Monday, May 30, 2011


by Pam Smallcomb

As the mom of three boys, I know that getting a boy to read a book can sometimes be a challenge. Getting some boys to write, well, it might be easier to just go outside and move a mountain. I have found one topic that has never failed to excite interest when I talk to boys: gaming. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that most boys over the age of six are well versed in the gaming culture. They not only know the games out there, but are playing a good deal of them in their spare time.

So how can you translate this excitement for gaming into a writing experience, while limiting explosions, weaponry and other assorted violence?

How about having them design a game setting? Defining the setting as a stand-alone task has its advantages. It takes the narrator/character out of the writing (and the weapon temporarily out of his hands). By focusing the writing on describing the world of their imaginary game, they will learn the valuable skill of creating a story ‘bible.’ There are many appealing aspects to video games. Their scenes are richly landscaped. There are distinct cultures and hierarchies. Different realms operate by different rules. Just ask anyone who plays WOW (World of Warcraft, for the uninitiated).

Some questions to ask your students about their gaming environment could include:

Will there be any environmental obstacles that your characters will have to overcome?
What kind of lives do the different characters live (different professions, etc.)?
Do the characters live in different realms? What are they?
Are there any traditions? Taboos?
If I were to walk into a market or meeting place within your game setting, what sounds would I hear? What would people be eating?
What does it look like (the actual landscape)?
Where are we in time?
Do they have any magic? How does it work?
What scientific gizmos do they have? For example, can they teleport?

Within every game, there are groups of characters, or ‘tribes’ that need defining. Some questions about the general characters that inhabit the different gaming realms could be:

What do the different groups of characters look like? What is their temperament?
Any monsters among them? What kind?
Are some characters  ‘more equal’ than others?
Are there grudges and prejudices among the different characters?
What skills are valued?
Are there rules that must be obeyed?
Are there boons to secure? Missions or quests to complete?
And the one they will like best: How do they protect and defend themselves?

Once the general game setting has been written, you can then ask your students to continue their gaming ‘bible’ and define the specific characters who will take the lead in their game, and of course, describe the point (or story) of their game.

As the student defines his gaming world, hopefully the story of the game will become clearer. If this sounds like the steps you would take to plot a fantasy or a science fiction novel, that’s because it’s very similar. But the good news is, your gamer doesn’t have to know that.

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