Finally back after a work-and-illness induced hiatus. I hope you’re all warm, cozy, and germ free.
Those of you that stop by here enough know I like video games. A lot. Some say too much,
but they don’t say that when I’m in my power armor but leisure time is important. It refreshes the creative juices, relieves stress, and can teach you new tricks, like the following writing lessons from the hit Ubisoft game, Watch_Dogs, that puts you in control of master hacker Aiden Pearce in a futuristic Chicago.
(For those of you who want to know, I played on the PS4, beat the DLC and ignored all online stuff.)
Tip 1: Everyone’s Got a Secret
This game is great for reminding you that everyone’s got a driving force behind them–some hidden detail others don’t know. That third grade teacher? Lost all her money gambling. The high-profile CEO? Attends furry conventions. The pimply barista from your local coffee shop? A classically trained violinist.
Point is, when crafting side characters, remember their depths. Don’t make it too interesting, like a car mechanic who happens to a world renowned chess master turned secret agent, but no one is without their intricacies.
Tip 2: Immersive Details
When it comes to world building, it’s easy to overlook how people beyond your character might use technology. That’s why I loved spying on people–the game allows you to see how other people are using ctOS, from monitoring their kids from work to generating new business. Of course, for Aiden and T-Bone, this world allows them to hack everything from pacemakers to lighthouses via an excessively inventive and over-connected series of devices. Next time you want to go big, ask yourself, “How would a (insert wacky career here) use this?”
Tip 3: Remember Who Your Characters Are
If your main protagonist is a genius, keep her that way. If he’s a smooth talker, he shouldn’t falter unless there’s a reason. If someone’s ultra-paranoid, remember that s/he won’t simply drop what they’re doing to trust someone and move the plot along.
Why do I say this? Genius super-hacker Aiden Pearce goes after paranoid recluse Raymond Kenny, instead meets a man named T-Bone, an ultra-shady dude in the back of a bar in the middle of nowhere, drinking heavily. As soon as the camera showed him, I was like, “That’s Kenny,” but Aiden–who in every other situation, knows more about any given person than God ever could–fumbles around, asks a bunch of dead end “Where’s Kenny?” style questions, gets thrown through a window, and then tasered. Only THEN does he conclude what was obvious to anyone with three brain cells, two eyes, and a basic understanding of shady dudes in bars.
Tip 4: Motives have Momentum
Aiden sets out to kill one or two people, and eventually winds up killing hundreds, practically leveling Chicago due to steam pipe explosions, blacks out the whole city, and then reveals the mayor once killed a woman and covered it up through the help of a notorious gang leader.
Everything has an impact, and that impact leads to fallout. Very rarely will you be able to do anything significant that doesn’t garner a whole lot of attention. There are local, city-wide, sometimes national figures who’ll turn their eyes toward your characters, whether they’re buying a house or blowing one up. I’ve seen way too many stories forget consequences, so don’t make those mistakes.
Tip 5: Stop Using Powerless Women to Advance the Narrative
I can’t stress this enough. There are only three women of note in the whole game, not counting Lena, who dies prior to the main events:
Yolanda, a therapist who threatens to call the cops on Aiden, as if that would matter considering the whole police force knows who he is by that point, and there’s nothing she can tell them that they don’t already know;
Nikki, his sister, who is kidnapped almost immediately and used as leverage throughout the game;
and Clara, another hacker, who feels guilty about being involved in Lena’s death and tries to offer her life in exchange for Nikki’s freedom–AFTER Aiden frees Nikki. Having no other way to make amends, Clara tries to put flowers on Lena’s grave and is immediately gunned down. Aiden spends all of five minutes regretting this, then moves along to the next shootout.
…C’mon people. Just… okay? One of these three is basically irrelevant to the story. The second was completely powerless (which could be fine, because sometimes that’s how life goes, and kidnapped people rarely have a means of fighting back), but it’s not okay, considering the ONLY OTHER WOMAN stands around, lets Aiden repeatedly yell at/manhandle her yet continues to work with him, and is ultimately killed in a move that feels like it was more convenience for the writers than genuine plot material.
If someone’s going to die in your stories–no matter their gender–give them a better reason then, “It was to make things right, since she wronged the man.”
It’s 2016. We’re better than that. Like I said, there are times when plots like this make sense, but MAKE THEM MAKE SENSE. Don’t do it because it’s simpler to have one less character.
All in all, though, I liked the game. It was a bit two-dimensional and felt like Assassin’s Creed with a magic cell phone, but still, it was pretty fun.
That wraps up my coverage of Watch_Dogs inspired writing tips. What do you think? Drop me a note below, and thanks for stopping by!