Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
Writing for Role-Playing Games
Daniel Erickson
2.1 The RPG Challenge: Writing without a Protagonist
Of all video game genres, it is the western role-playing game (RPG) that most takes
advantage of the unique aspects of the interactive medium. It is also arguably the
most challenging to write for, as many of a writer's tools are removed from the toolbox
and set aside—traded, if you will—for the chance to give the player agency 1 and
participation in not just the results of the narrative but in its tone, progress, and
character development.
The most marked example of this trade is the tradition of not having a set pro-
tagonist to drive the plot. By allowing the player to create a protagonist from scratch
(often of either gender, and choosing from multiple backgrounds, classes, and even
occasionally ages) we throw away thousands of years of storytelling tradition. We're
writing Death of a Salesman with no Willy Loman, Braveheart without WilliamWal-
lace, Detective Comics sans Batman. In short, we're on our own here. With an
understanding of interactive storytelling, however, and a few key tools—most im-
portantly how to make choices matter, how to keep players in the moment, and how
to reinforce a player's personal fiction—we'll do just fine.
2.2 Understanding Interactive Storytelling
For years now, there has been a growing trend of people standing up at various con-
ferences and debating whether or not storytelling can be done in games at the same
level as in movies or books. In general, the firebrands like to take the negative po-
sition as it assures some controversy and a chance to stand up and make ridiculous
speeches the next year as well, but the fact is, they keep missing the point that the
fundamental question is flawed. True, you couldn't do Citizen Kane as a game and
1 For more on player agency, see Chapter 3 of the topic Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames ,
edited by Chris Bateman.
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