Tag Archive: game scripts

Writing Gender-Inclusive Romance

For more than a year I’ve been writing and story editing a dating adventure game called LongStory. At the start of the game, players select their avatar and gender, choosing whether they want to be referred to as “she”, “he” or “they”. We don’t write different dialogue or storylines for different player genders. LongStory is written to be gender-inclusive.

What does that mean? Well, gender-inclusive or gender-neutral means using language that avoids bias towards a particular gender. This might seem daunting considering this is a dating game that includes romantic storylines, but it’s not if you follow these three tips…

#1 – Recognize Stereotypes

Unless you were raised by gender-free aliens, you’ve been conditioned to see people differently based on their gender, especially when it comes to romance. Heck, society conditions us not only to see people differently but to act differently based on our assigned gender. It’s important to recognize these expectations for what they are: stereotypes, not facts. Stereotypes such as “girls are more emotional” and “boys don’t talk about their feelings they act on them” abound. While some boys may not be comfortable talking about their feelings, some boys are. And vice versa; not all girls want to engage in lengthy heart-to-hearts.

#2 – Identify Your Biases

Here’s a test for you: write a romantic scene between two characters (boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy, agender-bigender, etc), then switch up the characters’ genders. Does the scene still make sense? If you don’t think it does, ask yourself why and identify the lines you’ve written that you think are more one gender than another. Are the lines stereotypical? If so, can you make them more well-rounded or original? If the lines in question don’t evoke specific stereotypes, what is it about these lines that makes you connect them to a certain gender? Figure that out and you’ll have identified your own biases. Now challenge those biases. Instead of concluding “a boy would never say that,” consider the type of person, regardless of gender, who would say that. Write for character, not gender.

#3 – Find Commonalities

We humans tend to focus a lot on our differences, but if you’re writing gender-inclusive romance, you need to zero in on all the things we have in common. This doesn’t mean making character dialogue bland and generic, it means developing characters based on their personalities not their gender. Do not fall back on stereotypes. Stereotypes are simple shorthand and the opposite of well-rounded characters.

Now, you may be thinking this is all well and good, but Heather, why would I ever need to write a character whose gender is unknown? To that, I first say — why not? That’s an interesting character! The second thing I would say is that with the increasing popularity of narrative games, more writers are finding work writing dialogue and storylines for players who could be any gender! Bottom line, being able to write gender-inclusive stories has become a valuable skill. And I’m proof…

A couple months ago I interviewed for a job as Lead Writer on a video game in a genre I love but in which I don’t have any actual paid writing experience — a virtual reality sci-fi adventure for adults (I usually write comedy and/or romance for kids and teens). The game sounded awesome and I wanted the job so bad, though I worried I didn’t have the right experience to get it. However, the producers want a game where players not only pick their gender but also the gender of their in-game spouse, and the fact that I had written and story edited a gender-inclusive game was a big plus in their eyes, so I got the job! Yay!

Do you consider gender inclusivity when you write? Have you ever written a gender-neutral character? If so, or if you have any questions, let me know in the Comments.

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Screenplays vs Game Scripts: 5 Differences

Recently I was hired to write a video game script. I’ve never written for games, but both the producer and I thought my screenwriting skills would translate well since each medium uses dialogue as a key storytelling device. However, except for dialogue skills, I found out that game writing is pretty much the opposite of screenwriting!

LongStoryThis is where I should clarify what type of game I’m working on, because if first-person shooter games or fighting games or sports games are what you think of when you hear the word “gaming”, you’re probably wondering why dialogue is such a crucial element. So, the game I’m writing is called LongStory and it’s a role-playing social simulation game. The “role-playing” thing is common in gaming (that just means the player is a character in the game world), but the “social simulation” component is less common though quickly gaining in popularity. The focus in social simulation games is not killing monsters or fighting bad guys or scoring goals, it’s experiencing a social situation. For instance, LongStory is a queer positive dating game where the player navigates the school’s social landscape and builds relationships with new friends and old enemies to solve the mystery of what happened to a student who left the school, while also working up the nerve to ask out their crush and go on dates. The whole game is based on social interaction and conversations with other characters, so you can see why dialogue and storytelling are super important.

Now that we have the game genre established, let’s get to the meat of this post — how screenwriting is different than game writing. I figured this all out through painful trial and error and a serendipitous encounter with a former film writer who now teaches interactive storytelling (aka game writing), and I’m sharing it with the world so that other writers entering the gaming industry will be more prepared than I was.

5 Differences Between Screenwriting & Game Writing

  1. Story Arc. In films and television, there is a very defined arc with a set up, inciting incident, rising action, midpoint twist, crisis and resolution. But in an interactive game where the players make different choices with different outcomes, this arc is loose. This may sound like a blissfully freeing situation to those who hate structure, but I like structure and felt lost when I began writing this game. The only solution for this? Ask a lot of questions and accept that you’ll probably still make a lot of mistakes.

  2. Thought Bubbles. There’s no such thing as thought bubbles in screenplays. Some films have voice-over, but that is generally frowned upon, and screenwriters are encouraged to tell stories using action and dialogue and not to rely on voice-over narration to fill in the blanks. But in game writing, thought bubbles are used to voice the player’s thoughts and make choices. The difficulty for me was figuring out where and how often to use this new tool.

  3. Scene Length. In screenwriting, the general rule is to keep scenes as short as possible. Everything that is said and done in the scene must pertain to the plot; anything that doesn’t is “fat” and should be cut off. However, in game writing, long scenes are a must! Why? Because the Player needs to explore their options, gather information and make choices. Longer scenes make for a more valuable gaming experience. And this ties into #4…

  4. Action vs Reaction Scenes. In screenwriting, action moves the plot forward. The audience sees the hero DO things, not THINK about things or TALK things through. Often, the only way we know the hero is thinking about something is a two-second reaction shot. And we rarely see the hero talk through his next move with his sidekick, and if we do the scene is brief and probably purposefully vague. Instead, the audience finds out the hero’s plan when they see it in action. But in game writing where the player is the hero and must make all these “next move” decisions, reaction and planning scenes are crucial. It sounds so obvious when I explain it like that, but after writing screenplays for 17 years, it never even occurred to me to write these scenes in the game. My instincts simply skipped them. So when the Story Editor on LongStory said I needed a scene where the player plots their moves for an upcoming scene, my first thought was, “Why? Why can’t we just show what happens in that next scene?” Well no, because gaming isn’t about showing an audience something, it’s about player experience. And that leads to #5…

  5. Audience vs Player Experience. When writing for an audience, it’s all about holding back information. The fact that the audience doesn’t know things is what keeps them entertained. That’s why screenplays don’t have many reaction or planning scenes, or voice over, or long scenes. The less the audience knows, the better! Not knowing exactly what the hero is thinking is intriguing. Having the story unfold through action without knowing the hero’s plan is suspenseful. But it’s the opposite for a game because instead of watching a story, the player is influencing the story. There is still a lot of suspense because the player doesn’t know what the other characters will do, but the excitement comes from making the decisions and agonizing over the various choices. Think of it this way… To an audience, watching the hero think about something or talk about it is boring – they want to see the hero DO something! But to a player in a game, thinking about something or talking it through is where all the tension is because they are the hero! What they decide affects everything.

Again, that all sounds so obvious when I explain it, but I’ve been writing for an audience my whole career, and switching perspectives to write for a player was a bigger shift than I’d anticipated. Hopefully this post will help anyone getting into game writing understand the different expectations of a screenplay vs an interactive game script.

And if you’re curious about LongStory, you can download the first two episodes here. I’m writing episode three which will come out this fall. I’ll keep you all updated!

LongStory tag locker

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