10 video games for writers9 min read
Out there in the realm of video games, there are countless unforgettable stories: Joel and Ellie’s troubled journey through a monstrous, crumbling world in The Last of Us. The various heroes and heroines of Final Fantasy carving out their hard-fought destinies. One of my personal favourites from the last few years has been a little indie release named Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, completely wordless but painfully beautiful.
Story-rich video games are easy to uncover. But for this list, I wanted to find games either specifically about writers, or for writers – games where you can flex your writing muscles, improve your skills and get some old fashioned vocab practise. I also wanted to encourage writers who have not yet dipped their toes into the world of video games and are perhaps shy of doing so. Many of these games do not require a console, are either free or affordable, and very easy to play. So put your story to the side for a moment, and see if this smorgasboard of video games can’t help you shape your next creation.
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1. Elegy for a Dead World (PC)
Elegy was the first game that came to my mind when compiling this list – it even pitches itself as “a game about writing”. Players are presented with an ancient civilisation long since abandoned by its inhabitants. Adventuring through the world, you will happen upon crumbling monuments. Confession: I have always adored these set ups in fiction, legendary places like George R R Martin’s Palace of Love where the ruins of spiral staircases lead into the open air, or the tragic fallen city of Laputa in Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky. In Elegy, each abandoned machine, monument and tome sets you up for a story, and you write the missing pieces into the void. At each turn, you decide the nature of the downfall of this world: were their Gods reverent, or sinister? Was their culture rich, or diminishing? Was their flight courageous, or cowardly? All in all, a wonderful game for writers, and I hope more video games are designed in this same vein in the future.
2. Words-for-Evil (PC)
If your downfall is dry description, Words-for-Evil will soon have you on the road to richer prose. This is a simple yet inventive little game with a wonderful premise: traverse a fantasy world while battling foes with beautiful words – the more elaborate, the more the damage. The game’s predecessor, Word Realms, also has a loyal following, and some contend that it’s the superior experience, so well worth checking out if you’re curious to compare. It’s a superb little gem that doesn’t take up too much time, but can prove addictive if you’re a word puzzle enthusiast… or just want to prove your worth as a writer by creating words longer than 4 letters (I’m rubbish at the game but continue to play it in a perpetual state of denial).
Thinking of writing an epistolary novel? Perhaps have a YA diary-style project in mind? Then First Draft is worth a study. In this interactive story you will write letters back and forth within a family in the midst of a drama, all set within a strange magical universe. As each letter draft is presented, it’s the player’s job to refine and rewrite, based on the relationship you envision between the two characters who are writing. It’s a nice little lesson in nuance and subtlety, and the decisions you might take to steer your story in a certain direction.
4. The Novelist (PC)
This game definitely falls under the ‘narrative choice’ story game umbrella, but with a strong writing theme (if the title doesn’t give it away). A writer and his family arrive at a summer house, and the player’s job is to shape their choices and story. While there is a strong focus on relationships, there is also a lot for writers here: the family patriarch is suffering with writer’s block, and struggling to produce his agent with pages on a schedule. It delves deeply into the experience of writer’s fatigue and the symptoms that can come with it, sleeplessness, guilt, and the pressure of living with writing as a career. It’s a relaxing, thoughtful game that will instantly sympathise with you whenever you’re struggling with writer’s block.
A vocab game with a literary twist. In Blackbar, you play as the recipient of letters which have been censored. As you scroll through the missives, the aim is to identify the words which have been blacked out. The story is interesting enough in itself, with an intriguing hint of sci-fi and dystopia, but the vocab identification can be challenging and requires a decent imagination and understanding of context – a good exercise drill for any writer!
6. Okami (Playstation 2, 3 & Nintendo Wii)
An ink-soaked beauty of a game, at first glance Okami doesn’t seem to have too much to do with writing. It’s based on a good solid bit of folklore, starring the Japanese goddess Amaterasu in wolf form (if you happen to read The Wicked + the Divine you might be familiar with another version of Amaterasu)! She travels with her human companion, artist Issun, to remove the curse placed on the land and defeat the evil Yami. So aside from the folktale lesson, what does this have to offer writers? First of all, the game arms you with the tool of a writer – a celestial brush! Secondly, you are using kanji to defeat your enemies, marrying the symbols and their meanings depending on what move you want to make in the game. Not only a feast for the eyes, the game really makes you think of the weight behind each word you use.
For the more experienced gamers among you, this complex, story-driven sandbox game is a treat (our CTO is a superfan). In Dwarf Fortress, writers have to put their worldbuilding skills to the test immediately to create the environment (geography, history etc.) before they start playing. Once you’ve established your world, you can either play in Fortress or Adventure mode, to build, manage and explore your growing civilsation. It also has a good dose of humour and the opportunity for massive stories: there’s even a website dedicated to the best stories to arise from the game.
8. Dialogue: A Writer’s Story (PC/Mac)
Not a triumph on the visuals front, by any means, but Dialogue really attempts to tread new ground. It follows the life of an author in the beginning of writing her new fantasy novel. It works mainly by deeply deconstructing conversations, whether with real-life muses to source her inspiration, or her own characters-come-to-life to hone their backstory and personality. It’s a bit clunky-looking and may be frustrating for gamers who are used to eye candy and smooth controls, but I do think it holds value for writers, not just in exploring how to find inspiration, how to research and develop your idea, but also simply for the novelty of playing within a writing world which is constantly interrupted by work, email, and even your own characters constantly threatening to steal your attention!
9. Alan Wake (PC & Xbox)
“My name is Alan Wake. I’m a writer.” Do you dabble in horror writing? Alan Wake might offer a good mix of genres for you. It’s something of a literary mystery while drawing on influences from classic horror such as Stephen King and The Twilight Zone. It’s one of the more traditional video game choices on this list, and it doesn’t offer a chance to flex your writing muscles, but it does have an extremely strong literary theme, with the dark cloud of writer’s block hanging over Alan’s head, and the question of his own characters possibly coming to life to challenge his own decisions.
10. Scribblenauts series (Most Nintendo platforms, plus PC & mobile)
This game has an extremely promising catchphrase for authors – “Write Anything, Solve Everything”! There are four games in the series in total (the latest being Scribblenauts Unlimited). Cute and cartoony in style, the games let you solve puzzles and scenes by using the adjectives and nouns of your choice. Get rid of enemies by charging at them with a tank! Or a unicorn! Traverse the game in a helicopter! Or do you prefer a ghost ship? Overall, a light, fun game which really lets the imagination loose on its world!
Have we missed an obvious choice? Do you have any suggestions or know of any upcoming games for writers? Please get in touch in our Forums and let us know!
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