Writers Guild Announces Best Game Writing Nominations

By Shamus Posted Monday Jan 25, 2010

Filed under: Rants 71 comments

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:


The story is baffling, even next to the movie, which says a lot.

And Gamespot:

You play as the titular Marvel mutant, with the game’s muddled storyline mimicking and expanding on events in the movie of the same name. […] Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do a great job of introducing these nefarious individuals–such as the Blob and Gambit–and often throws them in with little explanation of why Wolverine needs to beat on them in the first place.

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:

For instance, at one point you come across the hulking wreck of Air Force One crashed nonchalantly in a front lawn. Isn’t that sort of a big deal? That could be the entire plot of a season of 24, yet it isn’t even mentioned in the game, underlining the disconnect between story and gameplay. When you jump from character to character with each level change, and miss big chunks of the narrative that unfolds around you, you’re not as personally vested as you would be if you played the same character all the way through.

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?


From The Archives:

71 thoughts on “Writers Guild Announces Best Game Writing Nominations

  1. Jenx says:

    Welcome to capitalism my friend!

  2. Freykin says:

    My question is, where’s Dragon Age? I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy the game much and barely made it past the intro bit for my dwarf, but I can tell it was me personally not enjoying it, not that the writing was bad. From what I could tell it was quite good.

    I would potentially put the Batman: Arkham Asylum game up there, but since I have only watched a friend play a bit I have no idea if the writing holds up throughout. What I did see though was spot on and well done.

    As for the ones put up for voting on, I don’t get why the Wolverine one or Wet are up there, and I must be the only person who’s missed the boat on Call of Duty. Not a single one has ever grabbed my attention. I’m not really the target market though, as I mainly buy rpgs/strategy games, with Borderlands being a hybrid exception.

  3. modus0 says:

    I’ve played the Wolverine game, and while the writing isn’t as bad as IGN and Gamespot make it out to be (it’s better than the movie…), it isn’t what I’d consider award worthy.

  4. Yeah, Dragon Age should have beaten Wolverine there. I mean, seriously?

  5. mixmastermind says:

    Assassin’s Creed 2 did have some good writing, although the game veered pretty deep into Crazy Town by the end.

  6. Matt K says:

    Dragon Age is most likely not there because it’s writing team are not WGA members.

    Just a little background, video game writers do not need to be WGA members (same with reality shows and I believe animation). So to even be nominated a videogame’s writers must be WGA members and since few are, this award is even more pointless than it seems at first.

  7. ehlijen says:

    It’s the ‘We were told to give out these awards and if we give them to those guys maybe we’ll get out of having to do so ever again’ awards?

  8. O.G.N says:

    I thought gaming blogs chewed through this last year.

    As I recall, to be eligible the game must have a Writen by credit*, the writer(s) must be members of WGA**, and the script must be submitted to the WGA in the proper format before the deadline.

    In short, the vast majority of games were not eligible for this award.

    * So if the lead designer doubles as a writer: tough luck.

    ** Considering what the spouses of EA and Rock Star employees have told us this is not likely to be popular with some game companies.

  9. randy says:

    Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision)


    Why was this nominated?

    Bobby Fucking Kotick gave them a big fat check?.

    Otherwise, I can’t understand how anyone can nominate what looks like to be a script written by a 4 year old that just watched a couple of Michael Bay movies (and I’m being VERY generous here) as one of the Top 5 game stories for 2009. As it is, it would have problems entering in the top 5000. Not to mention the game is a complete POS.

  10. Matt K says:

    @O.G.N. That’s what I recalled above too.

    My best guess is the WGA is trying to get video game writers to join up and are using the awards to put pressure on them (especially since Publishers love awards).

    It seems the award started in 2007 right around the WGA strike. From what I remeber part of what they were trying to add to their contract was that reality shows, animation and video game writers had to be WGA members. That fell through so it seems this is another direction to accomplish the same goal.

    EDIT here is the list from 2007 and 2008 (winner is the first name)

    Dead Head Fred

    Crash of the Titans
    The Simpsons Game
    The Witcher
    World in Conflict


    Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

    Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
    Dangerous School Girls in Trouble!
    Tomb Raider: Underworld

  11. Vladius says:

    Sanity is too expensive in this economy. They hired teenagers to make the choices, or something.

  12. Sean says:

    EDIT: Matt K beat me to the punch on the theory. :)

    I’m speculating here, but I’m going to humor my conspiracy theorist side and guess that it may be a play by the WGA to get more clout in the video game industry. Hitting the big-budget games is a great way to get the attention of the big studios.

    Think about it – if a big title wins this, then the publisher is going to tout the crap out of it: “Our game is not only fun to play for ‘video game people’, but it also has great writing according to the WGA.” which advertises to a whole new audience. Other publishers are going to look on with envy, since lots of people are looking at how to grow the video game audience.

    The larger audience from winning means that more publishing houses may start requiring WGA members so that they can be eligible to compete next year. Thus, the WGA wins out, by getting a larger wedge in the door of the video game industry.

    Heck, maybe the WGA intentionally chose badly written games (I’ve not played any), to be a bit trollish. It sure got us talking about it and drawing attention to the award. I’m sure more than a few game writers are going “WTF? I wrote games better than that!” and maybe considering becoming WGA members.

    In the long run, maybe it’s good. If the big publishers start paying attention to the writing, I think it could be good for the industry overall.

    Still, I’m speculating, haven’t played any of the games, and know very little about the inner workings of the games industry. :)

  13. kikito says:

    VVVVVV has better writing than wolverine & wet.

    I’m serious.

  14. Griffin says:

    Perhaps it’s time to create an alternate version of the Goldun Riter award, such as “Enabling,” “Supporting,” or “Contributing” Goldun Riter, just for the chaps at the WGA.

  15. Zerotime says:

    Thomas Pynchon has never written anything that wasn’t a huge pile of unreadable crap, and yet he’s managed to win himself a damn mess of awards over the years.

  16. Robyrt says:

    These are likely the only 5 big-budget games whose lead writers were members of the WGA. The WGA is trying to become a player in the game world, and so it’s been handing out these ridiculous awards that never actually go to the best writing of the year, in the hopes that people will say, I want in on that writing award action!

  17. Stephen says:

    As others have pointed out, you don’t qualify if you’re not a member of the WGA and all of that. Further, my understanding is that to be eligible to join, your game company has to actually hire you as a writer. If your job title is Game Designer, you’re not eligible to join the WGA, even if the vast majority of what you do for your company is write.

    Sean has the right of it, from the rumors I’ve heard. The WGA is trying to move into the video game industry, and is going to make a series of moves such as this for publicity to increase its membership. This would be all well and good, save for not letting you in if you do any kind of systems or programming stuff as reflected in a job title that’s not strictly Writer.

    As others have pointed out, though, the lack of Dragon Age is a bit strange, as I’m pretty sure Bioware has a pretty firm distinction between Writer and Game Designer, and hires a lot of writers. Maybe they weren’t eligible as it came out of their Canada branch?

  18. WCG says:

    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?

    Yeah, that one. :)

    Seriously, that’s a great line in an interesting post.

  19. lazlo says:

    I do think there’s an interesting difference between game criticism and other forms, in relation to the requirements.

    If you want to be a critic of literature, you need two things: First, you must be literate, and second, you must have a few hours to spare. Maybe a few days, depending on the book. Beyond those two things, your skill is purely a function of how good you are at critiquing the book. If you want to be a critic of film, then that literacy requirement goes out the window, and the time required is cut down to about 2 hours. The only requirements are really that you have access to a theater and $10 (or $50 if you want popcorn and a drink)

    Now, if you want to review a game, you need the hardware to be able to play it, the game itself, a reasonably large chunk of time, and most importantly, the ability to get through the damn thing. I’ve seldom if ever seen a game that can be completed in 2 hours, and few that you can go through thoroughly in the time it takes to read a good book (note that reading a bad book often takes much longer, as does playing some kinds of bad game). But if you give a really good writer, someone who’s very good at critiquing film and literature, a copy of a game and a few hours to play it, chances are reasonably good that the review will be something along the lines of “The opening cutscene was excellent, the introduction and tutorial were somewhat bland, and then the part where I got shot and died became a bit repetitive after the first few dozen times. That’s as far as I got.”

    So, the solutions are: 1) finding the rare gems (such as yourself) who are both good at reviewing plot and story, and can actually play through and have a chance at reviewing the endgame, 2) have reviewers use cheat codes to walk through the game, which somehow seems sub-optimal (and also requires the existence of said cheat codes), or 3) have a team composed of a reasonably experienced gamer who can review the gameplay plus a plot and story critic who can review the story by watching the gamer play. That’s probably the best solution, but it requires each half to acknowledge that they suck at the other half, and there’s usually too much ego involved to admit shortcomings like not being able to critique a plot or play a game.

  20. Axle says:

    It’s just another thing they can place next to their IGN 9.6 score….
    Anywho… It just shows that people don’t treat the context of a video game too seriously, so there is no hope for people who want to see better writing in games. Video games are still far inferiour than movies as a form of art and stroy telling.

    Regarding MW2 – The “writing” in this game is just an excuse to put “cool things” in the game, like a ruind Washington DC, a terrorist attack in an airport, running on the roofs of Rio and more things.
    But a coherent plot that makes some sense?
    Not in this game.

  21. Derek says:

    So, what would your votes be? Champions Online for one, presumably.

  22. Jattenalle says:

    It’s pretty much the same as when games win awards for “best gameplay” or “best game of 20xx” even though they’re not even out yet and the judges have nothing to go on but hype and advertisements.

    It’s just sad, and anyone with an average or above IQ should be offended by how stupid these people think we are.

    Compounded by the problem of only “big titles” ever making these lists. From time to time we see the rare indie game, but they’re still massive games with a metric shitload of exposure. I really don’t care if MW2 has “teh bestest stori lol!!1one”

  23. -F. says:

    I haven’t played any of the nominated titles, so I really don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Still, I want to say something:

    Writing does not equal Story.

    Example: Neil Gaiman is a great writer. Still, each of his stories is either Slighty Weird Boy With Sucking Life Stumbles Into Weird And Dangerous World And Comes Out Better or Jungle Book In Different Setting. The stories are not very original or good. It’s the characters that play in it, the world in which they live and the way the stories are told that makes them great.

    Other example: Your own Free Radical. The story is you classic sci-fi survival horror with a sentient crazy computer motherbrain. Not very original, not world-shocking, but written in a captivating style that caused me to read it multiple times.

  24. Eruanno says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHA, Megan Fox as best actress in Transformers 2! OH-HO-HO that’s a good one! Hoo-hoo! My, oh, my. And, and… and…
    …Oh dear. Oh dear fucking god. Who is that as best female performance? OH DEAR GOD HELP US

  25. Mari says:

    It’s pretty apparent why the WGA is engaging in this farce as many have discussed above me. What may be escaping attention is why the publishers are playing along. Helpful hint: Read the little half-sentence “review” blurbs on rereleases and “special editions” of games. See, now when Wet issues their “Gold Edition Collection” they can stamp on the jacket “Winner of the WGA Video Game Writer’s Award.” And “pretentious snots” who value story above silly graphical bling will be more likely to pick it up. It doesn’t really matter if those same people throw it across the room an hour later and then pick it up and run it through the shred-o-matic. Point is, they’ve already paid for it.

    See, this is actually sinister if you think about it. Because submission for the awards is voluntary you’ve got the big name publishers using awards like this to fuel their corporate ad machine and sell more games which enables them to make even worse games.

  26. Lalaland says:

    I had a long post but then I read O.G.N’s post and now I know it’s a competition for club members for most of whom videogame writing is seen as the equivalent of “Reader’s Wives” letters. Their naked expansionism is ultimately self defeating.
    Given the obvious uselessness of these awards/nominations as a guide to the quality of the writing involved do they even offer anything to the WGA members as a whole? If I was a member of the WGA I’d be pissed at this. It means that if tomorrow I rock up to an interview with EA (or a pitch for that movie I’ve been waiting to get made) and mention I was nominated for the WGA Best Game Writing Award the only justified response would be “Did you write ‘Dangerous School Girls in Trouble!’?” and a hearty laugh.
    If my union is giving out awards I want them to promote my industry rather than dilute the value of the brand as a whole. This class of hucksterism devaules all involved, awards, the WGA and most damning of all writing. If ‘Dangerous School Girls in Trouble!’ represented a high point for videogame writing in this past century then I apologise but otherwise I’d be asking my union rep “WTF?”.

  27. Factoid says:

    The writing in MW2 was actually pretty good. I must say, though I’m probably blind because I don’t remember seeing a crashed air force one in the game.

    More than good writing, though, I think that game had great ambiance in the US levels. The idea of fighting a war on our home soil was pretty powerful. Defending a taco bell and an applebees as strategic military objects was brilliant, and the music during the DC level was amazing.

    BEST writing? No, not really…but still good.

    AC2 had very good writing…though whoever did the model design on Kristen Bell’s character needs to be taken out back and shot. The model in AC1 was a dead ringer and very attractive. In AC2 she looks like she’s got a mild case of Down’s Syndrome.

    I haven’t played Uncharted 2 yet, but I’m almost done with Uncharted 1, and I’m surprised at how good it is. Very Indiana Jones, but not in a cliched way. The Elena character is particularly good and even though under-used, Eddy Raja had great bad guy banter. So if the sequel is as good as this (and most say it’s better) it definitely deserves a nod.

  28. midget0nstilts says:

    Yes, indeed. It is truly fortuitous our betters at the Writers Guild of America have deigned to enlighten us boors to the depth of sublimity of such masterpieces engendered by human ingenuity and creativity as X-Men Origins and Call of Duty!

    Fortuitous indeed that these worthy artisans are elevated to their rightful places alongside Vivaldi, Botticelli and Strauss!

    I know not which of these videogames will be selected for the hallowed halls of the WGA, but surely the winner will be regarded for centuries to come as a national–nay!–global treasure and cultural touchstone!

  29. ccesarano says:

    I’m not sure if I would include Batman: Arkham Asylum or not since part of my love for it comes from my love of the original animated series. Still, the team of writers have that definitive Batman feel. The story was very comic-book level, but the dialogue and tapes you found were excellent.

    In fact, now that I think about it, considering we’re discussing VIDEO GAME writing, which is more than just linear plots but also side quests and options, then yes, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great contender.

    Dragon Age has various powerful emotional scenes. I mean, if you play a female character Alistair falls in love with and then “betray” him, it’s a pretty powerful scene. I’d definitely give the award to Bioware because the writing was top notch.

    Assassin’s Creed 2 has a latter-season of X-Files level of plot, and sometimes it feels pretty out-there, but it was definitely competent. Modern Warfare 2 had memorable moments and excellent atmosphere, but it’s story is a train wreck. Definitely not the best. As for Uncharted 2…can’t comment, haven’t played it, but I’m getting sick of Nolan North fast (seriously, my interest in Dark Void dropped significantly upon hearing his voice in the demo).

  30. Robyrt says:

    Ron Paul appears to be on a crusade against the modern-day Templars and their shadow control of government and financial institutions.

    There is only one logical conclusion: He works for the Assassins, like his father before him. Hidden blade is optional.

  31. UtopiaV1 says:


    Holy. Shit.

    She actually was voted best female voice actor for her shit in the Transformers game. Now I finally have proof that people have NO taste.

  32. Hawk says:

    Yep, this is an award intended to creat and reward self-licking ice cream cones, no mistake.

    On MW2 (which I just played start-to-finish over the weekend), it has some great visuals and premise let down by shoddy scripting and execution. Some of the idividual missions are great (snowmobile racing anyone? Fighting through the Oval Office?), paricularly for the individual shooter experience. But some …. Take the “Defense of Taco Bell and Liberation of Burger King” level. Great shooter fun … but what idiot designed the “attack the enemy across the street at the diner! No, now at the gas station back across the street, no, now back across the street at the diner!”

    It is the character swap back and forth that really frustrates me, though. You’d have a great game with fair story playing as either one of the characters, but the whoel back-and-forth thing really confuses what is going on, to the point that I just turned off and killed things. But maybe that was the point.

  33. Thirith says:

    I’d second what -F says. Writing != story. Writing is much more about *how* a story is conveyed than about any inherent quality of the story itself (and I’d argue that talking about how good a story is must take into account how it’s written – I can barely imagine what a great but badly written story would look like).

    However, even if you keep this distinction in mind several of the nominations seem nonsensical, to say the least.

  34. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Writing =/= Story.

    That said, MadWorld had some incredible writing; this is the first game I’ve played in 10 years that had running in-game commentary I actually enjoyed listening to.

    Anyway, yeah, this is why I tend to ignore the WGA’s awards for anything; they’re pandering to whoever’s got the biggest check, not whoever’s got the best writing.

    I’ll stick with the blogs and personal top tens, those tend to be more honest with who is and isn’t deserving of awards.

  35. Teldurn says:

    Out of all the games mentioned, Uncharted 2 is the only one I’ve played*. Though I haven’t played the other games, all the rumors and chatter I’ve heard and read about the other games on the list seems to ring true: They don’t deserve to be on the list.

    I think it’s the only one worth the nod. The writing is fantastic, IMO. The story itself is tame [Treasure hunter goes after an artifact For The Last Time]. But the writing was very well done.

    *Still haven’t completed it, but got through about 20 out of a total 26 chapters.

  36. Zack says:

    I think it is clear what it says. if you want a game with great writing you hire talented game designers and don’t use the WGA. I mean look at the tripe that they throw out in movies!

    Honestly, I haven’t watched a film or TV show in years now and a lot of it is the sub-moronic level of writing. I find better produced independent films on Hulu, YouTube, and coming out of foreign nations these days.

    I don’t think it is necessarily the writers fault but their willingness to associate their name with such aweful games really shows this is a money grab and that actual writing doesn’t matter one bit to the WGA. They just want their due paying members to have more work.

    Hey WGA, maybe you should let in talented dame developers rather than drag your name though the gutter! But that would not allow you to drive developers out of jobs and get you due paying member work in a field they are under-qualified to write for!

    Whattta joke. Makes you wish there were non-WGA stickers on games to distinguish the better stories. *sigh*

  37. Eric says:

    I think the stipulation that the writer can’t also be the game designer is both good and bad. Forcing the separation will most likely improve the overall quality of games, but it’ll shoot game designers who are also good writers (Chris Avellone, Ken Levine, Johnathan Blow, Amy Hennig) in the foot when they try to have more control over the property.

    Overall, I’m on the fence with this and tipping into the “Why do we need another damn award?” category.

  38. midget0nstilts says:

    Regarding this writing/story thing:

    I don’t know how it works in videogames, but here’s how it works in TV. Starting at the top we have the executive producer, who is in charge of managing the show (casting, funding, etc.). Executive producers are also usually head writers. Directors are primarily responsible for visually conveying the story, as written by the writers. As for the writers, you’ll have a head writer, as well as some plain old writers. The head writer is responsible for setting the tone, story, etc. of the series and has veto powers over subordinate writers, if their writing doesn’t match his vision.

    I suspect it’s usually much the same way in videogames, i.e. the game designer is usually the head writer. This doesn’t preclude them from being considered writers in the eyes of the WGA, just as executive producers can be.

    So you can think of it like this: it’s the writers’ responsibility to make a good story. How they write is not nearly as important as the actual story. I mean, any schmuck like you or me can write with good prose, grammar and spelling, along with a capturing a character’s particular style, but how many of us can write a good story?

    EDIT: I just saw in the comments that the writer(s), in fact, can NOT also be the game designer. Still, my main point still stands.

  39. Thirith says:

    I mean, any schmuck like you or me can write with good prose, grammar and spelling, along with a capturing a character's particular style, but how many of us can write a good story?

    Writing well isn’t something that “any schmuck” can just do, at least not with lots of practice and constructive criticism. Capturing a character’s style is also very difficult, unless you want to go for hackneyed stereotypes.

  40. Bored says:


    Every story has been done to death. There are only so many possible stories, if by “story” you mean what can be summed up in one to five sentences. All good writing these days is in the details of style, character, dialogue, or the use of themes, mood, setting and such.

    Since in video games it’s very difficult to do any of these things (since most of the story is not told with words, but the camera or through dialogue), evaluating writing in a game is a messy process. But I like the way Shamus does it–by focussing on where the game uses actual words, instead of inferring the story from the way the camera or player reveals events in the world to make a story.

    In my favourite games, most of the time I’m making up the story by deciding what to do — the more freedom, the better. OF course there’s usually the “main quest”.

    BTW, Dragon Age has mediocre writing, at least as far in as I got. But I judge all writing (books, games, movies) on the same playing field. Games always have abysmal writing compared to the best of books and movies. Games are still a juvenile art form (if you go by the big money makers).

  41. midget0nstilts says:


    Hmm… perhaps you’re right. I am (so I’m told) fairly good at writing, be it letters, academic papers or well-wishes on a birthday card, at least when I want to be. I had always assumed that it’s simply because I am not part of this new writing that seems to have emerged from the ADD text messaging masses and that someone with half a brain could write at least as well as me.

    Still, I am by no means a great story-maker. Story-teller, maybe, but story-maker, no. I’m not really a creative person, and most of the things I write are of a technical or scientific nature. As far as that goes, I see good writing as simply part and parcel of a good paper. It doesn’t matter how well you write, if your science is crap, so is your paper. Nobody gets the Nobel Chemistry Prize for being a wordsmith. I think that good writing isn’t something that should be praised for someone whose job is to write, then, but rather the actual message they’re trying to convey is what should be praised.

  42. LintMan says:

    -F wrote: “Example: Neil Gaiman is a great writer. Still, each of his stories is either Slighty Weird Boy With Sucking Life Stumbles Into Weird And Dangerous World And Comes Out Better or Jungle Book In Different Setting. The stories are not very original or good. It's the characters that play in it, the world in which they live and the way the stories are told that makes them great.”

    That’s pretty broad characterization, and I’m still not sure stuff like American Gods or Anansi Boys falls under it. And I don’t think Gaiman’s stuff like Bad Omens or the Sandman series falls under that at all.

  43. krellen says:

    All awards for all media is full of tripe like this. Why should we expect video game awards to be held to a higher standard?

  44. DTor says:

    The only game on this list I’ve played is Modern Warfare 2. I think the plot is totally absurd, like a cross between Michael Bay and Team America. On the other hand, I totally agree with -F: “Writing does not equal story.”
    I imagine that plot came second to level design when they were developing this game. It seems like a lot of the individual levels started with “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and were strung together into a story later.
    The writers managed to infuse this mess with compelling characters and believable dialogue. The characters go through some bizarre situations, but they react to those situations like real people with human emotions.
    So, I wouldn’t be too outraged if MW2 won an award for writing.

  45. Zombie Pete says:

    Just to clear this point up: You don’t have to be a full WGA member to be nominated, just a member of the video game writers’ caucus, and the only prerequisite for membership in that sub-group is — you guessed it — having written a video game. You can join after the game is released, but before the deadline for entries, and it’s all good. The publisher has to enter the game, and I can’t see a reason why they wouldn’t (it’s free publicity if you get nominated). At the moment, there’s no benefit to being a WGA member for video games in terms of compensation (so the companies aren’t losing money because of it), but clearly the WGA is looking to change that in the future.

    As for Dragon Age, it was released on November 3rd, and I believe the cutoff for the nominations was November 1st. So, look for it next year?

    Still, a couple of these nominees leave you scratching your head.

  46. LK says:

    I too find it a bit backwards that the WGA would hand out nominations to writing that even the tired old prostitutes that are IGN and Gamespot turn their noses up at.

  47. nilus says:

    The problem is the WGA doesn’t have anything videogame writers want. Like SAG most writers only join because they have to and because they get insurance out of the deal. Most video game writers are getting insurance through there company like normal employees and don’t see the need to pay dues to a union that doesn’t have any real power to protect them.

  48. James Pope says:

    I actually don’t see this as a bad thing in the long run. I think having WGA representation and unionization in the game industry might be a pretty good thing – long term. If you started having a few games start to come out that were actually competing for writing awards, then maybe there’d be less for Shamus to do as regards things like Champions Online. Maybe we’d get better writers coming on board for games in general, because it would be seen as a way to get writing credits and awards? Hell, maybe there’d be writers shopping scripts to game companies seriously, instead of or long the side of game designers. Less Michael Bay and more Scorsese? I dunno. I don’t even know if that would be as entertaining in terms of a successful game.

    All I know is that there an awful lot of badly written games. Almost anything that could possibly change that, from WGA awards to teams of tortured monkeys strapped to typewriters sounds like a good idea when you start pegging an eye at all the bad games out there that could be made better.*

    *To be fair: Actual movies and television could often benefit from real writers too.

  49. Daniel says:

    The flip side of this, in terms of long-run consequences, is that people who pick up a game like Wolverine and see that it has been nominated by the WGA may come away thinking that it really does represent the best writing in video games. If nonsense like that gets awards, someone who picks up that nonsense of the shelf at Wal-Mart or wherever might conclude that most other games are even *worse*.

  50. midget0nstilts says:

    I did some looking around, but I couldn’t find what sort criteria they judge the scripts on. Does anyone have the inside scoop?

  51. ehlijen says:

    To those talking about MW2: I’m drawing blanks on the levels you describe? Is that the original, ghost bears legacy or mercs?

    The world of computer games gets confusing for us old people when acronyms get reused like that :p

  52. Carra says:

    I’d say there are two genres that are heavily dependant on story: adventures & rpgs. Neither of these are represented (Dragon Age).

  53. Cody says:

    I’m just going to say this, an almost verbatim recreation of some of the writing in COD MW2:

    “You don’t know what it cost to put you next to this guy. It cost nothing compared to the lives you will save. It will cost you a piece of yourself.”

    That is all.

  54. Nickless says:

    My faith in contemporary writers has just plummeted sharply

  55. SoldierHawk says:

    I’m…speechless. As a complete and utter lover of literature and good writing, this really makes me…very sad. All I can say is, I really hope Uncharted pulls out the victory. Any of those other contenders winning would just be nauseating.

  56. Amarsir says:

    The WGA is a union. Expecting them to have a priority other than self-promotion is just unrealistic.

  57. TechPriest says:

    I can’t remember hating a plot for any game more than I did for MW2. It was utterly senseless and incoherent, and it REALLY makes me hope this is the end of the Modern Warfare line and the COD franchise returns to WWII. Either that or goes console only so I’ll never be tempted to play it. I’d take the plot of Serious Sam over this drivel. It’s a shame, because I really enjoyed the individual missions, and I think that by dispensing the plot entirely and treating the missions as the separate, self-contained experiences they were clearly meant to be, the game as a while would have been much more enjoyable. I’m not asking for Half Life here. Just elevate the quality of writing to that of, say, Pac Man, and I’ll be happy.

  58. Lord of Rapture says:

    @Vladius, 11:

    I take offense to that. Not even my teenage would nominate any of those games for best writing award.

  59. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Since so many people have commented upon it already I’m not going to dwell upon the fact that this obvious farce is there to just tie the big-budget gaming industry to the same backpatting reality that the movie industry already follows (the “I’ll give you something to glue to the cover and brag about, you keep my existence justified” kind). I’m also going to skip the rant about how “controversial doesn’t mean good”.

    What I want to mention is, and some people have already hinted at it in the comments above, that computer game writing is something completely different than movie or book writing. Because identification, immersion and especially participation work on a completely different level in gaming than they do in other media the literary dynamics are also different. Sure, some of the good/bad writing rules stand but I wouldn’t be surprised if those people didn’t actually play the games as much as read the script (and I’m giving them the privilege of doubt and assuming they read anything they judge at all) or watched gameplay videos in which case the writing comes out as something completely different than what the player experiences. As much as I’m with Shamus here that I enjoy good writing in games I have to admit that I’m much more forgiving than I am in case of books.

    And don’t even get me started on games that offer the players a choice of plots. I mean, look at most RPGs made by Bioware, again when writing a book or movie you have to account for only one plot, when writing for a game you have to account for, say, the protagonist being a famous goodie_two_shoes as well as a powerhungry bastard, and your writing still has to make sense, be climatic and account for both cases. I can take the argument that the people doing the plot structure and writing can be different people but this still is a quality that should be taken into consideration.

    To summarize, I do realise that this is just another moneygrab between the industries, what annoys me is that it’s again the case of someone not taking into accounts the features of a new medium and just blindly translating the old solutions. And to top it off the backpatting will just make it so that the literary level of games will be judged by the titles that get these silly awards, because you know, if they were nominated they’re obviously the best that the industry has to offer. Bah!

  60. Nalano says:

    I honestly do not see how the WGA stands to benefit from this.

    – Increased publicity? They’re associating WGA writers with bad writing. How is that going to help them? “Yeah, our craft sucks, but we’re a cabal now, and you’d better get with the program.” Doesn’t that… stifle creativity and talent?

    – Ironically shaming the industry? There are folks out there who think Colbert is a real conservative. There are folks out there who were duped by Borat. If this is an inside joke it’s backfiring tremendously.

    – Edging into the industry? Playing Kingmaker only works if they’re not already kings. It’s as if they aspire to be the Academy Awards – complete with obvious political favoritism – except nobody in the industry actually cares.

    If I were them, I’d forget the pool of WGA-only games and do the inclusive route: Pick the actual top five games in terms of writing quality from 2009 and then lobby to get their writers into the guild. Shit, that might actually make sense.

    Seriously: If their top pick is a Dan Brown potboiler in the form of ACII and the likelihood of their actually picking that is less than total, then nobody in their right mind is going to confuse this as anything less than a shameful, farcical grab at money and attention.

  61. Smejki says:

    not surprised. since fallout 3 (bethesda again) was nominated last year (it even won if i remember correctly), it its clear that there is something stinking in that kingdom.

  62. acronix says:

    Fallout 3 was nominated last year? The one that was, acording to Pete Hines himself, written by a monkey with a type-writer?
    What other proof do we need to know that this awards are more fishy than sardina?

  63. felblood says:

    This is all a ploy to get more writers hired by game companies.

    As a person who feels that large team of WGA style, dedicated writers would make badly written games, compared to a small team of writers, who works with each of the level designers.

    I suspect the winner will be whichever game has the word “writer” in the credits more, in order to promote the idea that “more writers”=”more gooder”.

    Bollocks, I say!

  64. Redwin says:

    FYI, the IGN review is in error about Air Force One being in the game. The crashed air craft they refer to is a plain green cargo plane with an Air Force marking. It looks nothing whatsoever like Air Force One, and is just part of the scenery in that level (a war torn US neighborhood).

    I recall reading that review when the game was released, and being annoyed at the mistake… it kind of makes you feel like the reviewer didn’t pay very close attention to the game he was supposedly reviewing.

    That being said, I agree the story of MW2 was horribly lacking for a slew of other reasons. I played through it twice and still couldn’t tell you why exactly everyone who switched sides did what they did when they did or how all the disparate settings are supposed to hang together.

  65. Taellosse says:

    Perhaps these are the only games that were published in the last year that fulfilled the requirements for nomination? As others have said already, only games written by WGA members, credited as such, and submitted in the correct format could be. I would sort of guess that makes the possible pool fairly small.

    I’ve only actually played Assassin’s Creed 2 out of that list. Lacking a PS3, I’ve not played either Uncharted game, though I hear they’re well-written (and the story direction was handled by one of my industry favorites, Amy Hennig, who headed up the Legacy of Kain series at Crystal Dynamics before leaving for Naughty Dog). I’ve heard little good about most of the rest, story-wise. If I cared, I’d say AC2 should win, though I wouldn’t be upset if Uncharted 2 won–or, rather, I wouldn’t be if I cared about this at all. That this is the 3rd year of this award category and I’d never heard about it before tells me I care about it very little.

  66. Cuthalion says:

    @Thirith 33: I'd argue that talking about how good a story is must take into account how it's written ““ I can barely imagine what a great but badly written story would look like.

    Read anything by Ted Dekker.

  67. Bryan says:

    I just hope this doesn’t encourage other game designers to write c#@p instead of a good story.

  68. Nick says:

    Apparently one of the writers of Dragon Age is in the WGA: Jennifer Brandes Hepler, I would post URLs, but the comment system won’t accept the comment if I do.

  69. Max says:

    The first commenter said “Welcome to Capitalism”. Actually, Capitalism gets you a lot of horrid stuff that is bought by the Masses, but it also gives you the possibility to do stuff like “Garden State”, “Stranger than Fiction”, “21 Grams”, “V for VEndetta”, “The Fountain”, “Stalker”. Let’s see what Soviet Russia has to show for its cinema? Nada.
    Even countries like India started producing great cinema (or at least different movies), when it became more capitalistic.

    Yes, you get a lot of crap, but you also get beauty, you just have to dig for it. That is actually a good analogy to the internet =)

  70. Dasick says:

    Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft)

    This nomination makes sense. Haven't played it myself, but people seem to dig the story.

    Considering your recent Let’s Play Series, this has made me laugh a bit.

    Your belief that the “soviet Russian” cinema has nothing to show for itself is incorrect. As far as I know, “THE West” is (for the most part) merely ignoring every single form of entertainment that comes from the “motherland”, including film, literature, music and video games. STALKER*, Day/Night Watch, War and Peace are all very rare examples of the west getting a glimpse of what the Ruskies have to offer (and not the cherry picking best, but an assortment of different quality levels, IMHO).

    I don’t mean to say that communism is better than capitalism (nor am I saying anything contrary to that), but (you can probably tell) it really rubs me the wrong way when I see the way the world sees Russian media; either as an over exaggerated cartoon or having nothing noteworthy.

    *as far as I know, this was made by a Ukrainian studio, but in most people’s minds there is no difference.

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