Friday, 15 January 2010

Did computer games improve the prose of a generation?

Well, it seems unlikely, but I was reading this article about good writing, and its call for simple, Anglo Saxon subject-verb-object sentences made me think of those old fashioned text adventure games from the 80s.

I'm sure my reader(s) who is (are!) all crusty oldies like me (except Tom!) will remember games like The Hobbit on the Spectrum or those old Infocom games such as Hithhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which depended on verb-object input to act in-game (the subject "I" being elided due to... well, mysterious comuter reasons, I guess).

I wonder if being forced to think in these direct terms shaped the prose-cortex (you know the one!) of a generation to favour plain writing of the type William Zinsser praises in his article? I admit that I have seen little evidence of it in my twenty-odd years as an editor!

It's a great article, by the way, that I heartily recommend. I'm going to be repeating his conclusion to everyone that asks me:

Short is better than long.
Simple is good.
Long latin nouns are the enemy
Anglo Saxon active verbs are your best friend
One thought per sentence.

EDIT: Holy cripes, that Infocom link is like crack cocaine! Or Pringles without that sort of nausea you get after eating Pringles.


  1. Hey, speaking of Infocom type things, have you ever played Anchorhead? (I think that was its name anyay.) It's a sort of Lovecraftian text adventure written by Michael Gentry - and it's surprisingly emotive, I have to say. Recommended if you have the time for it.

    As to good writing in different languages, I spend a lot of my time coming up with synonyms at work - English admits far less repetition than Chinese, which is the native tongue* of most of the writers I deal with.

    My former flatmate started translating a novel into Chinese a while back, and the feedback he got was that he needed to lay off the similes and allusions and so on. For all its mystique in the West, Chinese is actually very prosaic a lot of the time.

    * See? I couldn't even make myself put 'language' again.

  2. Yes, I have played Anchorage, long ago. My friend Giles got sokme sort of prize in a text adventure writing competition in the mid-90s, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was called - I'm sure it's still out there (in fact it's on this page: "Piece of Mind" by Giles Boutel - it's rather good, as I recall, in a similar style to Anchorage).

    As for translations, I know the German translator at work struggles with putting financial jargon into mind-bogglingly long compound words.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.