Video games – more than tools of procrastination? Yes, actually. Today’s video games tell stories like no other media can. They engage directly and deeply with players who are carried through visual, audial, and written material into another life. While the naysayers are welcome to grouse about how video games distract from books, here’s a list of great video games that also teach important storytelling, world building, and series management skills.
Your characters will not always do what you expect, but as the author, it’s your job to keep track of them. Among Us is the latest in a long line of social deduction games that run all the way back to a pack of playing cards and a game of Mafia during jr. high sleep overs. That doesn’t mean it has nothing new to offer.
Learning to spot lies and invent your own is a priceless talent for any writer. Honing your focus by minding not only your own business, but everyone else’s can improve your character-handling skills. Ever have a side character disappear halfway through the book? Among Us may break you of that curse. Best of all, Among Us will teach you how to write villains, especially the nefarious, back-stabbing variety. Just listen to your friends lie and watch how they sway crews to vote out their saviors. It’s a primer on treachery.
Horror is a messy, broad genre. Many doors lead to a night awake with the light on, but not every door serves every reader. Essentially, different thrills chill different readers. Outlast is worth playing because it gets just about everyone in the end. While there are plenty of other brilliant horror games, none sustain dread quite as well as this one. It’s deeply disturbing, frightening, tense, and even gag-inducing at times. The game juggles so many horror tricks its impossible to see where the next blow is coming from until it’s landed.
Consider Outlast a shortcut to the screaming depths of your animal brain. If you can manage not to have a heart attack, it’s worth taking notes on the imagery, scares, and set pieces you hate the most.
Red Dead Redemption
Ever wanted to write a series? This game isn’t just a good story. It’s a good story plus a few more. The overarching plot, dotted as it is with full-storied side missions, lays the groundwork for what could serve as a perfectly functional collection of episodic novels. Plenty of other open world adventure games do this, too, but I would argue Red Dead Redemption does a better job telling its main tale.
The story’s end isn’t just an objective (kill the dragon, beat your rival, rescue the princess). No spoilers, of course, but the story is everything at the end of the day, no matter how much players enjoyed their side quests, and that’s ultimately what makes or breaks a series.
Want to make it weird without completely losing the audience? Death Stranding, one of the strangest AAA games to ever hit the market. It pulls from deeply-rooted psychological fears we all share to the far reaches of cosmic horror. And it does it all with an everyday practicality and frustration that flavors every inch of the world’s wasted surface. Anyone with a love of cosmic horror, magical realism, and other mind-bending genres can learn a lot from this twisty slide down the rabbit hole.
All the Bioshock games do at least one thing very, very well: they use the environment to tell the story. This includes critical world-building and game mechanic tips, but the closer players look, the more they discover. It’s possible to play an entire game without stopping to read notes and decipher the origin of the Little Sisters or read final thoughts left by separated families. While environmental storytelling works a little differently on paper, it shares the same bones as the hidden truths in Bioshock.
Have you played any of these games? What video games have you enjoyed that informed your writing? Share your suggestions for games not on our list below!