From us to you.
Let’s face it. In a text-obsessed culture, literacy is languishing in today’s convenient culture of shortening words via mobile messages at the expense of forever forgetting the difference between ‘to, two, and too’. In an information age, we seem to be getting dumber… how’s that for irony. I used to revise college papers for a small fee and was shocked that my under-graduate peers were still making elementary English errors that I had corrected before the age of 10.
At the risk of sounding like yet another patronising professor, let me point out that while the casual conversationalist may not find linguistic mastery a valuable asset, you can be sure that a capable writer frequently finds his thoughts respected, if not agreed with, while those poor with the pen will find their thoughts quickly dismissed as rubbish.
Thus, I have put together 6 short writing guidelines specific to fellow video game writers and anyone interested in entering the field of gaming journalism and criticism. Review them religiously!
1. Do Your Homework
Before you hunker down on your couch to play the game, check your facts. Research is imperative. In order to form a well-constructed argument, you need to have as much information on a topic as you can. No one cares about your opinion if it’s not informed.
Contrary to the antagonism of academia, Wikipedia is an invaluable tool to start with as long as you make sure to verify specifics by following its cited links. If you’re writing a review on a game, don’t write solely based on your own experience. Get the story on its development, check out developer diaries, skim through press conferences, and read other reviews on the game.
The more info you gather, and the more you get a sense for what other people thought, the more concrete and persuasive your own opinions will be. Absorbing facts, figures, and feelings will allow you to build upon previously explored ideas and propose philosophies that no one else interpreted. Do your homework, and you will be better prepared to have a strong case to back up your thoughts.
2. Develop Your Own Style
Everyone writes differently. Don’t be afraid to express yourself in a manner that doesn’t echo the top online publishers. That said, look to the works of other writers as much as you can for influence. Read, read, and read until your eyeballs turn bloodshot – okay, that might not be healthy, but you get the point.
Writing, like becoming a pro at a sport or a legend with a six-string, is an exercise that is nurtured with practice. Becoming discouraged at one’s lack of an archive of big words is a waste of time and energy. Some write in a comical tone, while others find it more effective to filter facts. Some, like myself, often structure their articles in strict essay format – intro paragraph ending with thesis, bodies beginning with topic sentences, and proofs backing your points – while others lean towards a loose free-for-all style.
Many writers are thematically recurrent, their background and beliefs inferring in a way that someone with a different background would not – for example, my academic training in the narrative film gives me transferable insight into the video game from a cinematic perspective, and I’ve often drawn parallels between the two industries and mediums, notably the rise of big-budget blockbusters in recent years.
And of course, an auteur of journalism is frequently identified by a trademark – in my case, it’s an adoration of alliteration. Point is, keep your pen – electronic or otherwise – active and your wisdom with words will assuredly widen.
3. Keep It Simple
Speaking of big words, don’t feel obligated to always fall back on your thesaurus. Balancing formality and casual chatter is one of the traits of a great writer. Like music, your work should evoke a rhythm and speed up and down to hold interest. Essay articulacy will definitely demonstrate that your work is the product of a quick mind, but sometimes substituting prose for spontaneity helps keep an article fluid.
Short sentence fragments, a plague to literacy educators, and falling back on slang are actually incredibly effective methods of controlling your content’s pace, as long as they are self-aware (i.e. the reader knows that the writer acknowledges his errors). Speed ’em up so we’re not dozin’ off. Get it? Got it? Good. Plain and simple, be professional, but be fun, too. Readers appreciate it, and you’ll find writing to be less of a chore and a more liberating workout.
4. Grammar Goofs
Once more, a texting culture has really eaten away at our literacy levels, so let’s quickly review the most egregious of errors.
Two is a number, to indicates destination, and too is a synonym for also.
They’re is the conjunction of they are, their is a possessive pronoun, and there indicates an object’s location.
The conjunctions of should have, would have and could have are should’ve, would’ve, could’ve…
NOT should of, would of, could of.
It’s is the conjunction of it is, whereas its, with no apostrophe, indicates possession.
These are only a handful of illiterate instances, and it’s a sad truth that one can’t scroll a YouTube video’s comment section without bearing witness to half a hundred of these hiccups. Perhaps even sadder that, as the polar opposite, I’ve never once committed a self-aware grammar goof or spelling slip in a mobile message, even after a trip to the pub – a fact I’m either very proud or ashamed of…. I’ll decide when I’m sober (just kidding). Regardless, fixing your typos will leave you with a much more polished piece of journalism.
5. Review Your Reviews
Simple, but critical. Check over your work again and again until you’re completely satisfied that your points are persuasive and your expression electrifying. Know your audience and the sort of questions they want answered. Have you answered them sufficiently?
Make sure you have named names. Who’s the developer, publisher, and other parties involved? If you talked in-depth about the game’s music and how it profoundly moved you, make sure you noted the composer (“Jeremy Soule’s mesmerising accompaniment is a triumph, so much so that the mere sound of the Skyrim theme can actually motivate you to return to the game.”) Ensure your facts are solid and your arguments are powerful.
6. Stay Subjective
Know the difference between journalism and criticism. Journalism is an objective act of reporting, while criticism is completely subjective. Don’t be insulted when one of your reviews is slung with charges of bias. Of course a reviewer is biased. It’s the reviewer’s job to relate their own thoughts and opinions, of which the reader trusts going in as a show of respect towards their integrity, in an informed and insightful fashion.
But bias is inevitable. Your findings will differ from other critics because of your natural and socially determined inclinations, not in spite of them. You will report the features of the latest breaking title, and may be dissatisfied with its generic and linear story-line, while a fellow writer might enjoy this same campaign, offering equally valid discussions as to why he thinks it has merit. It’s our job to be informative and to be entertaining. But it’s also our job to offer a unique perspective. And the reader, seeking some affirmation of how great or ghastly a game is, has to know that.
To keep it simple, don’t be afraid of speaking your mind, even if it may not agree with the vast majority. A distinct idea is far more valuable than a metric score.