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A search for good writers

February 24th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

Game Daily Biz is searching for the best gaming writers in the world for recognition. There doesn’t seem to be any cash prize or anything; just a chance for writers to be recognized for the stuff they do.

I’d take this chance to list all my favorite game writers, but I’d be sure to leave someone out. And, since I work with some of these people, that would not be cool. This request for nominations does raise the obvious question: What makes someone a good writer about video/computer games?

1. No inside jokes. Running jokes are OK. Tom Chick references his imaginary friend Trevor in his monthly columns for CGM and his irregular must read Shoot Club stories. But inside jokes that refer to things that other reviewers or co-workers do are just annoying, especially in a review. Thankfully, this is not as common as it used to be, a sign that the writing side of the biz is getting more professional about what is and is not important to the reader.

2. Avoid the cliches. “If you like this sort of game, you will like this sort of game.” Scraplines that reference “Kung-Fu Fighting” or “Lions and Tigers and Bears!” “It’s like Pac Man meets Planescape!” Some journalistic lingo is unavoidable, but try to break out of the box.

3. Put the game you are talking about in the context of similar games or games from the same developers. Sure, everyone knows Civilization or Age of Empires. But if you are talking about yet another WWII RTS, compare it to some of the hundred others that came out that year. The rating you assign – be it in stars or percentages – won’t be enough to give the reader any idea how it differs or which he/she should buy.

4. Grow up. Sex and booze and weed and cartoons are not always as interesting to the reader as you think they are.

5. Proofread, please. I’ll admit to not being as good at this as I used to be. And my editors are used to my stuff being good enough that proofreading is not needed. But I goof up sometimes. I repeat words and constructions, I leave out key words, I misspell stuff. Make a lot of mistakes and readers will begin to think that anybody can do this job.

5. Remember that almost anybody can do this job. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to play a game or interview a developer and make people believe that you have half a clue what is going on. Which makes it even more shocking that there are full-time staffers on magazines and websites that constantly leave me gasping for breath at their latest absurd statement or unqualified generalization. Being a good writer – someone the reader will trust – doesn’t mean making the reader think he/she is lesser than you, but it does mean conveying the idea that what you have to say is especially interesting more often than not. After all, most of us who write about games part-time were just in the right place at the right time.

6. Know the history. I don’t mean that the only qualfied writers are those who’ve been gaming for fifteen years. Nor does it mean that a new gamer has nothing interesting to say. Kyle Orland has a point when he says (as he often does) that there needs to be more room for casual gamers on the journalistic side of the industry – we need to know what makes this group tick. But just as you would look askance at a sportswriter who didn’t know who Ty Cobb was, or a film critic who thinks that Gladiator is the ultimate sword-and-sandal movie, a serious game journalist who doesn’t know that wargames, flight sims and adventure game used to be the big moneymakers probably can’t be trusted to know how quickly the indsutry can change and why.

Six simple rules that we can expect. Maybe someday I’ll have the guts to list my top ten writers in this field. You can always check the links on the left to blogs that I read regularly, so you have a sneak peek at the short list. Feel free to fill the comment box with your own thoughts.


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