by Meghan Watt
As game critics, we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to writing our reviews, especially when you compare us to the “standard journalist.” We’re more conversational, less formulaic and we have the opportunity to find our own voices and make our work stand out.
But there’s also a downside to it. I don’t know if it’s due to repetitive game genres or our sort of incestuous community as reviewers, but it seems like we’ve all started to defer to this weird unwritten code of how game reviews and features ought to be written.
At first, we begin repeating words and phrases, borrowing descriptions from our past work. I’ve seen authors do the same thing. Excuse the example, but J.K. Rowling had this odd obsession with the words “rucksack” and “sustenance” in her last book and it killed me. I’m sure you’ve seen these sorts of quirks — maybe not words, but facial descriptions or ways to say “said” — in your favorite authors as well.
But, as I discussed with Mitch earlier this week, authors seem to stick by their own quirks, whereas reviewers latch onto each others’. For example, I never used the word “lackluster” in my writing until I started reviewing games. It’s like a contagion. I don’t know who started it, but someone out there used “lackluster” and now we all do.
I’m not saying we don’t have our own styles. We do — some more than others. And I’m certainly not distancing myself from what I’m now calling “reviewerisms.” Mitch admitted to being a prime culprit in this bizarre case of attachment as well.
Just for kicks, I found a few that I guarantee we have all seen or written at one time or another.
THOSE DUDES WITH GUNS
As a reviewer, it only takes one article to realize that you really need to find another way to say “enemy.” Most games have ’em, so reviews must follow suit. Our first option is to use enemy-specific words like “terrorist” or “Nazi zombie.” Once we’ve worn these out – which in a shorter article can be after just one use – we’ll either get more inventive (winged hell-spawn) or more generic (monster).
But eventually, we have to come back to the game reviewers’ dictionary – the unwritten book of words we all reluctantly use. Lesser culprits are “adversary” and “opponent;” they’re both long, formal and boring, so we try to go for the shorter guys with more oomph. Overused in text, never used in real life, these smaller ones are true reviewerisms:
1. Baddie: I do not know what the deal is with this word. One day I wasn’t using it, the next day it was in EVERYTHING. Who started this? It had to be sometime in the 80s because this baby has been around for a while. You’ve seen it. We’ve used it. And the reviewers who haven’t used it are purposely avoiding it. One day, they too will turn to the dark side. Then it’s only a matter of time before they pull out the second worst reviewerism…
2. Big ‘uns: Even though I’ve used this term, I only just came to the realization that I have no friggin’ clue what it means. So, I Googled it (and no, I’ll never learn that this is almost always a terrible idea). According to the first few hits, it can mean anything from tires to “great balls of ice” to, well, the obvious. This picture was the third image on Google. Enjoy.
LICENSE TO “READILY DESTROY”
Eskimos have more than 50 ways to say “snow” because, well, there’s a shit-ton of snow in Alaska. Likewise, reviewers have plenty of ways to say “kill” because that’s our job (ahem, to say it, not to do it). Yet, for some reason, we keep revisiting the same handful of synonyms. “Riddle with bullets,” “mow down,” and “pump full of lead” are some favorites. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them reviewerisms, but they’re pretty common phrases. But then there’s…
3. Off/Ice: Do you play Modern Warfare 2? Do you make sweet kills? Do you then turn to your friends and say, “Dude, did you see me off that guy with one bullet?!” No, no you don’t. So why do we say “You’ll off baddies” or “I ended up iced by a 12 year old”?
HOW TO SAY “I’M BORED”
When reviewers find a particular element of the game rather dull, we like to write words like “half-hearted,” “lukewarm” and “mediocre.” However, there’s one seemingly random word that we often use instead, making it the number one biggest reviewerism:
4. Lackluster: I want to be paid a dollar every time someone writes this word. It is never said and it is never used outside of the journalism world. But look through the last issue of your favorite gaming magazine. Or the last 5/10 review Mitch wrote. It’s there. Watching you.
HOW ABOUT “MOTION SENSOR USAGE”
I’m hopping right into this one. No intro needed… except what I’ve just written.
5. Wiimote waggling: Any, and I mean any article about a Wii game that uses the motion-sensing part of the Wii remote will undoubtedly use the term “Wiimote waggling.” To be clear, “Wiimote” isn’t a coined Nintendo phrase. Someone made it up and it stuck. “Waggling,” I will argue, is also a made up word. Or it should be. It sounds silly. The term as a whole just makes me sick every time I see it and yet I, as well as everyone else, write it nonetheless. Why? Because “shaking the Wii remote up and down like a toddler with a baby rattle and side to side like a blind Jedi” can only be used once takes too long.
At journalism school, I was told never to write idioms. They don’t work when you’re trying to be serious. Example: “Movie makers around the world jumped for joy when J.D. Salinger finally kicked the bucket.” Until the day they put me in charge, you will never read this in the New York Times.
However, game journalism uses idioms like there’s no tomorrow (see what I did there? It was actually on accident). Idioms get the message across in a way that everybody can understand. But I think sometimes we go a little overboard, and we start digging up phrases that you haven’t heard since your great-grandmother passed away. Maybe this one’s just me, but I think this guy is the worst offender:
6. …Go bump in the night: The last time I heard this, it was in a 2004 trailer for Hellboy. The last time I read this was yesterday. Splinter Cell, Resident Evil and any game that takes place predominantly in the dark will have an article that includes this phrase.
AND TWENTY OTHERS I CAN’T NAME
As I find them, I’ll try to add them to the list. But of course, when putting myself on the spot, I can only come up with a handful. If you have any to add of your own, feel free to comment.
On a side note, there’s something really awesome that I believe game reviewers do that no other type of writer does. I’ve seen game journalists take everyday phrases and turn them around into something hilarious. Bad example: “I’m not one to burn bridges, but I am one to plant C4 and let my squad do the work.” Or “All you can do is watch as a pack of skeletons neatly gift-wrap your rear and hand it to you.” It’s taking what we know and flipping it. Again, feel free to add your thoughts if you come across any more.
I love game journalism. If we do it right, we can illustrate an action-packed scene from Gears of War or a tear-jerker from Final Fantasy that makes you feel like you’re in the room, on our couch, playing the game right beside us. At the same time, we need to remember to remain individuals and maintain our own styles without lazily reverting to the word “baddie” because we’ve used up everything else.