If I gave you a list of well-known movies, I bet that you’ll quickly identify what the theme of the movie is. For example, we know Indiana Jones is pulp, we completely “get” that Army of Darkness is a comedy, and we understand that X-Men III was supposed to be an action movie where Phoenix was…well…The Phoenix. Looking a bit deeper, we can tie specific elements of those creative properties to see secondary themes based on what the movie is about. For example, we know that Indiana Jones is about Indy playing “the hero,” to triumph over the forces of darkness.
Games, on the other hand, may not necessarily be that intuitive. If you think about what a game actually is, it’s really a set of rules that you either manipulate, avoid, or navigate through. In more times than I can count, the games I’ve been involved with have been designed to target as many audiences as possible. In other words, they are designed so that the player designs the theme so it fits with his (or her) style of play. You decide what kind of a game you want to play: action? mystery? political? With that layer of personal involvement, the theme in many games is really driven by the player not by the creator.
Writing game fiction to fit the theme of a game is very challenging because you have to understand not what falls within the boundaries of the theme, but what doesn’t. To get what I’m talking about here, let’s look at one of my favorite player vs. player video games: Soul Caliber III. Having played this game a hundred times or more I know in my deepest heart of health points, that this is an action game, an “I-can-release-some-stress-in-a-5-minute-death-match-fighting-game.” Now say that I want to write a story based on Sophitia, a character who guards a Greek temple and has a small sword and shield. I have the character’s backstory from different elements in the game, but is it enough? How am I going to write a story about a character so that it fits the Soul Caliber theme?