It’s said video games have low standards for writing. On average, this is true. What most neglect is why this is the case. The obvious answer is “bad writers”, but there’s more to it than that. Video games are a different medium than books or movies, and writing them requires a new approach we haven’t collectively figured out yet. I’m not just talking about interactive narratives or branching paths, but how the introduction of gameplay completely changes the pacing and tone of plain ol’ linear stories.
This video outlines some of the problems with writing game dialogue. Not only do games have far less words per minute due to all that pesky gameplay, many of those words are spent on where to go, what to do, and reminding you of current events. It might’ve been an hour since the last conversation, let alone major plot point. Game writers, on top of sharing their story with a team of dozens of people with changing agendas and budgets, have to be economical with dialogue to keep pacing tight and stories interesting in between your lazy afternoons killing a thousand rats.
RPGs are often heralded for their stories, but in truth, they’re not much better. A lot of what makes RPG stories enjoyable isn’t their quality, but their quantity. They’re just as wasteful with their words, but bring enough along to make up the difference. 40+ hours is a long time to properly explain yourself. Dragon Quest 7 has 100, and it’s not shy about packing them with words. The key question is does it use those words well?
Weeeeeeell…there are some parts of the writing I like! And we’ll get to those. Eventually. But first, let’s talk about characters.