How does writing for games relate to writing fiction?

By Audrey Quinn

What’s your favorite game–card, board, or video game? 

Regardless of the genre, games are a great way to bring friends and family together for a fun time. Whether that looks like sitting around arguing over what the reverse card means in Uno, or screaming at your sibling for throwing a blue turtle shell at you in Mario Cart, games ask us to engage with both the imaginative and whimsical parts of ourselves as well as the more strategic and tangible ones. 

So it should come as no surprise that the process of designing and writing a game shares important elements with writing a fictional story.

Worldbuilding in games

Creating a game requires designing a specific set of rules for players to follow. Depending on the type of game, these rules may be part of a fictional world and must make sense within the context of the fictional world. 

Examples of this are Dungeons and Dragons, and video games like Subnautica, The Last of Us, and even Mario Cart. In these types of games, just as in fiction writing, game writers must craft intricate fantasy worlds with engaging characters, settings, and obstacles. 

Choose your adventure

A key difference is that rather than just reading a fictional story, the fictional world that game writers create requires the audience to participate in it. This can be through playing as one of the characters they’ve created for the game, or by following specific rules that result in consequences and actions taking place in the game world. One could argue that book clubs also require some level of participation, but books don’t require book clubs to be read (books have no need for rules of engagement). 

Engage your imagination

Another overlap in designing games and writing fiction is that both involve some level of imagination on the part of the audience. 

Some games allow players to create their own characters (like in Dungeons and Dragons). Others, like Pictionary, require players to come up with their own words and pictures as part of the game’s objective. In reading a  fictional story, each reader imagines the setting and characters differently. So both games and fiction invite players and readers to create their own interpretation using their imagination.

One difference between game writing and fiction writing is that different players make different decisions which affect which direction the game takes. In fictional stories, the written story will always remain the same, even though every reader may have a different interpretation of what the author has written. So the interactivity element of games leads to a notable difference in possible outcomes for the game’s story, unlike in fiction.

So the next time your overly competitive friend sweeps the Monopoly board off the dining room table, consider regaling them with the fascinating ways game writing intersects with and diverges fiction writing. Who knows? It might just lull them into a calmer state of mind…or you could always switch to Mario Cart.

Upcoming classes you might enjoy