Tomb Raider - On “Writing”
I have to write something about this latest drama. Have you heard yet? Have you heard?
Go and read this interview with Tomb Raider executive producer Ron Rosenberg - http://kotaku.com/5917400/youll-want-to-protect-the-new-less-curvy-lara-croft
Now, a million people will write about this today. And if a million don’t, then they should. But a lot of those people will be talking directly about the harmful message that this Tomb Raider game seems to be carrying, and what it says about the treatment of female characters in games. There will be pieces about the notion that a male gamer audience can only relate to a female character if they feel like they are protecting them. There will be pieces about rape.
Better writers, and better suited writers, will talk about those things. I just want to briefly talk about why this shit keeps happening. I want to talk about writing. And I need to be brutal here, so forgive me.
The vast majority of these idiots who make these games can’t write. They can’t tell stories. They can’t construct proper narrative arcs or realistically flesh out a character. They can’t write meaningful dialogue. They are not writers, but they think they are. The reason why they think they are is that no-one challenges the quality of their work. They are only writing games. They’re allowed to turn out shit and call it a job well done.
Think about it. If a great game is released, but the writing is terrible, how does that affect the overall critical take on that game? Hardly at all. And I’m not saying it should. I’m saying that the criteria by which we judge a video game barely touches on that whole, messy writing part of the equation.
Gears of War - sells a ton, critically acclaimed, terrible writing. Modern Warfare - same. Halo - same. Almost everything - same. But they sell in huge numbers and clock up high percentages on Metacritic. And so these “writers” coast by, believing that their work has value, believing that they are writers who can write. Hey, if your shitty work doesn’t negatively effect ANYTHING about your product, then how will you ever know how shitty it is?
But here’s the problem. If you’re not a writer who is constantly struggling to write well, and constantly questioning the quality of everything you do, then you are also not a writer who looks deeply into what you are writing about. You don’t pay attention to the messages within your work. You’re not asking yourself what you’re saying to your audience.
I genuinely believe that the writing team of that Tomb Raider game will today be asking themselves some questions about what they’ve turned out. The reason why they’re only asking those questions today is because they are not good writers. They’re only writing because someone gave them that specific job. They don’t have any talent for it, and they don’t love it. I have to believe that, because the alternative is ugly.
This is Stephen King, from his book On Writing:
“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”
Video game “writers” come lightly to that blank page every single day.