Theme and Game Story

Any questions?

While it’s perfectly possible to have themes that are short phrases — such as ‘betrayal’ or ‘falling out of love’ — we try to find themes that are questions. We think this focuses the narrative more clearly, and is a better fit for interactive fiction.

Find a theme early

Often people aren’t certain what a theme is when they write their story; it might emerge as the work comes together, it might only come out in editing, or even when you read your first reviews! You don’t need a stated, overt theme for a piece of writing; you certainly don’t need it before you put words on paper.

Thematic resonance

We’ve found in the past that when we set off knowing clearly what the theme of a game is, it’s much easier to work it through the fabric of the game and make the gameplay and narrative resonate.

Design Pillars

An associated idea is the concept of design pillars.Design pillars are key concepts of the game that the game designers use to define that game. For example, ‘it is a stealth game’, ‘it is a horror game’, ‘it explores the relationship between two characters’. These are less specifically about story, and more about game design. However, these pillars are equally useful as lenses to view your story through; you can treat them in the same way as you treat the theme. Does my scene support any of the design pillars? If not, could it? Or should we cut this? Can we make it support more than one pillar? How about a particular character— does that character support any of the pillars?

The implications of being late

If you only find your theme late on in story development, it can lead to substantial rewriting to refocus the rest of your story to make sure it reflects that theme — which can mean cuts and late changes.

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Ian Thomas

Ian Thomas

Ian is a narrative designer and writer of games, films, larp, and books. He co-founded Talespinners, and has worked on over 100 titles.