Very interesting Q&A from Josh Sawyer's Formspring today:
Q: You lamented about the lack of serious themes in video games earlier. Why do you think the quality of writing is dependent on establishing and developing a theme? Wouldn't an entertaining plot and characters be more important for the player's enjoyment?
A: A lot of RPGs are long, certainly longer than the average film. If there is not some thematic thread running through all of that time and much of the dialogue, the experience as a whole can fall flat. Taken as snapshots, characters and plot elements may stand on their own, but they are essentially reduced to one-offs with very little connective tissue binding them together.
We already have plenty of examples of well-written characters in video gaming. Writing consistently entertaining dialogue requires skill, but I believe the best writing in any genre combines well-written characters with an interesting exploration of theme. Video games don't do that very often, overtly or subtextually.
"Entertainment value" and "depth" are not intrinsically linked. Many people are entertained by things that have very little depth. Some of the most popular "western" RPG characters, I would argue, have very little depth and are not connected to any consistently established theme.
So, when I'm asked if I think gamers have lowered their standards for writing, I honestly have to ask, "What standards?" From what I see and hear people discussing, those standards stop at entertaining dialogue and an interesting plot. In my opinion, that is a very low bar to reach -- and I write this fully aware that I do not write the most entertaining characters or plots. I just think that with all of the good writers in the industry, we can do much better than we have.
Ask Josh a question yourself.