Thursday, March 21, 2013

Writing: the emergence of new genres?

I teach and study the academic discipline of writing.

Several composition theorists would probably take issue with my headline for one of a few reasons.  Is there really anything "new" in terms of genres?  If there is, isn't it rather an extension or perhaps a conglomeration of existing ones?  Or perhaps as Bawarshi might argue, any act of written word creates/reinvents genre with each execution so there is always a new genre?  You can see now why I'm apprehensive to apply "new" to a genre of writing.

To attempt to clarify things a bit, I am talking about writing for video games.  A recent article in Wired really caught my eye and made me consider the writing process for this genre.  It's title: Writing Gears of War Was More Journalism Than Fiction.   The writer in question is Tom Bissell.  Before writing for Gears of War, he published six books of both fiction and nonfiction and worked as a journalist.  One might expect approaching the project with at least a bit of insouciance, but Bissell describes in the article what an arduous process this was, even for a seasoned writer.

A few of the troubles are common to anyone who writes words for someone else to speak.  Oftentimes, one ends up realizing that it sounded far better in written form than it does uttered aloud. That aside, there is one critical regulation to this genre that is absent from  most others and that is that the end product must be playable.  For that to happen, as Bissell points out, the experience must feel as real as possible:

"There’s an obvious parallel between writing games and writing fiction, in that you’re dreaming up worlds and people. But on a deeper level, the process is more like journalism. You simply have to be there—to live there, at least for a while—before you can conjure it in language and make it feel true."

I have been reading my copy of the anthology Literary Journalism edited by Sims and Kramer.  Had to read in grad school and now I'm reviewing it in preparation for my eventual (I hope) book on Dulce.  The anthology begins with an essay by Kramer entitled "Breakable Rules for Literary Journalists." In it, he very clearly and succinctly establishes common traits of good literary journalism.  If you're wondering where I'm going with all of this, here it is: one of those traits is total immersion with the subject.  Literary nonfiction writers spend months, sometimes years living amid their subjects.

Now imagine doing that for a game.  True, it might behoove a fiction writer, perhaps especially a science fiction writer, to completely lose themselves in the world they're creating.  This may lend a greater sense of realism to the text, more so if the author has an especially vibrant and inventive imagination.  Writing for games, as Bissell points out, almost requires this kind of immersion.

I must admit, I'm intrigued.  I'm wondering now what it might be like writing for an evolving game with an open-ended universe, something like SkyRim maybe.  Or so I hear.

Will there be a new breed of writers, writers writing expressly for games and forming their own versions of Kate Wilhelm's Clarion Workshop or more on the wild side like the Algonquin Roundtable?  It will be interesting to find out.

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