Chris Buffa: ''Words are hard''
TomChick - News - 07/31/06 - Link

In his article on how us videogame journalists [sic] can write better, Chris Buffa cites Entertainment Weekly reviewer Lisa Scwarzbaum's review of Lady in the Water as an example of what not to do:

"Few moviegoers had heard of M. Night Shyamalan in 1999 when The Sixth Sense debuted," Schwarzbaum writes, "a blast of shivery-good cinematic entertainment that dispelled the torpor of the bug-bitten summertime release schedule with its chilled ghost-story foundation and warm psychological decor. But the banality of famelessness ceased to be the filmmaker's problem the minute young Haley Joel Osment began seeing dead people: Suddenly the storyteller was the story, and a corker of a Hollywood success saga at that. A twentysomething writer-director (as well as producer-actor and, these days, father-American Express Card pitchman), Shyamalan instantly established a name for himself as a self-confident filmmaker of high compositional standards, an intriguing young fogy committed to an ancient and ostensibly disappearing old-fogy tradition of ripping yarns. More important, Sixth Sense was a hit, a crowd-pleaser: This starry Night showed himself to be an aesthetic perfectionist with a golden commercial touch."

That paragraph, according to Buffa, was too hard to read.

"If you're willing to bust out the dictionary" he says, "and re-read her article it'll make more sense. I'm certainly able to get the gist of it, but several days ago I needed a quick movie review before I flew out the door and I had no idea what she was talking about."

What did he need a dictionary for? Maybe the slang, such as 'corker' or 'yarn'. Perhaps 'torpor'? I suspect it was 'compositional', which might be alien to someone who doesn't understand the concept of composition in visual arts. It's worth noting that Buffa opened his own article with the word 'plethora', which, really, no one ever needs to use more than two or three times after discovering it in the thesaurus. That gives you, at most, two more uses, Chris.

Personally, I had to "bust out a dictionary" to verify whether Schwarzbaum had misspelled 'fogey' (she hadn't; 'fogey' is listed as the variant, while 'fogy' is the primary spelling).

I've always appreciated how EW's reviews aren't nearly as low- to middle-brow as the rest of their content. Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Glieberman aren't just good reviewers, they're good writers. The paragraph from the Lady in the Water review is an example of context, something I'd love to see in more videogame reviews. Any idiot can tell me whether or not he liked Game X. But I find it much more helpful to read about Game X from someone who's played a hundred other games like it. Context, Mr. Buffa, is one of the hallmarks of critical analysis.

Is it any surprise that this fact is lost on Chris Buffa, who's taken it upon himself not only to tell us game writers how to write by parroting what he read in a Stephen King book, but also to teach us basic social skills about how PR chicks might flirt with us, but it doesn't mean we can grab their boobs?

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