How Video Games Have Influenced My Writing

Most of the time, writers seem to talk about the books that have influenced their writing style. I’ve certainly been influenced by Tolkien (naturally), Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, James Alan Gardner, and plenty of other authors. I’ve taken inspiration from many other sources, including webcomics like Girl Genius (the main character of that comic, Agatha Heterodyne, was one of the primary sources of inspiration for my character Tock Zipporah (whose proper name is actually “Minerva Agatha Zipporah”)). But since I’ve been playing video games since I was about six years old, gaming has definitely been another influence that has changed the way I write.

There are a few different specific ways that video games affected my writing, so I’ll address each one individually.

The Influence of Gods and Monsters

I write urban fantasy, and my work is steeped heavily in mythology, magic, monsters, and other classics of the fantasy genre. I try to veer away from overused creatures (such as vampires, werewolves, elves, dwarves, and dragons) and create a combination of my own homemade creations along with my interpretations of less-used mythological creatures.

One basic example of that is golems. Golems are creatures made from inanimate matter, and can range from magically-animated stone statues to living clay to robots that are powered by mana instead of electricity. I don’t tend to see golems used all that often in most of the books I read (though I’m sure I could name a few examples, like the animated suits of armor in the Harry Potter books). They’re a common sight in both video games and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. My character Tock is a golem-maker, and video games are definitely a big influence in the way I design her golems. Instead of creating animated stone statues or living suits of armor, Tock tends to go for things like magitech creations, similar to those seen in Final Fantasy VI. In that game, you see things like robots that fire magic-powered lasers, living war machines created by magic, and magic-powered mechwarrior suits (called “MagiTek Armor” in the game). All of these things have been a huge influence in the way I view Tock’s ability and the things she creates, particularly in Contamination and Collapse.

Another influence from the Final Fantasy games in particular is the design of their summoned monsters. Many of them are based on various real-world myths and legends, and you can go into a lot of detail analyzing how closely the games stuck with the mythological inspirations versus how much creative license they took.

I don’t directly draw from many of the summoned monsters in Final Fantasy, but my all-time favorite has always been Shiva. So much so that Shiva is a very direct influence over my short story, Radiance. In some of the later books in the series (including Book 4 that I’m working on a first draft of right now), there are other places where you’ll see the influences of Final Fantasy summoned monsters emerge. I tend to take things in a vastly different direction with a lot of creative license, so the results don’t have much in common with the games, but I can’t deny where some of the inspiration came from.

Visual Effects of Magic

Magic can take many forms in novels. In Harry Potter, we see characters using wands and chanting magic words in faux-latin. In the Sword of Truth series, we see a lot of mystic glyphs and arcane inscriptions. In the Wheel of Time we see magic described as a weaving of energies, which for me usually brings to mind the image of glowing threads creating a tapestry of power before they are unleashed.

Many video games tend to have more visual elements. A lot of this has to do with practical issues of gameplay. For example, you can’t expect a character in a video game to stop mid-battle and sketch magic runes on the ground with white sand in order to create a spell effect. Instead, there tends to be flashes of light that are designed to add to the excitement of a game while also adding a personal touch of style. These visual styles can be so distinct that you could easily identify which game a spell came from just by the way it looks, which adds something to the overall style of the game.

The magic in my books tends to be very visual. There is a complex rules system that determines how magic works, and that is far more important to the plot than what a magical effect looks like. But at the same time, I feel that vivid descriptions can make a battle scene more exciting and add more personalization to it. In some books, like the Wheel of Time series, there are times when two magic-users are simply staring at each other while an invisible battle rages between their minds. That can get fairly boring, whereas the more interesting battles are those with plenty of fireballs and lightning bolts being thrown around.

I also feel, however, that there should be a certain uniqueness to the visual effects of magic. Many of the book series I’ve mentioned have unique enough magic systems that if you were to see a description taken from each one, you’d immediately know which series that description is from, just from the way magic is described. Again, this isn’t a plot-central issue (and the way magic is related to the plot is far more important than the visual effects). But creating unique visual elements can be a good way to develop a personal style that will be associated with your particular books.

A good example of this in my series is the character Maelyssa Southeby, from the story Belladonna (which is currently in revisions). Like Radiance, Belladonna details a character’s journey as she develops a strange power that she doesn’t understand. Mae has a power that, technically, could have been created without visual elements. She could have used it with pure magical energies that couldn’t be seen by a normal person. Instead, however, I developed a design for her power that is more personalized and unique. I think it helps make the power more “hers” and not just “another superpower.” Part of the difference is purely aesthetic, but those aesthetic choices can be a good way to personalize something.

Combos

Some types of books have magic systems that have certain specific things they can do, and certain things they can’t do. In Harry Potter, for example, you’ll tend to see the same spells used over and over again. One thing you don’t really see is the characters finding a way to combine their powers.

Now, the idea of powers combined can, if done improperly, become cliche and trite. I tend to veer away from anything that requires characters to combine their powers in order to send a message about teamwork and how “together, we are stronger than we are alone.” That sort of thing gets a little too after-school-special for me.

However, there is another way that the idea of combo powers influences my writing. In many video games you can have characters combine two completely different abilities in order to do something that isn’t just stronger and more effectively, but which is actually impossible to do with a single character alone. I’m not just talking about increasing the power level to a greater scale (if you read the Wheel of Time books, you’ll see Aes Sedai “link” in circles for greater power, but they still just throw fireballs and lightning bolts; they merely throw BIGGER fireballs and lightning bolts).

When designing my magic system, I made sure to keep things very open-ended. There are no fixed “spells” that have to have a certain effect in a certain way. Many magical effects in my books are based on how creative the character can be in how they use their power. Because of this, characters can also find ways to use their powers in conjunction with each other to create unique effects. This leads to some interesting scenarios in the later books where the characters are able to puzzle out some unique solutions to the problems they face.

Leveling Up

In video games, the power levels of your characters tend to go up steadily throughout the course of the game. Books aren’t always like this. In the Harry Potter series, Harry might become more skilled in his use of magic by the end of the books, but he’s not casting spells that are more powerful (for example, he still uses “Expelliarmus” in the final battle, but it’s not like he’s able to disarm a dozen wizards at once). The same applies to some non-magical books as well; Katniss Everdeen starts off The Hunger Games as an expert archer, and there’s no real sign that her archery improves over the course of the books.

I prefer to have my characters grow, not just in terms of their personalities and flaws, but in terms of their skills and magic as well. So at the beginning of Manifestation, no one even HAS magic. No one has a clue how it works. Chaos ensues. A big part of the short stories Belladonna and Radiance is the way the characters first manifest their powers and have to learn how they work. Characters then grow steadily stronger throughout the course of the books, learning new ways to use their abilities and increasing the scale they can operate on.

There’s probably some other more subtle influences video games have had on my writing, but this is a pretty good run down. Of course, there’s always the chance my books will one day be made INTO video games, in which case these influences would come full circle.

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13 thoughts on “How Video Games Have Influenced My Writing”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I pull from video games too so it’s nice to hear someone else admit it. πŸ˜€ And also, if you haven’t played the Persona games, I recommend them. Plenty of mythological creatures etc to choose from there.

    1. I played the first Persona game, but never got that into it. I haven’t tried the newer ones, though I should probably give them a chance since there’s sure to have been improvements.

      Also, on a side note: It’s weird seeing you still use your old avatar here since on Twitter you changed to a real face awhile ago.

      1. I prefer my self portrait but I’m too lazy to switch it back on twitter. By now people would probably think I disappeared if I did that.
        Persona 3 and 4 are much better and have very interesting stories. Plus, I enjoy attacking things with a unicorn. Always a bonus.

  2. Great post! For a very cool and somewhat science-based magic system, check out The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. That magic system is all about linking different items together and drawing “sympathetic” magic from one to the other.

  3. I’ve personally never been much of a gamer, unless you happen to count my personal obsession with classic Mario and Pokemon while I was growing up. I’ve never really thought about people being influenced by video games in their writing, probably because I’ve never really met any fellow writers that also played video games as well.

    For me, I’m mostly influenced by other books that I’ve read, but sometimes I’ll see a piece of art or random items around me and write down general thoughts about such things and then link them up into a story later on.

    1. Inspiration can definitely come in a wide variety of forms. I’ve been influenced by art as well, though I find art tends to be more likely to inspire a poem than a novel. I think one of the reasons video games work as a source of inspiration for me is because an RPG like any of the Final Fantasy games has an elaborate plot, detailed characters, and a unique setting. Everything about it is just like a book or movie, except that it’s interactive instead of static.

      I don’t think I could draw inspiration from Mario because he has no real personality and the “plot” is just “Oh, the Princess is kidnapped AGAIN.” Final Fantasy games, however, function on much deeper levels.

  4. Good post. You’re right. Nobody talks about how video games help inspire them, and especially in this age when I reckon a lot of us grew up reading AND playing games. Final Fantasy really inspired me too, so great to see that tucked in the post.

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. There’s a lot more that could be said on the subject as well (more concrete examples and direct references, and talking about other genres of games besides RPGs), but I didn’t want to ramble on for too long.

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