Review of Writing for Games: Theory and Practice by Hannah Nicklin

Scott DeJong is a Concordia Public Scholar and Communication PhD Candidate at Concordia University. His work explores issues of media literacy, play in the Canadian far right, and serious game design. He engages in research-creation to discuss digital issues, designing games such as escape rooms about echo chambers, and simulation games about conspiracy theory. In addition to his research, Scott is an active member of various research collectives including the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship and the Applied Ai Institute. In his free time, Scott co-produces a podcast about humour and videogames, co-manages the middle-state publication First Person Scholar, and runs workshops with local schools and community groups about the fundamentals of game design.

In my PhD journey I was wisely told to find my traveling companions. The authors, books, and articles that I will hold dear as I go through my research, teaching, and writing process. For anyone taking the journey of writing in the games industry or needing to teach these skills to hopeful students, Hannah Nicklin’s text, Writing for Games, is a must have for the trek.

It is rare that I pick up an academic text and struggle to put it down (unless I have a deadline too close to allow for breaks). But Nicklin’s work offers a well-plotted and compelling conversational discussion of how one can become a game writer. As someone who makes games without an official degree on the matter, Writing for Games is a crash course in how you should think about, evaluate, and engage in literary practice for the medium. The text guides readers through three parts, each complementing the next. She begins with theory, moves to case studies, and finishes with exercises from her own practice that the reader can incorporate into their own work. The book is a blend of craft, theory, and practice that allows a student, educator, indie designer, or scholar to find what they might be looking for on writing for games.

Engaged from the Start

Between the title and Nicklin’s introductory chapter, it is clear that “this book is about the craft of writing, and more specifically, writing for games” (2). Nicklin leans into her experience as a scholar and indie games practitioner to pack a year full of mentoring, workshops, and talks into 274 pages of text. The end result? A text chalked full of parts you want to reread multiple times to make sure you get right, and a powerful introduction to how game writers think about and engage with their practice.

While a book about writing for games, Nicklin’s focus is on smaller scale, Indie projects. This makes sense, given her background in the Indie scene, but if you are looking for a text breaking down how a Triple A studio structures its writing practice you might be a tad disappointed as these discussions are few and far between. Nicklin points to there being a variance in writing for Triple A versus Indie, but the reader is only offered temporary glimpses at the larger scale practices of these big companies. This should not deter you though, as the book establishes the fundamentals that any practitioner might need. In her introduction, Nicklin’s experiences shine through as she includes talking points that are not always found in typical game studies texts. Critically, near the start, she makes a point to explain that, despite being a focal point for the book, “Games are Not Special” (2022, p.11). For Nicklin, games are just another medium through which stories can be presented. They are distinct in how they blend a variety of artistic and storytelling practices but not unique in how they present a narrative. In a time where the promises of VR seem to continually over promote the power of games as tools for experience, Nicklin’s reminder grounds the burgeoning author to focus on how games can tell stories rather than how to perceive them as the ultimate tool for doing so.

It is in this discussion that Nicklin also takes time to mention longstanding problems and systemic challenges of the games industry where certain paradigms around representation, diversity, and inclusion struggle. Nicklin takes a step that most authors should and discusses her own positionality and paradigms which formed her knowledge base. Recounting her knowledge base from her experiences in academia and making indie games she gives herself, and the reader, space to challenge their knowledge backgrounds (such as the western approaches so commonly taught in writing programs) as well as practices inherent to the industry. 

Theory First, Practice Second

With these premises set, Nicklin’s work jumps into the theory. For any scholars who might read this book, this section is perhaps the most related to their interests. However, it is not considered ‘Theory’ with a capital ‘T’, as Nicklin’s goal of making the text accessible means that the theory discussion is more of a breakdown of the vocabulary, language, and mindset that many working in the games industry have. This leads to many terms. Nicklin dedicates three chapters to terms and concepts but writes them in a way that feels both rapid fire and approachable for educators to add to their classrooms. While the occasional game scholar is mentioned, Nicklin prioritizes the artistic histories and lineages of storytelling that shape its role in modern games. It becomes clear that to Nicklin, game writing is an artistic practice. She reminds the reader that art influences art and connects storytelling practices to forms such as radio drama and even ceramics. This discussion reinforces that effective game writing is learned beyond the classroom or Triple A studio, but is found in various cultural traditions, arts-based practices, and experiences.  

For me, as a scholar, educator, and designer, this book truly came alive in the fifth chapter. Titled, “Game Writing as Discipline”, this chapter weaved concepts, processes, and considerations to demonstrate why game writing is distinct. Nicklin makes clear the affordances of games and writing that merge in the process specific to game design. She reminds readers how multi-faceted writing is, from character creation to menus, loading screens, marketing, and credits. As Nicklin outlines the space of writing for games, it becomes clear that game writing isn’t just about putting together a good story but constructing a good game. In many ways, I found myself wanting Nicklin to expand on this chapter; to pull the threads she touches on here into a more expansive text. Should you be wanting to clarify, whether to students or a granting body, why game writing is a distinct means of storytelling that deserves greater recognition, this chapter establishes a baseline that scholars and designers can build from in their practice. 

Through the Writer’s Eyes

This marks a turning point in the book, from theory to practicality in the form of case studies. For any educator, the second and third parts feel like a lesson-building assistant you can keep falling back to. The case studies ground the vocabulary and theory that opened the text. Nicklin goes through excerpts from three different games to break down the good, bad, dos, and don’ts of game writing. She starts with Life is Strange 2 taking the dialogue verbatim and offering her analysis and critique to the conversation as written. For the uninitiated reader, this marks a chance to see Nicklin’s thought processes while also critically evaluating games they might have already played. While Nicklin leaves the exercises and activities to the third part of the text, I see this part as exemplary for an educator who could replicate (or even directly cite) this process in their classes.

Nicklin’s case studies are well thought out but focus on narrative first games. She points to games that have different narrative structures but are known for their writing, complimenting Life is Strange 2 with 80 Days and Last Stop. Despite Nicklin’s discussion that writing for games goes beyond these spaces, her case studies and exercises discuss titles known for their storytelling or narrative . While this somewhat makes sense given the larger objectives of the text, by only providing examples from games already well known for their writing, Nicklin’s earlier discussion of how writing for games goes beyond traditional storytelling falls a tad flat. For example, for those interested in genres like card games, shooters, or simulation games where the writing is found in spaces like the menus, flavour text, and voice lines, the reader is left with limited examples and tools from which to build their practice. One book cannot do it all, and it’s clear that Nicklin sees her audience as burgeoning storytellers, and anyone seeking a set of examples and tools for the less narrative-focused genres might need to extrapolate or alter what Nicklin offers depending on their focus.

Get Your Hands Dirty

With this in mind, we enter the final section. Filled with exercises and activities, Nicklin defines the final 91 pages as a workbook ready to engage with and improve the young game writer’s practice. Based on her practice, she offers tools to get you started. The section moves from germinating ideas or “seeds” for stories, to tactics used in the development process, and eventually finishing and publishing the game. For those hungry to see the process, this section is a glimpse at her workbooks and processes core to Nicklin’s game design, and points to the specificity involved with game writing. 

These exercises are robust, intense, and effective. I will admit I did not do all of them, but the ones I spent time on were helpful as organizational tools, or processes to think about my writing. However, I would argue that my inability to complete all exercises is not personal laziness but instead something readers should keep in mind. Nicklin wants readers to pick and choose the exercises most useful for them, to come back and use the ones that fit their needs at a particular time. 

The majority of exercises take half a day or more to complete which makes them a time sink for anyone not actively working in the industry. I would have appreciated Nicklin making space for the student or hobbyist game writers who aren’t able to commit such large chunks of time for an activity. Yet, should you be able to find the time, they not only give you a glimpse into Nicklin’s indie design practice but also re-usable tools for your own practice. For scholars, these processes will be helpful grounding to think about industry practice, while educators would need to find ways to condense them in order to run them in classrooms. In fact, this section is best read for the new recruits of the game narrative world, where the recent graduates or new hires will feel like they have something to work with and build from through the tool sets provided. Nicklin’s exercises make the messiness of art and story craft organized. Somewhat procedural in tone, the various sheets offered give the new writer something to hold onto as they jump into an industry that is known to consume. 


Realistically, Writing for Games is three books in one. This density allows Nicklin’s text to address different needs of those working in and around games. It offers a grounded discussion of how writing is enacted and conceptualized in the world of games. It is a looking glass that complements any scholar’s bookshelf of theoretical analysis and discussions. The book reads like a game writing course with case studies, exercises, and an overall tone of mentorship. The chapters are accessible for students, and Nicklin’s personality shines through in a way that keeps the reader interested in what comes next. The crash course that this book offers makes it a great choice for anyone looking to get started as a game writer. You will gain some basic game theory knowledge, have a chance to think critically about narrative writing, and even use the workbook to improve and complement your writing ability.

No matter your goals, if your work has some relation to writing and games, Nicklin’s text is worth your time. Pick it up, come back to it, and find which spaces work for you at that moment. Each part of the book fits a different need. Know what you are looking for when you go into it and it might just have your answer. While the book can read quickly given Nicklin’s effective writing, I urge you to ruminate on it. Reread sections and take time to fully engage with the exercises that Nicklin offers. While the experienced practitioner might not see immediate value in a book introducing their practice, the glimpse into Nicklin’s process in the case studies and workbook offer something to consider for anyone’s practice, no matter how experienced. Games are not unique, but Writing for Games: Theory and Practice is a special text to add to your collection.



Nicklin, Hannah. Writing for Games: Theory and Practice. 1st edition, CRC Press, 2022.