Editor’s note: I took a personal interest in this piece, because I’ve had this same discussion with many of my writers through my years as an editor. Does the written word stifle a writer’s personality? In fact, I just brought this up (through host Aaron Thomas) in a recent Mobcast — why are journalists less professional when they talk on podcasts vs. when they write?
This is fascinating topic for Bitmob staff and community writers alike. Read the article first, and I’ll offer up my thoughts in the comments below. -Shoe
The world of a writer is glamorous, isn’t it? Writers get to see their names printed on websites, in magazines, and in other people’s articles, if they’re lucky. It’s a world full of free, creative expression, and the only limitations are the boundaries of their minds and their editors.
Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true? That our thoughts truly flow like a river only to be hampered by the occasional drought? Well, it isn’t, because writing drastically alters our thought processes.
When I pick up a pen or place my hands on a keyboard, my thoughts immediately turn toward how I can best describe my thoughts to my potential audience. This means that I’ll alter my real-life sentence structure, vocabulary, and personal reactions to accommodate the sensibilities of other individuals.
For example, let’s say I was discussing a piece decrying linearity in games. In writing, I might say that linearity provides more structure, less frustration, and more opportunities for telling a cohesive story; therefore, it has its place in games. If I was discussing linearity in an actual non-professional conversation on the other hand, I might say that people who despise linearity are sheep who lap up everything fed to them by professional game journalists.
My real-life reaction to linearity is an extreme case, but it’s meant to illustrate how a personal reaction can differ from an individual’s writing. A personal reaction is often a raw emotion, and writing significantly alters that.
Let’s take another example. Before writing my Final Fantasy vs. Dragon Quest piece, I was discussing with someone how terrible the original Dragon Quest is. I described the battle system as “so boring that I’d rather spend hours staring at a blank wall.” A cliché phrase to be sure, but those were my genuine thoughts on Dragon Quest. The only way to be any more raw would be to say that it was a shitty game even for its time, which I probably would have done if I weren’t talking to my little brother.
At least for me, the disconnect between my writing and original thoughts is real. My original thoughts certainly influence the former, but my writing generally ends up being more tame to reach a broader audience. This leads into my next point, which is about the difference between spoken and written voice.
When communicating in real life, I enjoy having intelligent discussions, but I also like to let loose sometimes and speak in slang if provided the opportunity. For example, let’s say I was discussing the war in Afghanistan. If I was writing or speaking to a college professor, I might say that I disagree with the war because it’s a demonstration of our supposed cultural superiority at best, and it’s representative of our imperialistic ambitions at worst. While talking to a trusted friend on the other hand, I might say that Obama is a sellout who isn’t much better than Bush.
Now let’s take this to video games.
If I was discussing a game such as Goemon’s Great Adventure in a written or professional format, I’d probably summarize the title by saying that it’s a wacky, albeit decent co-op adventure marred by extraneous side-quests and ridiculously long dungeons that lack save points. When discussing the game in private, however, I’d say that it’s a half-assed remake of a great game. I’d also make sure to mention that the dungeons are f***ing cheap…more than once.
So why is there this disconnect between my writing and thought processes? Well, it mostly boils down to this: With writing, you’re expected to uphold a certain level of integrity and professionalism, while with the spoken word you can say whatever the hell you want as long as you’re with people you can trust.
When I’m writing, I usually feel the need to speak to audiences of varying age groups, so I have to make the information I’m presenting as palatable as possible. If I’m just speaking with friends on the other hand, then I can drop the pretentiousness and swear and use as much slang as I want.
With writing, I wish I could be less formal at times, because I often feel that I’m not conveying who I truly am. I feel that an air of pretentiousness has developed around me that’s a far cry from the real me.
In real life, I enjoy explaining concepts and helping people, so I’m similar to my online persona in that regard, but I’m also far less arrogant. When playing a game such as Final Fantasy 10 away from the Internet, I feel no need to go into depth about why I enjoyed it more than say Bioshock; I can just state that its story really resonated with me. This is much different than the approach I’d take online, which would be to analyze both games and my thought processes thoroughly, then determine why I preferred one game over the other.
Is expressing one’s thoughts through writing truly the equivalent of slavery? No, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t fully represent one’s ideas and who that person truly is. Does that mean that the written form is completely useless since raw emotions can be hidden? No, it just means that writing doesn’t encompass an individual as a whole.