Bioshock Writer Fed Up With Industry

Cognimancer

Imperial Intelligence
Jun 13, 2012
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Bioshock Writer Fed Up With Industry



One of gaming's greatest writers is sick of the medium's attitude towards stories.

Susan O'Connor knows a thing or two about writing for video games. A games writer for nearly a decade, she's worked on titles like Bioshock, Far Cry 2, and this year's Tomb Raider reboot. Those games are often heralded as superb examples of games with good writing, and certainly represent a high point in O'Connor's career. But from her perspective, games still have a long way to go before their stories can compete with other mediums - and if this is the best we can achieve, she's not sure it's worth sticking around.

"I think games are all for good story," O'Connor says, "but they really have to justify 'Why am I shooting everything?'" Speaking with Gameological, she explained that game stories are so often an afterthought, providing only enough effort to keep the player moving from one level to the next. As she sees it, it's a consequence of the lopsided ratios of technical staff to creative staff in development studios - which implicitly shifts the studio's mindset from creating entertainment to developing software. "That's not a bad thing. I think the key is where a person's passion lies ... but I really want to tell different kinds of stories, and I don't know if games are the right place for the stories I want to tell."

As the interview progressed, it became clear that this industry's hurdles are far from a minor issue to her. "I don't want to put up with this shit anymore," O'Connor said. "I'm grateful for the success I've had, but I'm never going to be able to do work that can come anywhere close to the kind of emotional impact the stories in other media have, at least not in the next five to ten years. I love stories, and I just happened to fall into games. I've learned who I am as a writer, and I think my talents and skills are much better used in other places.

"It's been an ongoing dissatisfaction that's always been there. But the more savvy I got - and I've been working on these great projects that are arguably the best ever made - it's like, 'This is the mountaintop, and this still isn't cutting it.'"

That may sound like a letter of resignation to the world of games, but O'Connor says she's still "in the process of making this decision." She does admittedly have a point - games need to prove themselves capable of channeling great stories, or the talent pool is growing to dry up.

Source: Gameological [http://gameological.com/2013/05/susan-oconnor-game-writer/]

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Kurt Cristal

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Mar 31, 2010
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But hasn't she disproved her own point in that her game-writing skills are well... pretty damn good? Lead the pack! Show everyone else how it's done. "Good for us" may not be "good enough for you", but when you're offering the best, you can only lead by example.
 

Corven

Forever Gonzo
Sep 10, 2008
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The phrase "be the change you want to see in the world" comes to mind when I read this article. If she wants to abandon ship and not be a contributor to paving the way for better storytelling in games then good riddance.
 

Bat Vader

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Mar 11, 2009
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It could be she is writing stories for the wrong games too. If she is having a problem trying to justify in the story why the player has to shoot enemies and keep the game moving she could try her hand at point and click adventure games. Personally, I feel some point and click games have some of the best game stories like the Syberia games which I absolutely love.

At the same time though it does sound like she wants games to have better stories but doesn't want to be the one responsible in making the stories better.
 

Link XL1

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Kurt Cristal said:
But hasn't she disproved her own point in that her game-writing skills are well... pretty damn good? Lead the pack! Show everyone else how it's done. "Good for us" may not be "good enough for you", but when you're offering the best, you can only lead by example.
unfortunately, game writers have very little say in what happens to a video game. they're given a very restrictive set of rules and guidelines and theyre brought onto the project only towards the end. the sort of change she's talking about is so radical you couldn't possibly hope to change the entire industry within her desired time frame. the only way she could even attempt to is if she made her very own game, which would require investing years into learning to code, years that could be spent improving her ability to write. which in turn she could apply to a medium of entertainment (novels) that would better appreciate her for it

the fact of the matter remains that video games are unimaginably behind in their ability to tell a story than books, because video games (like movies) have more INSIDE them. books are nothing BUT a story, nothing distracts from the writer writing the story and the reader reading. whereas a movie has the visual element to add to it and the game further adds player input (<- this is important).

these differences are why the other mediums even exist. and why video games have the potential to be the best, because A) they're so young (gotta remember our idea of novels has been around since the 11th century! and films been going since the 1800s) and B) that user input adds a level of depth and escapism that books and movies can never have.

so yeah, its a shame she's moving over to books, but its also understandable. playing a game that gamers say has an amazing story, from the perspective of someone who focuses on films or literature, can be downright painful because the game (in terms of story) is just plain dull and derivative.
 

-Dragmire-

King over my mind
Mar 29, 2011
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Not everyone wants to be a trail blazer, if she feels she is held back by this medium and can do better in other mediums then I say I wish her well. Following where your passions lie does not make you a bad person, we don't need to jump on this persons throat for making a career choice. Calm down people.
 

RJ 17

The Sound of Silence
Nov 27, 2011
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To borrow/modify a line from Idiocracy:
"There was a time in this country when people wrote things like books and videogames. Games that had a point, so you cared who's ass it was and why you were kicking it and I believe that time can come again!"

Kurt Cristal said:
But hasn't she disproved her own point in that her game-writing skills are well... pretty damn good? Lead the pack! Show everyone else how it's done. "Good for us" may not be "good enough for you", but when you're offering the best, you can only lead by example.
Corven said:
The phrase "be the change you want to see in the world" comes to mind when I read this article. If she wants to abandon ship and not be a contributor to paving the way for better storytelling in games then good riddance.
Desert Punk said:
So... She admits she has the skills, but doesn't want to do the work to help make the medium better and wants to apply those skills elsewhere...

Pathetic.
I believe the point she's trying to make is that game studios don't want to put the effort into encouraging good writing, they just want to assembly-line produce games on a once-a-year basis while just tagging some scrapped together story.

Her being involved - even vocal - in the industry doesn't really mean anything if game companies aren't willing to devote more resources to story development (which she brings up by saying the ratio of tech teams to creative teams on games is weighted in favor of the techies). She can stand and preach on her soap box until she's blue in the face, doesn't mean game makers will listen to her. Yes, she stands out as a shining example of what game writers can do...but examples are only effective if people are willing to follow them and not take the easy route for an easy paycheck.
 

LysanderNemoinis

Noble and oppressed Kekistani
Nov 8, 2010
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The last thing the industry needs is less creative people. Ms. O'Connor needs to stay in the industry. Regardless of what critics (or even she) say, the story of BioShock 1 and 2 (Infinite...not nearly as much), kicks the unholy hell out of anything Hollywood has been doing in the past ten years. If we have less Call of Duties and more BioShocks, Tomb Raiders, Heavy Rains, Silent Hills, etc., it'll show that the industry and the fans are more open to new ideas and grander stories.

To those that are saying she should just give up if that's what she wants, I humbly say that's the wrong attitude. I mean, I don't make games, I just play them, but I can definitely feel her aggravation. Good games keep being shoved aside for drivel, no matter how great their stories are, and it's only natural she's getting pissed about it. But hang in there, Ms. O'Conner, and all your creative brothers and sisters, keep fighting the good fight, and don't quit no matter how many times CoD takes a sledgehammer to the idea that games are art.
 

puff ball

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Mar 14, 2011
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hontestly the problem of video game story telling is that its to often either none existent or written in the same manor as a screen play. the former is bad for obvious reasons the later is a more subtle problem. by treating a game story the same as a movie you lose the most potent component of video games their interactivity. i feel that to create a truly great story in video games writers must be allowed to work closely with designers to merge story and gameplay seamlessly.
 

ScrabbitRabbit

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Mar 27, 2012
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puff ball said:
i feel that to create a truly great story in video games writers must be allowed to work closely with designers to merge story and gameplay seamlessly.
I 100% agree. A good game story should play to the strengths of the medium; it should be integral to the game's design. If the designer and writer can't be the same people, then they should at least be working very closely with each other.
 

Elate

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Nov 21, 2010
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So er.. I was looking through her Portfolio. Bioshock is pretty much the only games to note, which I would say have a good story. Far Cry 2 was... Well, in short, pretty boring, story wise.

Got the feeling she's a wee bit to far up her own backside if she thinks games don't have good stories, and as people have pointed out, perhaps she needs to work on different games.
 

Pedro The Hutt

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I'd recommend you try the Tomb Raider reboot before saying that again, it's really got an awesome story, easily one of the best I've seen in years.
 

lacktheknack

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Jan 19, 2009
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Kurt Cristal said:
But hasn't she disproved her own point in that her game-writing skills are well... pretty damn good? Lead the pack! Show everyone else how it's done. "Good for us" may not be "good enough for you", but when you're offering the best, you can only lead by example.
That doesn't work when you're in the AAA industry where ludonarrative dissonance is so, so common because of the segmented way that games are made.

See: Tomb Raider 2013.

One one hand, we have a young woman calling on inner strength she didn't know she had as she attempts to escape a dire situation, and does it by the skin of her teeth. That's the story part that Susan O'Connor is part of.

On the other hand, we have a young woman mowing down baddies in waves. That's the engine, scripting, and actual gameplay part that ruins Susan's best attempts.

It's a trapping of the action genre, really. It's so very hard to have the story she wanted to write in an action game and pull it off well, especially in a risk-adverse environment such as AAA.

If we want story to shine, we have to look to other genres. Personal, character-focused stories are well suited to adventure games. They also work in RPGs, if the story is naturally violent. Epic stories work best in RPGs (due to length) and strategy games (due to scope). Second-rate setpiece-to-setpiece stories are ideal in action games with a shooting focus, and that's where she is right now.

She might have a better time at TellTale, is what I'm trying to say.
 

lacktheknack

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Pedro The Hutt said:
I'd recommend you try the Tomb Raider reboot before saying that again, it's really got an awesome story, easily one of the best I've seen in years.
She helped write it.

So yes, she tried it... and she's not happy with some elements of it, such as "I am now a gun-toting badass" whenever the player is in control.
 

Maerx

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Sep 15, 2010
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"I'm never going to be able to do work that can come anywhere close to the kind of emotional impact the stories in other media have"

As much as I like her, if that's her point of view about games she can leave and try her luck somewhere else. While she has some good points, some of her opinions are really dismissive towards videogames.

She doesn't sound like the kind of person that loves games or really wants to make them better.
 

Colbster94

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Mar 26, 2012
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Im sorry if I didnt read the whole article, I couldnt get past the whole "Far Cry 2 is an example of good storytelling". No, it was not, in fact, it may be the worst story out of the far cry games. Putting it alongside Bioshock and TombRaider is a joke.