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Game with a Pencil

Ever since high school my teachers have advised me to read with a pencil. By underlining, circling, and writing notes directly on the page, I became an active reader. As an active reader, I actively responded to the information in the text instead of just reading through it without stopping. The simple act of marking the page helped to separate the moments of meaning in a text from the sea of sentences, which is particularly useful when studying or writing papers.

Likewise, when playing games it's important to take notes to help you remember. No, I'm not talking about The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass where you can draw on your maps. And no, I'm not referring to Trace Memory where players are forced to reflect on the events that have transpired before moving on to the next chapter. By notes, I mean writing down names of places, items, or characters. Since it's not only difficult to draw on a spinning disk but ill advised, a simple list will do. If you're afraid that taking time away from playing a game to jot down notes will interrupt even destroy your enjoyment of games, allow me to allay your fears.

Taking notes about your game experience enhances your enjoyment of games because it helps to organize the surplus of information and gives you the language to reflect on it. Have you ever finished reading a book and you could barely recall the main characters names, let alone the minor characters, the names of the locations, or which chapters events took place in? In the same way a simple list reinforces information from books, cataloging information from a game reinforces the game. If you've been following the Zelda series, do you know the difference between the hook shot, rope shot, claw shot, and long shot? Being able to say "...and Romanos on Molida Island..." adds to your confidents and credibility as opposed to "...that one guy from that one part in the game." Besides, most games have plenty of loading screens and load times where you have enough time to scribble down a few sentences.

Though the average gamer is probably not interested in turning gaming into "homework," having some kind of system for taking down information is essential for a critical-gamer who's interested in writing reviews or any other game article. If you don't have your own method, I highly recommend reading Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games by Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton.

When I finish my Phantom Hourglass Toolkit I'll be sure to post it. In the meantime, I'll be contacting several online and print game writers inquiring about their methods for taking notes on the games they cover. Until then, grab a pencil.

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Reader Comments (1)

A few days before I read this post, I had just started playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and began taking notes on the laptop when playing.

One of the reasons I began to note-take just now is after thinking about what most reviews gloss over and that's first impressions, changing impressions when playing and the lasting impressions left on a player once the game has been completed. So, I've begun to jot down a history of my experience with the game if you will, to try and sum up how I've felt and prevent myself being bitter, or overwhelmed when writing the review.

What I mean is, it's easy to finish a game on a high and then write a review, only to reflect a few days later on what you've written and think, "fuck, I didn't think I liked it that much" or "that review was really negative but I'm sure I had fun when I was playing." I thought of this because reading over older reviews, it's as though the experience I've written is vastly different from what I remember playing.

Also, taking your own notes helps to lessen the reliance on external resources, such as Wikipedia or another gaming website. When I first began reviewing and was quite lazy, Wiki used to be first port of call to get characters, location names etc and it's a horribly tragic thing to do. Once I realised how much I was relying on an external resource for information which in turn tarnished the quality and reliability of my reviews, I started to focus more on the details of games. It's been a while since I've needed Wiki in order to review a game (though I still frequent for general information, a starting point on things I'm interested in) and I becoming self-reliant really improves your understanding of a game and forces you to pay attention to detail.

Good article you've linked to also. However, I left uni December last year and I'm not too keen on returning to the same hardened studies of games and text. It hurts my head somewhat.

December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Purvis

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