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Press start to continue technical writing

If I asked you to think about the protagonist of a video game, you might conjure up some classic examples; everyone’s favourite Italian plumber, Mario, the fast and furious Sonic the Hedgehog, the very angry and very violent God of War, Kratos, or maybe even the gun-slinging cowboys from Red Dead Redemption. Few of you would think of a Technical Writer as a hero in a video game. However, there are some very good examples of games where you play the role of a Technical Writer.

While discussing one of my previous blogs on video game instructions with Matt Rus, Technical Writer and long-suffering proofreader, we started talking about our shared fondness for the Fallout series, and a certain quest line that has you helping to write a manual (more on that later), and then it struck me – there are plenty of games where technical writing either plays a key role in gameplay, or one step further, you essentially play the role of a Technical Writer. What is fascinating is how your efforts to write well (or not, in some cases) directly affect the world of the game and how you interact with it.

Also, somewhat controversially – there may be something video games can teach us about technical writing in the real world. So join me in my ongoing quest to convince my parents that video games aren’t a complete waste of time, as we look at some examples of games where you play as a Technical Writer.

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Ever wanted to be a bomb disposal expert? Or even better yet, the person who reads instructions to a bomb disposal expert? While we are certain most bomb disposal teams read the instructions at least once before dealing with real bombs, in ‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes’ this doesn’t seem to be the case. In this two-player cooperative game, one player is tasked with defusing a bomb while the other player has to read to them the instructions on how to do it.

The game is set up so that both players have separate screens – the bomb diffuser can’t see the instructions, and the player reading the instruction can’t see the bomb. This leads to a very interesting gameplay dynamic, where the bomb diffuser has to accurately describe the features of the bomb, while the player reading the instruction has to work out what model of bomb they are working with from the diffuser’s descriptions, and then relay the instructions on how to defuse that model of bomb to them. Clear, efficient communication under a strict time limit is needed to succeed, and this can lead to some interesting gameplay, which you can see in this playthrough by two former bomb disposal experts:

So, while we’ve bent the rules a bit here – technically you don’t write the instructions, as both players need to communicate with each other clearly to relay the correct information from the instruction manual – kind of what a Technical Writer does in the first place.

So, what can technical writers learn from this example? Well, it’s important to have clear and easy-to-understand instructions, especially if those instructions may be used in an emergency or time of stress. As seen in a playthrough of the game, the ability to communicate complex information clearly can mean the difference between success and failure, so it’s important that technical writers ensure their content can be quickly understood. My colleague, Rachel Potts, covers this in more detail in her blog, ‘Why the skill of writing well matters’.

Fallout 3

While many of you will have heard of Fallout due to Amazon’s well-received TV series, the video games have been around since 1997, when the first incarnation was an isometric role-playing game. ‘Fallout 3’ , released in 2008, may have changed to a first-person perspective, but the themes of the futility of war, the harshness of post-nuclear survival, and some very strange humour, remain. There is also a great chance to play as a Technical Writer while exploring the open world of the Capital Wasteland.

Fairly early in the game, the player can travel to Megaton, a township built rather haphazardly on an unexploded nuclear bomb. Here you can meet Moria, owner of the Craterside Supply shop, and author of the ‘Wasteland Survival Guide’ . If you choose to, you can help her finish writing her survival guide by completing several quests, such as raiding a local supermarket for supplies, investigating a local ghost town, and hunting and cooking mutated animals.

The best part about this mission is that how well you perform each quest directly relates to how well the Wasteland Survival Guide turns out. Performing badly, choosing to lie to Moria about completing tasks, or giving Moria sarcastic advice leads to the Wasteland Survival Guide being badly written. In later sections of the game, you’ll find the manual on the corpses of dead wastelanders, who presumably died because of your bad advice. However, if you perform well, complete the additional tasks, and pass some speech checks, the Wasteland Survival Guide becomes a great tool for those looking to survive the Capital Wasteland. Later in the game, you can meet some grateful readers, who have survived due to the well-researched manual, and even get some bonus items. You can see a playthrough below to find out more:

What does this teach us about technical writing in the real world? It demonstrates how accurate, well-researched technical writing can truly affect the world. If you create poor technical documentation, just like in Fallout 3, you can endanger the success of your products, and even endanger lives. Good technical writing can be incredibly useful, help facilitate the success of your products, and maybe even make the world a slightly better place. We look more into this point in our blog, ‘Why you should invest in good technical writing’.

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Tunic is an isometric adventure game, released in 2022. In Tunic, you play as an anthropomorphic fox, on a quest to restore a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, similar to games such as Zelda or Rachet and Clank. While you can finish the game in the traditional way, by gaining new skills, finding rare items to aid you in your quest, and defeating bosses, there is another way to beat the game (spoilers ahead if you haven’t played Tunic ).

Throughout your travels in Tunic, you start to assemble a manual, which explains the backstory of the world and its lore. Further into the game, it starts to explain the events that led to its downfall, including how certain characters misused technology and got themselves stuck in an endless cycle (which, if you choose to just play the game normally, you end up repeating). More importantly, if you finish the manual, it details how you can break this cycle and restore the world to its former glory. Then, upon reaching the final boss, instead of fighting them, you can choose to present them with the completed manual, and together you start to undo the catastrophe that has befallen the world. You can watch a trailer for Tunic below:

So, what does this teach us about technical writing? Well, it’s a simple lesson – uninformed users are doomed to make mistakes, but giving them an easy-to-understand manual can totally change how they use and view something, be it a product, service, or way of managing an energy source in a fantasy kingdom. All jokes aside, good technical writing can mean the difference between successfully understanding how something works and getting the full benefit from it, and completely misusing or abandoning it. An informed user will easily use something in the correct way and see all the benefits of using it, while an uninformed user will likely get it wrong, and either misuse or give up on trying to use a product or service. We cover this further in our blog, ‘How great documentation can stop you losing customers’.

Lessons learnt?

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed these examples of being a Technical Writer in video games. These aren’t the only examples, as there are plenty of other games where players create their own documentation (two of my favourites I couldn’t include are ‘TS100’, where the player is a computer programmer creating new systems from a technical manual, and ‘Hunt Showdown’ in which the player slowly pieces together a ‘Monstrorvm’ – a technical manual of the adversaries they encounter in their travels through the infested bayou). Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to play some of these examples, as they are good fun, and maybe you’ve also learned some lessons about how technical writing works in the real world. At the very least, it might convince my parents that buying that PlayStation wasn’t such a bad idea.

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Danny Naylor

Danny Naylor

Working as a Marketing Manager, Danny thrives on thinking up novel ways to reach customers, as well as creating and running campaigns over digital channels. Away from the office, Danny relaxes by obsessing over films and music, annoying his neighbors with his guitar collection and shouting at the England rugby team.View Author posts

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