I was never allowed to have video games growing up. My parents never bought me an N64 or Playstation, so I missed out on that whole experience. It wasn’t until my sister was old enough to have a job that paid her an ok amount of money that she could then use to purchase a PS2. My brother then saved his allowances to buy an xBox 360 (an impressive feat, considering he was like 12 and his allowance was like $5 a week or something like that). I was out of the house at the point and would only ever play Soul Caliber 3.
My biggest pet peeve is when someone invites you to “hang out” and then proceeds to force you to watch then play video games for three hours. WHAT A WASTE OF TIME! So of course I was super unhappy to have to take a class in video game writing in order to complete my screenwriting degree. Why would I EVER need this?? Turns out I probably will need it, because it’s a growth industry. Ugh.
We’ve been lucky enough to have some really cool guest speakers come to class—mostly alum who have gotten involved with the industry. They come to class and tell us about what it’s like to work in video games and how to treat story in that medium.
Last week the Park School of Communications had executive producer Barry Caudill and associate producer Liam Collins of Firaxis Games visit and speak about the gaming industry and the Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise, which both have been actively part of for years. Liam is an IC ’06 alum who had a post-grad internship with Firaxis that transformed into a job…lucky man. They talked about the role of story in games and the state of the industry.
“There’ve been a lot of studios closing with the recession, but there are lots of [gaming] jobs out there—gaming has a pretty good future,” said Liam. He states his broad education from IC as the reason he was able to do so many different things and work in the gaming industry.
The Park School was going to start up their own game design program, but with the shift in dean’s that was shut down temporarily. Meanwhile, the game design class and my video game writing class are some of the few courses available to those interested in this explosive industry. Any sort of interest in gaming as a career must be pursued outside of coursework. It’s horribly unfair to those who are serious about it, and terribly time consuming. Get with it, Park.
As a screenwriter, it’s been really interesting to see how thinking about story in this new capacity has changed my writing.
“You will often write things that the player will never interact with,” said Liam. “Messages in games are tricky. In the best games, the player thinks they have freedom when they don’t. It’s how the story is told and how the player interacts with it.” Liam explained that passive storytelling is the most popular and best way to communicate with the player in games.
“It means that the player is able to take in the story at their own pace,” Liam explained. What he’s talking about is using mise-en-scene within the game as an agent of story: pictures on the wall, newspaper clippings, photos, radio broadcasts; this is a fantastic lesson in subtlety.
“We want you to play our world,” added Barry. “The story you make up in your head is going to be way better than the one we tell you.”
When comparing the gaming industry to the film industry, Barry informed us that game sales have already beat out theater ticket sales, but hasn’t even come close to DVD sales. The biggest roadblock for games is that they don’t reach as broad an audience as film does. Film has something for literally every audience. There is also a strong place for independent film and filmmakers, which is no so for gamers.
But gaming is just a baby in comparison to the film industry. In 50 years it will be incredible to look at how it’s grown and transformed. As much as I really don’t enjoy video games, they may very well be my future and yours as well. The industry is certainly growing and developing and in need of all our skills!