A Point of Style

by John Adams

My beautiful and brilliant wife is sitting across the dinner table right now, proofing an upcoming book.

She's a much better proofreader and copyeditor than I am--though I used to work at it and did a pretty good job, and have some specialized knowledge which can be useful--so she handed me a sheet of paper with an author bio.

(Note: All dialogue guaranteed to be close but no cigar.)

"Shouldn't this be italicized?" she asks me, pointing to the name of a popular interactive on-line game.

"I think you treat it like a title, but I don't really know. You don't italicize Monopoly, do you?"

"No," she said. At this point, we were both working off what she calls 'editorial hunch'--a combination of induction from what we'd seen in print and deduction from what we knew about development in usage and style. She did what a professional editor does at this point--she spent a few minutes researching the question--while I did what a writer who lives with a professional editor does--I went back to typing.

A few minutes later, she said, "You italicize composition titles. These games are considered to be compositions." Not every style guide agreed, but given the work in question, we agreed this was the right choice.

This got me to thinking. I would not italicize Robotron 2084 or Time Pilot or any of the arcade games I played, and I've never seen Pong or Asteroids italicized. But interactive games, like Grand Theft Auto, are usually italicized. Would I italicize Pong or Monopoly if they were on my computer? No, I wouldn't. We also don't italicize titles of software. I might italicize Dungeons and Dragons, played anywhere, but it's a book, too.

What we've got here is the language demonstrating that composed computer games are a new genre. People understand them to be more akin to a book or a movie, and treat game titles like movie titles or book titles.

There's a serious effort to rate, restrict, and censor games. Part of that effort is to define games as not being worthy of first amendment protection. What this use of language and typography shows is that community standards find composed computer games to be similar to books and movies. Like it or not, that means Myst has a lot more in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than it does with Ms. Pac-Man.

Does Pong need more violence in order to be entitled to the same robust first amendment protections as Grand Theft Auto? Discuss.