After dropping my education concentration during my junior year of college, I wondered what, exactly, I could do with a writing concentration. I explored potential writing careers in my class “Career Prep for Writers” and stumbled upon game writing. I was instantly hooked, but discouraged when I found out that these jobs are rare. Additionally, the job includes more than just writing. For example, it may entail everything from writing the actual video game lore to writing about the games after they are produced. This is often referred to as games journalism.
Because the industry is so hard to break into, a lot of game designers did not start out as designers or writers. Getting your foot in the door is the most important part—whether that be manual writing, web design, or quality assurance. According to Kotaku’s article “What in the World Do Video Game Writers Do?,” game writing is a collaborative effort between level designers, games designers, and artists to ensure that everything within the game is linear with the plot. You also have to modify your writing style in the event that the narrative is changed.
It may be a bit challenging to continuously change the characters and the story, but according to Jeffrey Yohalem, a writer responsible for Far Cry 3, “It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but you wanna put together the right puzzle that says something meaningful.” He went on to describe writing for games as “curating an experience with players.”
However, we have the same question as the number one commenter on that Kotaku article: “How does one become a game/scenario writer?” For one, networking is a very important part of landing any job. So, I did just that. I contacted a variety of game writers on Twitter, and got an overwhelming response from a writer named Chris Avellone. He invited me to send him an email to discuss the story of how he broke into the video game industry.
Chris Avellone is a game designer and comic book writer. Some of his notable games include Fallout 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, FTL: Advanced Edition, Wasteland 2, and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy. He has also written multiple Star Wars comics and numerous Fallout publications, including All Roads, which is a part of the Fallout: New Vegas collector’s edition, and the compilation of the Fallout Bible. He wrote me a very detailed and thorough email about his career path, giving me advice on how to break into the industry.
Avellone is a very persistent and positive person. He greeted me with the advice to “keep swinging, and don’t let anything stop you or bring you down.” More specifically, he said that he did not originally want to become a video game writer, but that it grew on him because he had binders full of adventure material from GMing. He began to submit the material for publication, but it took a long time for something to get accepted. I was surprised to find that he worked five to seven years without pay just to “get his foot in the door.”
In addition to talking about his career path with me, he also gave me some advice on how to start my journey. The following is a combination of my words and bits of advice from Avellone.
Volunteer for a Kickstarter. Although most of them are unpaid, “the important thing is you gain experience, regardless of money,” Avellone says. In addition, the level of formal education you receive is irrelevant when faced with the prospect of what you have done afterwards. Your accomplishments are far more significant. For example, if you like and want to write for games, then it is highly recommended that you spend your free time doing just that.
For me, I began writing on my blog, Lyfe in Pixels, in 2014, and later began to write for Nerdy But Flirty. I found that writing for an editor is a much different experience than writing for yourself. However, it also helps you produce your best work. I love writing, talking, and analyzing video games. According to Avellone, one way to get recognized is to actually send your ideas for a test drive.
“There are tons of editors out there, like the level editors for Fallout, Skyrim, Warcraft, Arcanum, Neverwinter Nights, or any others you can get your hands on. Put your levels or mods up on the net, get critiques, and try to make a name for yourself as a good level or map designer before you even go to a game company. It helps when the interviewer’s already seen your work on the internet and perhaps even played one of your levels.”
Avellone recommends that you not only play the games, but learn about them. You need to familiarize yourself with your favorite and least favorite parts of a game. He says to “play a lot of games and analyze what you like and don’t like about them. If you interview for a game company, that’ll always be part of the interview questions, and having smart answers ready beforehand helps them determine if you’ll be a good developer or not.”
For me, one of my favorite parts of a game is the interactive dialogue. I dislike when games have very long cutscenes without much interaction. When on an interview, game companies will likely ask what you like and do not like about games. Having a confident answer will keep you fresh on their minds.
Then again, it’s not good enough just to play the games yourself; you should also “watch a lot of other people play games,” Avellone says.
“Pay attention to how the game is played, especially the interface and menus and the means by which the player interacts with the game. When you do, you’ll quickly start seeing what irritates players and what they enjoy. Keep a running log in your head of successful ideas used in games and what made them work.”
As for the writing, it is important that you stay away from game clichés, (e.g. the damsel-in-distress scenario, the oversexualization of women, and characters who are desensitized by death).
Further, Avellone says that, “The goal is to find the writers in their lairs and hunt them down.” If it is possible, he recommends that you attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. In addition to that (or if this is not possible), you can also join the International Game Developers Association (IDGA), a non-profit that will help familiarize yourself with the industry and the people who create games. Both of these make for good networking opportunities.
Avellone gives us a lot of information here about how to break into and be successful in the industry. In addition, he gave me the link to the following video interview by the Game Creators Vault where he talks specifically about his day, breaking down what industries look for in design applicants.
For more information about the games writing industry, read the Kotaku article I originally pulled material from. Good luck!