Over the years, games that affected me emotionally convinced me that storywriting is a very rewarding work.

I thought about learning from novelists. But it seemed that some of the skills, i.e. expressing ideas through writing, won't translate well to expressing ideas through a game.

I thought about learning from screenplay writers. It seems fairly relevant to storywriting for games. Though I'm concerned that movies can be different to games in some ways. e.g. A player can pause the game to read a letter from another character.

So my final question will be: Where can one learn how to create stories in a visual form? i.e. creating sensible characters and settings to connect them and create an emotional story which gets depicted through a game.

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    I would suggest learning as much as you can about video game psychology. There are many interesting studies (just search "video game psychology" in scholar.google.com) that suggest reasons for why people play games as well as the effects games have on the players. If you are looking to create an emotional response, learning how and why players play games should do the trick. I would also suggest on keeping up with Gamasutra. They always seem to have interesting articles on things of that nature.
    – degausser
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 16:36

3 Answers 3


Really long answer, I apologize. Hope it's useful.

I thought about learning from novelists. But it seemed that some of the skills, i.e. expressing ideas through writing, won't translate well to expressing ideas through a game.

I thought about learning from screenplay writers. It seems fairly relevant to storywriting for games.

No, no, wrong idea.

A story is a story, no matter whether it's told through braille, Spanish, or Morse code.

If it has characters, and they do things, it's a story.

I'm guessing you're thinking about this in a manner perhaps similar to this:

Well this book has paragraphs! And drawn-out descriptions, and pages and pages of back-story and details and extraneous information... but a video game is just dialogue, and action! Maybe I can learn from movies, but books, in this case, are surely not my friend.

I am here to correct your errant perspective.

When you play a video game, the only writing you see first-hand is the dialogue, to be sure. But don't ever think for a moment that there aren't paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs of description behind the scenes, guiding the artists, level designers, and cinematographers in creating the game and cut-scenes.

Take any story-based game. Take Bioshock, take Halo: Combat Evolved, take any of the Elder Scrolls. All have detailed, fleshed-out worlds with extensive back stories. Every scene in that game has a script behind it. Every character has a dossier. Every ship, setting, and object has a detailed profile, and probably a history. The paragraphs you see in a book are hardly any different from the paragraphs in these miscellaneous pieces of world-creation.

Ever play Halo? Do you remember first crashing on the ringworld, and looking up to see a horizon that rises endlessly into the sky and bends back upon itself, arcing overhead and cutting through the stars like a cartographer's dream?

Anyone who remembers that moment, they all agree: jaws dropped. I've never seen anything like it, and I doubt I will ever be so amazed by a game again.

I assure you that moment had a script, with paragraphs detailing exactly what surrounded the player on all sides: the sounds, the sights, the way the stars gleamed behind the green and blue sky-band, the way the ocean beside you stretched on into clouds. And it was punctuated with a line detailing what Cortana, the player's AI assistant, would be saying in your ear. Something like, Dropships incoming! Better find cover, chief!, if I remember correctly.

My first point: don't ever underestimate just how much written description there is behind something seemingly simple. If it's well-done, there's probably enough paper behind it to fill a small box.

You can learn to write, to describe, to imagine, from any written material, books more than anything else, including games and movies, because they keep your focus on the writing and really allow you to delve into the words without distraction. If you can't happily immerse yourself in words, and learn from them, don't bother trying to write. Waste of time.

The second thing is that you seem to be concentrating on the style and format of the writing, which is why you assume movies will be more useful than books: they're a visual medium.

But as I said, a story is a story. Many stories exist as a book, movie, and video game. Look at Lord of the Rings. You can learn much about crafting characters and plots from books. It's not like a video game plot is so drastically different. It requires the same elements: interesting characters, suspense, constant intrigue, etc etc. Learn how to create these things in one medium and you'll still be able to do it in any other.

But yes, finally, I understand that you wish to learn how to do these things in the style of a video-game. Let me emphasize one last time that you must be able to do these things at all, in the first place, before you should worry about being able to do it in a certain style. But if that's not the issue for you, then yes, movie scripts will translate well. I would advise you to pick some of your favorite movies and feverishly search the web for the official (not fan-transcribed) screenplay/scripts and read them beginning to end, paying close attention to what the author chose to emphasize. Movie scripts can be terse or wordy, but more often terse. They can convey an entire city in a spoonful of words, a world in a sentence. Or they can dote on a little ring for a paragraph. It's all about knowing which elements to emphasize at that point in the story. But this goes for books as well.

You can also find extensive materials behind video games by searching the web. Find the game scripts, the world descriptions, the character profiles and weapon design specs and alien civilization histories and so on ad infinitum. They exist, and they bear more in common with books than you might suspect. They're all important pieces of designing an imagined world.

And yes, there are of course important pieces specific to creating a video game. As mentioned in a comment above, there's a whole field for video-game psychology. But my opinion is that hooking someone with a story and characters is the same in any medium, and as the writer, that's your only job. Leave exhilarating gameplay to the programmers and designers. But remember to make a story that encourages it.

Well, I could have the level script start off with the player having just landed on the beach, about to begin his infiltration of the castle-mansion. That'd be cool.

But...beaches are old hat...what if instead I have him dropped paratrooper-style on the castle roof by the agency, and he has to target his landing so that he lands perfectly on top of the only guard up there, silently taking him out of the picture? And then rappel down the wall? And as he's rappeling down, he witnesses a story-relevant scene through an open window! That'd be even better...

  • Can you find a link to the Ringworld scene in Halo? I can't find it anywhere and frankly know so little about the game to know what to look for.
    – Mussri
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 20:31
  • To my immense disappointment I could not find the scene...it isn't a cutscene, you see, so you'd have to see it in a walkthrough, and anyone making a walkthrough is doing so to move quickly, not to take in the sights, so you won't experience it properly. But if you go to this page and scroll down, you can click to enlarge the 2nd and 3rd photos to get some idea of the dream-horizon to which I refer: halo.wikia.com/wiki/Halo_%28Halo:_Combat_Evolved_level%29 Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 20:47
  • Now I got it. There are rumors (fat rumors) that Halo 4 might be coming to Windows 8 (yes; Win8, not PC) and I was hoping to pick it up. Comparing the graphics from those screenshots and the gameplay videos of H4, I do hope they redo something close to the Ringworld scene...
    – Mussri
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 20:55
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    I'm sorry to say no sequel will be able to reproduce the wonder of the first game. I really can't advise anything other than picking up a copy of Halo PC off Amazon for $20 and playing it through. It's an invaluable gaming experience. It's 2001 graphics, but the game is too well-crafted for that to be a detractor. Checkers hasn't lost its appeal yet, and that's still in 2D! Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 22:22

There are actually two books, specifically dedicated to writing for games, that I know of. The first is Creating Emotion in Games: The Art and Craft of Emotioneering by David Freeman. I've been to a couple of screenwriting classes with him and they are very intense and full of information. I've read this and I can tell you that it's worth buying but you will benefit from knowing a thing or two about writing first. The other one is Write Your Way into Animation and Games by Christy Marx. Now I haven't read this one but I've read its predecessor, Writing for Animation, Comics, and Games and that's a great book.

There are a bunch others, if you follow the links to Amazon and then scroll down to the 'people who viewed these also viewed these' widget you'll see them there, but I know that both of these books are written by people who are actually making a living in the games industry, and I'd be inclined to believe what they say because of it.

Hope that helps.


Google can be your friend. Here are some links I found by typing in the search term "video game writing"





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    Perhaps you could summarize these, or some of them? Answers that contain only a link aren't really answering the question. Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 23:15
  • Thanks for the input, OrionDarkwood. These links do have something about game storywriting but they seem to contain only limited information. Summrization isn't necessary since it's just as easy to read through the links. Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 8:32
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    However to logically answer the question. Find out who wrote the stories that affected you the most, find out why they did. Talk to the writers of those stories and ask them. Write some fan fiction on the game. Try to find a mentor aleast in my career in IT I have found if you are polite and are passionate some people will take the time to help you out or aleast point out the path for you. Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 13:42

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