Fantasy Video Games – Distraction or Inspiration?

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

One of the most important – and difficult – tasks is to make writing a priority.  There are so many other things in life that can distract you from your work, including family and career responsibilities.

On November 11, a new distraction arrived on my doorstep: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  I’ve been waiting for this game with almost painful anticipation, and thus far it delivers.  It’s intelligent, immersive, gorgeous and highly addictive.  And yes, I fully expect it to suck up a massive amount of my free time.  But is that really a problem?

A Source of Inspiration

While writing is a pleasure, it’s also work.  I can only write for so long before fatigue sets in.  For me, relaxation time is necessary for my writing to stay fresh and vibrant.  I have no deadlines to meet, so there is no need to push myself hard.

I find fantasy video games to be a great source of inspiration for my own writing.  If I’m wrestling with a case of writer’s block, living out another author’s story in an interactive world opens my mind to possibilities.  Sometimes I encounter clever ideas which prompt me to consider new angles.  On other occasions, the stress release of slaying a few orcs helps me to regain my creative drive.

While I’ve played my share of fantasy games, three in particular have impacted my writing the most:

  • Baldur’s Gate – Although primitive by today’s standards, the original Baldur’s Gate still boasts an engrossing, branching storyline.  I found the experience of exploring a massive fantasy city (the titular Baldur’s Gate) to be unexpectedly rewarding.  Consequently, I introduced a massive city of my own into my novel.
  • Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – I found the primary storyline of Oblivion to be dull.  The main quest became repetitive, and I never could bring myself to complete it.  I simply hated closing those damn oblivion gates.  Still, the guild quests were terrific, and I found myself loving every minute spent exploring the forests.  It’s in part due to Oblivion that a labyrinthine enchanted forest plays a central role in my most recent work.
  • Dragon Age: Origins – While it lacks the open world expansiveness of Oblivion, Dragon Age makes up for it with a memorable story and likeable characters.  The Grey Warden’s quest to unite Ferelden against the coming blight is epic in scope, and yet surprisingly personal.  I played through this game twice while working on my latest writing project, and I can see how it influenced the development of my characters.

Your Pespective

So for me, a well-crafted fantasy game can be a tool for rejuvenating my creativity.  What about for you?

Do you find fantasy video games to be primarily a distraction, or are they a source of inspiration?  If so, which games have inspired you the most?

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Cf welburn
3 years ago

I too am torn. They inspire to be sure, yet by their very nature, distract. Just in the way myriad tv series do these days… This thread preceeds the ‘game-changer’ that was the witcher 3, a game where the writing was good enough to make each side quest rewarding, not simply filler. I also like the elder scrolls, dragon age/ mass effect and dark souls universes. Of course gaming for me goes way back to when I first played the secret of monkey island which blew me away as a kid. Old games may look so basic now, but maybe it forced us older gamers to make leaps with our imaginations instead of having the picture too vividly painted for us… Either way, striking a balance is key. Word of warning: avoid at all costs the new fangled freemium ‘endless’ games, which are essentially bottomless pits of degradation.

Wendy Christopher
Wendy Christopher
4 years ago

Thank god – another writer who doesn’t believe fantasy video games are the devil’s tool and should be shunned by all ‘serious’ writers! I have loved them forever, but the ones that have influenced me most are Planescape: Torment, Final Fantasy VII and Morrowind. All three have deep, emotional stories (to this day, Final Fantasy VII remains the only videogame that actually made me cry on three separate occasions.) Of course the graphics look ropey as heck these days, but their emotional impact hasn’t lessened at all. I would recommend all three in a heartbeat.

Keith
Keith
8 years ago

Video games can render people immune to entertainment that doesn’t require them to sit on the edges of their seats and get thrill after thrill. While they may inspire, they can also distract their players from really important things in life.

Darlene3000
Darlene3000
8 years ago

Getting all involved in playing video games would definitely take me away from my writing. My mind needs to focus on the task at hand, and once I get into the mind of a character, I need to stay in that frame of mind. 

Rivyenphx
Rivyenphx
8 years ago

I have to say that I am torn in my opinion whether video games are a help or a hinderance to writing… or at least the writing lifestyle.  I confess that I am an avid gamer; bound to Guild Wars, World of Warcraft and the Elder Scroll games for Xbox 360.  I have also been a long time roleplay gamer since my early 20s.  All of these I have spent many an hour finding inspirational themes and encounters and great entertainment.  And now in my early 40s, I find that I have barely written anything and barely fulfilled any of my own dreams of fantasy writing!!  Thus, I have a love/hate relationship going here and I agree with Lawrence above that a delicate balance has to be made and walked and a focus on what you will make you truly happy… Wow, I sounded just like my dad there!  I am getting so damn old!!!

Jason Bryden
9 years ago

Morrowind was my inspiration when I was 13 years old. Haven’t looked back since, and since I finished my first draft a month or so ago, my “break” has been in Skyrim.

Stephen FitzMaurice
9 years ago

I started reading this article, but then I found myself playing Skyrim some more. Nice website by the way – I enjoy the articles.

Phil the Drill
Phil the Drill
9 years ago

Awesome article!  I find personally that some RPGs sort of serve the same purpose as reading books.  If you are reading a lot and getting tons of story, it’s about the same as reading, which most writers will say, is his or her main source of inspiration.  I think any new media that helps people read can be a good thing.  Personally, I like more open-ended games such as the Elder Scrolls games or Fallout, in which you can travel around and guide your own destiny.  Sometimes I’ve even included characters I’ve created in games in some of my stories.  So I think it’s a good way to not only get future ideas but also the perfect way to unwind in between writing sessions.

Monshala
Monshala
Reply to  Phil the Drill
9 years ago

I absolutely enjoy a good fantasy, FPS game any day, but yes, they become a distraction after awhile.  A good game submerses you into it.  The plot, the characters and the overall concept leaves you wanting nothing more than to finish a level, and “level up”.  When it comes to writing, games can be a source of inspiration, and as people who think creatively, we’ll take creative juices however they come.  I tend to not play a game or read a book that closely resemble the idea of what I’m writing simply because I don’t want to be too influenced.  I like my ideas to be as fresh as possible I guess, but then again all things come from something else, right…just tweaked or whatever.  So, I’m on the fence arguing that yes, grab the inspiration if you can, but understand that video games keep you from your overall goal, which is finishing your book.

John Garlick
John Garlick
9 years ago

I find video games to be both inspiring and stress relieving. I also partake in table-top gaming, such as White Wolf, D&D, and Shadowrun, which I feel can serve a similar purpose. 

For sheet epic-osity, I think Morrowind and  Baldur’s Gate II (including Throne of Baal), should be considered.  They both contain sprawling worlds, excellent story-lines, and memorable characters.  Although I think there may be a degree of danger to allowing these things to overtake your lives, I have run in to the same problem with books.  However, I find myself admiring the beautiful scenery painted in some of these games and wanting to incorporate more detail into my writing and story telling (but not as much as your mention in your “5 Keys to Crap-tastic Writing” article).

I’m reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis about “sin,” in which he said that not everything that can lead to sin is sinful, but for “weaker” people, they should avoid these activities, while others should be free to explore or indulge in these things as long as they don’t become a problem.  Therefore, if video games are a distraction, avoid them…if they are inspiration, partake.  This may be obvious, but I feel worth noting. 

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  John Garlick
9 years ago

John,

Good point about video games being a problem for “weaker” people.

For me, I know that MMORPGs are where I must draw the line.  With a game like Skyrim, I can save my place at any time and walk away.  With an MMO, you can’t just leave your party mid-raid. 

If find them to be so addictive that I simply must stay away.  Otherwise my writing life (and other activities) will fall entirely by the wayside.

TwilightSanada
TwilightSanada
9 years ago

Well for me playing games does help with inspiration. I perfer Final Fantasy and Suikoden…..I also enjoy a game series Persona. I don’t see it was wasting time expecially if you are stuck or in a slump. Doing missions or killing bad guys helps a great deal. If I don’t feel like playing a video game and I’m stuck I watch my sister play, listen to music, watch movies, talk to friends that are writers as well, all sorts of things. My problem with writing doesn’t tend to be playing games instead of writing, its getting started and keep going. I am currently attempt NaNoWriMo this month and at this point it doesn’t look like I’ll meet the requirements at the end….but I’m gonna try.

Sarah M
9 years ago

Well, for some reason, I’ve never been interested in this kind of thing, so wasting time on it has never been a problem for me.

I can imagine that such games might be fun, even though I can’t really relate to them too well, but I believe that people who spent plenty of time sitting down, writing (and reading) might be better served with doing something that “grounds them in realitly” in between. For me, cooking, working in the garden, or taking walks all work quite well. 😉
If the rest of free time is used for something fantasy-related as well, I do see the danger of losing contact to reality (and suffer from a lack of physical exercise.)
But that’s just my opinion, everyone should do as they please.

lawrence
lawrence
9 years ago

Nice article 🙂 thanks. I played Lord of the Rings Online for a long while, but not during a period in my life when writing was a feature, so I did not tend to have that eye for the little bits of inspiration the game could have given. There are certainly many elements in the game that could do. It is now pretty huge after over five years expansion.

I think there is a danger that these highly addictive games will rob us of time. As writers who aspire to be published we need to devote ALOT of time into two things…writing (500 words a day is my current goal and I am not there yet) and reading other authors stories, one of the best ways to get insight into creative writing.

Many hours gaming is many hours not doing the above two things. However, as your article reveals Antonio, the gaming worlds and storylines themselves can provide ideas and material, so I guess we can trade off some of those hours we should be reading 🙂

hmmm…now what was my login password ??

ScrivK
ScrivK
7 years ago

It can be definitely be a distraction.  Particularly open word games like Skyrim – I dive into that and the next thing I know it’s dinner time!  But I’m with you in that they can also be a great break away from the work of writing.  A break that gives your mind a chance to focus on something else can be a real creative boost when you settle back in for another round of writing.

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