I rarely get to play video games anymore because of work, writing, personal obligations, etc., but I have spent many a happy hour accruing experience points like my life depended on it. When it comes to really relaxing, I find that I gravitate back towards the role-playing games I played in my teens and early 20s (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy), when I didn’t have as many responsibilities. (Side note: I don’t play anything past the PS2/N64, with the exception of wine-fueled Wii bowling.)
So, what does my penchant for video games have to do with writing? To me, the two are both interconnected in a number of ways, and when you examine them and the process to create them, you can find similarities.
First, setting is a critical element in games. You have to create a believable world that is detailed and imagined thoroughly to pull people in. Although many RPGs would find their settings closer to the sci-fi or fantasy realm, the same general principle expands to all writing, genre or literary. Make a place real, make it engaging, and you will have readers pulled into your work.
Second, and probably the most important in RPGs, is that of plot. You can have setting, you can have character, you can have fancy graphics, but if your plot isn’t interesting and fresh then the audience will wane. Furthermore, if your plot is too linear, if there is only this one “quest” your characters are going on, this arguably doesn’t provide enough meat to the story. In RPGs, there are plots and subplots to engage others on multiple levels with multiple characters. This should be a focus in our fiction, too.
Third, we can learn a lot by how characters are used in RPGs. Typically you’ll have a main character who is usually the one in the midst of some inner/outer struggle, their love interest, the bad guy, and a whole host of supporting characters that sometimes have a defining quality—the humorous one, the wise one, a certain strength they possess, etc. While our characters may not fit into as tidy of boxes, we can still use the character structure from RPGs to help us more thoroughly define them. We can begin to sketch out our cast in the same way—who will play what role and who will thwart our protagonist, what function will each person serve in the overall narrative—and we can also use these characters to supply and strengthen our subplots.
Fourth, I would say that I’ve learned a bit of caution, too, from playing RPGs, as there is a tendency to occasionally slip into melodrama, which you’ll see in the dialogue. Watch out that your characters aren’t overacting, and read your work for dialogue or actions that are the equivalent of a Southern belle fanning herself as she shrieks “why, I never” before falling into a faint. (You get my drift. Take out those exclamation points and all of the large, invasive parts of your manuscript.)
To read more on the link between gaming and writing, check out Junot Diaz’s article in the New York Times: