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Sean Carey avatar 5:37 AM on 02.16.2010
Building A Better Game Blog -- Originality



People write in the cblogs for all kinds of reasons. They may aspire to games writing careers. They may have a love for gaming that they need to share with the world. They may be just shy of losing their last tenuous grip on reality, and ranting about Sonic is the soothing sublimation that keeps their sanity from plummeting into the abyss, thus preventing them from lethally assaulting Luby's patrons with a homemade zip gun and a pair of nunchaku. When it comes to the creative impulse, who knows for sure?

While we write cblogs for many reasons, we all read the cblogs for the same reason. We read them because we find things there that we can't find anywhere else. That might be a joke, some artwork, an insight into a fellow gamer's life or personality, a well-reasoned argument, love for a game, or even a classic nerd-raging aneurysm of a rant. What ever the specific content, we look for it here because the only place it exists is here.

In our last installment, we discussed the need for substance in cblog posts. Using the analogy of a meal, we looked at how giving readers something meaty to digest will keep them returning for more. While this remains true, it's not enough in and of itself to make a blog excellent.

While writing with substance will keep you from the gaping maw of the Failtoid Sarlaac, originality is one of the things that distinguishes the truly great cblogs from the crowd. In a room full of identical hamburgers, the turkey bacon club (with avocado and chipotle mayo) gains a certain allure. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.




It's not easy staying ahead of the crowd.

Rule #1: Know What's Out There

One of the reasons that the Dtoid cblog readers can be a tough crowd is that the community members are generally avid and voracious consumers of video game writing. When you write on a topic that has been duplicated by other sites, the front page, or other community members already, it will often result in a "been there, done that" response from your readers.

It takes some work to stay current with what's being discussed at large at any given time, but it is well worth the effort. You'll save yourself a lot of time, heartache, and possibly abuse by avoiding topics that are played out. Many people won't even click on your article if the title looks too familiar.

When a new game comes out, look to see that there haven't already been multiple reviews or impressions posts by the community before you post your own. Avoid generic topics that have been talked to death, such as the "games as art" discussion.

If you absolutely must retread old ground, at least make sure that you have something unique or revelatory to add to the mix. Retreading the same old discussion points and exposition will only have the mob sharpening their pitchforks. As the old saying goes -- "You mess with the bull, you get the horns, and then you get butthurt."




This image is too cute to need a proper caption.


Rule #2: Zoom In

Here's the fun part where I get to contradict almost everything I just said in Rule #1. The truth of the matter is, it's almost impossible to find a gaming topic that has never been explored. While it is possible to avoid discussing an issue when the internet is saturated by it (a matter of timing), it's not possible to avoid revisiting altogether things that have already been discussed. It has ALL been done before.

Now, before we get too fatalistic here, this doesn't mean that there's nothing worth writing about. It just means you've got to find an angle on the general topic that hasn't been talked about before. It's time to zoom in.

There are aspects of every issue that go unmentioned in the interests of avoiding the dreaded "TL;DR" comment. These are your opportunities. Find an unmined nugget or a sub-topic of interest and relevance and run with that. Here's a few topic examples that should help point you in the right direction --

Bad: Games As Art.
Better: Cel-Shading -- Artistic Expression or Visual Gimmick?

Bad: Is Digital Distribution Good?
Better: Why All Digital Distribution Should Follow The Steam Pricing Model.

Bad: Mother 3 Is A Great Game.
Better: 3 Reasons Why Mother 3 Is Better Than Your Biological Mother.




Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.


Rule #3: Know Thyself, Then Be Thyself

Elsa put it best in the comments of the last installment when she said that more than anything else, she looks for character in blog posts. By character, I believe Elsa means that there is something about the writing that gives you a glimpse into the writer as a person.

The internet is full of individuals hoping to join the ranks of the professional gaming media. While there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this aspiration, it will often lead writers to speak in a voice which is not their own. The desire to make one's writing "professional", when taken too far, can lead a person to make their writing rigid, bland, and homogenized.

Without sacrificing clarity, you should strive to add a dash of flair (not 37 pieces) to your work. Talking a little bit about your personal experiences, discussing how you feel on an emotional level about a topic, or taking a pot-shot at yourself to lighten the mood are all examples of accents you can bring to a blog to make it reflect your personality without abandoning structure or coherence.

The opposite scenario is also a pitfall. Character is like salt; too much of it overwhelms a meal. This is when a writer moves from revealing something of themselves to putting a manufactured self out there for the purposes of attracting readers. These pre-fabricated personas may seem like the way to go, judging by how many of them are out there, but they really don't do anything but make it look like a writer is trying WAY too hard.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a games writer who feels the need to tell their audience how edgy they are. The Jaded Games Cynic Who Doesn't Afraid Of Anything is a tired archetype. So is The Professional Games Reviewer. So is The Wacky Random Humor Guy.

If you're naturally a negative, meticulously well-versed, or funny person, a measured sprinkling of character will make that apparent to your readers without you having to push that persona over the top. Show us, don't tell us.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Jim Sterling is a fabulous example of someone who makes a persona really work for them.

But before you go off half-cocked, justifying your own self-indulgences by pointing to a successful case study, understand something -- it only works if you've established your credibility first, never the other way around. Jim established his character (opinionated, but well-reasoned and eloquent writer) before he established a character (over the top bait-and-switch artist).


Wrap Up

Achieving originality is a bit like panning for gold at times; it takes effort to look through the countless pebbles to find the gold that has value. However, in terms of making a blog that really goes above and beyond, that effort is the dividing line between saturated and celebrated.

Sometimes an old dish just needs a new twist to wake peoples' taste buds up again. Zoom in to find the fresh ingredients in your mental garden. Let us see who you are through your writing, and don't force a larger than life version of yourself on us. We want to taste the love in your cooking... erm, figuratively, not literally.

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