Narrative Design and Videogame Writing for Screenwriters

On May 1, 2018, NYU Game Center Professor Clara Fernández-Vara
was featured in THE BREAKERS series’ second event, “Narrative Design and
Videogame Writing for Screenwriters.” Presented by the Writers Guild of
America, East’s (WGAE) New Media Caucus, THE BREAKERS event series highlights revolutionary
writers in the entertainment industry. The WGAE New Media Caucus is a community
of professional writers who produce content for digital distribution such as
webseries, video games, AR and other media.

Clara Fernández-Vara is a game scholar, designer, and writer
who has worked on commercial and experimental games. Before joining the NYU
Game Center, Clara spent six years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) as a researcher and game developer. She holds a Ph.D. in Digital Media
from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Masters in Comparative Media
Studies from MIT. Her videogame work focuses on narrative design, and bridging
games design and storytelling.

While Professor Fernández-Vara did indicate that some games,
like the Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid series have filmic
aspirations, she cautioned traditional screenwriters that they may need to
cultivate new skills and knowledge in order to make the transition to videogame
writing. They may need to think about how motivation, conflict, necessity, and
structure change when a player can make choices and participate in the
story.  In addition, narrative design, a
related discipline, is not so much storytelling as it is story-building.
Narrative design combines storytelling, systems thinking, and spatial design.

An example of indexical storytelling.

She pointed to environmental storytelling and indexical
storytelling as examples of how game stories occupy a wider scope than just
character lines and actions. Other differences include the use of silent
protagonists and how player choices can alter character personalities.  Moreover, there are no set standards for game
scripts. They may be written in Excel, programs like Chat Mapper, or even
proprietary scripting tools.

Next, she gave examples of what a typical AAA writing test
would be like, resources on game writing tools, and sites to learn more about
games.  Although the game industry is
interested in recruiting traditional Hollywood screenwriters, they will still
need to understand audience interaction and meaningful decisions.
Fernández-Vara’s talk provided an excellent overview of what screenwriters
would need to do to develop the skills necessary for work in the game industry.

Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in
the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG
of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding
members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.


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