Creative writers can learn a lot from video games. If you’re looking for new and exciting ways to upskill your writing chops, games are a great place to start. In particular, the world of small, independent games, or “indies” is a hotbed of creativity. There are loads of amazing indie games for creative writers to explore and learn from. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite indie titles to play if you’re in need of writing inspiration.
Video game narratives have a lot to offer writers of any medium. As an interactive medium, games make the player part of the storytelling experience. All good game stories ensure that players have a degree of agency over the direction of events. In traditional writing, that’s not necessarily the case.
However, games can help improve your creative writing skills by making you think more actively about your reader during the creative process. I’ll be sharing some recommendations and some affiliate links to games and books to help you gain a deeper understanding of their narratives.
Exploring indie games for creative writers
It’s incredibly useful to experience a variety of different narrative experiences as a writer. From traditional novels and non-fiction to interactive fiction and games, there’s much to learn. Indie games in particular can be a great resource for discovering different storytelling methods.
It’s worth paying attention to the worldbuilding and character development that goes on in game writing too. Especially in indie games, which are much smaller and often with less budget than their blockbuster AAA-studio counterparts. Indie game studios need to keep things more concise. Exploring how game stories are created with these constraints in mind is a great way to reevaluate the scope and presentation of your own work.
When playing some of these games, be sure to make notes as you experience the story and events. Consider what works well and why. Write down which characters stand out, as well as anything you could implement in your own writing. Most importantly though, note down how the stories made you feel. Connecting with the emotional core of a narrative can help you understand how to better connect with your own audiences.
What Remains of Edith Finch
This is an indie game that’s widely considered to be a masterpiece in interactive storytelling. What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the best indie games for creative writers to experience. It deals with profoundly complex human emotions and events in an almost magical way.
The adventure itself involves uncovering the secret past of the Finch family as you navigate their ancestral home. Exploring each of the rooms reveals certain truths and events from the past in a mesmerising fashion.
The stories you’ll uncover in this game are both deeply moving and creatively elevated in terms of design and gameplay. Without spoiling it too much, this is an excellent example of the power of games as a storytelling medium.
What Remains of Edith Finch is both captivatingly beautiful and spellbindingly sad in parts. For me, it’s a must-play for any creative writer or interactive storyteller. The game’s original soundtrack is beautiful too, if you’re keen to replicate the emotions while creating your own story.
In Oxenfree, you’re thrown into a darkly mysterious adventure that crosses over into paranormal territory. The game isn’t an all-out horror, but there are definitely some creepy elements to the action. This fear factor also leans into the narrative aspects of the game through the dialogue presented. If you’re writing supernatural fiction, there’s a lot to learn from Oxenfree.
The story also touches on themes of grief, loss and plenty of teenage angst. Its delivery of backstory and context is excellently done, which isn’t always easy in traditional fiction. Flashback scenes in particular are often hard to convey well on paper.
So, if you’re working on a story that involves aspects of the past making their way into the present, Oxenfree is one of the best indie games for creative writers to play. If you’re planning on playing the sequel, Oxenfree II, you might want to do a deep dive into the narrative and game strategy in this complete game guide too.
This is an excellent indie game for any creative writer wondering how to experiment with branching paths and alternate endings. Beacon Pines gives a storybook feel to a mysterious and often dark tale. Don’t be fooled by the cute aesthetics!
The story itself focuses on a town full of beautifully illustrated anthropomorphic animals. You’ll explore different paths through the game’s detective-style drama, but there’s an interesting alternative path-style mechanic that spans the gameplay itself.
The game’s narrator plays a key role in encouraging you to explore other options when things go awry. Beacon Pines is an interesting and highly creative narrative experience that you can learn a lot from. Especially if you’re experimenting with choice and consequences in your writing. You can also check out this Beacon Pines guidebook for the full experience and analysis.
Immortality is probably one of the most compelling and narratively complex indie games I’ve ever played. Your task is to work out what happened to movie starlet Marissa Marcel, by sifting through dozens of clips and footage from her film career. There are three different movies to explore and search for clues.
You do this by match-cutting objects in different clips and piecing events together like a story-based jigsaw. It’s all really clever and unusual, but it’s only once you’ve played a certain amount of Immortality that things under the surface start to become clearer and much creepier.
I found Immortality really interesting as a thought-provoking investigation into the way we consume media and its stars. As a creative writer, it’s a game that’s worth experiencing for its structural brilliance. Layering story upon story and encouraging the player to pick through the details to discover the truth for themself is an unbelievable skill.
There’s nothing else quite like this game, it’s disturbing and excellent in equal measure. Another must-play for storytelling fans.
Kentucky Route Zero
In Kentucky Route Zero, you’ll experience a highly stylised interactive narrative that provides plenty of creative inspiration. As the main character Conway, you’ll explore the mysterious highways of Kentucky as you try to deliver an antique to an address on Route Zero. Finding the Zero proves to be a complex yet fascinating adventure which turns gripping as events unfold.
This is one of those games you simply have to experience for yourself to get the most out of it. Complete with a highly atmospheric soundtrack to immerse yourself in, this is a title to get lost in creatively. So, if you’re looking for something that veers completely off the beaten track, Kentucky Route Zero is an excellent choice.
The Forgotten City
If your creative writing has a historical focus, you’ll really enjoy playing The Forgotten City. It’s set in ancient Rome and takes you on a mysterious adventure that features clever storytelling, detective mechanics and a time loop to navigate.
By exploring the secret ancient Roman society you’ll find yourself transported to, you’ll uncover secrets, encounter moral dilemmas and find clues to solve its deadly curse.
This is a brilliant game for creative writers to sink their time into. It features excellent worldbuilding and character development in addition to a highly replayable core gameplay loop. Engaging with the vibrant cast of characters is a fundamental part of The Forgotten City, so if you’re interested in developing your dialogue-writing skills, this game is a fantastic example of how to do dialogue well.
Last Stop looks at how an interconnected narrative can be explored through different character perspectives. You’ll play a number of different chapters of the same wider story, but each time from the eyes of a different character.
The story deals with real-world dramas in an engaging and offbeat manner and its episodic format makes it easily digestible too. Last Stop is a great exploration of how events can be interpreted in different ways, depending on which character is making the decisions.
You’ll be presented with some challenging moral choices as well in Last Stop, which explores issues arising from a group of people living and working in modern-day London. This is a short but interesting indie game for creative writers to immerse themselves in, particularly if character development is a focal point of their work.
Analyse game writing to improve your creative skills
Hopefully, some of these games will give you some inspiration to explore different kinds of storytelling. By playing a range of indie narratives, you’ll be able to develop a skill for writing from varied perspectives. Game writing also takes into account the experience of the player, which is something that any writer should consider.
Remember to note down your thoughts and reactions to these games as you’re playing through them. These reflections can help you develop your own writing skills later down the line.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve got any great indie game recommendations. For storytelling and narrative experiences in particular, the indie game community on itch.io is also a great place to discover new and often free titles.