Sunday, June 08, 2008

Spelling Lesson

Game designers have to do a lot of writing. As a teacher of game design, this means I see a lot of student writing. I don't know what they do over in the English department, but whatever students learn over there, it seems like it doesn't always stick. Maybe it's because no one ever draws the parallel between writing in English class and writing for other classes, that you use the same skills. I don't know.

There are a few errors in particular that I see more frequently than others in game writing. Given the importance of writing to a game designer, I think it's fair to say that these are the kinds of errors that could lose a job opportunity if they appear in a cover letter. (Programmers probably get slightly more leniency.)

This is my list of Most Frequent Student Mistakes. If you're a student, learn these, because you might not get marked off in your game design classes but you certainly will in your job application. If you're a teacher of game design, feel free to add your own frequent student mistakes in the comments.
  • Bored vs. Board. If you're doing a dull task, you're bored. If you're playing a game like Chess, you are playing on a game board. If you say that you're "board" it means that you feel like a non-digital game component. If you call something a "bored game" it is an insult to the game's designer.

  • Lose vs. Loose. If you fail to win a game, you lose. If something isn't tight, it's loose. There is no such thing as "loosing" a game, and you never "loose" a life.

  • Roll vs. Role. If you want to throw a pair of dice to get a random result, you roll them. If you are acting in character, you are playing a role. If you "role" dice it means you're trying to behave as if you were one of them. If you are playing a "roll-playing" game you're implying that you do more die-rolling than actual role-playing, which is generally considered an insult.

  • Suit vs. Suite. Each card in a standard poker deck belongs to a suit. Hotels and office buildings have large rooms called suites. If you refer to Clubs as a "suite" you had better be talking about a swanky dance club and not a deck of cards.

  • To vs. Too. If you could substitute the word "also," use too. Otherwise, use to. Not specific to games but a lot of students seem to have a problem with this and use "to" for everything.

  • Affect vs. Effect. For the purposes of describing gameplay affect is almost always a verb, and effect is a noun. A special ability in a game may have an effect on the game, and it may affect your chances of winning. There are rare exceptions to this which can generally be ignored if you're writing about games.

  • Know vs. No. If you understand a piece of information, you know it. The opposite of yes is no. If you say that you "no the rules of the game" then... um... well, I'm not really sure what you're saying, but it's not what you think you're saying.

Note that a spelling/grammer checker will often not help you with these, so proofread your own stuff even if Microsoft Word says everything is fine.

I also see some common misspellings, which surprise me in their frequency given that they would be caught by a spell checker:

  • Obstacle. Not "obsticle."
  • Strategy. Not "stragety" or "stratagy." And learn to pronounce it correctly. I blame Bugs Bunny for this one.
  • Ridiculous. Not "rediculous."
  • Sense. Not "sence."
  • Experience. Not "experiance."
  • Explanation. Not "explination."
  • Definitely. Not "definately."


Lewis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lewis said...

It's easier to understand the correctly spelled but inappropriate words, than the incorrectly spelled. Some of the students evidently don't use the spell-checker.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the use of text messaging could have something to do with the disregard for language as well as spelling? Janis Ball

Lewis said...

No doubt IM (and email) have contributed. Heck, *I* don't spell as well as I used to, thanks to using computers for nearly 30 years.

At least I never received a paper written in "l33t", I understand some teachers have.

OTOH, I think undergrads are better writers, coming into school, than they used to be, because they're so much more likely to write the occasional email, and because it's so much easier to write well with a good computer, than with a typewriter or by hand.

Ian Schreiber said...

For some words, I think we can safely blame text messaging for the tendency to use the shorter word ("to" instead of "too" or "no" instead of "know" because they use fewer keystrokes). For the longer words, I can't imagine wanting to spell them out at all in a text message, so I'm not sure where they come from. Maybe lack of practice, except I see them used a lot in papers, emails and even online forums.

I've never received a paper written entirely in "1337" but I have seen some students who might use some of it, e.g. "2" instead of "too"...

Adrian Lopez said...

"Note that a spelling/grammer checker will often not help you with these, so proofread your own stuff even if Microsoft Word says everything is fine."

Grammar checker.

Lewis said...

My experience is, if a person understands grammar well enough to understand the suggestions of the grammar checker, he probably doesn't need it.

But that assumes the writer is diligent. Insofar as the student errors are lack of diligence, the GC would help; but if it's lack of diligence, they're all the less likely to use the grammar checker. Sigh.

Even graduate students are poor proofreaders, unfortunately.

david.mcgraw said...

Than vs. Then. Than is used for comparison. "David is a better programmer than Joe." Then could be used for several things. At that point in time, "I wasn't ready then." Next, afterward, "Read a book and then go to the store." And more.

Bottom Line: If you compare something, use Than. Else, use Then.

Saulo Sobrosa said...

I can't really understand. I'm Brazilian, have learned english by myself, and know the correct spelling for all those words and their meanings, and although I commit a lot of mistakes, I do know how to spell them.

How can Americans have problems with that?

Ian Schreiber said...

"Grammar checker"

...and see how long it took someone to notice that? :)

"How can Americans have problems with that?"

Great question. I have no idea why. I don't teach English classes, so I can't comment on what methods are used to teach this stuff. I'm just noticing that we do have problems (at least in my classes).

Lewis said...

People don't read carefully (when they read at all) in this country, in general. K-12 education (before college) is very spotty, many of the English teachers are themselves poor at spelling and grammar, and students are taught that precision is not important, that close is good enough. Even college English teachers often don't understand that language is a living thing that changes over time. When they think everyone should follow 22 rules for placing commas, a virtually unworkable idea, instead of resorting to some common sense, when they think there are "rules" that everyone must follow and that never change--or that there are no standards of any kind, and you can write however you want--then you've got problems.

david.mcgraw said...

Saulo: The simple answer. People are lazy (a world-wide epidemic), and they often don't understand how important communication is until it bites them in the ass from a failed opportunity.

Some people have an increased motivation to learn (you).

And the Bottom line: It's an educational failure, which we know that the U.S. isn't really worried about education right now (See: Iraq).

Meg said...

Spellcheck causes problems as well. My favorite is when a student means "definitely" but they spell it wrong and spellcheck makes it "defiantly". Makes some absolute gems of student papers... things like "I defiantly didn't want to get back together with her"

altugi said...

I had this habit to write it as "definately". Not any longer. Thanks :)

Ian Schreiber said...

A couple others I've been recently reminded of:

* Rouge / Rogue. Rouge is a reddish color, or perhaps cosmetics (named because of the color). Rogue is a thief-like character class. If you say you're playing a "Rouge assassin" it means your assassin is really pretty.

* Alter / Altar. Alter is a verb, meaning to change or modify. Altar is a noun, something you use to sacrifice small furry animals to elder gods. If you approach a "religious alter" it means someone is trying to convert your beliefs. If you "altar your strategy" in a game it means your new strategy is prayer.