Dialogue in Videogames – Developer’s End

Now, I know I just wrote a paper that critical looks at dialogue in video games.  I looked specifically at player dialogue in online games.  And yet that is not the only kind of dialogue that exists in video games, and a couple of the other projects that focused on language in video games got me thinking on other areas of dialogue in video games.  Specifically, I started thinking of the developer’s dialogue.

Perhaps I should be more accurate in what I mean by the developer’s dialogue.  I mean dialogue of non-playable characters (NPCs), and even the scripted dialogue of playable characters (PCs).  After all, I was originally a game design major with a minor in creative writing, and even now my current major is a blend of game design and creative writing.  I had a large interest in writing in video games, specifically script writing (or dialogue).

Dialogue is quite important in most genres of video games.  Some, like first person shooters, use dialogue to communicate missions, while others, like role playing games, are incredibly reliant on dialogue for the sake of storytelling.  In the case of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), PC dialogue is usually absent and NPC dialogue is rarely as important as player dialogue.  Game play is not as story driven in these cases, as rewards and community seems to overshadow the story.  I know this from experience playing MMOs; players usually complete tasks either to reap rewards or to help others reap rewards.

Offline games tend to rely on dialogue to tell story, though there are exceptions.  Braid, an award winning XBox Live Arcade game, is a beautiful example of this. Much of the story is read in books placed at the start of each world.  However, near in the end of the game, the hero helps the princess (his lover) escape from a villain and reunites with her.  Well, it seems that way, except it then reveals that the event was in reverse, and playing it back shows the princess was trying to escape from the “hero”, who was smothering her, and the “villain” was helping her get away from him. This entire scene is conveyed with no dialogue, showing that dialogue is only one way for video games to tell stories.

Does this mean dialogue is in danger of being obsolete in single player video games?  Could different story-telling techniques ever become the norm for video games?  I highly doubt that.  Though online games make dialogue between players more and more important, most single player games seem to rely heavily on dialogue.

One of the most popular video games of the past year, Portal 2, relies heavily on dialogue, despite the fact that the protagonist is mute.   The villain, an insane AI by the name of GLaDOS, constantly degrades the protagonist, and her condescending insults have become so popular that there are even GPSes to replicate her voice and mannerisms.  A supporting character, an unintelligent robot named Wheatley, both guides and amuses players throughout the adventure.  Even a minor character, a robot obsessed with outer space (aptly named the Space Personality Core), has become a well-known internet meme.

I could, of course, give countless examples of dialogue usage in video games.  It’s a full career in itself.  Many games have multiple writers, as larger games may have tens of thousands of lines of dialogue, if not more.  Branching stories have added layers of complexity much deeper than Choose Your Own Adventure books ever could reach.  It’s definitely interesting to see where dialogue may go in future video games.  Perhaps it will be possible to have actual conversations with NPCs, eliminating the need for the PC to talk at all.  Either way, I’m sure there is a lot more to research on this particular subject.

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