The worst has happened: you don’t want to write. You’re bored or you’re saturated or you just plain don’t have the energy. You need something to kick you back in gear.
I have the solution for you: video games.
No, no, hear me out. Video games are often dismissed as mindless entertainment – or worse, as promoters of violence. Of course, the same accusations were lobbied at TV when it emerged as a new popular technology (the famous Bobo doll experiment, for example), but the damage has been done, and is only just starting to reverse.
I grew up around video games, from Lemmings on my first Acorn computer to locking a pixelated butler in a freezer in Tomb Raider 2 to the mesmerising open-world RPGs of today. Video games are interactive stories, and while for a writer it’s no replacement for reading, I’ve found them to be a source of inspiration when my head feels saturated with words.
Here are my favourite video games that inspire me to write better stories (with example gameplay videos linked):
If magical fantasy is your genre, the latest edition of the Elder Scrolls series is surely your game. A wholly open world where you choose the story, without limitations. You pick your character, you decide your quests, and you choose your story. You can kill no one or everyone, become an outlaw or an outstanding citizen of the Empire. You can assassinate the Emperor or lead the revolution. The week after I finished full-time studying I fired up the Xbox for the first time in months and played on Skyrim for twelve hours straight.
Plus, there’s loads of dragons, which is always a bonus.
An indie puzzle platformer that almost made me cry, Thomas Was Alone is simple only in appearance. The story takes place within a computer mainframe, and it is the player’s job to get newly-sentient AIs Thomas and his friends to safety. Thomas is represented by a red rectangle, and his friends all take on similar forms, each with a different style of movement. But it’s the characters that are the compelling part of the game – featureless shapes with no voices of their own (all the story is supplied by Danny Wallace’s superb narration) become almost real, the emotional investment becoming stronger as the game progresses. It is an ode to minimalism, reminding you that a story doesn’t have to be complicated to be compelling.
3. Assassin’s Creed series
I’m taking this as a whole, rather than focusing on the part, because the point I want to make is using the same frameworks to tell very different stories. Assassin’s Creed games always switch between the present-day storyline and the ‘memories’ of ancestors from hundreds of years ago. While each game is much more linear than the others in this list, following the same basic structure and standard gameplay, all the storylines are different. This game always encourages me to think of different ways I could tell the same story – what if I tweaked this aspect, or that, would it improve the story overall? It reminds me that, if I’m stuck on a scene or aspect of the storyline, I don’t have to overhaul the entire thing – maybe just one component needs changing to make it fresh.
Don’t be put off by the appearance of Proteus – high tech it isn’t, but immersive it is. You appear just offshore of a procedurally-generated island, with full reign to explore. The only sounds are produced by your interaction with the landscape, creating a dynamic music experience of your choosing. The player goes through four seasons, each with their own aural atmosphere, and while there is an end, the end is not the goal. This isn’t a long game and can be completed in about half an hour, but I used to play it before bed to relax. I found it useful as a form of meditation, allowing my mind some breathing space between intense projects.
5. The Sims 4
So, this is where I lose my credibility somewhat. But how could I not include the world’s most famous life simulator? When you’re becoming frustrated with your story, when you just need to vent, The Sims 4 is ready for you to do whatever you want with it. You don’t have to kill them in a myriad of imaginative ways, though that is certainly one use for it – you could create your story’s characters and have them live out their plot, or you could examine how the dynamic might change if they divorced or died or gave birth. It could even help with visualising your characters: the Create A Sim section is so flexible that almost any looks are possible. Take a screenshot and save it in your project folder to refer to later. Tell yourself it’s still writing.