Archive for January, 2011

Video Game Writing

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Matt Forbeck at wrote a very informative article about breaking into video game writing.

Once you’re ready, the best way to break into video game writing is the same as it is for any other profession: networking. Sit down at your computer and do some research. Figure out where the people you want to work with have their offices and do what you can to meet the people there.

This is solid advice if you’re interested in a career in video game writing. I’ve often thought about edging my way into this field because it combines two things I love: writing and video games.

Like any career worth having, this one requires hard work and sacrifice. I’ve noticed that with the advent of social networking and the internet, networking is at once easier and more complex. To be published, you have to be marketable, which is made easier if you can build a solid readership on the internet.

Since I’m only three months away from graduation, I really need to think about what I’m going to do for a living. I’ll definitely consider a job writing video games.

Politics and Language

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the most interesting aspects about politics, for me, is how politicians and the media use language to construct narratives or frame debates. If you follow the news as much as I do, you’re aware of the controversy surrounding the right-wing violent rhetoric and the shooting in Tuscon. Of course, I’m not claiming that the political rhetoric is directly or solely responsible for for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner. My interest and intent is to look at the language that was used by a popular liberal blog and a popular conservative blog in response to the shooting and compare them, as well as look at the rising political polarization in the United States.

(Full disclosure: my personal politics are very liberal. I will not claim that my examination will be completely objective, but I will attempt to be as objective as I possibly can. If you’d like to comment about how I use certain language and expose my own biases, I would welcome such criticism, provided it is substantive.)

Left/Right polarization in the United States has become an acute problem. According to this Gallup poll, President Barack Obama’s approval rating during his first year in office was the most polarized of any modern American president. According to Gallup, President Obama’s average approval rating among the Democratic Party was 88%, and among the Republicans it was 23%. As this shocking chart indicates, the difference between Democratic and Republican approval ratings for the president has, generally, been on the rise. This pattern continues with Obama, who at the time that this article was written had a difference of 65.

Gallup notes:

Thus, the extraordinary level of polarization in Obama’s first year in office is a combination of declining support from Republicans coupled with high and sustained approval from Democrats…if the current level of polarization persists through the end of his term, Obama would exceed Bush as the president with the most polarized approval ratings.

I’m not going to make a claim as to why American politics is becoming more polarized, because I simply don’t know. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that the increasingly social and economic inequality amongst Americans would play a fairly large role in it, and that rampant gerrymandering is a concern. David Brin, one of my favorite science-fiction authors, has a very lengthy and informative essay on gerrymandering on his website. I recommend reading all three parts.

David Brin writes:

Quietly, without much comment or notice, the practice of gerrymandering has transformed from a dismal-but-bearable tradition of occasional opportunism into a cancer eating at the heart of democracy itself, rendering our votes nearly meaningless in countless constituencies across the land.

I’m was inclined to think that such a statement was hyperbole, but as I read on and looked at some of the facts, I started to think that Brin had a point.

In the second part of his essay, Brin outlines ten ways that gerrymandering can lead to radicalization, which propels polarization. He writes:

Eighth. Gerrymandering also (naturally) eliminates any chance for the mounting of effective campaigns by any third party candidate, since those candidates will have to attract a lot more votes to defeat the incumbent than in a truly competitive district. This may seem a minor point, since third parties are already perceived at hopeless to most Americans. But isn’t this a self-fulfilling situation and yet another explanation for why the big parties have plunged into this practice?

I have to admit that I have also thought of third parties as being lost, hopeless causes in the face of the two large political parties. Every now and then we elect independent representatives, but not nearly enough compared to the number of Republicans and Democrats. I believe that one of the strongest functions of a representative democracy is that it allows for the election of a candidate that a majority of voters feels is the most qualified to hold that position. If gerrymandering can disrupt this process as much as Brin contends, I can’t help but wonder if our representative democracy is healthy or ill. Of course, corruption will exist in any form of human government. Gerrymandering, as Brin contends, isn’t seen by many people as being a serious issue, though it certainly seems to be.

Even President Obama understands that polarization in our politics is dangerous. Though I didn’t get the honor of personally attending Barack Obama’s University of Michigan Commencement Address in 2010 (I could hear it from my apartment, though, as I lived a short distance from the Big House at the time), I did watch it on TV. I remember being somewhat put-off that much of the address was dedicated to politics, but President Obama did highlight some important issues.

According to “The Hill”, President Obama said:

“We’ve got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names.  Pundits and talking heads shout at each other,” Obama said. “The media tends to play up every hint of conflict, because it makes for a sexier story – which means anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make the most outrageous comments.”

He has a point. A lot of the rhetoric–violent, unflattering, and antagonistic–has been coming from some highly influential politicians. The media, of course, does like to exaggerate stories to gin-up controversy and intrigue. Take, for example, “Balloon Boy,” “Beer-gate,” and the ever-infuriating “he-said, she-said,” style of reporting. I have no love of the news-media in general, but one thing that consistently irks me is the constant equivocation.

As for my examination, the conservative blog I have chosen to examine is Michelle Malkin’s. I am no fan of Malkin for several reasons, but she penned an interesting article in which she examines a  “progressive climate of hate.” An article by “Avenging Angel” at “The Daily Kos” will serve as the liberal blog, the title of which is “Republican Rhetoric, Right-Wing Terror.”

Read more…

Grammar Geek

January 28, 2011 4 comments

Out of all of the decisions I’ve made during my time at the University of Michigan, by far the smart one was choosing to be an English Language and Literature major. I’ll be the first to admit that my disdain for certain kinds of celebrated literature won’t put me in the running for the “BEST ENGLISH MAJOR OF ALL TIME” award, but I like to think that I’m good at what I do.

There are times, however, that I think that I would be a much better editor than writer. Often I find that my so-called editor IQ dropps ay rite, and I make very simple misteaks. To make matters worse, it doesn’t improve during the drafting process when I make the mental switch from writer to editor. This is, more than anything, why editors exist; as T.S. Elliot said:

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.

So you can imagine, I suppose, that I find it absolutely infuriating that my editor IQ reaches a Hawkingesque level when I critique the writing of others.

One of the biggest issues I encounter while editing is the fact that English doesn’t have a singular gender-neutral pronoun. Many people suggest the use of the words “they” and “their” as singular pronouns, and there have been examples for quite a long time on the semantic changes of those two words. Language is a constantly changing construct, and I don’t think that any language change is inherently bad. Indeed, if “they” and “their” became acceptable singular pronouns, I would welcome it.

However, there are still issues. Take, for example, the following sentence: “The student did his homework.” The pronoun in this sentence is “his,” referring back to the subject, “the student.” “His” is a personal possessive pronoun, which means that it acts as a marker of possession. In this case, the homework belongs to the student.

Now, imagine using “their” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun for this case: “The student did their homework.” This doesn’t make much sense to me. If I was to come across this sentence during an editing process, I’d have to find evidence in the context of the work to figure out if “student” was meant to be singular, or if it was a typo. I suppose a writer or speaker could use “its,” but this would also be incorrect because this is a word that isn’t applied to humans. For instance, you could say, “The dog ate its food,” but you couldn’t say, “The person ate its food.” There are several reasons for this, but I think the most simple answer is that English works to avoid dehumanizing constructs like that.

So, we’re still stuck with “The student did his homework.” When I see this sentence, I know this is normal usage. The word “he” (and its various forms) has been accepted as a general pronoun. My sensibilities, and I suppose most modern sensibilities, have difficulty with the use of “he” as a general pronoun. For one, it reinforces the idea of a patriarchal society (I mean, only men can be students, right?), but grammatically it seems to be much too specific based on the scant descriptive detail we have about the student. In other words, how do we know the student is a man?

I think that the use of “they” and “their” and other related forms is a good start toward creating a gender-neutral pronoun for the English language, but I don’t think it should be the ultimate goal. I believe that singular and plural pronouns are separated for a reason, and I’m not convinced that using the plural pronouns for the singular work without considerable confusion (though once it becomes widely accepted I’m sure that won’t be the case).

English is a remarkably flexible language. Some of my favorite words are relatively new, which include such portmanteaus as “scientifiction,” “glibertarian,” and “mupload.” From the Balloon-Juice Lexicon, a new favorite of mine is “Hoocoodanode.”

I ask, then, why can’t the users of the language (you, me, them, everybody!) just invent new words for it?