Writers are sorely underappreciated and underused in the video game industry, and the institutions supplying the next generation of game creators aren't helping.
I have been a professional game designer and writer for almost 15 years now. For the past two years, I have also been teaching these skills at Indiana University. My reason for taking on the added burden of teaching as I continue to create commercial games was a realization that despite many advances in techniques for storytelling in games, a huge number of people and companies in our industry seem unaware of them. This includes writers of games themselves. My hope was to help raise a new generation of writers proficient in the skills we have learned, and find new ones to suit our ever-evolving industry.
However, I recently learned that with few exceptions, game studios still have a very limited idea of what writing a game means, or how writers can be used in games, and as a result rarely hire writers on staff or utilize contract writers to their fullest potential.
Now that I'm in academia and beginning to attend academic conferences, I've quickly realized that many programs professing to train students for careers in game development share this mindset; therefore they provide limited to no training in writing for games.
At the same time universities and other learning institutions decry the lack of originality and thematic weight of much of what the game industry produces, particularly when it comes to AAA titles. By buying into industry prejudices, they may keep their job placement statistics high, but they are certainly not helping to foster originality or any innovation beyond the technical.
If one thing is clear from the discussions I've had about game development programs at various schools (as well as company representatives describing their hiring practices), it's this: The role for writers in the videogame industry, between those training new talent and those hiring new talent, is that of contractor (usually one per title) brought in to write dialogue and help "flesh out" a story written by somebody else.
Additionally, there is general agreement that staff hires should be 70 percent programmers and 30 percent artists.
The most sobering thought for me is that if I were attempting to enter the game industry today, few would see the value in hiring me. I'm neither a programmer nor an artist. The fact that I've successfully worked with hundreds of them means little.
There are a number of misconceptions that support those percentages, and the expressed lack of need for individuals trained as writers for games. I'd like to address a few of these.