By Faith Foushee
On April 13, Rachel Noel Williams visited campus to talk to students and faculty about the importance of choices in the gaming industry. Williams is a narrative designer who has created content for a variety of companies including Telltale Games, Obsidian Entertainment and Riot Games. While this event was hosted by the Media Fellows Program, it was also part of a day-long conference on Narrative Games.
“Rachel Noel Williams gave our students insight into what it’s like to work as a narrative designer for a AAA game company and how to design games with meaningful choices,” said Dr. Kristina Bell, Media Fellows Advisor at HPU. Bell met Williams through networking at various conferences the two have attended.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to learn more about her and her work,” Bell explained. “She is not only incredibly smart and talented, but also an all-around wonderful person.”
Williams spoke on campus to give students interested in game design insight into her work. While she discussed some of her experiences as a narrative designer, she mainly focused on the topic of choices when it comes to games. She highlighted four main factors of choice making: stakes, consequences, visibility and timing.
“Choices show character and player influence on the story because it puts you in the driver’s seat with an established character,” said Williams.
Williams explained that when people play games, it is essential to realize that they are not performing as themselves, but as the characters in the narrative. This means that even though one person might make one decision, the character may make the opposite, and players need to make the best decision for the role in which they are playing. Williams elaborated on this by telling a story of her co-worker who did not think of himself as an aggressive person, but realized that when he plays games, he often chooses an aggressive path.
“While we cannot always make a choice matter to someone, we can make it something to inspire someone,” said Williams about how she works to get people to react positively to the games she has created.
She explained how some decisions could bring meaning to the players and give them something to think about when they are finished playing.
“People do not find a personal connection to the game until they are given a hard choice,” said Williams. Some choices made in games are difficult.
When a game forces a player to make a decision with two undesirable options, the player pulls from their personal experience to make a choice.
Payton Grady, a first-year student at HPU, found Williams’ keynote speech fascinating as he enjoyed learning more about decision making as the designer and player.
“Rachel Noel Williams was fascinating to listen to, given her experience at Telltale Games,” said Payton Grady, a first-year student at HPU, as he enjoyed learning more about decision making as the designer and player. “One interesting thing she pointed out during her presentation is that some games have to be geared towards one ending because multiple endings can overcomplicate the design, so sometimes choices have to be character-driven rather than player-driven.”
Williams is continuing to write stories in the games industry. After completing her work on Telltale Games’ Minecraft Story Mode, she has become a narrative designer for Riot