WGA Issues: July 2006 Archives
So it is written…Among the various songs of doom we hear in Hollywood (the box office is over!, people hate movies!, we’re out of ideas!), the one that’s always managed to sneak past my cynicism and actually worry me is this one: “Video games will kill us all!”
Of course, they’re not going to destroy the movie business any more than television did. The gaming industry, however, is enormous in every sense of the word.
I’m a gamer. I’m not a hardcore gamer, but what I love, I love. When a new Splinter Cell game is released, I get it. That day. I own a GameCube, a PS2, an Xbox and an Xbox 360. I play sports games, platform games, puzzle games, racing games…hell, I’ll play anything.
Anything except those damned RPG’s. Role Playing Games. Dungeons and dragons crapola. Elves and clerics living in ridiculous fantasy worlds, picking locks on treasure chests and worst of all, constantly referring to each other by names that have absurd apostrophes.
“K’shanna! You have discovered the Sword of V’landroth!”
What is that? USE VOWELS!
Anyway, point being…I do not like those games. And thus, it was with great concern that I discovered that the highest rated game for the Xbox 360—by far—was an RPG.
It’s called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
I bought it. I bought it against my better nature, against my better instincts and knowing full well that I would open myself to endless mockery from my wife.
Let me first say this.
Now let me get to the larger point.
This game was written. Of all the games I’ve played, this one was not only the most clearly written, it was the most dependent on its writing. And yet, the writers of the game are not credited as writers. They did not earn minimums for their work. They do not have credit protections. They do not receive residuals. Not one penny of residuals for one of the best-selling games of all time.
This is Wrong.
I’ll back up to explain why writing is so important to this game. Yes, you fight monsters. Yes, you run around in dungeons. And yes, godDAMMIT, people have those ridiculous names with the apostrophes. The structure of the game, however, works like this.
Your character walks around a very, very large region of land consisting of nine cities and scores of smaller hamlets. You meet literally hundreds of individual non-playing characters. A large number of them have individual stories to tell. These stories, into which you become embroiled, are quests. Some quests are small. Some are large. Some are fast, and some are multiparters. The quests begin to stack up like firewood, each with loads of dialogue. At one point, I had about thirty quests that I was involved in.
You’re like a hero-for-hire wandering through a collection of short stories, and in each short story, it’s up to you to find your way to resolution.
Some of the quests are obvious. You meet a man whose wife was killed by goblins. You kill the goblins to avenge her on his behalf, and he grants you a reward. Some are trickier. Should you choose to kill a character who hasn’t threatened you, you are visited in the night by a shadowy man who represents the Dark Brotherhood. He invites you to join the Brotherhood and become a killer for hire. This spools out into a dozen quests, one of which involves you attending a dinner party and convincing each of the guests to kill each other. You get caught up in adultery, politics, betrayal, religion, the bizarre whims of demigods…and in every instance, the action and the goals and the choices you make are entirely in service of story.
On top of that, there are hundreds of readable books in the game. Yes, a writer sat down and literally wrote books so that players could read them.
So…who is the writer of Oblivion?
As best as I can tell, it’s these guys.
Quest Design was done by Brian Chapin, Kurt Kuhlmann, Alan Nanes, Mark E. Nelson, Bruce Nesmith and Emil Pagliarulo.
Additional Design was done by Erik J. Caponi and Jon Paul Duvall.
Additional Writing was done by Ted Peterson and Michael Kirkbride.
I say “as best as I can tell” because that’s what scrolls by after a long list of guys who programmed the texture maps for the trees and stuff.
I want these guys to be treated like kings, because they did great work. What to do, though? Video game writing isn’t covered by the WGAw or ANY union, for that matter. It’s the wild west out there, and that’s the way the employers like it, even though familiar Hollywood names like Les Moonves are sitting on the Board of Directors of the company that produced Oblivion.
As union guys go, I’m an extreme pragmatist. I know that the video game industry will never be organized and under union jurisdiction the way Hollywood is, and that’s for one simple reason. A large majority of the work is done overseas or in Canada. Ubisoft, Square Enix, Nintendo, EA…good luck trying to convince the French, Japanese and Canadians that they should abide by U.S. labor law.
On the other hand, there are still games made here, and I think we ought to be organizing them. Oblivion is made here. It’s indisputably written. My goal to bring wage minimums, pension and health care, credits protections and profit participation to the video game industry pretty much starts with one single game.
I don’t know the entire title, but I have the first part.
The Elder Scrolls V.