The Storytelling Lab - Ep24: Video Games: The New Storytelling Frontier with Susan O'Connor
Updated: Apr 27
This week we dive into a new and exciting form of storytelling: video games! Our guest is Susan O’Connor, a writer, speaker, and teacher, who has worked on scriptwriting for video games including Far Cry 2, and Tomb Raider. We discuss how storytelling is used in video games, why people love games so much, and how both stories and games are used to make sense of the world.
When I was a young kid, there were basically two types of video games: those where a car (or something) raced around a track, or where one object blew up other objects.
We played them to pass the time, but we certainly didn’t think about them afterwards.
Then something glorious happened in my life.
On Christmas morning in 1990, my brother and I ran into the living room to find a little grey box lying on the floor, connected to the TV. It was the console for the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES.
The graphics were still pretty elementary, but now the games had stories.
Super Mario and Luigi were on a mission to save the princess from Bowser. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out followed Little Mac as he worked his way up the ranks of the boxing world. Legend of Zelda followed Link through a whole mysterious world to save Princess Zelda (there was almost always a princess).
My brother and I would save our games and talk about them at the dinner table. We couldn’t wait to get back and finally break through whatever level we were currently trying to beat.
Our lives were forever changed.
When I finally beat Legend of Zelda, though, I didn’t purchase another gaming console. Best to go out on top, right?
Since then, we’ve seen various systems of Nintendo, Sega, Xbox, and Sony Playstations, and gaming has become a hundred (plus) BILLION dollar industry.
More than that, video games have become the new frontier in storytelling! There is such a vast opportunity to tell amazing stories with the new capabilities of games because the medium is completely interactive -- unlike almost any other form of storytelling.
“In dramas characters suffer, in games characters win” - Susan O'Connor
I don’t know much about that world because my gaming days are long gone.
That’s why I was so excited to talk to my guest this week, who is an expert in video game storytelling!
Susan O’Connor is a writer, speaker, and teacher, who has worked on scriptwriting for video games including Far Cry 2 and Tomb Raider.
We discussed how storytelling is used in video games, why people love games so much, and how both stories and games are used to make sense of the world.
Susan told me so many things about this new format of storytelling that I had never considered.
Video games, which get a bad rep for disconnecting us as people, actually require a ton of empathy to create. You literally have to put yourself in the mind of the user to create an experience that they will enjoy.
This episode made me think about video game storytelling in a whole new way.
Susan was an absolute delight and offered to buy the first round next time I’m in Austin. I’m writing here so it’s on record! : )
Some highlights of our conversation:
How stories from your childhood affect you later in life
When Susan first started writing
The best way to learn technical skills-- In a classroom or in a workforce?
Uphill and downhill tasks
Finding your unique voice
Storytelling for video games
Changing the landscape of video game culture
Why “we need more voices in the room”
The biggest difference in video game writing is that the author has to share the story with the players
The future possibilities of interactive storytelling
The ancient history of stories and games & the cognitive revolution
Why people love games so much
How we use both stories and games to make sense of the world
There’s something exhilarating about entering a different reality -- maybe this is why video games (and stories) are so appealing
How it’s hard to find writers that really understand the medium of video games
How to share the story with the player so that the player drives the game but NOT the story
Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
How actions affect emotions
How writing for video games still comes back to putting yourself in the minds of your audience
“Games are amazing empathy machines... You get to literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” - Susan O'Connor
As always, I hope you enjoy the episode!
Peace and Love,
Follow Susan on Twitter @bluepuma
And check out her website Susanoconnorwriter.com
For more storytelling tips and tricks,
Follow us on Instagram @sixsecondstories
Visit our website sixsecondstories.com