Playful Narrative is a series of short weekly articles each focused around a single lesson or point to remember when writing for games.
Death to monologues
This week’s point is mostly focused on videogames, who of all game genres commit themselves the most to the malpractice of writing entire stories in monologues. MMORPG’s are notoriously good at doing this, in fact, their average in game texts are so bad that most of them have build in ways for players to skip them altogether. If you look at any other form of writing, you’ll see that almost none of them use exclusively monologues. I think this writing origins more from a lack of knowledge and understanding about the place of the player in the story and how to write for a game to begin with, than from an actual choice of style. It has however worked itself up to being the primary writing style for videogames and it’s about time it stopped being that1.
Why? Well, first of all, no one talks in monologues all the time. Therefore, it is completely unbelievable that in your game, almost everyone would. Secondly, it makes the character that is listening to this completely flat and honestly quite weird, because who listens to the most ridiculous types of monologues and says nothing at all? Thirdly, dialogues have more dynamic, pacing, development, options (if you wish to make things interactive) and are usually way more interesting2. As a rule of thumb, use dialogues unless you have a very strong reason to use monologues. Do not use it as your standard style of text but as a conscious choice.
Do use a monologue…:
- When using traditional one way communication channels in your game, like letters, tv, video etc.
- When the character speeches. (Classic speeches, but also mission briefings for example.)
- When the character has an inner monologue. (Also known as a soliloquy, these are very rare. Also, no other character should be present here, inner monologues are aimed at the audience, not at other characters.)
- When the character is talking directly to the audience (player) and not to another character3. This is a meta technique and should be used consciously.
Do not use a monologue…:
- In any other situation, most of all when two or more characters are standing face to face and should be having a dialogue, if anything.
- If what you would tell in a monologue could also be written as a dialogue.
- When the lines that are said are short and of such nature that they could be met with silence or an action4.
Having trouble not using monologues? Many game designers and writers don’t know how to write dialogues for games because they haven’t defined one of the two characters involved in most conversations: the one played by the player. I will elaborate on this next week.
This week’s point to remember
Try not to write in monologues, unless you have a strong reason to do so.
Next week in Playful Narrative: Define the role of the player
Whether you totally agree with me or feel like I completely miss the point, let me know in the comments or get in touch! See you next week.
- Note that again, as with most of my posts, I don’t feel like every game should live up to these standards. Some games don’t need a (good) story or well written text and that’s absolutely fine [↩]
- There are monologues that have most of these qualities too, but they belong to the absolute best of monologues ever written. Even these only work that well because they have been situated in the bigger story very well. [↩]
- Note that the character the player controls is a character in itself and not the player. More on this next week [↩]
- Examples are: Short commands or requests like ‘Get up, we need to …’, or simple taunts or sneers the other character may just ignore. This is a broad category and requires practice and insight. The best rule of thumb here is to just decide if it would feel natural that there is no textual reply in the situation. If it does, it is probably fine to go with it. [↩]