Novelist, Gamer, Story Junkie

My name is Kelly McCullough and I’m a video gamer. Nor am I the least bit embarrassed about it, though I know there are some who would say I should be. They’re wrong. It’s a pretty natural jump actually, writer to reader to gamer, at least with the type of games that I’ve come to love the most. Story games.

I started young, with the Atari and games like Missile Command, Asteroids, and my favorite, Adventure. Adventure rocked. It was a grail quest game with a magical sword, a portable bridge that allowed you to pass through walls, a big magnet, three dragons, three castles, and three keys. The player icon was a little square that could pick stuff up and be eaten by dragons. It didn’t look like much but it had something that a lot of other games of the time lacked: A storyline.

Those of you who have grown up with Role Playing Games and Multi-User Dungeons and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games and all the rest may not see this for the revelation it was at the time. For that matter, at the time, neither did I. Then, all I knew was that I loved Adventure and that it could hold my interest far longer than any of the many other games I played. In retrospect the reason is obvious. Adventure was essentially a short story with the player in the starring role. It was a prototypical RPG and all about the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved asteroids too, and I still enjoy many games that are more about puzzles or patterns than stories, but RPGs are where my gaming heart lies. I played the Dragon Warrior games in their time, Legend of Mana, and Threads of Fate. I’ve played the Final Fantasy series on the Play Station and PS2, and I’m eagerly awaiting the first PS3 title.

As the power of the systems has increased, so has the power of the stories, and my devotion to gaming. Final Fantasy X is every bit as involved and deep a story as most novels. The characters are complex and interesting, and by having you actually play them, making their decisions, and fighting their battles, they even engage you in ways a book can’t.

That’s part of why I’d love to try writing for the medium sometime, to take a crack at that player/character interface. I’m a storyteller and always interested in finding different stories to tell and different ways to tell them.

Are you a video gamer. If not, why not? If so, what draws you to them?

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  1. 1. SMD

    I guess you could consider me a gamer. I don’t play as many games as I used to though. Being in Uni and trying to write and read seriously is a little difficult (you can’t jump-start your writing career if you’re playing Pacman all the time).
    I do play the occasional game though. I have a SEGA Dreamcast and a Nintendo Gamecube, both excellent systems, and a computer with a bunch of games. I usually play games to clear my head these days because a lot of games can be played online and don’t require a lot of thinking.
    What draws me to games is that they are fun. That’s about it. Half-life is one of the greatest games ever made for PC and I love that game to death. I play a lot of the online mods too. They’re just fun and exciting. That should be enough :P

  2. 2. S.C. Butler

    Civilization II lives!

  3. 3. Simon Haynes

    Yes, I’m a gamer too. Flight sims, race driving sims, shooters with a plot (e.g. Half Life, Deus Ex, System Shock 2)

    I bought my first computer in 1983 – a Sinclair ZX81 with the 16Kb expansion pack – and eschewed the arcadey games for things like Perilous Swamp by Psion. When I got my speccy I was into Lords of Midnight, Psytron, Shadowfire, etc. None of these would have made it to the US, but you can grab a speccy emulator and the tape files are easily found.

    Arcade conversions to 8-bit were the worst kind of games. I seriously don’t know why they bothered, when computers offered the opportunity for longer, more involved gameplay.

  4. 4. Kelly McCullough

    Part of the reason they bothered back when I started gaming was that consoles provided a _much_ less expensive gaming option than computers. But that was in 1977 with the launch of the Atari 2600.

  5. 5. Ryan Viergutz

    Holy bog yes, video games.

    I think my generation is the first for whom “I want to write video games!” was an uber dream. Maybe not. But that’s why I’m working on my computer programming skills.

    Like you, RPGs are my favorites. I’m the type who still feels awe of Chrono Trigger and FF6. A lot of games have more RPG elements these days, whether it’s a story or customization. See Halo for instance. :D

    The action RPGs crossovers are my favorites, usually. Things like Vagrant Story and System Shock 2.

    I could go on and on, but perhaps you get the idea. :)

  6. 6. Daniel MacGregor

    I’m an avid gamer and a young writer. One of my favorite story games is Metal Gear Solid and it’s sequels. A close friend of mine once remarked how playing MGS was like watching a movie, but you could control the level of violence or suspense. Truly an excellent series.

  7. 7. Kelly McCullough

    Ooh, yeah, I love the adventure/rpg crossover stuff as well. For that matter, a first person shooter with a good story will hook me as well. I loved the Marathon games.

  8. 8. Thud

    Oh, yes, I remember Adventure. And now that I think about it, the fact that there was story there made a big difference. Yar’s Revenge came with a comic book that laid out what was going on, and that made a big difference too. Most people I know who loved Yar’s Revenge remember the comic well, the people who hate it picked it up used in a store or downloaded a ROM somewhere.

    Story is very important in a game for me. I play for the story. I cheat to get through the game just so I can see the end of the story. I couldn’t connect with the story in Halo 3, so I didn’t like it. But BioShock — with it’s anti-Ayn Rand themes and little character narratives had me hooked. Half-Life 2 has a strong story, too.

Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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