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Writer's Guild Of America Explain Themselves

I wish my office was as furnished and opulent as this one.

In the last few years the Writer’s Guild of America’s Best Videogame Writing Award has gone to some curious candidates, to say the least. In 2007, the first of these awards went to PSP title Dead Head Fred. In 2008, a year which saw the release of GTAIV, Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3, the award was granted to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. In 2009, Uncharted 2: Honour Among Thieves was the winner, which actually made sense, but last month the 2010 nominees were unveiled and are as follows: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Fallout: New Vegas, God of War III, Singularity, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, with Mass Effect 2 or Red Dead Redemption conspicuous by their absence.

Just what is going on over there? Are the guild members all simply too busy hobnobbing and gingercrunching to play games? Not so. As a result of GI.biz’s own interview with Mary DeMarle, lead writer on Deus Ex: Human Revolution yesterday (you can reads ours here), some answers have come to light.

It started with DeMarle expressing frustration on the subject of whether the Writer’s Guild of America were supporting her field, which I’ll quite rudely quote here.

“Personally, I kind of get mad about the WGA writing awards because, rightly so, to be a part of that guild you have to pay membership fees. So what they’re actually doing is they’re supporting their membership by putting in a reward for writers that are members of their guild. If you have worked on a game and you want to submit for a writing award from the WGA, your writers have to be members of the WGA. And if they’re not, then you can’t be considered.”

In response, GI.biz received and published an editorial from the chair of the Writers Guild of America’s Videogame Writers Caucus, Micah Wright, most famous for claiming to be a United States Army Ranger Sergeant in the introduction to his book, You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want, when in fact he’d never served in the military.

Anyway, in response to DeMarle’s comment Wright responded with the following:

“First off you do not have to be a member of our guild to win our award. We ask that all entrants join the Videogame Writers Caucus (VWC), but that is NOT the same thing as being a member of the WGA.”

It’s true! While being a member of the Guild itself means a percentage of your earnings go to supporting the guild, joining the Writers Caucus merely involves a yearly $60 fee (a fee which also gets you a subscription to the guild’s own Written By Magazine among other benefits). So, one of the reasons your favourite games might not be appearing as nominees is that the writers didn’t cough up the money. Wright continues:

“…if a game does not have a credited writer, it’s not eligible for our award. The first year, several games which people believed should have won our award were not eligible because the Developer didn’t bother to credit the people who wrote those games. That’s an insult, and as a guild of professional writers, we’re not about to give an award to either a mystery person, or to a company which can’t be bothered to honour the workers who made their game.

“…we need to see a script with a list of writers’ names on it. For one thing, we need to know WHO wrote these games: we’re not clairvoyant… we can’t magically peer into some Developer’s internal business structure and divine who wrote what. Because of this requirement, however, some game studios have refused to submit a script, even though we’ve gone to great lengths to make it easy for them to do.

“Bioware, for example, refused to submit a script for either Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age this year, and that’s too bad, because both games would have likely been finalists… Similarly, Take Two Games refused to submit a script for Red Dead Redemption. Why? We don’t know.”

Right. That would also be any Valve games out of the running, since nobody at Valves has anything resembling a job title and their games are simply designed, written, scored and so forth by “Valve”. It also makes me wonder what the case is when a script includes writing from a dozen people. It sounds like every name on the submitted script would have to paid-up member of the Writers Caucus, hardly making submitting a script an “easy thing to do”.

Is it too much to ask that the Writer’s Guild of America just plays the games? Yes, says Wright.

“Some people in the games press say that we should simply play all the games and make our judgments that way. That’s what the Writers Guild of Great Britain does, these people complain. Well, first off, only British writers are eligible for that award, and there are many fewer British-written games than there are American-written games. Our judges are all members of the VWC, and thus, professional, working videogame writers. I can’t demand that our judges sit down and buy and then devote 80 hours to playing every videogame that comes out at retail… not when they’ve got jobs and lives to lead and they can read the entire script in 2 hours or less.”

So there you have it. We can do that here in the UK, because our output is pathetic. Also, the members of the Writers Guild of Great Britain aren’t professional, working videogame writers? News to me!

Incidentally, the Writers Guild of Great Britain awarded their best videogame script award to Red Dead Redemption this year. Tomorrow night is the Writer’s Guild of America’s own ceremony. I can hardly wait.

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