Monday, February 23, 2009

A Style Guide, or a manifesto?

Let me lay my cards on the table: This blog is my attempt at "breaking in" to the game journalism industry. But I don't want to do it just because it'll be fun, or because I'd get lots of free games. I'm doing it because I think it's vitally important. As Chuck Klosterman made clear in my previous entry, there are no true videogame critics, though the industry desperately needs some.

Why? Because I see the emergence of a true critic as the best way to bring legitimacy to games themselves. Imagine if films were written about the same way games are typically written about today:

"Citizen Kane, though it has above-average acting and marvelous production values, risks putting off casual viewers with its highbrow treatment of its subject matter. Casual viewers and anyone looking for intuitive action scenes are encouraged to look elsewhere."

"Apart from a mind-blowing chariot racing scene, Ben-Hur doesn't have much to offer beyond numerous tedious scenes of dialogue. Still, the writers deserve credit for great characterization, and the acting is definitely above average."

"The Godfather Part II is the explosive sequel to the 1972 masterpiece The Godfather. Everything viewers came to expect from the original are back: double-crossings, brutal assassinations and the best acting we've ever seen."

Um, excuse me? Is that really the best you can do? Clearly, the game industry needs to hold itself to a higher standard. And fortunately for all of us, there are organizations out there that are working to do just that. Enter the International Game Journalists Association, and their recent tome, The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual.

Anyone who's ever worked for a newspaper undoubtedly has heard of the Associated Press Style Guide and Reference Manual. It's that endlessly useful book that settles every style question a journalist might possibly have when writing a story. For example, it tells us that, when talking about quantities less than 10, that you should write out the number: "It happened four years and 10 days ago." Unless, of course, you're talking about age: "The boy is 3 years old." The AP Style Guide will tell you the correct way to write dates, titles, acronyms (U.N. with periods, EU without) and virtually everything else.

The Videogame Style Guide is meant to the an addendum to the AP Style Guide for publications focusing on videogames. As the writers point out in the introduction, writing the guide is a necessary step to bring legitimacy and uniformity to game writing. Do I really need to explain why it's important for everyone to agree that the correct spelling is Xbox and not XBox or X-Box?

But the guide goes beyond uniformity in a few key areas. I've mentioned one instance before: spelling videogame as one word, when virtually everyone else, including the AP, spells it as two words. As the game writers explain, the guide is also about drawing a proverbial line in the sand. They want to bring the concepts of "video" and "game" together into "a one-word cultural idiom unto itself." Surely the first step is to get writers to agree on the meaning and usage of terms that they all use.

Returning to my examples from above, imagine if one outlet referred to "The Godfather Part II" while another said "The Godfather Part 2," while a third had simply "The Godfather 2." This could never happen nowadays, but if you peruse enough videogame magazines and Web sites, you'll see exactly this type of thing happening.

I don't want to sound like I'm nitpicking. Problems with videogame writing go far beyond simple accuracy. But if the ultimate goal is to expand the audience for gaming-related articles and publications, it's vital for the average reader to be able to read terms like MMORPG, ESRB and FPS without turning away in confusion.

1 comment:

  1. Well put. Readers of informative material - no matter the subject - should be able to glean critical details without being distracted by unprofessional mangling of terms. (Full disclosure: I do work at a newspaper in an editorial capacity) =)