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GDC Online: Game Narrative with Tom Abernathy

Garrett Fuller Posted:
Interviews 0

Tom Abernathy joins us for our final feature on GDC Online to outline the Game Narrative Summit. Tom works at Microsoft and is very passionate about game narrative and game writing. With such a strong emphasis on story in online games lately it is great to chat with someone who works very specifically in that area. GDC has the Game Narrative ciriculum in its program to help writers get involved in how to write for video games. As Tom explains there is much more to it than folks likely expect.  It’s not like writing a novel.

For many writers coming into the video game market it is important to know what they add to a project. Tom explained that in the past many writers were brought on at the end of games to add depth to the story that had already been created by designers. Now more commonly writers are a part of projects from the beginning. They are core to the team and help build the story and narrative to most games from the ground up. 

GDC’s summit is a place for writers to come and learn about writing for games. Tom feels strongly that writers genuinely must be the best storytellers and their job in a game is to add depth to the already strong gameplay elements. When a writer is added into thegame design process you will see many successes come out of that union. Tom hopes that the workshops and talks at GDC will allow future game writers to learn how to work in that environment. They are also there to decide on what the best practices for the industry will be moving forward and to help game companies understand the value that writers do bring to projects.

As the market turns and focuses heavily on social games Tom explains that you can add story and depth to those games as well. There has not been a Facebook game with a strong narrative element to it yet, but when one does come to surface you will see the social games genre move into a deeper direction for its players. To add writing into a social game setting will create a story and history for that player, and hopefully make the game about more than clicking crops and spamming friends. Tom sees this as a way to make a stronger emotional connection between players and their games even in the social arena. Once games start going down this road there is a great pathway for writers to get involved on all levels of a game.

In the normal world Tom says many writers are handed projects with fully realized IPs and worlds. In this case the program hopes to help writers who are coming onto a project at a later stage find ways to enhance the game. There are many areas where writers can be of great value in adding not just story, but also flushing out the full scope of a world. This is why Tom and other game writers feel it is important to be part of a project from the beginning.

Tom says that GDC Online offers a great atmosphere for online developers because it is not as hectic as GDC San Fran. Developers from all area really get the chance to talk at GDC Online and great ideas can come to the forefront. It alos give writers a chance to meet and work with artists which is important from the beginning. A writer can help an artist realize the story behind the pictures to better build a game world in. It also presents writers with new ways to tell a story. In working with artists and developers there are times when writer need to tell their story in different ways other than just words and text. Game narratives work well, but a writer should always look at new ways to tell a story, whether it is through the world, characters, or game design this in an area that all writers must work in.

Tom gave us an amazing run down of what writers can expect at GDC Online. The Game Narrative Summit is important for anyone looking to get into writing with games in mind. It is a very different medium than some people realize and Tom is someone who understands and can help new and experienced writers alike.


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.