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Games to inspire writers.

IN HONOR of VOYA's annual creative writing issue, I will focus on a few specific types of games that provide writing and discussion opportunities: creating story through game design, games that inspire story, and games that are poetry in motion. Some games mentioned can be circulated, others can be downloaded and installed to library computers, and still others can be played online or on mobile devices. All of these ideas have potential for library programs, not just solo gameplay.


A student in my Game Design for Librarians course decided to recreate part of a self-published book, Anasazi Seeds of Time (, 2006) by Peggy Lee Johnson, for her work throughout the course. The story tells a tale of an alien race that has landed in the South American jungle and must establish a new civilization in the style of the Aztecs.


The first activity was breaking the elements of the story down into levels, with goals, obstacles, and tools that would further the action of the plot. The game was designed using MIT's free game design program, Scratch. Level zero introduced the back story, and took advantage of Scratch's animation features, such as having text and characters (sprites) fly in, and incorporated speech bubbles and sound effects. Level one focuses on a task of the settlers: collect stones to build a pyramid while avoiding a deadly predator, a panther. In level two, the settlers must gather food to replace the supply, which is becoming moldy and spoils in the jungle heat. Although fruit falls abundantly from the jungle canopy, some is healthy, while some is toxic and will diminish health, instead of improve it.

The process included writing to the author for permission. The designer adapted images that were Creative Commons licensed (built-in permission for reuse, with attribution), and used free sound effects from several online sound libraries. All resources were credited in the notes field of the game.

Selecting a public domain story and designing a game around it would be a great library program that could be stretched over multiple sessions. Scratch takes about ten hours to learn--and many more to master!--but is accessible to youth as young as eight years old. Part of the program can include discussion of proper use of intellectual property.


Passage is a downloadable file that can be installed on a library computer, or played as an iphone app. Two characters meet up and move through a changing terrain, and change along the way. Who are they? What is the backstory? Where are they going? How old are they? What is the game trying to say? The controls are simple: move forward, backward, down, or back up. The graphics are simple: old school pixels in bright colors. The music is simple and repetitive. The gameplay itself is very short, and can be played at the library, and then immediately discussed. This is a serious game that inspires conversation; using the game as a writing prompt or for online forum discussion could extend the program beyond the walls of library.

There are over 38,000 Pokemon fanfiction stories on the Web site. Kingdom Hearts has nearly 60,000. In both cases, the plethora of characters and conflicts lends itself well to storytelling. Popular franchises are not the only games that seem to lend themselves well to the wild imaginations of their fans: Cartoon Network's Fusion Fall has over 150, Professor Layton, a puzzle game, has inspired nearly 500, and even the arcade classic Pac-Man gets a nod, with nearly two dozen stories.

Keep in mind that library gaming programs do not have to involve any actual gameplay. A writing workshop in which participants are invited to further develop a character from a game can be highly successful; appeal to the competitive nature of the garner by building in a contest element. Stories can be posted online, and anyone in the community can vote for a favorite.


This puzzle game is a variation of a brick-breaking game that integrates physics: your goal is to slingshot a variety of birds at pigs encased in elaborate scaffolding of beams and blocks. Collapsing the infrastructure crushes the pigs, resulting in points earned. Each level becomes increasingly complex. All pigs must be vanquished to advance, and trial and error of aligning each bird at the best angle for maximum destruction is a delightful challenge. The birds have different characteristics to maximize damage, such as increased speed or splitting a single bird into three birds. The game's characters have cutesy, rounded shapes with fierce (birds) and bland (pigs) faces, and the background music is an upbeat mix of synthesizer music and xylophone over ambient outdoor noises. Playful sound effects abound, adding to the fun atmosphere: nasally over-the-top campy laughter, the pull-snap-boing of a rubber band, and the crashing of wood and stone complete the experience. Most games have more than one solution, and the publisher provides video walkthroughs for the player stuck on any level.

An Apps discussion group would be a great place to showcase this challenging game; if your library has an ipad, Angry Birds is definitely one to download, and a free "Lite" version is available. It is playable via PC, and can be installed on library computers.

How are you using games to inspire writing at your library? I'd love to hear your ideas--successes, and what you learned by failing!

Anasazi. Kate Fisher.

Angry Birds. Rovio. Windows 7, XP; Mac; iphone; Android; Palm.

Passage. Jason Rohrer. Windows XP; Mac; Linux; iphone,

Scratch. MIT.

Beth Gallaway is the assistant director at the Haverhill (MA) Public Library and the author of Game On! Gaming at the Library (Neal-Schuman, 2009). She also works as an independent library consultant, training on topics like teen behavior, technology, and gaming.
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Title Annotation:get your game on
Author:Gallaway, Beth
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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