Expert Interviews > Naomi Alderman

Naomi AldermanNaomi Alderman is the author of three novels: Disobedience, The Lessons, and Doctor Who: Borrowed Time. She has won the Orange Award for New Writers and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year prize. She’s also a games writer, was lead writer on puzzle alternate reality game Perplex City and has recently completed a language teaching game for the BBC. She writes regularly on games for the Guardian.

From your perspective as a writer, what is it about games that interests you most?

Mostly, it's that I don't think the hard problems around storytelling in games have been solved yet! In novels, we know how to do free indirect voice and various other tricks; they've been around for hundreds of years. But games are still carving out their storytelling methods and tropes. It's exciting to be part of that.

What are the most important lessons you have learned about how to engage players in a story?

Engaging players in a game story - if the game is good - shouldn't be too hard. The game's done half your work for you. The most important thing is to think about character, to make your characters real, rounded, with both light and shade to them.

What advice would you give a novice story writer/game designer for education?

You cannot motivate someone to learn by your game alone. But you can make the experience delightful. Think about things that will make your player grin, and about how you can emphasise how these skills will be useful.

How do you think that games can most effectively be used in education? Is there anything they can't be used for?

They are most effective as part of a larger learning plan or environment. They can make rote learning more fun, they can help with self testing, they can also encourage creativity and a playful attitude to learning. They're never the whole solution, but I can't think of learning goals they can't help with.

How far can narrative be used to set up a detailed context; or are graphics/imagery as important in games?

Both are important. Text based games (like interactive fiction) can set up context using words, but if you're using graphics (and they're good) they can set mood, tone and setting too! It all depends what kind of game you're making.

Where do you see stories, games and education intertwining in the future?

Games are the biggest entertainment industry in the world and they're only going to get bigger. They're taking stories increasingly seriously, which is exciting, although they have a long way to go. So, let's say that the future will hold many more games, many of them with wonderful stories. Where does that leave education? I suggest we look at wonderful educational TV from the past - like the Look and Read programmes, which use a great story as a motivator to get kids interested in reading. Similarly, a wonderful game can inspire interest in a whole range of subjects. For me, playing the game Assassin's Creed has inspired me to learn about the Italian Renaissance. It's not just about testing and badges: games provide an immersive environment, where you find you want to learn more because the world is enticing. I'd like to see educational games use this ability more. Put your player in an exciting, fascinating position, where learning and thinking is the only way to proceed and watch them blast through your learning tools!

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