Game Industry Secrets: Interview with Video Game Writer Amanda Doiron

We recently sat down via internet to interview a prominent female video game and TV writer in the business and got some pretty cool insight into the inner workings of the gaming industry. Amanda Doiron has worked on countless projects, including Prototype 2 and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Read through to delve deep into one of the greatest professions out there!

NBF: What was your childhood like growing up, and did you develop a love of gaming during this time?

Amanda: I was a pretty shy kid. I spent a lot of my childhood reading, gaming, and watching television and movies. Specifically with games, I started playing when I was six—mainly Nintendo and game show-inspired DOS games. Up until I was sixteen, I continued playing Nintendo, as well as any shooters, side-scrollers, point-and-clicks, and miscellaneous shareware games my then-outdated computer could support. But in early 1999, I played Silent Hill with my gamer pal, Jackie, and that was when I realized the serious potential for video games. My love continues and evolves to this day…although my break-up with the Silent Hill franchise was messy.

NBF: How did you get started in the industry? What were some of the first projects you worked on? What were your responsibilities?

Amanda: I have a background in scriptwriting and managed to leverage my writing samples to get into the National Screen Institute’s playWRITE program, which taught novelists and scriptwriters how to write for video games. It was only offered once and only to ten Canadian writers. So, partially, I was lucky, but I also worked my ass off to have an industry job by the end of the program. My first contract was with EA as a story consultant, followed by a year with Propaganda Games writing scripts, mission arcs, dialogue, on-screen text, and sea shanties for a Pirates of the Caribbean RPG. Unfortunately, that project was cancelled, but it still remains my favorite game I’ve ever helped write.

NBF: What projects/aspects of your job do you enjoy the most and why? What projects/aspects of your job do you enjoy the least and why?

Amanda: Video game writing is a strange beast. It’s much more complicated than most other media, because you’re writing the story and dialogue at the same time the game is being built. When I write for television, it’s easy: I sit alone in a room, write my script and then—when I’m finished—the rest of the team creates the episode based on what I wrote. In games, the story isn’t the core of the product—the gameplay is. Video game writers must constantly find ways to create narrative within the ever-shifting parameters set by the game design. This challenge is a source of endless frustration, but it’s also the reason that getting a job as a video game writer is one of the best things that ever happened to me. It’s frustrating because it’s messy, complicated, and built on an archaic game development schedule hailing from when a game’s story didn’t exist or matter. But that’s also why I love it: narrative design largely hasn’t figured its shit out yet. And I find it inspiring to be an audience member and collaborator among a generation of writers, designers, and developers inventing, borrowing, succeeding, and failing as we explore how best to weave narrative into an interactive world.

NBF: Did you encounter any particularly unique challenges within the gaming industry?

Amanda: I find one of the most difficult challenges in the industry is getting developers to stop seeing their core audience as nerdy man-children and meat-headed teenagers. As long as we seek to placate this lowest common denominator and out-dated stereotype in a medium that has long since gone mainstream, games are going to continue to marginalize themselves as immature, mindless, and unworthy of the respect given to other art forms like books, television, and film.

NBF: Is there any advice you would give to someone wanting to land a job in the gaming industry?

Amanda: Be ambitious, confident, and don’t presume you know everything. If you can’t work with others, you shouldn’t work in games. If you’re taking a video game program in school—be an overachiever. Often, your instructors are well-connected in the industry and can help you land that elusive first job if they’re impressed by you.

NBF: What were the reasons for your transition away from the gaming industry? Do you still have ties to it?

Amanda: I’m not transitioning away from the games industry at all. I write for animated TV and video games. I just happen to be writing for a kids’ show at the moment.

NBF: What advice do you have specifically for women interested in getting into the video game industry? Have you encountered any gender differences in the industry?

Amanda: I’d give the exact same advice I gave in the previous question, plus discourage any sort of stereotypes they may have about it being an old boys’ club or just a bunch of nerds giggling about code and breasts. The games industry is full of cool dudes—and yes, unfortunately it’s 90% sausage party, but I’m hoping that will change with games becoming more mainstream, accessible, and still popular among females when they’re at an age to make career decisions.

In my experience, sexism in the industry is reserved for the game content rather than the workplace…with one notable exception. In my 3 ½ years in the industry, I’ve heard some variation of this comment an alarming number of times: “Oh, [boy employee] probably just hired [girl employee] because he wants to sleep with her.”

Now, the speakers of this statement are usually not saying it with the conscious intention to demean the female employee; it’s actually intended to burn the male employee. Regardless, it instantly calls into question the qualifications of the female. And that is probably the disadvantage of being a woman in the industry: sometimes you’re going to have to work a bit harder to prove yourself when you start a new job. It’s an unfortunate by-product of people working in the industry occasionally buying into the cultural stereotype that their fellow male game-developing co-workers are sex-starved nerds.

This is actually related to—what I think is—the main reason for sexism in video game content. The problem isn’t so much that game developers are sexist towards women, but that they’re sexist toward their core audience: men. They think that their audience won’t stand for anything deeper than big tits, a tight ass, and a one-dimensional sassy or impotent attitude.

NBF: What is your favorite game? Favorite character?

Amanda: One, eh? Nope, I’m going to cheat: Silent Hill for survival horror, Portal for innovative gameplay and comedy writing, Bioshock for environment and narrative design, the Uncharted series for character and pacing, LA Noire for its open(ish) world and non-violent problem solving, Limbo for atmosphere, Journey for experimentation and emotional impact, and Bust a Groove for dancing (although I love you too, Just Dance).

I have yet to find a video game character that I truly love. For now, I will say GLaDOS, because she’s such an asshole.

NBF: Have you noticed any trends within the gaming industry recently that excite you? Any that you are displeased with?

Amanda: I’m loving the rising popularity and support of indie games. Games like Limbo, Journey, Machinarium, and Sword and Sworcery are all titles I would describe as art and a product that a big-time developer may have never taken a chance on.

I’m not a fan of free-to-play games. I’m a no-muss, no-fuss gamer, and I can’t stand not getting all of my game upfront and constantly being interrupted and manipulated by pop-ups and money-spending incentives. I’m sure developers will fine-tune this new model, but, for now, it mainly feels like playing a lottery machine rather than a fun game.

NBF: Lastly, how has gaming and your career within the gaming industry affected your personal life?

Amanda: I would say that it has had an overwhelmingly positive effect. When I started working in the game industry, it was the first time that I truly loved what I did for a living. Your career takes up a significant portion of your time, so I think it’s important to be happy with your vocation. Another massive boon is all the amazing people I’ve met. Most of my closest friends in Vancouver work in the industry, and it’s inspiring to be constantly surrounded by such creative, intelligent, and ambitious oddballs. I love them to itty bitty pieces.

So, there you have it, folks! The gaming industry is flush with exciting opportunities, great relationships, and an ever-changing framework. A great big thank you to Amanda Doiron for being such a candid and informative guest on this site. What do you think about some of the topics addressed in this interview?

One thought on “Game Industry Secrets: Interview with Video Game Writer Amanda Doiron

  1. Pingback: Designer Weekly Nov19 » Live. Play. Design

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