narrative design reading (and watching) list


The Game Narrative Toolbox

My go-to. It’s an excellent primer if you’re first learning about writing for games and narrative design. But if you’re more experienced, it’s also a good way to lend a common language to a practice and process you’re probably already doing. Includes worksheets that are good references, as well as good exercises. Good for AAA, mobile, and indie.

Advanced Game Narrative Toolbox

Follow-up to the first book. This one is more focused on specific aspects of narrative design (such as writing cinematics).

Writing for Games: Theory and Practice

A really insightful look into games writing specifically (not narrative design), with a focus on indie games and alternating perspectives on writing theory. Hannah has a rich background in theatre and draws on it extensively to provide helpful lenses for thinking about the opportunities and challenges in games writing.

Once Upon a Pixel: Storytelling and Worldbuilding in Video Games

This one isn’t instructional, but is a good combination of interviews with games writers and narrative designers, and critical analysis of video games, ranging from AAA to experimental indie.

Narrative Tactics for Mobile and Social Games: Pocket-Sized Storytelling

A great book on writing for mobile games specifically.

Twisty Little Passages

I haven’t read it myself yet, but have been recommended it very highly. Recommended as a really good read for interactive fiction writing and design specifically.

Procedural Storytelling in Game Design

Excellent read and primer if you’re interested in procgen narrative design or writing.

Baldur’s Gate II by Matt Bell

While this one isn’t specifically about how to write and design narrative for games, it is a really excellent look at how writing practice is applied, in reference to a specific game.

Character Development and Storytelling for Games

This one is a tome, but it contextualizes games writing in other media well.


Forget Protagonists: Writing NPCs with Agency for 80 Days and Beyond

By Meghna Jayanth for GDC 2016, about writing NPCs that don’t just revolve around the protagonist/player, and how this creates both more compelling characters and gameplay.

Interactive Story Without Challenge Mechanics: The Design of Firewatch

By Chris Remo for GDC 2019, about creating deeply integrated narrative into games, specifically without any challenge-based mechanics

Kill the Hero, Save the (Narrative) World

By Hannah Nicklin for GDC 2020, about writing ensemble casts and looking toward a narrative structure that is the best fit for games, rather than other media.

The Narrative Innovation Showcase 2019

One of my favourite recurring panels at GDC, the Narrative Innovation Showcase is always a good glimpse into how teams are approaching building on and challenging how narrative works in their games. 2019’s Showcase included: Clara Fernandez Vara, Matthew Weise, Tanya X. Short, Mark Backler, Whitney “Strix” Beltran, Dave Gilbert and Allen Turner.

All Choice No Consequence: Efficiently Branching Narrative

I love data. I love learning about how players engage with games and narrative systems, and I love learning how we can design based on what data tells us. In this 2016 GDC talk, Cassie Phillipps talks through the successes and challenges in writing branching narrative for mobile, backed by a the data Pocket Gems has collected over the years.

Integrating Narrative into Game Design: A Portal Post-Mortem

By Kim Swift and Erik Wolpaw for GDC 2008, the two discuss how they approached Portal’s story and gameplay simultaneously and used each department’s strengths and needs to enhance the overall game. Listening to developers talk about how they approached solving problems is always a good learning experience.

DiGRA India Conference 2021 Keynote #1: Meghna Jayanth

Meghna Jayanth’s talks are absolutely critical for approaching games writing and narrative design with thoughtfulness and care, and this keynote from DiGRA 2021 titled “White Protagonism and Imperial Pleasures in Game Design #DIGRA21” is no exception. Meghna has also provided the text of the keynote if you would prefer to read it.


Emily Short’s Blog

It’s impossible to pick just one of Emily Short’s blogs to link to, as they are all foundational and good reading. Even if you’re reading a post on a topic you’re not necessarily interested in, you will learn something. If you want a jumping off point, the posts on Storylets are fantastic.


Script Lock

Max and Nick Folkman hosts game writers and developers to talk about storytelling in video games. The episodes are all interesting, so I suggest scrolling for names of writers/developers you want to hear talk about writing for games! (Disclosure: I did an episode with them.)

Not Video Game Specific

Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget

Just an awesome, short book on how to write characters, with excellent worksheets and activities.

Write Worlds Your Readers Won’t Forget

Same deal as the above: awesome, concise, with worksheets and activities, that presents the most usable instruction on how to go about worldbuilding.