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The Decline and Fall of the English Language

by Matthew Furrow

I have been a reader of RPGamer editorials and the RPGamer "Q&A" column for some months now. Only now, in face of some rather disturbing trends in editorials and columns, do I feel the need to write one of my own, however. The recent rash of editorials on religion and homosexuality does not distress me because of the arguments that they offer. They do, however, seem to highlight a growing problem that RPGamer seems to be suffering from: a decline in grammatical competence. Both the "Q&A" column and the editorial section seem to be victims to an increasing amount of grammatical sloppiness.

First, I will address the "Q&A" column. Two Q&A columnists, one of whom is a regular and the other a substitute at least twice (as well as being a member of the news team,) are guilty of the chronic misuse of two of the most fundamental words in the English language: "it's" and "its". For their benefit, and for the benefit of countless others who often confuse these words, I will explain the difference between them. "it's" is a contraction of two words, "it is," as in "It's raining outside." The other, "its," is a possessive pronoun, as in "The cat licked its paw."

One might hope that an organization which seemed to take itself as seriously as RPGamer would attempt to ensure that its columnists understood this simple grammatical contrast, but unfortunately their columns have been rampant with this grammatical atrocity despite peoples' comments. I have also personally emailed one of these columnists twice, attempting to notify him/her of a prominent spelling mistake on one of the pages he/she maintains on RPGamer, where the word "pronunciations" has been spelt "pronounciations." I have received no reply, friendly or hostile, and nothing has been done about it. I can understand that RPGamer's staff are only human, and make the occasional spelling mistake. I cannot understand why they refuse to correct them.

Second, I will address the editorial section. The editorial guidelines state quite explicitly that "aggregious" spelling mistakes will result in the rejection of an editorial. While none of the editorials I have read recently have truly atrocious spelling and grammar, there are many errors that can be found. I will address those later, but first I must explain why I care about this.

Why are good spelling and grammar important? An example immediately springs to mind in Jason Connor's editorial of 3/06/00, entitled "In concurrence with Dan Crislip's article, 'Video Game ARE Art. The Media is Wrong.'" The spelling error in the title aside, the content of the editorial, which mainly comprises a letter sent to MSNBC about articles that claim that video game RPGs are not art, has a few troubling instances of orthographical error, such as "storys" and "arguement," and grammatical errors such as "to simply be presented," "to not get ... misty-eyed" and "RPG's." These are hardly profligate mistakes, but if one examines their context one will see why they are a problem.

These errors occurred in a letter to a television network, defending video game RPGs. Although the purpose of the letter was noble, I fear that it can only serve as an indictment against the people who play such games due to its spelling and grammatical errors. With video game hysteria running rampant, such errors only add to the claims that playing video games are damaging to today's youth, because it appears that they [we] cannot even take the time to compose a letter using proper grammar and spelling. If we wish to create a positive image of video game RPG players, we must show that playing such RPGs is a beneficial pastime and does not detract from our competence in basic areas such as language.

The same goes for the authors of editorials sent to RPGamer. True, they are not attempting to represent video game RPG players as a whole to an institution or to the public, but they are representing themselves. One would hope that most editorial writers would care about how they presented themselves and their ideas, and spending ten to fifteen minutes proofreading and editing an editorial one wishes to send is not difficult. Nevertheless, here is a brief catalogue of spelling errors that I can find right now in only one section of editorials. "manegerie," "subtley," "proclomation," "superiour," "abhorent" [more than once,] "hypocrits" [several times,] "ammendment," "poligamy," "sentance" and "aggregious." These do not include instances of "it's" for "its" and vice-versa, or of other common mistakes, "your friends soul" instead of "your friend's soul," "just stand their" instead of "just stand there" and "new" for "knew" for instance. I could go on.

I'm not accusing all editorial authors or "Q&A" columnists of grammatical incompetence. There are some who write perfectly good editorials with perfectly acceptable grammar. One "Q&A" columnist I find a delight to read, as he has a witty, crisp and clean style with few, if any, grammatical or spelling mistakes. I merely wish to point out that those who do not eliminate the grammatical and spelling mistakes from their editorials only make fools of themselves and the arguments they wish to raise. Those who do not proofread letters that seek to represent video game RPG players as a whole make fools of us all.

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