TLDR: Having played three well-written games in a row, I've since found it hard to enjoy story-driven games because of the poor writing. Video game writing is mostly bad, because the writers are simply unable come up with anything better. I would welcome recommendations of well-written games and would like to know your thoughts on the topic.
I've always loved story-driven games and I think that at their best they can compare to any other form of art. For me, a good piece of art is one that makes me really think about some aspect of myself or the world or helps me come to an important realization. There is, of course, much more to a good story-driven game than writing. One of my favorite games, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, has no writing at all and yet it helped me re-discover my brotherly love for my younger sibling and I found myself in tears at the end.
But at the beginning of this year I played three wonderfully written games, each great in a different way. The first one was Disco Elysium, which is arguably the best written game I've ever played. The amount of sensitivity, wit and spot-on observations about the world that the Estonian writer Robert Kurvitz has is just amazing and made my heart melt. It takes place in a believable world where typical videogamey decisions finally hit the wall of logic and make you feel silly for even considering them, but not in a condescending way, but in more of a "why didn't anybody think of this before" way.
The second of the three games was Pathologic 2. It's a different kind of good writing. The Russian writer Nikolay Dybowski may not write in a way that is as flowy as the dialogues and almost tweet-like little observations in Disco Elysium, but it's smart and has layers. The game makes sense as a story of saving a small town from infection, but it also touches on the philosophy of fate of fictional characters, of what immortality and magic really mean, on the paradoxes of prophecies and so on. It can also be read as a political commentary on the state of things in the post-communist Eastern Bloc and as a commentary on video games as a whole. Plus, there is such an endless line of clever word plays and hidden meaning that I could write an entire article about. It's just plain out brilliant.
The last of the three, maybe somewhat surprisingly, is GTA 5. It may not be nowhere near as smart as the previous two games, but the dialogue in the game flows and is fun to listen to. And the fact that its flailing humor makes fun of pretty much everything and everyone makes it hit the target at least a couple of times.
But since then I've struggled to enjoy almost any other game. The very next day after finishing Disco Elysium, I played Kingdom Come: Deliverance. The writing immediately struck me as flat and videogamey in a bad way. Even worse was the fact that it took itself quite seriously and really insisted on telling you its "epic" story, while giving off the impression that it was written by a beginner young adult fiction writer. The same goes for Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. Then, playing through Fallout 3 was a complete cringe fest. While KCD and AC felt just kind of uninteresting, Fallout 3 was so bad it made me shake my head at every other conversation. There were some good moments, but overall I don't remember the last time I had seen writing as bad as here. But the absolute worst was an indie game called A Place For the Unwilling, which, according to the authors, was inspired by Pathologic, but, ironically, was absolutely insufferable with its flood of curly, flowery, pseudo-intellectual prose that contained absolutely zero interesting content. There were hints of a story there, but nothing you did in the game seemed to relate to it in any way and overall it just felt like somebody wanted to flex their education in the humanities, rather than make an actually interesting game.
I believe it was Josh Sawyer, one of the writers for Fallout: New Vegas (one of the better written games out there), who said that it's frustrating to see people who apply to be writers in a video game company, because they simply do not read books. They don't even know the most basic of classics and their whole writing is based on B-grade sci-fi novels and other video games. And I agree. The older I get, the harder it is for me to overlook the bad writing in most games.
So, I would to know your thoughts on the topic and I would be happy if you could point me to some well-written games that I'm overlooking and perhaps help me discover a scene or genre of games that tends to be better at this than the mainstream. Also, do you think that the writing in games is getting better over time?
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More about Gaming NewsPost: "I’ve noticed lately that I play fewer and fewer story-driven games and after some thinking I came to the conclusion that I can no longer get over the simplistic and immature writing in most games. There are simply not many good video game writers out there. I hope you can change my view on this." specifically for the game Gaming News. Other useful information about this game:
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