English in the ‘Real World’ – Writing for Video Games

 

As an English teacher, it’s quite common to hear a student say something along the lines of, “but sir, why is English even important? What can you do with an English GCSE?” Besides it being a common qualification requirement for many jobs you might not expect, the skills you learn in an English lesson are vital for a huge range of professions. Not all of these involve boring office work and typing up bland reports, however…

 
While I was studying at University, I was lucky enough to be working near the headquarters of Dambuster Studios, who have been developing video games since 2006. I was even paid to test one of their mobile games. I wanted to get myself involved further, but since I was still studying I couldn’t commit to a full-time job. Instead, I found that there were a number of websites which helped people create development teams for new video games, many of whom were students who were looking to help create a video game in their spare time.

 
The website I found most useful was called Teamups. From here, you can search which games are in development and which require volunteers to help. Even better, you can filter which groups are looking for writers specifically, making your job of finding an appropriate team to join very easy. One of the great things about being a writer is that you don’t need any high-cost, fancy software. You just need you, your brain and a word processor (like Microsoft Word). The only issue with this is it means a lot teams will assume that being a writer is an easy job, but this is far from the case.

 
One way you can prove that you are both interested in committing to a ‘dev’ team and have the skills to be a useful team member is by creating a collection of work – a portfolio. As a writer, this might include character descriptions, dialogue, general narratives or anything else you can think of that involves creating a fictional world through the use of words. Think about any time you’ve watched a film or video game trailer with narration or dialogue – someone had written that in a way to grab your interest! But before that, they would had worked alongside other members of a team to complete something great that started off as nothing more than an idea in a notepad. And before that, they probably needed a portfolio to persuade the team to let them join.
This brings me to the negatives of the writing experience. Quite often, development teams will advertise themselves as giving each member a percentage cut of the game’s total sales. Not only might the game not sell, but the team might fall apart before the game is even finished. This happened to me several times, and is very difficult to avoid. The best way to make the most of this experience is to keep any work you had created yourself and add it to your portfolio.

 
Another thing you have to be careful of is the paperwork. Often, you will be asked to sign NDA agreements, meaning that legally you cannot leak information about any parts of the game while it is in development. One of the reasons I haven’t mentioned which games I have worked on is because I’m not allowed to! Remember to read everything in the contract if you end up signing one in the future. I have been sent forms which, in a small paragraph within a mountain of text, stated that if I had signed it I would actually have to pay to remain in the team.

 

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Even if video game writing might not be your thing, in many creative professions keeping a portfolio of work is very useful, whether you are considering journalism, blogging, or becoming an author. Similarly, dodgy paperwork contracts will find you in any job you work, so be wary to read everything!

 

Lastly, what I want to emphasise is that there is nothing to stop you from writing now. Whether your aim is to write for video games, become a viral blogger or finish writing a book, don’t be afraid to start now, even if that just means writing or typing up some ideas for a few minutes at the end of each day. You’ll have some ideas at school which may well grow into something far bigger – and the development of these ideas will come from skills you learn here, in English lessons.

 

Written by Mr Beeching, SVC

Images courtesy of Ryan Quintal and Alex Haney @unsplash.com

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