Sh*t I’ve Learned About Writing | RPGs & Plotting

I’ve played a lot of RPGs in my time. And by a lot of RPGs, I mean that I like to think that I single-handedly keep Bioware in business.

Today’s scribbles are about plotting and how the way RPGs are structured is a surprisingly good place to start.

Wherein Gaming can be Productive

Before I really got into my stride with how I like to write and what kind of writing and plotting works for me, I was a very linear plotter. Point A, B, and C could only be reached one way. If I hit a brick wall, plotting would stop until I thought of one solution to how to get to where I was going, and that was about it. There were no alternates, there were no what-ifs, and brainstorming was relatively non-existent.

Around 2013, I got my grubby hands on my first Xbox 360 (please don’t judge me, as my console of choice is still that same Xbox 360,) as well as a handful of games, namely Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. I had video game experience before these games, but I had never played an RPG. I also had experience tabletop gaming but never had the kind of dedicated time in any campaigns to get through a whole storyline. So… Dragon Age, and in general the concept of RPG gaming, was fascinating to me.

Unlike games that I was used to, Dragon Age offered choice. Plot deviances. And while arguably, any RPG that isn’t trying to murder its programmers will have a consistent main plot that has a definitive beginning, middle, end, the number of potential ways to maneuver between those points is magically fluid when it comes to RPGs. RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins, or Mass Effect, Bioware’s other RPG title, offer the experience of shaping and molding what would otherwise be a linear story, through the direct control of character actions. Your choices change how your character gets between A, B, and C, and even how other characters perceive yours, the world your characters are in and change the world your characters are in depending on how you play the game.

Somewhere between sinking way too many hours into a game and getting back into writing full time, it clicked in my head that plotting was more than just this thing happened, then this thing, and then the end. It’s something so much more fluid and interactive.

One of the things that make RPG gaming so fun is trying to gauge how a choice you make will affect an event or character. Sometimes in books, we come across a character making a choice that (1) seems to make no sense (2) seems to have no effect on the story, main character or other characters at all. I was guilty of this in earlier stories where I wouldn’t consider consequences as being a part of the plotting process and therefore, they wouldn’t pop up in my stories.

When I started really looking at how RPG’s choice-informs-plot structure, I started thinking more about how that related to plotting out a story. Rather than seeing a story outline as there being only one way to get through a story, I realized there were many, and each possibility would have vastly different effects on my story, my characters, and my world. It also helped me weed out ideas that didn’t make sense with the kind of story I was working on and bring out plot and character development that did. It helped me learn how to incorporate surprising and compelling plot twists. It helped me understand arcs—whether they be character or story arcs. It made me a better writer. 

We’re not going to talk about how I had to play video games to understand the basics of writing. This post is enough of a self-drag today.

What this all this basically culminates to is an understanding that I gained about writing from a medium that I don’t work in. And while it’s not conventional (and possibly not suggested, given the amount of time spent on gaming could easily be spent on writing) it did help me understand how to plot in a way that worked for me.

Sometimes we forget that writing resources aren’t just in classes or books but in the random, least likely places we’re not intentionally looking. Thanks for reading~

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