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Old 04-16-2007, 12:21 PM   #1
MiyukiJane
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Default Writing versus Narrative Design

I saw an interesting panel at SXSW last month on writing for games; the panelists there were advocates of changing the title "writer" to "narrative designer" in the game industry, to accomplish several things. One, to bring writers on mushc earlier in the process than many studios do. There is a lot of contract work for writers, but many are brought on after the game is largely designed, and the panelists believed that games would be better if writing were seen as an integral part of the game from the ground up.

Two, "narrative designer" is, they claimed, more indicative of what writers actually do for games. It's not like writing a novel; after all, among the larger category of writers, don't we also have screenwriters, essayists, novelists, poets? Why not narrative designers?

On the other hand, there is a group of writers who struggle to reclaim the title of "writer" and make it important in the game industry.

So what do you do - do you call yourself a writer or a narrative designer? The jury's still out on that one, but there's something for you to think about!

(P.S. some resources to research: http://www.gamecareerguide.com/commu...iscussionID=15)

Last edited by MiyukiJane : 04-16-2007 at 12:29 PM.
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Old 04-23-2007, 09:37 AM   #2
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Interesting, I've been wondering about that myself. Personally I like the title narrative designer since as stated before we don't write novels for the game. Rather we guide the player through the world and give them the view of the character(s) they play as. For my final term in my Game Design and Development program that was how I developed the story for our game project and I took on the Narrative Designer title.
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Old 04-23-2007, 10:26 AM   #3
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I don't think it really matters what the position is called, especially since the role that person plays probably varies from studio to studio. Someone who writes the story of a game, directs the voices, and makes other executive decisions on the presentation of the story/characters might be more accurately described in the credits as the story director, or presentation director, or what have you. Maybe even something as simple as "Lead Director". As long as it accurately describes the work you accomplished on a given project, do you care what the title is?
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Old 04-23-2007, 08:11 PM   #4
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Very rarely writers, in the traditional sense, are crucial to a game's success. Take for example Knights of the Old Republic, which has a character-driven narrative and clear plot. The writers with KotOR were definitely narrative designers, but they no doubt also did a great deal of dialogue and copy writing. But in other projects that are not so plot-heavy the narrative is created in a kind of sandbox narrative environment, and in this case the term narrative designer seems more apt.
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Old 04-26-2007, 01:03 PM   #5
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I believe that the industry like most others, follows on the as needed principle. To split hairs over the purest of titles is somewhat a mute point. As long as it pays the bills and allows creative expression does it really matter? As my company grows, if one of my writers wants to call himself (herself) a Creative Architect or Narrative Designer, simply well paid and happy....well I will leave that up to further debate. Writer will be whats on the HR jacket.



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Old 05-01-2007, 11:19 AM   #6
sdinehart
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Talking Writing or Narrative

I'm a Narrative Designer @ Relic Entertainment, yes, my contract states so. I created the position w/ Tarrnie Williams, THQ and Relic last spring. It is vital to next gen game development. No renaming writers is not the answer! Game Writing is not narrative design.Sure traditional "game writing" is part of the process, but narrative design is wholly different, and I fight to prove this everyday.

Narrative Design is experience design and it must be tightly intertwined with game design in order to create successful next generation products. I meet some great game writers, but they are not narrative designers, it really requires a beyond novice understanding of the entire game dev pipeline, interactivity, and nonlinear storytelling.

The industry needs to be flipped on its head if we are ever going to create truly compelling next-gen interactive experiences.

I have a blog to explore my trials and tribulations as a narrative designer:
http://www.narrativedesign.org/

Last edited by sdinehart : 05-29-2008 at 09:12 PM.
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Old 10-31-2007, 01:05 AM   #7
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Default An Outsider's Perspective

As an outsider wanting to break into the industry, I try to keep my ear pressed to the ground as much as I can.

One of the harshest criticisms I have heard levied against games that rely heavily on narrative and storytelling is also one that I wholeheartedly agree with. Character Development. This is often the most powerful device in storytelling, yet, in general itís the one that game writing struggles the most with.

Largely, this is due to the fact that the stories in games are told in a way fundamentally different when compared to every other medium for narrative. In older, more established mediums we are told a story. We are shown how characters react, and we use our observations to determine if and how the characters have changed over the course of the story. In games, however, we are that character and we experience the story. Most importantly, if the story is to affect us the way the narrative demands, the protagonist must change in a significant way. When we are the protagonist, it is us that must make that step foreword. We cannot be told when, how, or even if we have changed.

This is, in my mind, where the narrative of games has lost significant weight. Storytellers either try to avoid the change the character must make, which causes the story to feel unsatisfying, or thrust upon us this revelation, detaching us from the experience.

The idea of a shift in paradigm is captured quite elegantly with this simple change in title. Writing as a concept has built upon a singular idea: the act of telling. Narrative design however can be built on the idea of guiding. Pushing a character that the writer has no control over towards a conclusion, and anticipating the fact that this character may come to a series of conclusions, rather than a singular path.

This is the state of things as I see it. Something I wish to help bring to the industry that so captures my imagination.
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Old 05-08-2008, 01:02 PM   #8
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Wink Narrative Design Update

Criticism about gamestory is really easy, and totally valid, bust as a veteran of the industry I can say that game development is not very smooth, often game designs change multiple times midstream. Things show up on the chopping block and studios more often that not will cut story before they cut gameplay feature sets. Crafting consistency within a interactive story that is edited for gameplay, is inevitably difficult. Traditional media production models need to be adopted in order to facilitate better user experiences. Iterative design is great in an R&D phase, but it lacks fiscal prudence when late in production.

My favorite quote relating to story and games is from Dana Fos's profile on the Austin GDC website "Her primary professional objective is to convince the developers and writers she supports to rethink the presentation of game story and smack it silly as opposed to tweaking it at the pace of biological evolution."

Nothing could be more true.

On another note, my blog has migrated, The Narrative Design Exploratorium is now located at:
http://narrativedesign.org/

Check it out.
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Old 05-08-2008, 03:17 PM   #9
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I'm glad to see this topic has been resurrected as it still warrants discussion.

Quote:
Narrative Design is experience design and it must be tightly intertwined with game design in order to create successful next generation products. I meet some great game writers, but they are not narrative designers, it really requires a beyond novice understanding of the entire game dev pipeline, interactivity, and nonlinear storytelling.
Why is the industry hiring 'writers' anyway? I've read many horror stories of developers who are dissatisfied with their experience contracting writers who have no experience with the games industry, and those developers are then completely turned off to the idea of working with writers in the future, thus the argument that a designer can do the job far better.

I'm a student currently and have worked hard to absorb as much information as possible about all aspects of game development and the industry in general. I have developed myself as a game writer, or by your definition, narrative designer, and find it discouraging that, because the threshold for being a 'writer' (ie, some people consider that because they can write, they're a writer) is so low, people are being hired who have no interest in games, no desire to understand the process, and thusly are just handing back a script that is linear and formatted for movies or television.

I imagine this is the minority now - I know there are many wonderful folks working as game writers in the industry, as I have witnessed on the IGDA Game Writing SIG.

But with this definition of a narrative designer versus a writer, I believe the industry needs to focus on hiring narrative designers who are passionate about games and understand the development pipeline, even to the point of knowing the design process; people that are willing to work with the designers and understand that the writing serves the game, the game does not serve the writing.
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Old 05-12-2008, 05:17 PM   #10
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Default Narrative Design Paradigm Adoption

There are many reasons "writers" are still being hired, and will always need to be part of the process. Firstly, not all narrative designers are writers, sometimes due to skill set, other times due to project scope. Secondly, there is a natural internal power struggle within game development teams between play (game) designers and narrative designers. Old power structures left the narrative wholly up to the game designers, or producers in some cases. Most people, quite naturally, are reluctant to share creative power in a collaborative fashion. Continuing with the old model of "plug and play" writers allows certain individuals to maintain control over the overriding narrative of a video game. Thirdly, despite seeming so clear to you and I, there is always an adoption phase for new development paradigms, especially within an increasingly corporate industry.

BTW... it's a great thread! I know when I was in school it was at times hard to imagine how to bring my dreams from thought into reality, narrative design seemed pretty far out of reach, but if I can do it so can you!

Cheers
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