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The name of the game

The features copy editors crave more italics.

They came to me yesterday asking for a ruling about the titles of computer games, because running them as we have been, capitalized, in roman type, “doesn’t look right” or “confuses the reader.”

Readers must be readily bewildered, because we seem to have gotten along all these years writing about Monopoly and Scrabble and other games without benefit of quotation marks or italics. But I suppose that a case can be made that as computer games grow more sophisticated, they have elaborate narratives, animation and other effects, so that it makes sense to rank Grand Theft Auto San Andreas along with Light in August and Citizen Kane.

(If you perceive Cranky Old Guy peeking through the prose, you are correct. I played one game of Space Invaders in a bar in 1979, which is the extent of my personal involvement with computerized games.)

A little research shows that the Associated Press Stylebook lists computer games, along with films, plays, novels and other artistic works, in the “composition titles” entry. So the AP would use quotation marks with the names of computer games. The AP does not use italics in copy, because it can’t transmit italics to subscribers. The Sun, which can use italics, italicizes the titles of major works and uses quotation marks with the titles of minor works, according to the generally accepted conventions outside newspapers.

I could, I suppose, poll the copy desk staff. But then I would almost certainly be asked why we have to use italics at all, because some of the editors still complain about my decree that our practice should follow what the rest of the world does.

So, at some point later today, I will have to issue some arbitrary ruling. It will probably include the names of computer games in the category of titles using italics. Let it not be said that I denied the full measure of dignity to Pong.

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:26 AM | | Comments (6)


One style for major works and one for minor works? That sounds like you are making things harder than they should be.

JEM: That's just a shorthand for the conventions: italics for books, quotation marks for short stories; italics for operas, quotation marks for songs; italics for the names of periodical publications, quotation marks for the titles of articles within them. It is what you would find in any of the standard manuals.

Could be worse. The manufacturers (er, publishers?) of computer games will probably send you stern letters reminding you to use a "registered" sign for their trademarked names. They may have some of the properties of a narrative work, but they're still mainly a product. (Litmus test: Book publishers care whether you photocopy a volume, but do they care whether you "reverse engineer" it?)

I HATE italics. Except when I want to use them on my own blog, of course.

By the way, I work on an editing system that occasionally corrupts the text if italics are used.

Hmm. What happens when Steven Spielberg presents Steve Jobs's James Joyce's Grand Theft Auto Finnegans Wake? (All italics and quotation marks mercifully avoided.)

I don't think the reader is in for confusion, per se, but I agree with the thought that all caps isn't the best representation for most video game titles (some, like DOOM, defy this thought).

I don't think that the use of italics will make readers compare GTA to Citizen Kane, and if it does, then I'm sure the comparison won't be favorable. Your Cranky Old Guy thought should rest assured.

JEM: Consider the likely possibility that GTA has been seen by more viewers than Citizen Kane. Don't underestimate my capacity for crankiness.

I have long favored the use of italics for album names and quote marks for song titles. Of course, albums may not be with us much longer thanks to iTunes.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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