Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick


     Evan Skolnick, writer for a number of games with interesting variety such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, Over the Hedge, and Spider-Man 3 (the surprisingly better of the three Tobey Maguire-based Spider-Man games), has finally written a book that should have been brought to the public long ago: an honest guide to writing good stories in video games. Skolnick teaches the basics of storytelling, something that a veteran creative writing student would already know, but that a member of a video game development team may have yet to learn. He stresses that all members of the development team are responsible for creating an engaging story, and thus should have a basic understanding of how a story is created. Though I personally have learned many of the important techniques and terms that Skolnick presents to his audience through creative writing classes and my own personal study of the subject, someone who is not an English major and writer like myself would likely be unfamiliar with the concepts. And that is exactly the audience that Skolnick is looking for: those game developers, programmers, or even artists who have important roles in the creation of a game and thus should be familiar with the narrative writing process. In other words, Skolnick sets out to cure the creative writing illiteracy of the average game creator-to-be in the hopes of providing the world with more advanced and engaging narrative video games.
     Skolnick uses a number of examples throughout his book through which to demonstrate various storytelling techniques. He does fall back on Star Wars as an example many times because a) a large majority of the population has seen at least the original trilogy and b) the series is well known as being a prime example of "The Hero's Journey," one of the most basic and well known plot structures in existence. Skolnick doesn't only use film examples, however: he also gives many wonderfully detailed examples from popular video games and books.
     Another nice thing about Skolnick's work is that the writing is not too technical, nor is it condescendingly simple. The text is legitimately enjoyable to read. I even found myself re-learning old knowledge through a new lens, which I found helpful and fascinating. This book seems like something that anyone interested in writing or in video games would benefit from. I feel that Skolnick's book is a leap forward towards public understanding that video games can be literature, and often are. The next time I hear an argument against video games and their impact on society, I intend to direct the cynic to Skolnick's book.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of this book from BloggingForBooks.org. This in no way means that I have falsified my review -- had the book been garbage, I would certainly have let everyone know.

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