Skip to main content

Video Games as Writing

Video games are written, before and during the coding process. They are, after all, stories — from the simple story of a hungry "Pac-Man" avoiding ghosts to the complex stories of modern massive(ly) multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Yet, some of the aspiring game developers I've met don't quite appreciate how important storytelling is to game success. Blood and guts in high-def will only carry a game so far.

During my early years as a computer geek, I'd sit at my VIC-20 keyboard and create text-based adventure games in BASIC. I continued to do this well into college, because there is something about writing a text adventure that forces you to consider the storyline of a game carefully. While text adventures have declined in popularity, graphical first-person games are still constructed as stories beneath the fancy rendering.

The tool I've used in the classroom to teach video game writing is Inform []. The Inform website has a great history of modern interactive fiction [] (IF), which is the foundation for gaming. There is also a good Wikipedia entry on the topic of IF []. There are a handful of other IF writing tools, including TADS [] and ADRIFT [].

Students imagine you create a world, some simple rules, and then let people play a game. They don't always realize the complex storylines behind the games they enjoy. Teaching students the art of creating IF leads them towards appreciating the storytelling aspect of game creation.

Another benefit of teaching students to create IF is that they learn about programming, without always realizing how much they are learning. Some IF systems are more "natural language" than others, but they all require programming skills.

I wish more teachers would embrace IF. For a few years, it seemed that interactive stories would gain in popularity. The classic "Zork" certainly was popular with many teachers and students when I was in college. But, the trend faded quickly. That's a shame. Maybe we can revive this useful art.
Enhanced by Zemanta


Popular posts from this blog

Comic Sans Is (Generally) Lousy: Letters and Reading Challenges

Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Personally, I support everyone being able to type and read in whatever typefaces individuals prefer. If you like Comic Sans, then change the font while you type or read online content. If you like Helvetica, use that.

The digital world is not print. You can change typefaces. You can change their sizes. You can change colors. There is no reason to argue over what you use to type or to read as long as I can use typefaces that I like.

Now, as a design researcher? I'll tell you that type matters a lot to both the biological act of reading and the psychological act of constructing meaning. Statistically, there are "better" and "worse" type for conveying messages. There are also typefaces that are more legible and more readable. Sometimes, legibility does not help readability, either, as a type with overly distinct letters (legibility) can hinder word shapes and decoding (readability).

One of the co…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…

Edutainment: Move Beyond Entertaining, to Learning

A drawing made in Tux Paint using various brushes and the Paint tool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
November 2, 2015 Deadline
December 2015 Issue

Randomly clicking on letters, the young boy I was watching play an educational game “won” each level. He paid no attention to the letters themselves. His focus was on the dancing aliens at the end of each alphabet invasion.

Situations like this occur in classrooms and homes every day. Technology appeals to parents, politicians and some educators as a path towards more effective teaching. We often bring technology into our schools and homes, imagining the latest gadgets and software will magically transfer skills and information to our children.

This school year, I left teaching business communications to return to my doctoral specialty in education, technology and language development. As a board member of an autism-related charity, I speak to groups on how technology both helps and hinders special education. Busin…