Becoming a video game writer is all about choices

What it feels like to take the first step toward a dream job

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by Sherry Toh |

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My introduction to a branching dialogue system in a role-playing game happened in 2019, the first time I played Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The character I’d just created was a prisoner suspected of decimating a holy site in the fictional world of Thedas. As such, she was being interrogated. A small wheel popped up at the bottom of my screen with three options for how I could respond to her captors: to say that what happened was horrible, to confirm that her captors believed she was behind the devastation, or to remain silent.

I clicked the first option, and she conversed with her captor. I’ve never been the same since.

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I can’t imagine my life without Dragon Age: Inquisition. I didn’t know it at the time, but the first time I played it was a turning point in my life. Selecting that first choice of dialogue led to me becoming a gaming journalist, which led to me becoming a published author and disability representation consultant for video games, which in turn has led to my latest adventure: trying to become a writer for video games.

None of the above is what I ever imagined for myself. With SMA in my life, I didn’t receive a formal education. I wasn’t expected to do or be anything. So I never thought of what a dream job might look like for me until Dragon Age: Inquisition came along.

I’ve actually been working on my first game since last month. Most, if not all, veteran game writers I’ve seen recommend that people like me just create a game if we want to be hired by studios. So, in the spring, I signed up for an interactive fiction workshop run by BAFTA-winning writer Greg Buchanan, who worked on the game No Man’s Sky, and commenced my project once class was in session.

Writing for a game with branching choices turned out to be harder than I thought. You have to put yourself in the shoes of a player. Knowledge of game design must work hand in hand with quality fiction writing. You need to ensure that each choice you create serves the narrative and doesn’t lead to hundreds of different choices, and that it is manageable for you and the player — all while providing enough options for fun play.

I’ve had to learn those lessons through trial and error in addition to feedback from Buchanan and my classmates. This means that I’ve had to make choices myself: Do I chat with friends or write for my project? Do I get a haircut or write for my project? Do I head out or write for my project? Do I chase this journalism pitch or write for my project? Do I sleep at a reasonable hour or write for my project?

Almost always, I chose to write for my project.

Much like in role-playing games and interactive fiction, making one choice often means you lock yourself out of different paths you might’ve otherwise gone down.

I don’t know how certain conversations with my friends would’ve gone if I didn’t leave them early. My hair’s grown into a mane. I’ve missed being outside my house. I’ve lost really cool journalism opportunities. And right now, I’m fighting a cough that likely developed in part thanks to exhaustion — which isn’t great for an SMA patient.

Yet this project has made me feel more fulfilled than anything else has in a long, long time. I wouldn’t have traded writing the first 12,000 words for the world.

I’ve heard game developers tell people that making a game will grind the enjoyment of games out of you. I’ve no doubt that can and does happen. I wrote those 12,000 words in two weeks, at a pace and intensity I’m unaccustomed to. But my god — and maybe this is naïveté — I feel like I’ve truly found a home in game writing, and I could do it forever.

You’ll hear more of my project soon. I don’t want to give too many details away before the workshop is done. But let’s just say that if you’d like a little LGBTQ+ escapism, you might enjoy it.

I can only hope I’ll be able to write for a renowned studio like BioWare one day. Who knows? Maybe what I’m working on will end up being a writing sample that gets me hired!

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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