Writing the Game

By Megan Hoins (PWRT ’19)

When I first arrived at Champlain, I had the rare luck of knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: write video games. I’m a senior now, and that goal remarkably hasn’t changed, even though I have discovered a love for screenwriting and poetry along the way.

There was only one class, then, that I wanted to take on my first day of freshman year, and now I’m finally getting the chance to take it: Interactive Storytelling. I was a bit worried walking into my first class since I’d been looking forward to this for four years, but I didn’t need to worry. Over the course of this first month, I’ve already learned a lot, and I’m starting to find that I really do love game writing.

Every week, our class focuses on a specific aspect of interactive storytelling, whether it’s the structure of stories, world-building, or character creation. We’ve also covered some of the more technical aspects of writing for games, including pitching ideas and deciding on a platform for an interactive story.

The thing I like the most about the class, though, is the atmosphere we’ve developed over the course of these first few weeks. Our professor, Skot, is an all-around chill guy who speaks very conversationally to all of us. The whole class is open-discussion most of the time, too, so we’re always welcome to share what we’re thinking about or what we’re intrigued by with the day’s current topic.

This is a really helpful atmosphere for me especially because I’m not always comfortable in classroom settings. I consider myself a social introvert, but, even now as a senior, I still struggle sometimes to participate in class and get involved in discussions. Even if I’m interested in what we’re talking about or have something I really want to say, it’s still hard for me to actually go for it. In Interactive Storytelling, though, I can honestly say that I’m the most comfortable I’ve been in any classroom. I’m always invested in what we’re talking about, and I feel like a real part of the conversation.

Sometimes our reliance on discussions means we get a bit off-track, but those tangential conversations usually have merit to them. During our last class, we started off talking about our world-building assignment from the previous week and ended up talking about how people can view a shared event differently and how stories can spawn from those differences.

The exercises we complete in class create a fun atmosphere, too. In our first class, we each picked an item from a bag and wrote a story about that object. I ended up picking an astronaut photo slide and wrote about an older woman with a failing memory who finds the photo and briefly remembers her experiences as an astronaut. All of the other objects and stories were just as diverse: one student picked a toy eyeball and wrote about a dystopian future where everyone is watched by eyeball creatures, while another student picked a Spiderman finger puppet and wrote about the rise and downfall of the next Spiderman.

Our most recent class was even more fun than that, as we paired off and had to pitch a currently-existing game in 30 seconds… without revealing the game’s title. My friend Jonathan and I pitched Overwatch by talking about the game’s unique multiplayer modes, while another pair pitched PUBG by yelling, “FORTNITE! Now that we have your attention…”

When I was applying to Montreal and planning on taking Interactive Storytelling, I thought I would regret not taking it sooner, maybe during my junior year, but I’m finding that that’s not the case. I’m happy to be taking it now, and I’ve found that waiting to take a class was a better choice than I thought. Taking a game writing course in the heart of the game industry has been a huge eye-opener, in that I’ve realized that this is truly what I want to do. Getting that reaffirmation during my senior year, when I’m about to go out into the “real world,” has helped quiet all my inevitable doubts about my future after college.

My goal from freshman year hasn’t changed, but my mindset about it has, and that’s made all the difference.