Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Begun, the Serial Comma Wars Have ...

Head writer Bobby Stein has posted a great article on the ArenaNet blog about setting up the writing style for Guild Wars 2. And while his tone is light (he is a word-nerd adrift in a sea of game-nerds), his purpose is completely serious. One of the goals of the game is create a regular and consistent look and feel in the game experience, which is reflected by gameplay, mechanics, art, and yeah, the writing.

It sounds obvious, but it is not. Even though most of us have some form of writing chops, there are a lot of personal and regional variations. Go back to the early days of the country, and you could describe our spelling and language as "freestyle", with whatever personal solutions to communications worked out on the fly (what is this "Purfuit of Happineff stuff, anyway?). In the age of Spellcheck and Grammarcheck that has eased off a bit, but still, there are enough variations to make a multi-creator project like a computer game a veritable minefield of conflicting styles.

So putting together a style guide is a challenge because we are all married to the way we've done things. I get personally insulted when the word processor underlines in green a perfectly good sentence and says "fragment (consider revising)". No, Mr. Microsoft, YOU consider revising. And convincing people that your methodology is the best can lead to some very nasty encounters.

Here's a story from the old days of TSR. Our manager (no names, here), put one of the editors in charge of creating a style guide. Said editor put one together, including that we would use serial commas (that is putting a comma before a conjunction, such as "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme"). However, said manager did not care for serial commas (it should be "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme"), and the two were soon butting heads. Soon salvos were fired off in the office mail, sides were taken, red pens were stockpiled, paragraphs were set ablaze,and everyone ended up feeling bad about it (and I don't think we ever solved that particular problem).

So style does stir up a lot of deep-seated feelings in people - how do we communicate? How much of my personal style much be sacrificed for the good of the project. Why the heck CAN'T I capitalize whatever I want (I blame Gary Gygax for this last one - he would begin his columns "Gentle Reader")? The passion behind such decisions, unseen by the ultimate consumer, is real and unwavering.

So I want the people supporting Strunk & White on the right hand side of the room, and those supporting Chicago Manual of Style over on the left. Dodgeballs will be passed out.

More later,