So, what’s a “bark”? Barks are a part of video game writing lexicon that refer to short lines of dialog yelled in the background. They can be totally random or in response to something that the player does. Barks are quick one-liners dictated by NPCs (non player characters) with the intent to provide additional atmospheric effects that compound quality music and/or sound design.
For instance, in an action-heavy first-person shooter, gameplay is likely to be accompanied by NPCs barking “FIRE!” or “Stay down!” In contrast, a slower-paced RPG that is trying to immerse the player in a marketplace scene could entail barks like “Armor for sale!” in the background and “Stop, thief!” in response to the player trying to steal wares.
Writing barks is pretty challenging in the already-gargantuan task of writing dialog and text for video games. If you don’t come from this industry, you might be shocked to learn that it’s actually often harder to write barks than it is to write entire dialog sequences! So here’s what video game barks can teach content strategists and writers when it comes to solidifying a brand and overall feeling.
Making Content More Atmospheric
This isn’t solely limited to written content: whether you’ve got a podcast, webpage, video series, images, or any other type of content, it could always do with some consistency and atmosphere. Barks in this context can be slogans, catchphrases, and the like that drive a point home to the viewer.
If it’s content with an audio element like podcasts or videos, adding barks in the true sense can give the listener a sense of cohesion. Pleasing visuals can provide that same consistency and aesthetic quality to blog posts and other written content, and think of them as visual barks. How would they tie in with these audio cues?
Saying More with Less
Part of why writing barks in a game is challenging is two-fold: you can only demonstrate so much in a couple of words, and depending on the game’s design, this is a line that can quickly become an earworm if it’s the only bark that the player hears.
Industry vet Jon Blyth poked fun at the concept at how the constant repetition can totally ruin both a good line and game. Since consuming content doesn’t have the same context as playing a game where the latter is often not a totally linear and uniform experience, repetition isn’t really a worry here. However, the first challenge in writing barks still holds true: how do you say more with less without losing out on both atmosphere and the desired effect?
In coming up with effective “content barks”, what’s going to work for adding to brand cohesion and what should stay purely as a slogan or CTA? You’re not describing the long journey from a fabled realm but trying to get a busy CTO to schedule a call with a sales rep, so that bark should fit the target audience, your product, yet still be cohesive. (Now see why barks are tougher than full dialog sequences?)
(Unintentionally) Making Things Memetic
Video game lore is one of the hugest driving forces of memes. Barks and lines alike have turned memetic, one of the most prolific being Zero Wing’s “All your base are belong to us” and “A POISONOUS SNAKE” from King’s Quest V. These examples respectively became memes for bad translation and the over-the-top way that the line was said. In both cases, it was totally unintentional.
In putting audio barks into your content, intentionally trying to become a meme usually always backfires. But if you’ve been exploring hopping onto memes to gain more reach, you open up FAR more possibilities this way than relying on text alone. Did a social media gaffe suddenly draw attention? Make fun of it on your next podcast episode and turn it into a bark!
Don’t forget to stay on top of the WriterAccess blog for more tips on how to harness the memes of production!