Video games can make you a better writer.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m nuts. My wife would agree with you. She is fond of calling them “stupid little video games.” She’s also fond of calling anything that she thinks is a waste of time as “stupid little.” Like this “stupid little blog entry.”
But, if you look at the structure of video games, you can learn a lot about setting the audience’s expectations, fulfilling them and/or changing them while, at the same time, raising the stakes with each new surprise.
Case and point: Uncharted 3
Uncharted 3 is as if National Treasure meets Indiana Jones was turned into a video game. You are Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter who finds himself stumbling across epic adventures involving hidden cities, untold fortunes and nefarious evil villains.
As technology has improved, the game play has improved as well, including allowing you to participate in insanely cinematic events. It’s this new technology that has allowed game developers to take the gloves off, from a story telling perspective, and indulge in the nearly impossible to make an exciting game even that much more memorable.
And it can also make you a better writer.
Here’s how. At one point in Uncharted 3, you desperately need to stow away on a plane before it leaves so you can save your best friend and mentor who is being held captive where the plane will eventually land. Your girl friend will help out.
Below I’ll sketch out each major segment in the scene. Watch how the game developers set your expectations and choose either to fulfill them or twist the outcome to amp up the danger and elevate the risk.
- Plan 1: Sneak on before it takes off.
- Obstacle: Armed baddies between you and the plane
- Expectation: Run, shoot and fight your way through.
- Surprise: You make it to the runway, but the plane it taking off faster than you can catch up to it.
- Surprise: Your girlfriend shows up with a Jeep.
- Plan 2: Still need to get on the plane!
- Obstacle: It’s about to take off.
- Expectation: Girlfriend will drive you to hop onto the plane’s wheel before it takes off.
- Outcome: Expectation met.
- Plan 3: Hide out until the plane lands and you can save your friend.
- Obstacle: Staying hidden.
- Expectation: If I stay out of sight, I’ll be safe.
- Surprise: Mid flight you are found by a very large, angry man.
- Plan 4: Knock guy out and hide.
- Obstacle: Guy is frickin’ huge and won’t go down and wants to throw you out of the plane
- Expectation: Use something bigger to defeat him.
- Outcome: You open a parachute of an airlift cargo crate and knock the guy out of the plane.
- Surprise: The chute pulls out the crate, a truck and causes the plane to shift wildly.
- Another surprise: You are blown out of the plane.
- Another surprise: you snag the cargo netting of the crate barely attached to the plane.
- Another surprise: You have to shoot your way passed baddies coming down the cargo netting to get you.
- Plan 5: Shoot the baddies, climb your way back onto the plane.
- Obstacle: Nut jobs with guns.
- Expectation: It’s a game, so if I shoot well and fight well, I’ll make it.
- Surprise: After killing the baddies, the cables holding the cargo to the plane snap and everything starts sliding off. You have to run up the moving cargo and jump to safety.
- Expectation: If I make it, I take control of the plane and land.
- Surprise: As soon as you reach the cargo hold, baddies start shooting at you.
- Plan 6: Shoot, duck, cover and take over the plane.
- Obstacle: More dudes with guns.
- Expectation: With good skills I can take the plane.
- Surprise: The ensuing gunfight causes a fire which ignites and explodes cargo leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane.
- Plan 7: Hold on for dear life and climb baby, climb! Take over the cockpit and save your life!
- Obstacle: Gravity, air suction, damaged plane.
- Expectation: These games are all about gun play and climbing. I can do this.
- Surprise: You’re sucked out of the plane without a parachute.
How do you survive? Well, you’ll have to play the game to find out.
But this exciting sequence is a great example of making each plot twist up the stakes, increase the danger, surprise your audience and challenge the protagonist.
So, the next time your storytelling significant other decides to invest an unhealthy amount of time on a “stupid little video game,” remember, it’s research.
And it just may make him (or her) a better writer.