Creative Writing 102 : The Digitalization of Creative Writing Through Video Games

FOREWORD


Creative Writing 102 articles are a continuation of the previous Creative Writing 101 series and serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Creative Writing Studies and Literary Theory. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Creative Writing Studies and Literary Theory, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.

Creative Writing 102 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

  1. The Screenplay - Blending Screenwriting with Literary Theory

  2. In the Realm of Travel Writing - Immortalizing Stories in Nonfiction

  3. The Digitalization of Creative Writing Through Video Games

  4. Critical Theory - The (Im)possibility of Application

  5. Unraveling Creativity and Humor in Comedians' Personalities



[A Selection of Books about Video Games Storytelling].


The third article of the 102 series of Creative Writing sheds light on the American Associate Professor Trent Hergenrader’s experimental method of incorporating video games in creative writing classes. A presentation of the types of video games is needed to give more insights on the gameplay’s mechanics, followed by a thorough examination of Hergenrader’s creative writing assignment based on the video game Fallout 3 as a case study.


Hergenrader (2015) experiments novel approaches, other than movies and graphic novels, towards the teaching of Creative Writing and uses video games, precisely Fallout 3, in his creative writing classes as a way to stimulate the learning process of his students in terms of creativity and game interaction. In other words, by integrating video games in the shape of narratives or “texts”, students are urged to think, analyze and come up with solutions while working on “game-like writing exercises”, explains Hergenrader (2015). According to the American researcher James Paul Gee, when learners are exposed to challenging games, they are urged to learn better because they are encouraged to assimilate “leveraged learning” principles of a non-traditional learning method, other than learning from manuals and textbooks. Before proceeding with Hergenrader’s idea of incorporating video games in his creative writing classes, a comprehensive analysis of the mechanics of video games is required for this matter.


[Book cover of Narrative Design The Craft of Writing for Games by Michael Breault].




Situated and Embodied Learning


Most video games are based on three main elements known as situated and embodied learning, emergent gameplay, and environmental storytelling. While situated learning is about learning any kind of tasks in a specific setting, embodied learning rather entails a material or physical element to render the learning process possible. In other terms, for players to be immersed in the fictional world of video games, there needs to be a way to make the virtual exploration achievable. The avatar, states Hergenrader (2015), is the “contact point between the player and the fictional world”, and from that point the player is able to explore the gameplay’s world.



Emergent Gameplay


Emergent gameplay is based on recognition and task mastery as its function lies in the multitude of possibilities offered to the player(s). A good example of emergent gameplay is chess, whereby its various characters: the bishop, the pawn, the knight, the queen and the king, state Bryant and Giglio (2015), are to be used strategically by the players in order to win the game. Another instance of emergent gameplay is Minecraft. The gameplay is based on an open-ended design, inviting its players to wander in the setting and use creativity to guide them throughout the gameplay. Thanks to its endless replayability, the emergent gameplay urges its players to come up with numerous strategies to explore its fictional world and undertake the game missions, describes Bycer (2015).


Environmental Storytelling


“Environmental Storytelling exists in the space between the scripted story and the story created by gameplay.” (Fern, 2020).

[Book cover of Procedural Storytelling in Game Design].



“Environmental Storytelling” was first coined by the American Art Director and Designer Don Carson. This technique is mainly derived from visual storytelling and much used in games and theme parks. The player is engaged in the game narrative as an “active participant” and is no longer in the position of a “passive viewer of the story”, states Fern (2020). This engagement in the story triggers the player to be emotionally invested in the gameplay through the avatar he or she embodies. Added to that, it is through other techniques used in Visual Storytelling, such as “Psychology of Colour”, “Lighting”, and “Contrasting elements”, that environmental storytelling is achieved. For instance, in the video game The Last of Us, Fern (2020) explains that the choice of color in the game is made on purpose to draw the viewer’s attention to the setting; how the colors used in the game narrative play a significant role in reflecting the tone, referring to important details in the scenes and engaging emotionally the viewer with the gameplay.


“The act of staging player-space with environmental properties that can be interpreted as a meaningful whole, furthering the narrative of the game.” - Smith and Worch. (Fern, 2020).

Fallout 3 – Incorporating a gameplay in Creative Writing classes


“Fallout 3 is set in the Capital Wasteland on the outskirts of Washington, DC, years after a nuclear holocaust.” (Hergenrader, 2015, p. 51).

The incorporation of video games in creative writing classes is rather more challenging as it incites the students to make their own choices while playing and immersing themselves in the game. In fact, playing games decreases the percentage of failure while being exposed to challenging tasks. In this sense, it makes players or students, in this context, “build competence, take risks, explore, try new things, and restart if things go badly”, states Hergenrader (2015). Therefore, designing creative writing classes around video games foster more interaction through dialogues and exchange of ideas between students and teachers.


[Book cover of Dramatic Storytelling & Narrative Design A Writer’s Guide to Video Games and Transmedia by Ross Berger].



“The game begins in a subterranean delivery room as the player’s character is literally born into the world. The introductory levels cleverly portray the character as an infant, adolescent and teen growing up in Vault 101, a society cut off from the surface world.” (Hergenrader, 2015, p.51).


The teaching of character and setting is at the heart of Hergenrader’s creative writing classes. His method is centered on exploring the basics of storytelling by adopting “narrative-driven video games”. For that, Hergenrader designs his creative writing course in the shape of a two-part assignment. The first part deals with a thorough examination of Fallout 3 as a primary text, whereas the second part is concerned with the creation of the gameplay’s fictional world. In other words, in the first part of the assignment, twenty-five students are required to create “wiki entries” for a given number of characters and search for alternatives to escape from Vault 101, while in the second part, they are asked to find and go to, at least, five new locations. Hence, the use of the “digital role-playing games (DRPGs)” or role-playing game (RPG), whose components are “character creation”, “exploration” and the “nonlinear storyline”, reflect the students’ personal choices.


“When asked about the choices they made in the game, students naturally provided detailed rationales for the decisions the character made—as if the players were beholden to the kinds of personalities they’d imagined.” (Hergenrader, 2015, p. 52).

Hergenrader, T. (2015). Section of a fan-made map marking named Fallout 3 locations in downtown Washington, DC. This section represents roughly only one-quarter of the explorable map in Fallout 3. [Illustration]. In Game spaces: Video games as story-generating systems for creative writers (p. 54).



Hergenrader (2015) explains that in creating distinct characters, students are confronted with a variety of survival strategies in their own way of searching for food and supplies, far more different from other characters in the video game. The task of character creation aims at highlighting decision-making by diversifying the choice of students in shaping various personalities for their characters. Thus, featuring the power of students’ imagination is depicted in the example given by Hergenrader.


“In a class of 25 students, each student only needs to create wiki entries for five characters similar to those found on the Fallout wiki for 125 unique characters to spring to life; if they each create wiki entries for three locations, they have 75 detailed locations to explore.” (Hergenrader, 2015, pp. 54-55).

The second part of the assignment focuses on the characteristics for the creation of the fictional world. For that, every student is free to construct a fictional map depending on the geography and region of the setting, level of equality or discrimination related to gender and racial issues and sexual orientation. Not forgetting to include the economic growth, the population size and density, the socio-political situation and the infrastructure.


On the whole, the incorporation of video games in creative writing classes opens the gate for experimental and non-traditional methods of learning. It incites students to be more creative by working collaboratively in order to come up with solutions and work strategically to fulfill their objectives. Thanks to Hergenrader’s method of combining creative writing with video games, students are able to better comprehend the mechanics of visual storytelling, environmental storytelling and emergent gameplay and thus experience successfully a situated and embodied learning.



Image Sources

CRC Press. (2020, May 12). [Book cover of Narrative Design The Craft of Writing for Games by Michael Breault]. Routledge.com. https://www.routledge.com/Narrative-Design-The-Craft-of-Writing-for-Games/Breault/p/book/9780367191528?source=igodigital#

——————. (2019, August 27). [Book cover of Dramatic Storytelling & Narrative Design A Writer’s Guide to Video Games and Transmedia by Ross Berger]. Routledge.com. https://www.routledge.com/Dramatic-Storytelling--Narrative-Design-A-Writers-Guide-to-Video-Games/Berger/p/book/9781138319738?source=igodigital


Hergenrader, T. (2015). Section of a fan-made map marking named Fallout 3 locations in downtown Washington, DC. This section represents roughly only one-quarter of the explorable map in Fallout 3. [Illustration]. In Game spaces: Videogames as story-generating systems for creative writers (p. 54).


Sergeev, A. (2019, August 23). [A Selection of Books about Video Games Storytelling]. 80.Lv. https://80.lv/articles/weekly-books-writing-great-video-games/


Short, T. X., & Adams, T. (2019). [Book cover of Procedural Storytelling in Game Design]. Routledge.com. https://www.routledge.com/Procedural-Storytelling-in-Game-Design/Short-Adams/p/book/9781138595309?source=igodigital


References

Bryant, R. D., & Giglio, K. (2015). Do Games need stories? In Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games (pp. 57–77). Michael Wiese Productions.

https://cloudflare-ipfs.com/ipfs/bafykbzaceddkxfsct5lho3ky22gvfnwgwsfayzl5upvbrlg4vkme32xtbhoic?filename=Robert%20Denton%20Bryant_%20Keith%20Giglio%20-%20Slay%20the%20Dragon_%20Writing%20Great%20Video%20Games-Michael%20Wiese%20Productions%20%282015%29.pdf


Bycer, J. (2015, September 16). Examining Emergent Gameplay. Gamedeveloper.com. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://www.gamedeveloper.com/design/examining-emergent-gameplay


Fern. (2020, May 30). Environmental Storytelling - How to use a Games Level Design to tell a Story. Fable-and-Fern.com. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://fable-and-fern.com/2020/05/30/environmental-storytelling-how-to-use-a-games-environment-to-tell-a-story/


Hergenrader, T. (2015). Game spaces: Videogames as story-generating systems for creative writers. In M. D. Clark, T. Hergenrader, & J. Rein (Eds.), Creative Writing in the Digital Age Theory, practice and pedagogy (pp. 45–59). Bloomsbury Academic.

https://cloudflare-ipfs.com/ipfs/bafykbzacebcuena2kbmtgfynggwefaeyv6ckq527bgc555skaouwhfl6hg2ys?filename=Michael%20Dean%20Clark%2C%20Trent%20Hergenrader%2C%20Joseph%20Rein%20%28eds.%29%20-%20Creative%20Writing%20in%20the%20Digital%20Age_%20Theory%2C%20Practice%2C%20and%20Pedagogy-Bloomsbury%20Academic%20%282015%29.pdf


Additional Readings

Carson, D. (n.d.). Don Carson Creative. Doncarsoncreativehost.com. Retrieved February 11, 2022,

from http://www.doncarsoncreativehost.com/index.html


Fallout 3. (n.d.). https://Fallout.Fandom.com. Retrieved February 8, 2022,

from https://fallout.fandom.com/wiki/Fallout_3


Mojang. (n.d.). Minecraft. Minecraft.Net. Retrieved February 11, 2022, from https://www.minecraft.net/en-us


Rochester Institute of Technology. (n.d.). Trent Hergenrader. Rit.Edu. Retrieved February 7, 2022,

from https://www.rit.edu/directory/wthgsl-trent-hergenrader


Role-Playing Game (RPG). (n.d.). Techopedia.com. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/27052/role-playing-game-rpg


The Last of Us. (n.d.). https://Thelastofus.Fandom.com. Retrieved February 8, 2022,

from https://thelastofus.fandom.com/wiki/The_Last_of_Us


Tra, E. (2016, July 28). Key Components of Visual Storytelling. Https://Killervisualstrategies.com. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://killervisualstrategies.com/blog/key-components-of-visual-storytelling.html


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Neyra Behi

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