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Games: The Future of Fiction - Interview with Karen Traviss

Lead writer on hit Xbox title Gears of War 3, Karen Traviss, will be a guest speaker at this year’s Animex Festival, held at Teesside University from 6-10 February, 2012.

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The Animex International Festival of Animation and Computer Games is the largest festival of its kind in the UK attracting key speakers and representatives from the global animation and games community.

Karen said: “Animex is an increasingly important event for those of us in the industry, so I was delighted to get the invitation and I’m looking forward to talking shop with everyone.”

After spending most of her career as a TV and newspaper reporter, Karen now has an impressive CV of sci-fi and games novels and comics, with a string of New York Times bestsellers. While writing the Gears of War series, she was asked by Epic Games to write the final installment of the huge Xbox saga.

“I think the success of Gears of War isn't just about its gameplay, it's about the game's ability to make players feel for its characters and believe in its story. Man is a story-telling creature. For thousands of years, we've told stories to each other to make sense of life. Good stories have a structure that resonates with the human psyche and characters that we can care about.”

And it’s not only the storyline that Gears of War 3 has to shout about. Karen added: “The cinematics are world class and offer a true movie experience. I believe the art in games is actually redefining visual arts. Cinematics are very important to the development of any story I write-- when I started the first Gears novel, all I needed to do was look at the cinematics from the first game and I completely understood the world and the characters . It's all part of the storytelling.”

Karen has relished the challenge of writing a game, which needed to maintain the large appeal of the Gears saga if it was to be as successful as its predecessors.

“When you're writing for a game you have to consider the different ways that the story will be consumed and the different timeframes it will be consumed within. One person may complete the game in just a few days, but it might take another an entire year. And players take different routes through a game and may miss plot points. You have to layer everything in such a way that whatever the player does, and however long they take to play, each level makes sense in story terms and keeps them on the edge of their seats.”

Karen sees huge potential for the games industry and feels its successes aren’t really reported as much as they deserve to be. She said, “People underestimate how big the games industry is and how much money it earns. It's going to keep growing and converging with other forms of entertainment. For example, I can see a time where you receive prose fiction, mini-movies, and other material packaged within a game. Those who want a deeper, more enriching experience can read supplementary texts or view the movies to enhance their understanding of character’s actions and emotions.”

The last decade has seen the ‘teenager locked in his room’ mentality fade and gaming come to the forefront of social activities with platforms such as Wii, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move. Karen said, “Now the whole family is talking about and, more importantly, consuming computer games. The sheer spectrum of games makes sure a wide demographic of people can enjoy gaming, and really shows how far the industry has come – it's another branch of mainstream entertainment along with film, TV and books, but with the potential to encompass all of them. I believe games are the future of fiction and we have only begun to scratch the surface of possibility.”

Karen Traviss will give her talk ‘Why storytelling is gameplay is storytelling’ at Animex 2012, taking place at Teesside University at 3pm, Monday 6 February. Visit www.animex.net for full details of the festival and to book your tickets.

03 February 2012

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