Britain’s The Guardian has just run another generic anti-tech critique of modern technophilia and the push for interactive storytelling, this time from columnist Damien Walter. He takes issue with the predictions that “traditional fiction will be superannuated by new technology,” proclaiming: “Novels remain the best interactive media.”

Walter feels that some generic “we” has been led sadly astray by tech hype to desert “those fusty old book things and their tiresome words” in favor of “interactive multimedia experiences.” This slightly skips over the fact that the quintessential tech product which really transformed publishing, writing, and the world of books, was not about multimedia and interactivity at all, but just put plain old text on dull black-and-white slow-to-refresh screens in people’s hands—albeit more easily, plentifully, and accessibly than publishers had, despite the opportunities of the tech era.

But Walter still picks up on the failure of interactive fiction apps to come up with anything more engaging than ”their non-interactive forebears.” He also takes issue with the writing in computer games: “There doesn’t seem to be a single decent writer working in video games,” he insists. “Being a writer is much harder than being a coder. Because you are working with a language far more complex, nuanced and potentially powerful than Javascript.”

Normally, I’d take it as the height of bad manners to diss on another writer’s track record. My own is hardly that dazzling after all. But if that writer sets up to pontificate on standards of writing in another medium (and yes, shouldn’t that title read “…the best interactive medium”?), then I reckon they’re asking to be called out on it.

And Damien G. Walter, identified by The Guardian as a “writer of weird and speculative fiction,” is:

“writer, Guardian columnist and writing teacher. He has bylines for Wired UK, SFX, Aeon magazine and IO9. His fiction has been published in the Hugo award winning Electric Velocipede, broadcast on BBC Radio and won grant funding from Arts Council England. In 2008 he attended the Clarion writers workshop at UC San Diego. He teaches creative writing at University of Leicester and writing for digital media at University of Nottingham.”

But Amazon is innocent of any book by him that I can find. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place—after all, Amazon typifies just the sort of tech cultism he writes against. But shouldn’t a writer who criticizes other entire schools of writing have just one book to his name?

Yes, I agree with him that computer games do not always have the best storylines imaginable. But many do. And some even engage good writers. I still delight in the convoluted storyline of Deus Ex, or Thief.

And if you want lessons in solid characterization that would do credit to Elmore Leonard, to say nothing of dialog so salty that you could shave strips off it and use it to season Portuguese cuisine, just look at the latest trailers for Grand Theft Auto V. (Below —Ed.)

And comparing a story writer with a coder is like comparing a movie scriptwriter to the lighting engineer. Hardly apples with apples. That’s obvious, I know, but worth stressing. I completely agree with the primacy of the word. I have been agreeing with it repeatedly, exhaustively, tediously, so that you’re all probably well tired of it by now.

I agree with Walter that:

“When it comes to novels, the only job of an iPad is to provide a convenient platform to read on, then get the hell out of the way and let the language do its work.”

But who ever said anything else? Only some straw man of Walter’s imagination, I suspect. And that straw man, I also suspect, is a totem for a profound technophobia shared by very many readers of The Guardian, who lap up its coverage of Independent Booksellers Week and Amazon’s tax fiddles—and articles like Walter’s. To the journo, those gushes of unexamined sentiment are a resource you can tap into without fear of your inkwell ever running dry.


  1. “There doesn’t seem to be a single decent writer working in video games,” he insists.


    “…most of you are aware that I’m working on a video game with Industrial Toys, called Morning Star…”–dual Hugo winner John Scalzi.

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