You may have heard of the 1989 Japanese arcade game Zero Wing. More likely, you may be familiar with the opening cutscene added to the 1991 Sega Mega Drive port, re-popularized about ten years ago with thanks to the internet. The intro is famous for its laughably-horrible translations from the original Japanese into English, resulting in lines such as “Somebody set up us the bomb” and “You have no chance to survive make your time.” I have selected one such line to serve as my mantra for this blog: as it becomes clear to the spaceship captain that the evil CATS has his balls in a vice, he desperately orders that all “ZIG” star fighters launch immediately to combat the menace; his solemn command, translated into English, becomes “TAKE OFF EVERY ‘ZIG’!!”
In my decision to begin this blog, I likened myself to one of these ZIG Fighters embarking on a mission “for great justice.” Like the ZIGs, I am boldly thrusting myself into a great void; they venture into the void of space, while I venture into the oppressive void of internet anonymity. The ZIGs embark on a mission to save the galaxy from evil, while I embark on a mission to make a name for myself, small as it may be.
Not coincidentally, that was a perfect segue into introductions. Allow me to utilize my meager knowledge of journalism to present you with the essential things you need to know about me:
WHO: Mark Wilhelm
WHAT: Student of creative writing and psychology at Butler University
WHERE: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
WHEN: Right now, but also throughout the past 21 years, and hopefully for many more years to come
WHY: Because my parents had a second child
HOW: I’m well, thank you for asking
But while those are the essential things you should know about me, they aren’t the essential things you should know about this blog. You may have surmised from my header that this is “a blog about writing and storytelling in video games.” Well done, my friend—but alas, I need to say more about that.
You need to know that I’m intensely (yes, intensely) interested in the ways that video games tell their stories. I’m particularly intrigued by nontraditional methods—methods that do not directly mimic written stories, films, or other types of non-interactive media. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with those kinds of methods; on the contrary, I love the traditional methods and spend much time playing games that adhere to them. However, I’m always exceptionally interested in a game that engages the player in an unexpected way or uses a specific gameplay element to drive the story. These descriptions are very vague, but there will be plenty of time later for me to describe some of my theories and ideas about storytelling in games. For now, you really just need to know that this blog will focus on great writing, storytelling, and story elements in video games.
In exploring this theme, I’ll offer a mix of my own ideas along with analyses of great examples that have caught my attention and stuck with me. In truth, I expect that I’ll be analyzing video games much more than I’ll be proposing theories about good storytelling; writing students know (because it is repeated to them incessantly) that reading is an essential part of writing; this is because we teach ourselves how to write well by reading the writing of others. The same idea applies to video games: we can learn how to write good interactive stories by examining interactive stories that others have written. So, in order to understand what constitutes good writing and storytelling in video games, I’ll examine many individual games that have really impressed me in this regard. Maybe it’s a specific character, the plot, or the method in which the story is delivered to the player; whatever the case, I’ll attempt to analyze the story element in question and come to some conclusion as to why it works well. Through this practice, I hope to slowly uncover some secrets to effective storytelling in video games (as well as to amuse you, my faithful readers, and to simply discuss fantastic games).
However, more important than all of that (even the stuff about the metaphysics of interactive storytelling, as scintillating as the topic is) is my desire to initiate stimulating conversations about these games and to interact with others who share my passion for storytelling. The ultimate goal of this blog is to interact with other prospective game writers and build a modest place for myself within their community. Talking about what interests you is all well and good, but I’m hoping to make a career out of my interests, and the best way to start working toward that is to find others who also want to do this professionally. Therefore, I want this blog to be a place for discussion just as much as, or more than, a place for only my own thoughts and opinions. I’m hoping to catch the interest of my fellow gamer-writers and introduce some provocative ideas for contemplation and debate.
“TAKE OFF EVERY ‘ZIG’!!” is my personal self-command to make some noise and share my ideas with the video game community. However, I also offer it as a call to arms and rallying cry to all others like me. It’s a suggestion that you consider what I’m selling you, voice your own opinions and ideas, and thrust yourself into the world just as I’m trying to do. More importantly, it’s an invitation to band together with me as we try to make a place for ourselves in the video game community. In summation, it’s an order to defeat CATS and to grasp your future by the throat. Let’s not disappoint ourselves, shall we?