Gary Whitta is a writer whose work transcends mediums. As a screenwriter, he’s responsible for The Book of Eli, After Earth, and the recent Star Wars spinoff movie, and last month, he released his debut novel, Abomination. His career, however, began in the world of video games.
Whitta started out as a video games journalist. He was involved with the founding of U.K.-based magazine PC Gamer and would eventually become its editor-in-chief. Even after leaving that behind, he would continue to contribute to the gaming industry working on projects like Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series.
The Kernel recently caught up with Whitta to discuss the difference between writing for games and movies, the changing video game community, and Star Wars.
Once you’ve tried the Oculus Rift, it’s hard not to be a believer.
What was your first screenname?
Oh man I’m so old I can barely remember. It would have been whatever weird jumble of letters and numbers they gave you in the old BBS [bulletin board system] days. Growing up in the U.K. circa 1988, I had a dial-up modem and would rack up way too many hours on a service called Compunet and its chat board, Partyline. Stone-age stuff by today’s standards, but I have so many happy memories of those days—except for the part where my parents opened the phone bill.
What’s your earliest memory of the Internet?
Well, if you count the pre-Web days of dial-up networks, it would be those wonderful old bulletin boards. In the post-Web era I remember doing quite a lot of searching on pre-Google sites like Lycos Webcrawler and Alta Vista, which just seems to quaint now. It’s kind of weird to think that we are the last generation who are old enough to remember a pre-Internet world. My daughter is almost 3, and the only world she knows is one where we can point at the TV to choose between a seemingly infinite number of cartoons on-demand. I can remember being excited when they added a fourth TV channel.
What was your favorite video game as a child?
I loved the old Atari game Berzerk; I played that thing to death. And there’s an old Commodore 64 game called Paradroid that will forever be a favorite. Oh, and Rampage! That one at the arcades where three of you could smash up a city together.
There’s no other medium like it, and it’s changing the way we think about what’s possible in storytelling.
What’s the most exciting trend in video games right now?
Virtual Reality. Once you’ve tried the Oculus Rift, it’s hard not to be a believer. It’s incredible. I think in 10 years we will be looking back at when we used to play games on a flat screen and laughing at ourselves.
How is writing for games different than writing for movies?
It depends on the game, but in the kinds of games I like—and have worked on—where the story can branch and change based on the players’ choices, it’s a lot more work because you have to write a script covering every possible permutation that the story can go. It’s also a lot more complicated because of all the logical and narrative issues that arise out of that. But it’s worth it because there’s no other medium like it, and it’s changing the way we think about what’s possible in storytelling.
If you could make any TV show, book, or movie into a game, which would it be?
The Last Starfighter.
Gaming is becoming more like television with the rise of spectatorship, and social media is going to be a big part of that ongoing evolution.
How is social media changing how we experience video games?
I think we’re still figuring out how to integrate that stuff in interesting ways. There’s an Xbox game out there right now called IDARB that allows people watching games live on Twitch to actually affect what happens in the game by sending tweets—what they call hashbombs. Gaming is becoming more like television with the rise of spectatorship, and social media is going to be a big part of that ongoing evolution.
There has been a lot of strain in the video game community lately. What can be done to create a friendlier, more inclusive atmosphere?
The arguments for why inclusion and tolerance are as necessary in games as they are in every part of a civilized, caring society have already been made by others far more eloquently than I ever could. We are making progress toward greater inclusion and less toxicity. It’s a natural process, like evolution, and the good news is that it can’t be stopped. But the bad news is that, like evolution, it’s a very, very slow process. But we’ll get there.
Can you tell us anything about Star Wars?
I can exclusively reveal that it takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. If I say any more than that I’ll be sent to the spice mines of Kessel or smashed into who-knows-what.
Illustration by J. Longo