Of video game italics and hipsters

24 Jan

Oh those editors, they just know how to push my buttons (pun intended). On Monday, the fine folks over at Canadian Business alerted me to a tweet by Taddle Creek, a Toronto-based literary magazine, that read “why italicizing video game titles is bad.” It pointed to an editorial on Taddle Creek’s site that explained why video game titles shouldn’t be italicized.

It’s a topic I tackled a few months back, wherein I put forward the reasons for why games should indeed get the same treatment in print as television shows or movies. For years, I’ve made the same case with just about each editor I’ve worked with and in almost every instance, they’ve agreed and changed style policies accordingly. The exception has been one Conan Tobias, managing editor of Canadian Business and founder of Taddle Creek.

We’ve disagreed on the issue before and he promised to eventually go into it in more depth, hence the editorial. Alas, if only the response weren’t so smarmy and insulting to people who play video games, which by the way is 59% of Canadians, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.

I’m not sure where the magazine’s information came from, but apparently the case for italics typically comes down to three arguments: video games have higher production values than in the past, they’re sold on discs like movies and, like films, they have narratives.

In countering those three arguments, Taddle Creek is wrong, wrong and ridiculously wrong. In fact, the arguments it argues against are wrong. Firstly, the traditional case against video games getting italics has nothing to do with production values – it’s because they’ve generally been considered software, and we don’t italicize Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop. But since games have evolved over the past 40 years from simple computer programs to full-on entertainment products, it’s clearly time to treat them as such.

Nevertheless, the editorial – in lovingly annoying third-person style – says that just because Call of Duty and its ilk cost a lot more to make than Monopoly (the board game) or their predecessor video games, that doesn’t give them automatic rights to special treatment in writing:

Modern video games do have higher production values than previous video games. But quality, sadly, does not an art form make.

Alas, Peter Nowak can only wonder, then, if the same reasoning could be applied to the film ouevre of Michael Bay and countless other schlock purveyors. Surely Transformers: Dark of the Moon or the upcoming Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance don’t deserve italics, do they?

Then there’s the issue of discs, which makes me wonder whether “Taddle Creek” has ever played a video game (Holy crap, games are on discs now?). I mean really, has anyone ever actually used that as an argument in this debate? More and more movies are being consumed disc-free, yet no one is suggesting they should lose their italics privilege as a result.

The third counter-argument is where the editorial really plumbs the depths of ignorance. Video games shouldn’t get italics because they have narratives that can fork in multiple directions, the magazine says, with a little out-of-touch insulting thrown in for kicks:

Video games, though they usually have a singular goal, can and do end any number of ways. Like a trademarked product. Which is what they are, however good their production values, and however much time you waste playing them instead of reading books and talking to girls.

Well then. Where to begin? How about with the fact that many video games have very singular narratives that end the same way regardless of how you play them? Or how about the fact that many television shows, movies, books and albums have no narratives at all, yet they get italics? Or how about the fact that we italicize TV shows such as Jeopardy! but not Jeopardy! the video game? Or how about the fact that Choose Your Own Adventure books, which feature multiple narratives and endings, get italics? Or how about the fact that just about all art is a commercial product, so what’s with singling games out?

Do Taddle Creek’s arguments have enough holes in them yet, or should I go on? How about considering the fact that a product with multiple narratives and outcomes may in fact be more of a work of art than one that follows a linear path? People listen to and interpret music differently (don’t even make me bring up Nickelback), just as they do with many video games. Isn’t that reason enough to give them similar stylistic treatment?

Video games provide people with the same shared-yet-different experiences that can be interpreted and discussed as any other medium. Lord only knows how much time I spent over the holidays talking about Skyrim with friends and even complete strangers. That’s more than can be said for many TV shows, movies and albums.

Fortunately, a growing number of editors in the mainstream are getting with the times and properly italicizing video game titles for the simple reason that they comprise a legitimate artistic and entertainment medium akin to all the others (this includes The Globe and Mail, National Post and CBC, just to name a few). Speaking for the millions of gamers out there, the outliers – the bowtie-wearing, pipe-smoking hipsters who look down their noses at video games – can in the meantime go twirl their mustaches and debate the more intricate points of The Great Gatsby.

And yes, I didn’t italicize that on purpose.


Posted by on January 24, 2012 in video games


4 responses to “Of video game italics and hipsters

  1. Simon

    January 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    I’m almost on board with the pro-italicization argument, but I do have a question: If it is true that what distinguishes modern games from their progenitors is sophistication “… games have evolved over the past 40 years from simple computer programs to full-on entertainment products, it’s clearly time to treat them as such” does that mean we should only italicize those game titles that have met the “full-on entertainment” criteria? E.g. Pac-Man remains as-is, but L.A. Noire gets the italicized text?
    If the answer is that all games regardless of sophistication should be italicized, then where do we draw the line? Must a piece of software identify itself as a game or is each writer forced to make that call? e.g. Tetris (clearly a game) vs. the iOS app Tom The Talking Cat (a game? an amusement? annoying?)
    If the answer is no, then again, how do we determine italics-worthy titles from their simplistic counterparts?
    I know I’m splitting hairs a little here, but I’d still love to know what you think 🙂
    Nice blog theme BTW, very sophisticated 😉

    • petenowak2000

      January 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      Good points Simon – it is a good question as to where to draw the line. There doesn’t seem to be a delineation when it comes to TV, i.e. game shows get the same italics as dramas. To be honest, I’m not sure, although you might want to check the link back to my earlier post on the issue, where I quoted the CBC’s style rule. They have some sort of line that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

  2. Matt

    January 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    You know when even the very conservative _Chicago Manual of Style_ thinks that you’re out-of-touch and behind-the-times, it is probably a good idea to question your motivations and opinions:

  3. BT

    January 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Thanks for posting about this. I’ve sent it off to some media studies folks I know who will likely find the stance quite interesting…

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