections of our culture, come together and join the best of both those worlds to create the mother of all quarter pounders. A gaming sandwich with such beauty and substance we can take a picture and nail it to Roger Ebert’s front door, alongside a note reading “See this? We’re a true art, and we’re here to stay.”

Now I’m hungry, damn food analogies. I’ll see you all next week for another extra special edition of Robin’s Rants!



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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I'm also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.