Book and Video Game Writing Differences

So I am sitting there last night with my newborn in one arm and a ps3 controller in my other hand playing ‘Last of Us’. It got me to thinking about videogame writing vs. book writing. Well, I thought about it when I wasn’t trying to hold in my jumps (so that I wouldn’t scare my kid) and hating those darn Clickers (for those of you who are not initiated, a Clicker is a plant-zombie that is a serious pain in the neck).
What are the differences between each? What makes for a good game story vs. a good read? Thinking about all of the really great story driven games that I’ve played: Uncharted Series, Final Fantasy (I, IV, VI, VII, X), Bioshock, Mass Effect, etc…, I thought about what made them great and came up with the following:

1. Graphics
2. Well Developed Characters
3. Meaningful Character Dialogue
4. Lush Beautiful Environments
5. Gameplay
6. Exciting Plot and Strong Plot Twists

Of course there are other things, and obviously some of the things in the above list do not refer to writing, but a lot of the list does. As I listened to Joel and Ellie banter last night I thought about how well Naughty Dog does at fleshing out their characters. Their offhand comments did more for their characters than a lot of games can manage with an entire script. It was the same with Uncharted when Drake and Elena would talk back and forth as they journeyed. I wonder how much stronger a good Final Fantasy game could be if they would incorporate that (of course I know it would be harder due to the bigger parties, but still…SE should be able to pull it off).
So now I look at the books I’ve enjoyed the most: Fablehaven, Harry Potter, The Belgariad, The Ender Series, Narnia, Sword of Truth (at least the early ones), etc…, and I asked myself the same question. What made them memorable to me? Why do I still like going back and reading them over and over?

1. Fascinating Characters
2. Interesting Locations
3. Exciting Plots
4. Awesome Action Sequences

As with games, there is more to books for me than those four things, but they seemed to jump to the top of my list as I thought about it. To me, strong book writing allows me to picture what is happening in my head, while at the same not flooding me with imagery. I know that some readers enjoy having every aspect spelled out to them, but I like to be able to fill in the gaps. Too much imagery slows things down too much (and if you’ve read my previous posts, you have an idea how patient I am… much to my publisher’s dismay). The authors of the aforementioned books hit the right combination of imagery and action (for the most part) to keep me on the edge of my seat through the entire read.

I am interested in hearing about your thoughts. What makes for a good read and a good game? What expectations do you have? What aspects are you prepared to overlook? What will stop you from completing a game or a book altogether? What traits have kept you riveted right to the end and hungry for more?


3 responses to this post.

  1. I was thinking about this the other day too. The main difference that I could think of was that with the games I have most enjoyed you almost always have these grand character archs. As you often play as the character that is undergoing the changes, you are able to feel such changes far more strongly than you would in a book. In a book it is often difficult to portray a character’s motivation, or the reasons why they behave like they do, but this is where video games excell. I think this is maybe because of the immersive quality of games, compared to books, particularly in terms of their main characters.

    Maybe it is just me, but some of the most memorable books I have read (LOTR, The Plague, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath), I remember more for their settings, than their characters. But with the video games that I love (in particular the Final Fantasy games), it is the characters that I remember. Even where games have character creation like in the Pokemon games and in Morrowind, it is still the characters that I remember most.

    Perhaps it’s because these are the respective areas that have most caught my imagination. In books, the characters are there for you on the page, and it is the setting that you must fill in the blanks for, whilst in video games the reverse is true: the worlds are fully formed whilst the characters are what need filling out by your imagination, especially in RPGs. Of course, this is not always true of every game and every book, I’m just saying that, for me, these aspects make a book or a game memorable.


    • You know, I really like your thoughts. When I go back and think about all my favorites games, the very first thing I think about is always the characters and their struggles. In books, we are often told exactly what a character is thinking or feeling, which can at times, isolate us from the character. In most games, we experience things with the character and the game allows us to feel the emotion that the character is feeling.
      While the reverse is true of the setting. Games show us exactly what there is, leaving nothing to the imagination. While books hint at it, and leave it to us to create the place in our mind. Hogwarts or Fablehaven, middle Earth or battle school.
      Great things to think about!! Thanks!!


  2. Posted by skymiles on June 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    My favorite games are multi-player first person shooters or multi-player RPGs, or silly games like Just Dance or Wii Sports…I get more out of the social aspect of playing video games than I do the character development or storyline. I am a bad example of a “gamer” because if a game gets too difficult or time consuming I stop. I have a lot more experience with books. I think the thing that matters most to me in a book is that the main characters have good reasons to act or something to commit to. And good pacing. So I guess when books get too time consuming without things to draw my attention or new ideas to make me think I stop them too!


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