Videogame Style Guide


imagePeople shouldn’t have to guess what you’re trying to say. It should be clear. When you open your mouth, or put finger to keyboard, you should be speaking clearly enough so that those on the receiving end of your transmission have no doubt as to what they’ve just heard or seen. This is simply common sense, one would think. After all, you want people to think about what you’re saying, rather than how you’re saying it. Language is a tool, not a destination. And like all tools, the proper usage of it is essential.

But you wouldn’t think so from reading most game writing, or participating on forums. In fact, one of the most frequent debates I’m a party to revolves around whether or not it’s “important” how one deploys punctuation or spells certain words. As you might have guessed, I’m the one coming down on the side of it being important, but I’ve no illusions about the proper place of punctuation. Lives will not be saved if an ellipsis has two spaces (one at each end), nor will separating two disjointed thoughts with a dash cure cancer.

But I’m firmly of the opinion that a thing worth doing is worth doing well, or at least properly. I cook with cast iron, use paint keys (not screwdrivers) to open paint cans and signal my turns from at least 100 feet. I’m not a conformist, but I believe nonconformity for the sake of nonconformity is a waste of energy. Better to be a rebel about having to partially disrobe at the airport than about where to put a comma.

When I was in school, learning grammar and punctuation, handwriting was stressed over typing, and the proper way to format a letter did not begin with downloading a macro. More emphasis was placed on proper checkbook accounting than written communication, but that’s not to say I didn’t absorb all there was to learn. Rather, it was considered more or less an optional exercise, like joining the Latin club, and just as sexy.

Toady, however, we’re back in the 19th Century. People still talk on the phone (or VoIP), but written communication is making a comeback in a big way. Email and IM are the tools of this generation, and web forums and message boards have taken the place of letters to the editor or the million man march. Sadly, our educational system has not caught back up, and many an English teacher is still wringing her hands in frustration over modern man’s eschewing of the written word. If only they knew. If only they were web-savvy. Because, honestly, we need them.

Thank Vishnu then for Kyle Orland and his band of merry punctuation freaks. Kyle’s been bugging me for a couple of weeks to take a look at his new book, and when I finally got around to doing so, I was pleased, thrilled and cautiously optimistic about the future of this great planet.

Kyle, a long-time game writer and journalism school graduate, has done what many before him have dreaded doing: compiled a compendium of correct language and punctuation usage for erstwhile game writers. Using the venerable AP Style as a jumping off point, Kyle and his collaborators have taken it upon themselves to tell you exactly how you should go about spelling Xbox and correctly use a treasure trove of oft-misused terms.

From the introduction:

Over the years, avid gamers have developed a sort of organic shorthand that is perfectly clear to them, but perfectly incomprehensible to a larger audience. This jargon is standing in the way of mainstream understanding and acceptance of videogames. However you slice it, having an inconsistent style is embarrassing and detrimental to the cause of our beloved industry. Addressing these issues will inevitably build trust and respect for both our art and the emerging field of gaming as a whole.

And that, my friends, is entirely the point. Anyone who’s bemoaned the lack of respect gamers and gaming receive in mainstream media and culture should take a hard look at how they present themselves, bit in person and in communication. Just as you would never show up to a job interview wearing a ratty-ass Atari T-shirt, you would be a fool to think proper presentation of one’s written thoughts matters any less.

When the majority of mainstream humans read about gaming and/or gamers, the image in their minds’ eye is of a teeming throng of barely comprehensible miscreants speaking in tongues, using barely-understood jargon and meeting together in darkened dens to do god-knows-what to the cat. We can’t do much about that last, but we can certainly alter the perception of our attempts at communication by doing what any other professional writer would do: Find a style guide and stick to it.

Here at The Escapist[/a], we use a combination of [i]AP Style and a few extra rules of our own, some published, some not. It’s like a breakfast blend for pretentious, pseudo-intellectual game writing wankery. For everyone else, I recommend The Videogame Style Guide.

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