The first part of this interview talked specifically about the Sylvari race in Guild Wars 2 and what goes into constructing a fantasy world from scratch. The second and final part of our talk centred on the role of the writer as well as the role of games themselves. Last time, she discussed how creativity necessitated both thinking outside the box about culture and the provision thoughtful explanations for culture. Here, she articulates a vision that certainly inspired me, and speaks also to why I play and write about games.
What are you trying to accomplish with Guild Wars 2 and your role in it?
My role is to be one pixel among many other pixels all coming together to make as awesome a picture as possible. I write words that go into characters’ mouths, and those words affect the overall experience of the game. The writing team, however, delivers only a portion of the overall contribution. We are all pixels, each affecting the game experience in our own ways and blending into the gestalt of Guild Wars 2.
I want what all of us at ArenaNet wants: to produce a game that people love. That’s no small thing. But, there’s more. I also want Guild Wars 2 to be seen as the innovation that pulled gaming out of the Dark Ages. When future gamers look back on the Guild Wars 2 era, I want them to be able to say that this game changed how people play, how they interact with each other, and how all subsequent games approached game design. I want Guild Wars 2 to set an example and raise the bar so high that other game companies have to really stretch outside their comfort zone to awesome new levels of intelligent gaming. I want Guild Wars 2 to show people how damn much fun a living world like Tyria can be to explore, with all its quirky, evil, tragic, tender, and likeable characters.
What role do you feel video games play in our society, and how do you see the sylvari fitting into that at all?
That’s a big question, but I’m going to try to give a little answer. Video games are a vehicle, pure and simple, in the same way television, movies, and blogs are vehicles. They can deliver many things: entertainment, education, inanity, hate, love, joy, sadness, boredom, escape, etc. A video game is only as good as the people making it.
There are many game developers out there actively striving to make educational games. I’m a member at Gameful.org, and it’s an intellectual and forward-thinking group of game designers, all trying to use a video game vehicle to educate and get people thinking. It’s happening all over as video games gain credibility and become a viable medium for reaching the public.
Those of us on the ArenaNet writing team knew early on that we wanted our text and stories to build a cohesive and immersive world. The sylvari weren’t designed with a political or social agenda. We just wanted to make them an interesting race that behaved in line with their circumstance and nature, and we didn’t limit our creativity. We did our best, and hopefully, you will find the stories we tell in the world engaging.
Do you see your work as being potentially able to change the world?
If I didn’t, I’d be doing something else. Like everyone, I have my personal vision of how the world could improve. If, when I die, I have—even one teeny iota—impacted the world for the better, then my life was worth living. Whether that will come to pass—or not—remains to be seen.
At ArenaNet, I am part of a team working on an entertainment product that will change lives. People will meet, fall in love, and get married because of a game I helped create. Children will be born and named after characters I designed. People will choose their course of study and career because they’re inspired by this game. Friendships will bud and blossom. Who knows what other kind of magic will happen as a byproduct of this game’s existence. Who knows?
I am filled with awe by this, and I know, with complete and utter humility, that I have been blessed to be a small part of this grand project. I am proud to put my name on it.
Tell us a bit about the lore for the game, where people can find more information about it, and how important it is to ArenaNet as a whole.
The lore is partner to the mechanics. These two legs support the entire body of the game. Guild Wars 2 players don’t need to pay attention to the lore, however. Nor do they need to crunch mechanics. They’re both there to provide a range of gaming experience.
The three novels (third one coming soon) ( http://www.guildwars2.com/en/shop/ghosts-of-ascalon/) provide the most lore right now. The Guild Wars 2 Wiki (http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Main_Page), which is written and maintained by and for Guild Wars 2 players, is also beginning to fill up with lore info.
Furthermore, I’d encourage people to play through the original Guild Wars while waiting for GW2. We put a great deal of effort into creating a continuity between the two games, and you’ll find you recognize locations and names mentioned better if you’ve recently refreshed your memory of Guild Wars lore. It’s not necessary, of course, but it will enhance your experience.
Finally: what is the ethos of the writing staff? Can you describe what ArenaNet’s philosophy on storytelling is, if there is one?
We have a wise leader in Bobby Stein, and he sets the tone for our ethos. We are a good team, a strong team, and we have each others’ backs. We maintain a high level of professionalism and communicate with respect. Bobby gives us a great deal of freedom to handle our areas of responsibility. Oh, and we laugh a lot.
There is no spoken storytelling philosophy at ArenaNet other than to make everything as full of awesome as possible! And concise. The last thing we want to do is bog you down by adding in a bunch of superfluous verbiage—like that. That last sentence, in the game, becomes: “We don’t want to bog you down with words.” It’s clear and concise, and advances the story—unlike this interview, in which I’ve blathered on for some time now.
I’ll just add one more thing, and that’s a thank you to you, Katherine. I enjoyed mining my soul for the answers to your deep and thought-inducing questions.
And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Angel, both for the pizza, and for this conversation, which was anything but blathering!