• Jordan Alyssa Duncan

How Open-World Gaming Can Improve Your Writing

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Do you have the guilty pleasure of spending hours on gaming? I know I do. When I go on a gaming kick, the rest of the world ceases to exist. “Work? What is work? Oh, you mean that quest for some dwarf I was supposed to do forever ago? Hang on, let me kill this dragon . . .”


As writers, we get a sort of double guilt-trip whenever we use our free time for anything other than writing. Dishes can wait, but my manuscript? I can hear it screaming from within . . . That doesn’t have to be the case, though. I’m going to show you how you can turn those gaming hours into productive writing exercises (or convince you to pick up another habit *cough* hobby if you don’t have it already).

1) The “What-If” Game Made Easy You know that game all writers have to play: the “what-if” game. In order to generate a feasible plot, or to even get started with an idea, we must ask this question over and over until we’re sick of hearing it. “What if werewolves were real . . . already been done. What if were-badgers existed? Now we’re getting somewhere. What if there was a were-badger epidemic that causes the apocalypse, they mutated to have laser-vision, and now our only hope is that the incoming alien invasion neutralizes the badgers?”


It can be fun, but it runs into a lot of walls—because it has to make sense in our plot, to our characters, in the universe we created . . . does your brain hurt yet?


Open-world games take all the work out of the “what-if” game by providing scenarios for you. You are now just a character in this world, and anything can happen. You could be wandering through a village, on your way to trade some items, when bandits attack. Okay, you vanquish them. Now what? Wait a minute, those bandits have a bounty on you. Who sent them? Doesn’t matter—dragon attack! Destroy ze giant lizard. Now seriously, who the fu—wait a minute, is that a troll?


Before you know it, you have fifty-thousand side quests, you’ve run into every creature imaginable, and you don’t remember where half your crap is.


How is this important to writing? Because you, my friend, are experiencing what a character would: all of the what-if scenarios without a danged clue how they connect unless you figure it out yourself. If you ever need to remind yourself how a character feels or what sort of conclusions they can draw based on what’s going on, pop yourself into their shoes and play some video games.


2) Character Creation = Endless Possibilities


The main reason I specify roleplay games as opposed to a game with a preset character and storyline is that it has this handy dandy writing tool: character creation. In a roleplay game, you are responsible for crafting your character’s look, his or her abilities and weaknesses, and their backstory.


Sound familiar?


In a game, however, it has the added bonus of being visual. If you’re like me, that is a huge plus in the imagination department. Now here comes the tricky part: character arcs.


Oh, but wait. You’re not a writer anymore. You’re a character. You’re not in charge of those what-if scenarios, remember?


This means you will see things from a character’s viewpoint. You must make in-game decisions based on your current knowledge, your character’s personality and goals, and what you imagine the outcome will be. Whatever ensues from those decisions will shape your character and how you make decisions in the future.


You, dear writer, have just become a part of your own character arc, and you didn’t have to map it out yourself. But I’ll bet you’re better able to consider things from a character’s perspective when you get back in your writing chair.


3) You Recognize a Plot Hole When You See It


It’s hard to see a plot hole when you’re writing. Just like picking up an object in a game, thinking you’re going to need it only to realize later it was useless, you drop hints without actually leading them anywhere.


Which is totally fine. It happens. You can edit them out later. But what if you were better able to spot those plot holes before they happened?


Sounds like a job for video games!


Gaming plays out at a much faster pace than writing—of course. The more you play, the more you recognize which people and items will come in handy later and which ones won't.


“I’m going to need this sword because it does mega-awesome damage to dark creatures, and I just remembered some lady asked me to go tomb-robbing.” The object has a purpose. You wouldn’t keep it otherwise. When you have a limited carrying capacity, things will be chucked. And, like the pointless bits of information in a story, you’re going to toss out the ones that have no use to you: “Why would I need a mana crystal? My magic sucks. Better hold onto this enchanted dagger, though, cuz it helps my sneaking—that’s more my style!”


You keep things that make sense for your character and will help you on your quests. Likewise, you recognize which people have an important impact on the game. The guy that gives you a dumb side mission? You can’t remember his name or what he looks like. He’s not relevant. The crazy bitch who keeps throwing a wrench in your plans and becomes more than just a nuisance? Looks like an antagonist in the making. It’s the characters with specific quirks, recurring appearances, and significant roles that you will remember. Take note and apply that to your writing. Who stands out to you? Why?


4) Companions = Side Characters Most open-world games give you the option of traveling with one or more characters throughout the game or during certain missions. You will fight alongside other characters and, as time progresses, come to know their personalities and fighting styles.


Say hello to your side characters.


Every hero needs supporting characters. Even video games realize this, so you see archetypes like the dutiful sidekick, the grudging tag-along who’s only with you because they get something out of it, or the mentor who helps you level up like a boss. Inevitably, you will have feelings for these characters—one way or another. You will become attached to some, annoyed with others, but all of them will evoke some type of emotion. Now is a fantastic chance to analyze why some are perfect aides for your quest while others suck.


Is it because their fighting style perfectly suits your character’s? Do they spout offhand jokes that make you want to hang around them for more dialogue? Or does the character have a bad habit of getting in your way or saying nasty things that make you want to smack them upside the head?


Not everyone will like the same side characters, so this is a great opportunity to figure out which personality types your character enjoys traveling with and which ones contribute to the character arc and/or plot.


You know that saying “write the book you want to read”? Now try “write the book you most enjoyed playing.”


5) But Where Do I Find Such Games?


Now that I’ve listed the many benefits of open-world gaming, you may be wondering which games will satisfy that description. A quick Google search of “open-world” or “roleplay-based” games will pull up all sorts of goodies for any platform imaginable, but I’ll go ahead and drop a few popular choices for anyone looking to get started:


1) The Elder Scrolls series. Oblivion and Skyrim are highly recommended. (Medieval fantasy for PlayStation, X-Box, and PC)


2) Any of the Fallout games (Post-apocalyptic for PlayStation, X-Box, and PC)


3) Destiny (Science-fiction for PlayStation and X-Box)


4) Any of the Dragon Age games (Medieval fantasy for PlayStation, X-Box, and PC)


5) The Witcher games (Medieval fantasy for PlayStation, X-Box, and PC) Note: follows preset main character but contains all other elements mentioned.


6) RuneScape (Medieval fantasy for PC)



For all you writer-gamers out there: what are your favorite open-world games for writing inspiration? Have you ever had a story idea just from playing games? Share with us in the comments!

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