What is Video Game Storytelling?

Video games can tell stories that no other medium can. The unique element of interactivity allows clever narrative designers to convey ideas that would not work in a passive format. As video game technology has evolved, a greater emphasis has been placed on both storytelling and cinematic techniques. The days of spending countless quarters and hours learning patterns on Pac Man have largely been replaced by complex narratives that invoke enthusiastic responses in players.

If you have a strong inclination for both video games and writing, then you will be happy to learn that there are more opportunities than ever to do something with that affinity. You can become a game writer, narrative designer, or scenario planner for any of the numerous development studios making games with a focus on storytelling.

What is Video Game Storytelling?

Video game storytelling is the art and science of conveying a narrative to the player or audience experiencing the video game. Games can invoke emotion, teach valuable life lessons, or simply give you a unique concept to ponder in your free time. For players to enjoy any of those benefits, while engaged with an interactive entertainment product, a team of narrative designers and writing experts is required.

What are the Different Elements of Game Storytelling?

Conveying narrative beats and invoking emotion requires careful planning and the exact placement of numerous moving parts. Here are the core categories of video game storytelling to consider. Specializing in at least one of these aspects is a wise idea that will help you land more jobs throughout your career.


Almost all stories involve characters who interact with one another. While it is possible to tell a phenomenal story without any traditional dialogue, the spoken word is by far the most common form of interaction between two people. As with any form of creative writing, dialogue must fit in with the overall mood and setting of the story. Writers must ask themselves if people actually talk in a similar fashion to how each character is depicted.

In some cases, stylized dialogue can be used to great effect. However, in most instances, regular-sounding speech is the way to go. Rather than attempting to be flowery, good dialogue should propel the story forward and provide the audience with any pertinent information required to understand the plot. Conversations are also an excellent way to further develop a character’s personality.

Scenario and Plot

The meat and potatoes of any story are the events that occur around each character. A rousing premise must be followed up by a series of scenarios that explore the initial concepts laid out in the introduction. In the case of video games, fun activities, and sensible level design must also be accounted for when writing the plot. Many studios create levels first and wrap the scenario around each set piece later in production. You do not have to run your operation this way, but it is a prime example of the unique approach video game writers must apply to an interactive medium.

Character Design and Backstories

As stimulating as each plot point may be, most general story archetypes have already been told dozens of times before. To make a story truly engaging and interesting for audiences with lots of experience, you must focus on the characters. The infinite number of personalities allows for much greater variety in the storytelling process. Try to create characters that players will love to roleplay as or help in the case of NPCs. Likewise, create villainous characters that the player cannot wait to vanquish at the end of the tale.

Promo Material

Marketing and promotional material may not seem like an integral part of storytelling, but advertisements are logically the first introduction anyone will have to your tale. Hooking a sizable audience is the primary goal of any gaming company, so placing some writers on the marketing team is a shrewd tactical maneuver. Some promotional material is separate from the main story and serves prequel or additional background context. In those instances, it is especially prudent to bring on game writers who can keep the tone consistent throughout the main game and any marketing materials used to attract players.

Flavor Text and Worldbuilding

When gamers fall in love with a digital world, they wish to know everything about it. Keeping games up to a modern standard requires extensive lore and world building initiatives. In-game items, books, scrolls, notes, tapes, and anything else players can stumble across are ripe with storytelling potential. Descriptions of usable items can also be used to tell stories or divulge more about a character’s personality. Creativity is key when crafting lore that will make players go out of their way to hunt down every detail.

What Does a Video Game Writer Do?

A video game writer must help create, organize, edit, and compile all the text or narrative elements that make up the finished game world. Any of the above writing categories can be assigned to a game writer, and you will likely work on multiple aspects throughout the extended development cycle. With that said, the goal should always be to get hired for whatever niche you decide to carve for yourself. If you excel at dialogue, then search for contracts at companies that need conversationalists to join the team.

As for the job itself, a professional demeanor and immense knowledge of creative writing are required to excel. Professionalism involves treating teammates with respect and following best practices of grammar and punctuation. With the technical stuff perfected, you can focus on crafting a riveting adventure that players long to embark on.

Communication is Key

In addition to your core storytelling responsibilities, the other focus of your career will be communication. Collaborating with teams is required to do just about anything in the modern game design space. You will need to coordinate with level designers, animators, modelers, and coders to implement your craft into the game. Discussing the plan with project leads is another reason to brush up on your communication. Being able to instill confidence in the decision-makers is important as stress levels rise due to incoming deadlines.

The other angle to consider is pitching your ideas at some point. As a game writer, you likely have tons of story concepts that you would love to bring to fruition one day. Drafting an engaging pitch when you finally get the opportunity could lead to breakout success and a legendary career trajectory. Pitches involve convincing both other artists to help you, and investors to fuel your dream project. Being able to read the room and tailor your presentation to the audience at hand is the ticket to winning over both sides of the equation.

How Do You Become a Game Writer?

Unless you already have written works under your belt, the best way to become a video game writer is by attending a creative arts college. Not only will you learn the necessary skills to thrive as a video game writer, but there are so many benefits included with formal education. You gain access to advanced equipment and game creation tech while learning how to best use it from former industry professionals. The instructors impart their rare knowledge to help accelerate your growth.

And your fellow students are more than just cool artists to get to know. Since they all wish to work in entertainment as well, you can organically build your network of artists while attending class. As they get hired and build careers, they might recommend you for an open position with one of their collaborators. The more people you know, the more chances you have of learning about sweet gigs before anyone else.

Many of your classes feature group video game projects that can serve as the basis of your portfolio right out of school. The portfolio proves your merit as an artist by detailing the work you have contributed to creative projects in the past. In your case, having some writing samples and narrative design experience will increase your job prospects by an order of magnitude.

What Else Do You Learn During a Game Writing Program?

First things first, the curriculum walks you through the best practices developed by storytellers throughout human history. Although games are unique, many basic narrative techniques still apply. Learn how to hook audiences and keep a consistent tone throughout an entire tale. Understand what makes characters and dialogue pleasant to be around. Once you have a solid foundation, you are ready to take your efforts into the digital realm.

Game writing courses detail the many complexities of authoring interactive entertainment. Practice accounting for player choice and branching decision paths. Discover how to ensure players hear a compelling story explanation or see a vital tutorial prompt. Players can do whatever they please, but skilled writers can direct them in subtle ways that enhance their overall enjoyment. You will also learn how to design missions, give useful item descriptions, and implement cinematic style into cutscenes.

Later on in the program, you will explore the responsibilities of a narrative team lead by playing the role during a simulated group project. This will show you how to manage people and keep the project running smoothly to make the various milestones and deadlines common to all video game projects. You will analyze the scope of a project and determine how the schedule will operate. In doing so, you gain highly valuable administrative experience that will make look great on your portfolio.

Finally, you will get to make all the challenging narrative decisions that could make or break the title. You may need to mentor junior writers and adjust expectations. The program prepares you for the uncomfortable reality of overseeing a big-budget project in which many jobs, not just yours, are on the line.

Want To Learn More?

Did learning about storytelling for video games interest you? Today, the creative and financial success of major game releases increasingly depend on the strength of the game’s world, characters, and story. University of Silicon Valley’s new—one of only a few such programs in the world—was developed to empower and support aspiring writers and narrative designers who want to be a part of this bold new storytelling frontier.

University of Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to offer a meaningful and valuable education for 21st century students. We believe in an education that directly correlates with the work you’ll be doing after you graduate. Interested in learning more? Contact Us today.

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