I have become a pro at giving the talk about getting rejected in the game industry. A big reason for that is due to my field being narrative design and writing. There are a sparse number of these jobs available in the game industry. People often ask me “how does that work?” or “how do you get into that?” I will say with full transparency that I have been very lucky. I have been lucky to have people recognize my writing skills who happen to be making games. The odds are downright savage for anyone looking to write in games. For one thing, there are several game genres that don’t require any writing or narrative at all. However, for the games that do require it, there are several industry practices that damage the integrity of the field.
A good chunk of the game industry does not take narrative seriously. How do I know? I apply for narrative and game writing positions almost every day and writing is treated as an afterthought. These “writing” positions come with a slew of other job hats to wear. “We are looking for an animator who also has a strong narrative grasp.” “We are looking for a writer who can implement level design.” I cannot tell you how many people have suggested I start learning other skills from other fields. Why? So I can get hired to do TWO jobs for the pay of one? I am happy to learn new skills, but this hiring practice immediately diminishes the value of game writing.
One curse that follows writers of all kinds is that everyone thinks they can write. I always tell game industry hopefuls looking to get into narrative design that they will often be competing with people who aren’t writers. From indie to AAA, the hiring of writers can often come down to who is connected or free. I have heard dozens of stories of a studio executive’s family member or friend wanting to “try their hand at writing” snagging these positions. Or perhaps a current employee who took a screenwriting class in college. What’s irksome is there is no way devs would hire artists, programmers or animators this way. The reason being no game dev wants amateur work in their game. So why would they want that for their game’s narrative?
There are game developers doing it right and those who invest in narrative have a strong record of success. Writing for games isn’t something any writer can do, it requires a specific mindset. The task is to give all that code, art and game play a soul and compliment all those elements. You have to navigate within firm and complex structures. A game’s writer is a big part of what motivates a player to pick up the controller and touch the world a game creates. Character investment and lore are things that help create fans hungry for more. This is a serious job, not an afterthought, not an additional duty of another position.
I am pushing this point not just as a narrative designer, but as a gamer. The best games are the ones where all design pistons are firing. Good writing is as sound an investment as any other aspect of game design. My hope is the industry as a whole will continue to move forward in recognizing this truth.