Playing an RPG Is Like Writing a Screenplay

Or should I specify that it’s ALSO the other way around.  Writing a screenplay is like playing an RPG video game.  Be it web series, feature film, short, or even writing a novel; they each have scenes, they each have installments, and there is a multitude of possibilities.  I am willing to bet that no one who writes scripts and stories has never NOT written at least 2 versions of a scene or ending.  I often write, or at least think about, the various possibilities for my characters, for my story, for my endings.  Sometimes I write several versions.

When I began writing Sapphire Prophecies, (which at the time I thought would be a web series, now I’m not sure what it will become, but it’s somewhere on my To Do list) I enjoyed using the Seers as a means to include the various possibilities within the story itself.  And many stories have characters who see the possible futures, or the story plays around that, so we get to see what could happen, we get to feel what we want to happen, and we get to see what the author decided will happen, which can or can not coincide with what we hoped to see happen.  Good stories are complex and include what we think will happen and what we didn’t see coming.  Some of these good stories are video games.

So, playing an RPG video game is very similar to writing a screenplay or story…  How many times have players paused the game to put the controller down and thought about what choice to make?  Writers put their pen down and think about what choice to make.  Sometimes, when playing a game, you can save, make a decision to see the outcome, and if you’re not happy with it, restart your game and choose another outcome.  Writers can write one outcome and if they’re not happy with where this decision will lead their characters and their plot lines, they can choose to scratch it out and write anew.  Albeit, you cannot restart an ”unsaved game” with an MMO, you can still stop and check online for spoilers that will help you make your decisions.  Similar stratagem.

When you play an RPG video game, you choose your class, your race or species, you select how you look, tweak your character’s stats, etc.  It’s like beginning your own screenplay.  For my example, I choose to use Bioware’s famed Dragon Age: Origins, not because I’m obsessed with the entire franchise, but because it’s one of the RPGs that illustrates a lot of my comparisons.  When you begin a game in DAO, you choose your race, your gender, your class; Dwarf, Elf, Human. Male, Female. Mage, Rogue, Warrior. You choose the hero of your story.  Each selection alters your character’s storyline and how other characters interact with you.  So a Human has a different background and beginning to the game than the Dwarf does.  On top of that, an Elf Rogue has a different beginning story than the Elf Mage, City Elf, or Circle Mage Elf, etc.  Choices made within the game will also affect the rest of the story, this has been seen in a lot of Bioware games, and other highly esteemed RPG video games.

When writing a script/screenplay, you will come to a point where a major decision will change many things in the film, and affect the rest of the film.  Video game RPGs include the same.  They are not linear.  Do you kill the one who betrayed the King or let him live and become a Grey Warden?  How will this affect your game?  Who will leave your group as a consequence of letting him live?  As a writer, you can explore the several options.  In video games, they don’t just explore the several options, they let YOU explore them because they INCLUDE them ALL.  When you write and decide on one thing, then much later in the script, that decision can come back and haunt the character to add suspense, it can come back and aid the character for added “epicness”.  The choice is entirely yours.  As a writer YOU decide how each decision affects the hero of the story.  In an RPG however, the difference is that the decisions of how this or that will affect your hero’s story has already been made, but you don’t know how it will affect the game, same way the reader doesn’t know how the current storyline will affect the future storyline.

So imagine you are watching a game as you would watch a film because there is a cut scene, and then you can choose to intercept your friend and prevent him from killing his nemesis, or let him kill him.  You then become the creator of your story within a story that has already been written.  Do you then destroy the data or keep the dangerous data that could end up killing millions?  And then you don’t see right away how this affects your game, except for interactions with your friend, until you’re in the next game and you realise that keeping the data is what saves an entire species from “genophage” (Yes, I switched to using an example from the Mass Effect series).  Well, it’s the same with film and web series (or even novels).  You can have a few episodes/installments before seeing the consequences, whether good or bad, of a decision made by the hero and his or her allies.

Thus you journey through a game as you journey through a script or film, watching and reading and writing.  The writer becomes the player, as the player becomes the writer.

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