5 Routes into Writing for Games

Gavin Inglis portrait
Category: Writing

Scholastic Publishing recently reissued Fighting Fantasy, a series of games disguised as books. The reader becomes the hero in a swords-and-sorcery adventure, and has to make decisions which can lead to triumph or, more likely, an ignominious end. When first released by Puffin Books in 1982, these enjoyed staggering sales; their teenage readers would often be seen with several fingers inserted between pages as bookmarks, in case they needed to rewind a bad choice.

There is a thriving indie scene

The link between books and games might seem an unlikely one, but the video games industry has come a long way. Storytelling is at the heart of many major releases, from the historical intrigue of the Assassin’s Creed series to the subversive submarine horror of Bioshock. While big-budget games tend to be conservative; there is a thriving indie scene which takes as many chances with narrative form as the weirdest experimental fiction.

So you want to write for games? Major studios do occasionally recruit writers, but these posts are very sought-after. You might jump the fence if, like Christopher Brookmyre, you have a high profile in books but, more likely, you will have to gain some experience first. Here are some ideas for getting started:

Write a text-only game

Twine is a free, powerful tool for writing choose-your-own-adventure type stories. You will need to learn some simple coding, but it has a strong community of writers using it to tell personal stories.

Make a board game

Story is central to many recent tabletop games

Seriously. Story is central to many recent tabletop games, like Fallout, Tales of the Arabian Knights and Arkham Horror: the Card Game. You can prototype a design with nothing more than pen and paper. Remember to playtest with friends or family.

Find some local developers

Game development can be a lonely business, and the skillset of a good programmer is often complementary to the skillset of a good writer. Game devs have meetups just as writers do, and if you can collaborate, you might make something really special — and get your first game publishing credit.

Learn a game engine

An industry-standard game development kit can be technically intimidating, but there are simpler options out there. The RPG Maker series is pricey but slick, and Ren’Py is a free way to make Japanese-style visual novels.

Participate in a game jam

These events happen all year round, and challenge you to create something scrappy but playable in a strictly limited time (like NaNoWriMo). You can join a team at an in-person gathering, or make your own text-only game for an online event.

Here are some story-focused games you might not have seen:

  • 80 Days: a colourful and political reinterpretation of the Jules Verne novel
  • Fallen London: an immense card-based adventure with a dark Victorian flavour
  • Her Story: a movie-based psychological whodunit. Play with a friend
  • Reigns: Her Majesty: swipe left or swipe right to govern your kingdom
  • Hollywood Visionary: make your movie masterpiece in the era of McCarthyism

If you're looking for more writing tips, our five things series might be just what you need. And if you're a young writer who'd love to hear more from Gavin, be sure to check out StoryCon - taking place 23 - 24 June in Glasgow. It's Scotland’s biggest free creative writing conference designed for teens by teens and Gavin will be running a video game writing workshop!

Image credit, Pexels on Pixabay

Gavin Inglis

Gavin is a writer of games and fiction - ranging from full-length interactive novels to the snappy audio drama of Zombies, Run! - who also teaches, performs and runs events. He's currently working with the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Western General Hospital, to explore its practice and mark its transition to a new building at Little France, as a Language and Cognition Fellow. Find out more about him and his work by checking out Gavin's website.