When I first requested Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick, I expected to read something unique to video game writing. But really, this is a great craft book for modern day storytelling.
It starts out slow, covering the three act structure with a beginning which defines the character, a middle which commits the hero to the conflict, and the finale which resolves the action. Then in accordance with almost every writing book I’ve ever graced with my eyes, it moves into the hero’s journey: the world before the conflict, a call to action, refusal of the call, meeting a mentor, committing to the conflict, tests and challenges, approaching the inmost cave (or point of high conflict), the fight to resolve the main conflict, the reward, the road back, the resurrection when it seems all has been lost, and the resolution.
The part when this picked up for me was about villains. Back in 1964, all the villains were pretty much Shakespeare’s Iago. You know, walk up to the edge of the stage, twist their mustache (Skolnick’s metaphor not mine), and announce to the audience the in fact they were mwahahahahah villains. But modern day villains are human. They don’t think they are evil, they think they are helping.
According to Skolnick the self-identifying villain is laughable. And I agree! Think about books that stand out these days, namely books like The Young Elites in which we watch the character’s downfall into a villain.
I think that’s more important than seeing good overcome evil. I think it’s very important to see that people often have reasons for becoming bitter and “evil.”
The back half of the book is where the meat of the programming is. But even the tips and guidelines in this last sections are not limited to game design. Much of it, like wondering why the scenario even exists, can be attributed to the world building every fiction writer goes through.
What do your characters look like?
How do they move?
What is the setting?
How does your character interact with the setting?
Not really unique to the wide world of video games. But I’m not shirking that the book is aimed at video game writers. Not at all. In fact, I think it speaks widely to the fact that writing is not strictly words on paper and that video games have evolved into a type of literature and art all their own.