I’ve mentioned before how much I love tabletop RPGs like D&D, so it will probably come as no surprise that I have just as much love in my heart for RPGs of the video game variety. Open world, story exploration games like Skyrim, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fallout and anything like these are my go-to for a great, immersive time with plenty of superfluous side quests. But I don’t just play these games to entertain myself and kill time (though often that’s all it is)—I love these games as a writer.
A Character of Your Own
In each of the games I mentioned by name, you are able to literally create a character from scratch, choosing tiny details about them from what they look like to their name. Then you stick ’em in a world, get ’em some clothes and weapons, and…then what? Up to you!
For example, let’s say….I don’t know….a little girl comes up to you in the game and says her dad went missing in the mines two weeks ago and hasn’t come back. Also, there are flesh-eating monsters in the mines. Could you please go get her dad back? You can play as yourself—make choices you personally would make if you were in that situation. You can play as the opposite of yourself and enjoy the delightful cognitive dissonance of choosing paths that make you cringe. Or…OR…you can play as a character from one of your novels. I absolutely love doing this. There are so many chances to explore your character as a being outside of yourself when you put them in situations that someone else came up with. Some of the games I mentioned have crazy moral dilemmas. Perfect! Find out what your character would do when he has to decide what’s worse in those situations. You can learn a lot about them this way.
A point to keep in mind: even if your character lives in modern Philadelphia, you can still use this technique in games with fantasy or sci-fi settings. It’s not the setting that matters, it’s the choice.
Learning From Other Characters
A second reason I love role playing video games for character is that the games are already stuffed full of non-player characters and character companions. I personally think Bioware games are especially ideal for this (Dragon Age, Mass Effect). In each of these games the character you create comes across other characters who become their team, and throughout the game you can choose which of them to take on various adventures. The Dragon Age games are a personal soft spot for me—I adore them. One of the companion characters that appears in Dragon Age II is Varric, a dwarf rogue with a crossbow he calls Bianca. He’s snarky, short, and a total softie. Throughout the game you learn more about him, and little character quirks are revealed as you become better friends. He is funny and memorable, and that’s something to learn from.
The Bioware companions are often memorable—why? What about these characters can you take and apply to your own character writing?
You can also spark ideas by creating your own stories for characters who aren’t given any story of their own. A random passer-by in town, a merchant on the road, a gawker on a new planet. That dude with all the cats. Coming up with backstories for these random non-player characters is a great way to stretch those writing muscles. It’s also a great way to practice character creation in games that are more action and less story, if those are more your jam.
A lot of games have terrible writing, bland characters, and uninspiring plot lines—even these games that I love to play. But bad writing can be just as useful to a player-writer. If a companion falls flat, take a minute to figure out what was lacking. If a side quest drags on, where did it lose its interest? How would you have changed the story to make it better? And on and on. There’s basically no downside to playing video games for writing 😉 Just make sure the writing actually happens!
Have you ever played video games to learn more about your character? Which are your favorites? Let me know! I’m always on the hunt for new games to try.
Happy writing, and happy gaming!