Digital games have reached dizzying heights of visual impact, complexity and virtual reality. But have you ever wondered who writes the stories behind the games?
Victorian creative Alexander Swords is a writer, narrative designer and narrative director for digital games and interactive experiences.
“While I create story, I also work with game design so a narrative is propelled forward by a player or audience’s actions,” he explains.
Swords started his career screenwriting for film and television and when he saw the opportunities that the games world presented he knew that he needed to shift his thinking when it came to understanding the plot structures and relationship with an audience that comes with interactive experiences such as games.
It was receiving a Creators Fund grant in 2018 that gave him the time to research his new craft.
“The Creators Fund allowed me the time to consolidate what was different, and what I had learned after a few years in the industry, but then also go further to research how I wanted and needed to work in the future,” he said.
“This meant developing a structural framework to understand how story functioned on a more granular level in a way that could encompass stories told by someone from any culture and lived experience.” The result was The Forest Paths Method for Narrative Design, a ‘player first’ system for narrative design in games, which is now taught in universities internationally, and used by game developers.
“I’ve also been asked to appear and teach at AFTRS, NIDA, and international games and electronic art conferences,” he said.
The grant also helped sustain Swords' work during the pandemic lockdowns.
“As the Method was turned into a book and launched just before the pandemic, it has been my presence out in the world in place of the events that I would have otherwise been able to go to.”
This exciting new field is only just beginning to achieve its potential, Swords says.
“Telling stories in video games, especially at the current level of sophistication, is still relatively new. The recent past has been dominated by the mechanics of games, which has been restricted by technology. Now the technology is freeing creators to explore what kind of stories can be told.”
Swords' advice for film or TV screenwriters looking to work in games is simple – “start making games”.
“Even if they’re aiming for video games it is a lot easier to pick up or create very basic tabletop role playing games,” he says.
“You’ll learn about the impact of interactivity and agency on story, as well as how to get feedback from your players on what makes for an engaging experience.”
For anyone in the creative sector who wants to build their skills or broaden their horizons, Swords says the key is genuine conversations with like-minded people.
“Be quietly and enthusiastically curious about other people as well as yourself.
Swords received a Creators Fund grant in 2018.