Experience the Horror and Absurdity of Writing for Video Games
‘The Writer Will Do Something’ is required reading for anyone interested in how the sausage gets made.
All images courtesy Matthew S Burns
Nevermind Citizen Kane, we have our Silicon Valley right here: a painfully accurate satire of the role that writing often takes in video games. Written in 2015 by Matthew S. Burns and Tom Bissel, The Writer Will Do Something is a short Twine game where you take the perspective of the lead writer on a bloated, creaking AAA project. Bissel is clearly lending some personal experience to this; he worked on the Gears of War and Arkham Asylum franchises. Though I hope for his sake that the weary pain written into this piece is heightened for effect.
The task you're set with is impossible: to make a po-faced epic out of a game where you punch people's heads off after freezing them with ice grenades. You're surrounded by a singularly awful cast of characters; it's that kind of satire. I love the way the game sets up all of those characters' foibles and preoccupations, and lets them unfold towards revealing the player character's own inability to accomplish the task set before them. This is a very sharply observed game, an almost theatrical character study of a kind that we rarely see in games.
If you're at all interested in video game writing—whether you want to write for video games or are just curious about how the sausage is made—The Writer Will do Something slices the contradictions of big-budget game writing wide open and lets us look at the guts inside. It's become the sort of game everyone brings up at inside-baseball discussions about game narrative, a sort of… Dark Souls of satirical twines.