on Jan 25, 2010
I really thought this story was a troll or a joke. But no, the Writers Guild of America announced its five nominations for the Videogame Writing Award of 2009, and their picks are the following:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Activision)
So you’re going to nominate a videogame tie-in for a movie which itself wasn’t very successful and was dinged for various things that all boil down to bad storytelling.
Let’s look at a couple of reviews. No, I’m not going to some indie site like this one where story snobs are always ranting about how characters need clear motivation and plots need continuity. Everyone knows we’re crazy. Let’s go to the big reviewers, who are more likely to overlook this sort of business:
THIS game was nominated for “Videogame Writing Award of 2009”?
Wet (Bethesda Softworks)
Wet is supposedly an homage to the old grindhouse movies of yore. Those movies were notorious for their awful, ludicrous dialog and hackneyed plots. Wet is an attempt to capture this. This is not an attempt to smarten it up Quentin Tarantino style, but a deliberate attempt to replicate horrible writing. It’s not that this is an invalid thing to do as a writer, but it ought to preclude you from making the best writing list.
If I made a new game that perfectly recreated old-school 8-bit graphics, it could still be good and people could still enjoy it. But it would be an outrage for it to win an award for technical excellence in graphics.
Compounding this is that every review seems to go out of its way to say how boring the story is and how unlikable the protagonist is.
Why was this game nominated?
Assassin’s Creed II (Ubisoft)
This nomination makes sense. Haven’t played it myself, but people seem to dig the story.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision)
If we lay aside the controversy over the airport level, I don’t remember anyone remarking on the story in any meaningful way. What had this game brought to the table that could possibly justify it as the best writing? This is a first person shooter. Hugely popular, yes. Sold well, yes. But great writing?
The Joystiq review says:
Why was this nominated?
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Sony)
People really enjoyed the banter in this game and remarked on it in just about every review I took in. Makes sense.
Full disclosure: I haven’t played any of these game yet.
I should note that games can only be nominated if their writers are members of WGA. Still, what does this tell us? That they don’t have many writers? That their writers are mostly hacks? Or that the WGA can’t tell the difference between a good story and an incoherent heap of contrivances and plot holes on top of a pile of money? The one thing all of these games have in common is that they were all high-profile big-budget titles with huge advertising budgets. This is the kind of list I would expect out of the hype machines, not the Writers Guild of America. This is the equivalent of nominating Megan Fox for best actress for her performance in Transformers 2. It’s okay if you like these games, but praising them for their worst attributes? Why are we doing this?
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.