Elden Ring has been highly anticipated by fans since 2019 when it was announced; part of the plot behind the game came from the involvement of George RR Martin, one of the most famous fantasy writers in the world. Elden Ring director Hidetaka Miyazaki was a fan of Martin’s work before working with himin particular from Fevre Dream, a stand-alone novel that Miyazaki considered a masterpiece.
Just a few years before Martin’s work with Miyazaki was announced, Torment: Tides of Numenera was released, featuring the writing of another famous fantasy author, Patrick Rothfuss. (Rothfuss had been a big fan of the classic Planescape: Tormenta role-playing game renowned for its storytelling.)
My favorite example of a prose writer writing for games is quite possibly Kiyoshi Shigematsu’s deft work on Lost Odyssey, but you can go all the way back to 1995 to find that Harlan Ellison wrote for the in-game adaptation of his short story I Have No Mouth and I Have To Scream.
Fantasy writer Chris Wooding is part of that tradition of prose writers getting into writing games; he worked on the recent Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. But when I catch up with him, he tells me that his interest in games started many years ago.
“I’ve been playing games since the days of the ZX Spectrum,” he explains. “They’ve been a part of my life since I was six or seven, I guess. I remember summer vacations playing Ultima 5 which, at the time, was just as epic an experience as playing of The Lord of the Rings. So for me, they’ve always been as influential as the books or the movies in terms of storytelling.”
It was most likely a game that helped him come up with ideas for one of his works that I still remember reading years later. “I remember an old Civ clone where you could send your colonists and armies through a portal that took you to a mirror world. It was a big influence on my children’s fantasy series Broken Sky. I had to have about nine or ten years old and I’ve never been able to remember his name or find him, and now I’m not sure if I imagined him.”
(Wooding is of course not alone here. Last year, Raven Leilani spoke about the influence of Final Fantasy VII on his first noveland Keith Stuart observed how Ico had influenced his own novel.)
What seems to excite Wooding the most is the particular form of immersion the games provide.
“Video games, when done well, offer the most visceral and immersive experiences of any storytelling medium, simply because you have some authority over them,” he says, referring to the choice mechanism in Papers, Please as an example of how it works “even where the character is barely there.”
Writing games, Wooding notes, requires “brevity and adaptability” where one has to work quickly and be much more willing to change up one’s job, but this also influenced his approach to writing fiction: “That kind of Creative problem solving at speed is something fictional writers rarely need to learn, but it has improved my writing.”
Cassandra Khaw is another writer who works in both mediums; Besides their famous fiction, they have written for games like Sunless Skies and Falcon Age. (They also wrote for this very site.) Unlike Wooding, they got into writing fiction and games almost at the same time, which they say was “absolutely confusing at first.”
“From the outside, the two mids look like they should have significant overlap, but to me there was absolutely none,” Khaw explains.
“I tend to be baroque as hell with my fiction writing,” they comment. “I experiment with structure and voice, I do weird things because they amuse me. invisible.”
If they don’t see many similarities between the two fields, they are “fascinated” by the differences.
“In my experience, traditional media like literature and film all revolve around an unspoken alliance between the audience and the creator: the creator develops an experience and the audience agrees to follow the creator to the end. Now , games are different. Even for the most linear games, there is a narrative that the audience tells themselves in addition to the story they have been given. Games are also things to explore, filled with nooks and crannies in nooks and crannies that your audience might wander into, nooks and crannies they might stay in if you don’t. It doesn’t entice them to move forward in the plot. And propel the audience through a plot without them feeling swept away. .it’s a magic trick on itself.
Greg Buchanan (screenwriter for games like No Man’s Sky) was already creating “interactive fiction projects” when he was a teenager, “mainly fanfiction about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts”, he recalls. Buchanan dabbled in professional game writing before publishing his first novel, Sixteen Horses; his breakthrough was Paper Brexit, an “angry interactive piece of fiction inspired by the climate around Brexit” which “eventually led to job offers from companies such as Supermassive Games and Hello Games”. Buchanan began working on his novel during his master’s degree in prose fiction and wrote for games at the same time.
“One thing I often talk about in game writing is the idea of experience as being the key to this narrative form – which seems obvious when considering games, but the idea of an experiential novel is not often considered”, he observes, “especially for narratives traditional linear. So the attention I paid to both forms at the same time meant that I viewed the novel as a game in some ways – that the atmosphere and sequence I provided was like an environment for a player, with a network of almost dark souls -y sedimentary knowledge and clues have spread everywhere.”
Buchanan wants players to feel “emotionally responsible for what happens in a game”, and refers to Bioshock 2 as an example of players being drawn into a “moral trap” which he clearly enjoys. I ask Buchanan if this idea of “emotional guilt” (a phrase he uses on his website) is something he tries to apply in his fiction as well.
“I’m also interested in prose fiction – any novel with a twisted revelation does this quite naturally, banking on you guessing X when really Y is true – but I think these Bioshock game style effects 2-y particulars aren’t often done in a pretty dazzling way in novels, because you don’t usually have the conscious control over the plot elements that you get in many games. be an experiment for the future!”