Game Development Reference
While game writers may be familiar with writing for children's products, they
may have never written for software targeting non-verbal infants and toddlers. This
situation explains why working with a subject matter expert may be a common ex-
perience in serious games. In this example, the subject matter expert may be one
well-versed in educational psychology or development. If a subject matter expert is
not available, then it behooves the writer to thoroughly research the related subject,
similar to what a writer would be doing for any writing gig.
If a subject matter expert is not available, reach out to friends and acquaintances
with relevant experience. They may give insights. Or take a field trip and really learn
about the audience or the subject matter. Writing for people who live in nursing
homes? Go visit them. Writing for a game to help oppressed people? Go see a related
non-profit for information. Serious games allow for real connections with people and
subject matter. After all, one of these games could end up changing a person's life.
In addition to the developer and subject matter expert, the audience may have
little knowledge of video games. In this way, writing for serious games may have
similarities to writing for casual games. There's no expectation that the audience
would be familiar with video game conventions. In fact, it might be best just to
assume the audience knows nothing about video games.
Working with Subject Matter Experts
As mentioned previously, working in serious games will generally mean some kind
of interaction with subject matter experts. Serious games are often factual, and even
those serious games using fiction are based on facts. Games that are mission-critical—
a surgery simulator, perhaps—need to be checked and rechecked for factual basis.
The importance of facts or proper methodology cannot be overemphasized.
While it is obvious that teaching doctors the wrong way to go about surgery
is not a good idea, there are others that may be less obvious. Take a roller coaster
simulation. It's a fun activity in RollerCoaster Tycoon , but in real life, operating a
roller coaster incorrectly could lead to a tragic loss of life. Programs on firefighting,
homeland security, gun safety, air traffic control, disaster recovery, and chemical plant
management are just a few examples of how proper training protocols could turn a
life-or-death situation into a more favorable one. Writing for serious games can be a
very serious task indeed.
In these situations, developers use the catchword “engagement” rather than “fun.”
Engagement suggests interest without inappropriate hilarity. Keep in mind that en-
gagement does not require a writer to keep the game's tone entirely serious. Humor
is always appreciated as long as it's not offensive or culturally insensitive.
The amount of interaction with subject matter experts will differ from project to
project. In some cases, the expert will work closely with the writer. In other cases,
the writer is handed text to read and translate into fun, entertaining gameplay or
dialogue. This is not altogether different from situations where writers are looking at
storylines in programmer-ese, except that the subject matter expert has no inclination