What Makes a Story-Based Video Game *Good*?

What makes a video game a good video game? Nothing against any other game types, but we’re talking role-playing games (RPGs) like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, and the Dragon Age series. This series is going to be most helpful for stories with dynamic plots (as opposed to Contemporary, Romance, and maybe Mystery genres) as there’s a lot of emphasis on worldbuilding and developing action (quESTS) but character building and dialogue creation will be addressed heavily as well. Once those posts go up, I’ll try to link it up here!

Let’s get into it! I overanalyzed basically everything, so buckle up for a crazy ride:

The Chosen One

More often than not, good video games revolve around a Chosen-One storyline. Yes, it’s tropey, but there are ways to subvert it and I fully encourage you to do so. Perhaps the character is a Chosen One but no one believes them? Or they make a decision that results in unplanned consequences hindering- or resulting in- their activity? Be creative with this, because as much as I love Dragon Age Inquisition, your character being the sole person who can save the world just isn’t going to translate back to a novel very well. It’s worn out.

Homework for next week: How is your main character a Chosen One? It’s okay if you have to do some digging. 

Heavily-Developed World

This is, in all honesty, the meat of this series. Worldbuilding. Unlike in a book, where progress is relatively linear and- unless it’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure- doesn’t allow the reader much choice in the narrative, a player can fast-travel and explore to their heart’s content. This is probably my favorite thing about gaming, but unless the world is developed ridiculously well, there’s no point to allowing it. I’m talking cultures, cities, villages, religions and wars, history, socio-political dynamics, and as much flora and fauna as you can stand to create. This is what makes games unique and, unlike books, you can’t just describe the relevant parts. Personally, I adore worldbuilding. There’s a reason I’m writing this series, after all. But unless you’re prepared to dive head-first into discovering your fictional world, you’re going to want to do some major searching for inspiration before you get started.

Homework for next week: Start thinking. Create a Pinterest board for scenery (maybe add it as a section to your WIP board?). Sketch out continent shapes. Nothing major quite yet, but get an idea of where you’re going with this project!

In addition to this, you should have a sizable number of settings. We’ll go over this later, but you should be prepared to develop at least six main locations. Any fewer and it’s likely to get monotonous.

Dynamic NPCs

I’m talking nuance. Diversity. Enough information that they begin to take on lives of their own. Some games have algorithms for reputation based on decisions both small and large and most have specific data for relationships between NPCs themselves.

(I’m talking about side characters, by the way- nonplayer characters in gaming speak. 🙂 )

A good game is going to have a diverse cast of characters, both main and secondary, and no, their diversity is preferably not going to be their main plot point*. And they don’t have to struggle with it, either! They can just… you know… exist. Be people. Go on great adventures that have nothing to do with the color of their skin or the people they love- or don’t.

*As a general rule, unless you share it, your MC’s main struggle should not be their marginalization. Say it with me: DO write diverse characters. DON’T write stories that don’t belong to you.

In addition to diversity, DO develop your side characters as you might a lesser main character. Give them backstories! Motivations! Relationships and opinions and food for side plots that may never happen but at the least help make up the fabric of your communities.

Player Character Backstory

This is a tricky thing to do. You want to develop your player character as little as possible while still giving them a reason to exist and a stake in what happens. This is an area where Skyrim, in my opinion, falls short. Sure, you wandered in to the continent. Perhaps you are discriminated against because of the race you chose. But beyond that, what? In some ways it’s good to have that very thin layer of backstory (to allow a player to focus on the events at hand), but run prejudices deeper. Maybe different people will attack a certain player on sight depending on the story chosen?

No, if I were you, I’d explain things a little bit more. Give your character a hometown, old friends and family (or reasons to not have friends or family), pre-existing relationships between characters. If you were writing a story with a Dragonborn (don’t), make it clear why the character was chosen, and why they are going to be the last. If you’ve read Priory of the Orange Tree*, you know that there is a reason why Tané can do the things she does. Even that small explanation contributes a great deal to the plot!

*if you haven’t read it, you absolutely should if only for the fantastic development of characters, plot, and setting!

Homework for next week: Think about your MC/Player Character. Think about them a lot. Think about them until they become real to you and start shouting details you may have forgotten, until they take their story and run with it, forcing you to follow along as quickly as you can. 

This is about it for today’s post! Next week, we’ll actually begin. As I’ve said way too many times before, I’m so excited to work on this series with you all! It’s probably one of the biggest projects I’ve ever taken on, but I’m looking forward to it as small respite from schoolwork this year.

Hope you all are having a lovely midweek, and I’ll see you this Friday for another book review!



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