You've been logged out of GDC Vault since the maximum users allowed for this account has been reached. To access Members Only content on GDC Vault, please log out of GDC Vault from the computer which last accessed this account.

Click here to find out about GDC Vault Membership options for more users.

close

The Number One Educational Resource for the Game Industry

Session Name:

Writing 'Nothing': Storytelling with Unsaid Words and Unreliable Narrators

Overview:

In King Lear, Shakespeare plays with the idea of 'nothing'. The King asks his daughter to profess her love, and she says that she cannot because her love is not the kind that easily becomes words - she says 'nothing' instead. The King replies that 'nothing shall come of nothing', and it is his lack of understanding for the value of the inexpressible that brings his downfall.
For viewers of King Lear, the 'play' is both the activity on the stage and the interpretation of the words to form a coherent interpretation of the lines that are spoken. This form of play, using story interpretation as a mechanic of gameplay, is currently underused in video games, and a strong area for exploration.
In our writing for games, we are tempted to put everything onto the page, with all motivations clearly and explicitly stated for the player to understand. The teams we work with may worry that players won't be able to follow stories with nuance or implied meanings, but to push our medium further we need to work with ambiguity in the lives of our characters and allow players to fill in the absences. Where sentences trail off, lines are interrupted, or silence used, the player will naturally search for meaning in our words (or lack thereof). We can use these traits in our writing to take it beyond being dressing for traditional gameplay activities and towards making the full comprehension of the relationships between the characters part of the game's appeal.
In complement to the concept of leaving words unsaid, games have huge potential to expand notions of unreliable narrators. This writing technique has been used with great success in many famous works of literature, from the framing devices of 'Frankenstein' and 'Wuthering Heights', to the delusional Patrick Batemen in 'American Psycho'. There are two forms of this that can be of use to us: characters who see themselves differently from how the player is expected to see them, and characters whose reality we see but don't trust.

Did you know free users get access to 30% of content from the last 2 years?


Get your team full access to the most up to date GDC content

  • GDC 2016
  • Mata Haggis
  • NHTV University, Breda & Matazone Games
  • free content
  • Game Narrative Summit
  • Game Narrative