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Five routes into writing for games

Gavin Inglis gives his insights into the wonderful world of games writing

Age group: 15-18, Adults
Audience: Writers

Last updated: 15 May 2023

Person holds gaming console

In 2018 Scholastic Publishing reissued Fighting Fantasy,(this link 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 link 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 link will open in a new window), Tales of the Arabian Knights(this link will open in a new window) and Arkham Horror: the Card Game(this link 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 link will open in a new window) series is pricey but slick, and Ren’Py(this link 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 link will open in a new window), and challenge you to create something scrappy but playable in a strictly limited time (like NaNoWriMo(this link 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: