In 2018 Scholastic Publishing reissued Fighting Fantasy,(this will open in a new window) 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(this will open in a new window) 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(this will open in a new window), Tales of the Arabian Knights(this will open in a new window) and Arkham Horror: the Card Game(this will open in a new window). 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(this will open in a new window) series is pricey but slick, and Ren’Py(this will open in a new window) is a free way to make Japanese-style visual novels.
Participate in a game jam
These events happen all year round(this will open in a new window), and challenge you to create something scrappy but playable in a strictly limited time (like NaNoWriMo(this will open in a new window)). 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(this will open in a new window): a colourful and political reinterpretation of the Jules Verne novel
- Fallen London(this will open in a new window): an immense card-based adventure with a dark Victorian flavour
- Her Story(this will open in a new window): a movie-based psychological whodunit. Play with a friend
- Reigns: Her Majesty(this will open in a new window): swipe left or swipe right to govern your kingdom
- Hollywood Visionary(this will open in a new window): make your movie masterpiece in the era of McCarthyism