Thursday, June 13, 2024
Thursday June 13, 2024
Thursday June 13, 2024

Character development lessons from video games



How video games can inspire rich and believable characters in SFF writing

When people think of video games, they often overlook the rich character development found within many titles. Many believe that video game characters are either implausibly indestructible or uninterestingly flat. As a fan of fantasy and action role-playing video games, I’ve seen this belief transcended time and again. As an SFF writer, I often find inspiration in the complex and believable characterization found in video games. Whether or not you’re a gamer, these character development lessons from video games can be incredibly useful in your own writing.

A strong motivation for the main character is essential. SFF writers excel at worldbuilding, creating rich settings and unique characters. But how can we reveal these worlds without sounding like a textbook? In Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the protagonist Kassandra (or Alexios) experiences loss and tragedy both in childhood and during the game’s events. Kassandra, a mercenary, helps both sides in a war to sabotage each other but always looks out for the downtrodden. Her complexities and moral lines help players make choices that feel true to her character. Similarly, Eivor from Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla balances recklessness with the responsibility of leading a Viking settlement in England. Both characters have defined motivations and personalities that inform how players interact with their worlds, revealing the plot and setting organically.

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Believable secondary characters add depth to the story. One of my favourite video game series is Dragon Age, where the player’s character embarks on quests aided by a small party of companions. Each companion has their own history and personality, ensuring variety and realism. They don’t agree with everything the player does, leading to vocal disapproval and dynamic interactions. Skyrim also presents opposing groups with nuanced perspectives, adding to the immersive experience created by strong character development. These interactions make the world feel lived-in and contribute to the narrative’s richness.

Realistic interpersonal dynamics are another key lesson from video games. The Dragon Age series excels in this area, with player choices directly influencing companions. Building rivalries with companions, as seen in Dragon Age II, adds an interesting dimension to relationships. Rivalries aren’t just antagonistic; they challenge characters to square their beliefs with their feelings. This dynamic can be a writer’s dream, showing how characters navigate differences while supporting each other. Such interactions can deepen the story, making character moments feel earned and satisfying.

Nuanced character roles challenge expectations and add complexity. In RPGs, character classes like rogue, bard, or wizard are defined roles that inform gameplay. However, interesting things happen when characters behave against these expectations. For example, in Dragon Age: Origins’ Alistair is a warrior but also charmingly awkward. As a rogue, I often rush into fights, challenging the stereotypical sneaky and cunning nature. How can your characters transcend their roles? What impact will this have on the story? Exploring these questions can lead to richer character development.

Books and video games are both immersive forms of storytelling. They allow us to experience unique worlds through the protagonist’s eyes, learn other viewpoints, and navigate relationships. I hope these character development lessons from video games inspire you to create believable, dynamic character relationships in your SFF writing. By drawing from the rich characterization in video games, you can enhance your storytelling and craft compelling narratives that resonate with readers.

Samantha Garner’s debut novel, The Quiet is Loud, was shortlisted for the 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. A Canadian of Filipino-Finnish background, Samantha’s character-driven fantasy and science-fiction novels explore themes of identity and belonging. She loves writing nuanced relationship dynamics, atmosphere over action, and outsider characters doing their best. She’s endlessly inspired by history, mythology, and narrative-rich video game worlds.

When not writing, Samantha can be found taking too many photos of trees and rambling to a loved one about the latest historical fact she’s learned. You can find her online at samanthagarner.ca or on most social media at @SamanthaKGarner.


Video games offer a wealth of lessons for character development, particularly for SFF writers. The interactive nature of video games allows players to engage deeply with characters, making their motivations and relationships feel more real and impactful. This engagement offers several perspectives that can be invaluable for writers.

From a political perspective, video games like Assassin’s Creed and Dragon Age explore complex power dynamics and moral ambiguities. Kassandra and Eivor’s stories involve navigating political landscapes and making choices that reflect their values and motivations. This mirrors the political intricacies in many SFF narratives, where characters must balance personal beliefs with larger societal issues.

Sociologically, video games provide a space to explore identity and community. The Dragon Age series, with its diverse cast of characters, highlights how different backgrounds and experiences shape interactions. This is crucial for writers aiming to create multifaceted characters and believable social dynamics. Characters in video games often face societal challenges that resonate with real-world issues, making their stories relevant and relatable.

Economically, video games often depict resource management and survival, adding another layer of realism. Characters must navigate economic pressures, whether it’s Kassandra earning a living as a mercenary or Eivor leading a settlement. These elements can inform SFF writing by highlighting the economic forces that drive characters’ actions and decisions.

From a local perspective, the detailed settings in video games provide a rich backdrop for character development. The immersive environments in Assassin’s Creed and Dragon Age are meticulously crafted, offering writers a blueprint for creating vivid, believable worlds. These settings influence the characters’ lives, shaping their experiences and interactions.

Gender and race perspectives are also crucial. Video games increasingly feature diverse protagonists, offering nuanced portrayals of gender and racial dynamics. Kassandra and Eivor, as strong female leads, challenge traditional gender roles, while games like Dragon Age include characters of various races and backgrounds. This diversity enriches the narrative and offers writers valuable insights into creating inclusive stories.

For marginalized communities, video games provide representation and a voice. Characters who face marginalization in their worlds can inspire writers to explore similar themes. The struggles and triumphs of these characters resonate with players, highlighting the importance of diversity in storytelling. Video games can serve as a powerful tool for writers to understand and depict the experiences of marginalized groups authentically.

In conclusion, video games offer a dynamic and interactive way to study character development. By analyzing the motivations, relationships, and roles of characters in video games, writers can gain valuable insights into creating rich, believable narratives. The lessons from video games can enhance SFF writing, making stories more engaging and relatable for readers.


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