Jotun, from Thunder Lotus Games, is an amazing game, at least in my estimation. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I believe that video games are great and everyone should play them, but that doesn’t mean that all video games, even great ones, are of value to analyze to help a writer on their way. Jotun is not like most games though, so we are going to take a look at what it can teach us as writers today. We’ll take a look at the characters, plot, pacing, and style.
Jotun is a stark story with only a few characters. It’s the way those characters are fleshed out, though, that should be of interest to a writer. Thora, the main protagonist, is characterized through her actions and the feel of her dialogue as much as any information she herself provides. The vocal inflections have their writing counterparts and should serve to remind us that subtle clues about a character can tell as much if not more than the direct quotations themselves. We can feel Thora’s reverence for the Gods, the depth of her duty, and, simply through her knowledge displayed as she identifies her surroundings, her intelligence and knowledge. Meanwhile, Thora’s movements and actions in exploration and battle inform us of the rest we need to know: her skill at battle, her strength and endurance, and her bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. Just as in the game, a writer can show those same things in the dramatic sequences of a book, even without directly mentioning those qualities outside of said sequences.
The various exposition segments told to us directly by Thora, the equivalent of info dumps in writing, are also something for us to look at in terms of technique. She recounts her history before her death at an even pace throughout the story as opposed to dumped on the player all at once. This concept of a spaced-out backstory is a technique that can be used in writing to avoid the overclogged clumps of exposition I read all too often. It represents the idea of exposition presented on a ‘need-to-know’ basis, giving the reader all they need without overwhelming them.
As for plot and pacing, Jotun‘s story is relatively simple. However, it is the manner in which it tells its story and some of the gameplay mechanics around it that are of interest to we writers. The main flow of the gameplay involves Thora moving to one of five realms from Norse mythology, exploring until she finds various hidden runes. Once all the runes in a realm are discovered, she then progresses to challenge one of five jotun, massive giants and enemies of the Gods. This also seems simple, but the rub is in the details.
You see, unlike a pure action game, there is little direct conflict or combat in the exploration stages. The conflict and plot points are provided by various puzzles, challenges, and bits of backstory and information as Thora finds new vistas, creatures from myth, and altars to the Gods. In writing, these segments would be the various points of falling action between major dramatic conflicts. They are periods to cool down and reflect, allowing the player (or the reader) to learn more about the story and the characters and to wind down from the last height of dramatic tension. At the right time, the runes are collected and another gate to a jotun is opened, leading to a new height of tension as Thora is pitted against a huge, legendary creature of vast power. Defeating a jotun opens the way forward to new vistas and also signals another chapter of Thora’s own history to be revealed, furthering the key plot in multiple ways. It is an almost ideal curve of dramatic tension that any writer would be proud of and something to emulate for excellent pacing in a book.
Finally, let’s take a look at the artistic style of Jotun and how it applies to writing. Now, this may seem impossible, finding meaning from a visual medium to apply to a written one, but hear me out. What we want to focus on is the consistency of style here and how that consistent style generates a general atmosphere for the game. The hand-drawn art and immense scale of the world it depicts evokes a certain mythic/storybook/faerie tale quality, while each unique environment with their elemental extremes and lack of human life reinforces the theme of the harsh Viking world and the intensely personal nature of Thora’s quest to impress the Gods.
These stylistic techniques translate directly when it comes to writing. The style of our writing creates the same atmosphere that an artistic style does, and how we write informs of themes and feelings as much as it does when applied to visual medium. Keeping a consistent writing style reinforces that atmosphere you are trying to create in your writing, and it is essential in both art and writing for there to be no disconnect between the style you use and the feelings you are trying to evoke with your work.
I could ramble on for a while longer when it comes to Jotun, but I think that covers the major elements I think are especially applicable to good writing. If you have any questions or insights, drop them in the comments below!
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!