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LONG BLOG

The Name Game: When Video Game Titles Attack: A Ricky Namara Story: Revengeance

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Once in a while I'd like to sit down with the rest of my extended family to discuss about life, love, and of course, video games over a nice warm home-cooked dinner. The last time was no different: we shared, we laughed, and then they tossed me out the door.


Like so.

That was because a particular brand of subject came up that never failed to arouse (heh!) that certain part of my personality that I never could settle with an "I Am Thou, Thou Art I" moment regardless how hard I tried: the Nazi. No, not those Nazis, and no, not those OTHER Nazis either.

I'm talking about the Grammar Nazi.

John Barrowman Springtime for Hitler
The sassy gay one.

The topic that brought this about was, of course, a discussion about Life Is Strange and its upcoming prequel that highlighted how much video games have grown as a medium and how it is no longer accurate to call it something that is "exclusively for children." The discussion ended amicably with all parties pretty much agreeing to that point despite of several issues that indicated that in some areas it still needs some growing up to do (looking straight at you, Ghost Recon Wildlands). It could've ended right there, but then my monkey brain decided to "kick it up a notch" and latched on to an idea that ultimately got me booted out the door.

 Evil Monkey
"Throw your poop at them."

That idea, if the title of this piece was not obvious enough, was the matter of the game's title. While I understand that it only became unwieldy because it was referring to the first episode instead of the entire game, "Life Is Strange: Before The Storm: Awake" is the kind of naming convention that would've earned the devs the harshest, most 'special' kind of punishment from Mrs. Keelkid the Evil Grammar School Teacher.

And trust me when I say Mrs. Keelkid doesn't fuck around!

Evil Teacher
"Did you just start a new sentence with 'and'? OFF WITH HIS HEAD!!"

In case you needed a refresher on what the proper usage of the colon was supposed to be, the University of Sussex has a rather comprehensive explanation on what these two weird tiny dots were originally designed to do. For those of you who fear clicking that link would instantly turn you too British by developing a sudden fondness for tea and referring to 'soccer' as 'football', a quick summary of the page defines that the one defining trait of using a colon was to explain and or elaborate what came before it. At a glance it makes perfect sense to use them if we go back to the game title that started this train of thought: the game is another entry in the "Life Is Strange" media, it is intended to be a prequel hence the "Before the Storm" part, and the "Awake" part seems to cater to the whole Young Adult Novel feel where every single new piece of work seems to begin with 'X woke up with a start' cliche.

There's just one problem: it goes against everything that a video game title is supposed to do.

 
Play for full effect.

Let me ask you fine gents and upstanding ladies the following: if you had known absolutely nothing about it previously, would you impulse buy a game titled "Smoking Man Smokes Space Scum?"

No?

Well then, how about "High Body Count Cool Attitude"? Or "Splatter Ink Supremacy" or "Death Goddess Identity Crisis"?

None of those titles sounds close to being enticing, but if you retitled them as "Vanquish", "Devil May Cry", "Splattoon", and "Valkyrie Profile" then suddenly they piqued your curiosity. They seized your interest precisely because they were vague in what they're selling. Nobody would ever make a blind purchase of a copy of "Dead Teenagers Save The World", but call it "The World Ends With You" and watch how the edgy edgelords all line up to purchase a copy come launch day.

 TWEWY
"Twice the title means twice the edge, right?"

'Enticement' is the name of the game here, and a good video game title is supposed to do precisely that by straddling that fine line between representing a core concept/character/idea without giving too much of anything away. It's a conversation starter, something that got the neurons in your brain firing up as you speculate what this particular title is going to be about and consecutively increased your excitement to land your grubby mitts on a copy of it come launch day. It's an art form to a degree, one of tact and finesse and proper execution that could be smashed into smithereens the very second colon overdose enters the scene.

Another great example of egregious (I've always wanted to say that) subtitling is "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice", where the colon and subtitle worked in tandem to destroy any chances of plot twists and or surprise reveals. Ninja Theory could've stopped at just "Hellblade", and not only do they have a catchy winning title that provoked the imagination but also one that capitalized on drawing a parallel between this game and their previous title, "Heavenly Sword". Alas, they instead chose to charge at full speed towards that ramp before jumping the shark and ruined their own hook by overexplaining things: now the audience knows there is a character named "Senua" and this person will either commit a sacrifice or be sacrificed in some manner to adhere to the "Sacrifice" part of the subtitle.

While I appreciate the sentiments, there IS such a thing as being too honest about what your game is all about. In fact, this is getting very close to a "Shoot Many Robots" level of killing any sense of nuance to some degree.

Shoot Many Robots
From the creators of "Stab Countless Vampires" and "Decapitate Numerous Zombies".

Developers and publishers seemed to forget a nuanced title that hid as much as it revealed can even help generate good publicity for their products and ultimately benefitting their companies in the end. "Death Stranding" is a fine example of this: with Kojima Productions so jealously guarding the details of the actual game itself, all we have to go by is a bunch of cutscenes that is as vague as the two words written down in the title. What is a "Death Stranding" supposed to be anyway? Did people get stranded in a bizarre place only to be left for dead? Did they get stranded by "death" itself? Was it a strand of fabric that causes people to die? WHAT THE HELL IS IT?!

We don't know. We're only left with those two words and our own imagination to curiously paw through what that title could possibly mean and or referring to within the context of the game as we impatiently await its release in 2019. That right there, good sirs, that is PRECISELY what a good video game title is supposed to do!

Death Stranding
I'm sure the hipsters get it, because nobody else seemed to frickin' do.

Giving something a name can be a daunting task, but if you already put in the time, money, and effort to that particular thing the least you can do is not give up when it comes to giving it a name that will define its entire identity amidst a sea of like-for-like, generic sounding others. It's part of the reason why parents bestowed their kids names like "Jack" and "Jill" and "Mortimer" instead of just a bunch of fart noises. Imagine if people named their kids with the same kind of naming principle the gaming industry is doing to their beloved creations.

Why, my full name would have been "Ricky Namara: The Cynical Grammar Nazi: Nitpicker Extraordinaire".

John Barrowman Springtime For Hitler
But I'll still be pretty gay and sassy!

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About Ricky Namaraone of us since 8:16 PM on 02.17.2014

Don't mind the burning skull: it's just a flesh wound.

Greetings from Indonesia a.k.a. "You Mean Bali?" Ricky's the name and talking your ears off is my game. My family and friends often get annoyed with my endless ranting of the current state of the video game industry, so hopefully y'all will prove to be a better audience. Gosh I probably shouldn't say that out loud because one of them could be reading this huh? How do you edit these darn things?

Oh yes, my age is starting to show itself, doesn't it? Unlike you whippersnappers I was born when typing actually means typing on a typewriter. So as you can see, sometimes my opinions can get really outdated, and in this day and age of "I Am Offended" it's easy to forget that, you know, old folks like me ain't dead yet. That's why if you happen to disagree and find my opinions not quite matching up to your own worldviews, I apologize beforehand for that.

Now then, on with the show!