Is Gaming Bad for Fiction Writers?
The other day, I was reading an undergraduate student’s novel in progress, and a thought occurred to me. As I often do, I shared that thought on Facebook:
I’ve never played a video game, but I recognize that it’s a narrative experience that lots and lots of people value. No judgement. But in my fiction-writing classes, I often read stories and novels that read as if I’m watching someone else play a video game. There’s plot, action, scene, all great, but virtually no interiority, which for me is *absolutely necessary* in fiction. My students have always used films and TV shows to talk about fiction, but now they also reference video games. “This is like Bioshock,” for example, and I have no idea what that even means. I wonder if other creative writing teachers have noticed this quality in student fiction or these references? I wonder if people who play video games could give me some tips about how to help my students make the transition from gaming to writing narrative. P.S. Over the last few years, I’ve read lot more genre fiction (George R.R. Martin, Suzanne Collins, etc.) so that I could at least be familiar with the kinds of stories students borrow from, but I really don’t want to start playing games.
I made the comment public and a great conversation ensued. As of right now, there are 80 comments–from gamers and non-gamers, from creative writing professors and students, from friends and strangers. The conversation was passionate. I invite you to read the comments here.
I encourage you to add to the conversation in a number of ways:
- in the Facebook thread
- on your own blog, and link back to my post so I’ll get a pingback
- in this Google Doc, “Advice on Gaming vs. Fiction,” which I will share with future fiction writing students
- write an article or essay for online magazine, say, The Millions or Fiction Writer’s Review (see “further reading” below!)
I spent a lot of time in that thread over the last few days! One of my last comments was this:
What matters to me is the fiction that my gaming students write. What matters to me is whether or not what’s on the page can be published as fiction. Many people who responded in this thread ARE gamers and they know exactly what you mean about the cathartic experience of games. I am not denying that it exists! What I’m saying is that the way a fiction writer achieves that cathartic experience is different from the way its achieved in a game. I think that gamers create or recreate scenarios on the page that–were they in the game, would be cathartic. But on the page, their stories do not produce the effect they want to achieve.
My Two Cents
I don’t play games and have probably missed the boat on this narrative experience. The ship has sailed.
I have taught myself many other things in the last few years, but this is not an area I’m particularly interested in exploring.
I’m also not interested in become a writer of flash fiction, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a valid mode of expression. I have a colleagues at Ball State who practice both these modes, and I’m happy to point students in those directions.
The crux of my initial question was not about the validity of games as narrative experience but about whether I needed to understand that experience in order to be a good teacher of fiction writing.
And I still say: No. I don’t.
And I’m saying: Yay for those who can!
What do you think? And please, for the love of god, if you’re going to respond, take some time to read my comments in the FB thread. Do not assume I’m against gaming.
Let’s also remember that this is an unusual situation in which students and faculty, people inside university creative writing programs and people outside those programs are all in the same “room” talking. That doesn’t happen very often. Let’s all play nice.
Here are some interesting articles on this subject for further reading.
Writing the Great American
Novel Video Game at the Fiction Writer’s Review site.
Writing and Gaming: an interview with James Sutter at the SFWA site.
Gaming and Fiction: Telling the Story to a Whole New Audience at The Guardian.