Back in the mid-90s when I was publishing the journal of games design and criticism Interactive Fantasy, Greg Costikyan wrote us a paper called ‘I Have No Words And I Must Design’. It’s a great piece of work, much referenced and republished since, but there’s one footnote in it that is generally overlooked by all except the most anal games bores, pedants and typography geeks. And yet I think that footnote is one of the most important things that IF published in the whole of its run, because it goes right to the heart of how we see ourselves.
What Greg pointed out was that the names of games should take an initial capital as standard, as the names of books, paintings, plays or films do. He’s absolutist about this, insisting that chess and backgammon should be Chess and Backgammon just like Tetris and Carcasonne, and I quibble with him there (he argues that Beowulf gets a capital B though it’s a product of folklore rather than a known author, but Greg, Beowulf is the hero’s name). And unfortunately he’s no editor or layout geek, or he’d know that titles of major works don’t just take a capital, they take italics.
Apart from that, he’s got something huge.
When the title of a work appears in italics, whether in print or on the web and whether it’s L’Etranger or Leprechaun 2, it indicates that it has a certain status and deserves to be taken seriously. When we don’t italicise the titles of games we’re indicating exactly the opposite—that we don’t think our chosen field is worthy of the same respect as more established forms of cultural expression.
Maybe we don’t do it consciously, but whatever the reason every time we drop in a careless reference to ‘Space Invaders’, ‘The Sims’ or ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ without acknowledging even tacitly that these are works of significance—social, cultural, commercial, artistic, whatever—we are not just doing ourselves and our culture a major disservice, we also collude in the slightly sneering way that games and gaming are regarded by the wider critical world. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s a very big thing too.
[ctrl]+[i]. You know it makes sense.
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