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How Game Titles Work, Part 4: The Voyage Home >

[Comments] (1) How Game Titles Work, Part 3: Misc. Metonymy and Synecdoche: One thing I didn't mention earlier (because I didn't realize it earlier) is that war-themed games, like sports games, make heavier use of metonymy and synecdoche (America's Army, Counter-Strike, Medal of Honor, Delta Force, 1942) because they're based on real-world activities and even specific historical periods. This is reinforced by the fact that you don't want to give a war game a cutesy name. (Unless it's Rush'n Attack, which is a frightening game when you're a kid playing it in 1987.)

Kris commented on an earlier entry saying basically, why is this a mystery? When you name your game you pick a name that has something to do with the gameplay and that hasn't been chosen before. But even this high-level overview of game names is different from the way other things are named. You wouldn't name a book or movie or album or any other cultural artifact using the techniques normally associated with cleaning products. Books and movies are often named with synecdoche (name the book after something in the book), but full-blown metonymy (name the book after something thematically related) is less common and can seem pretentious, where it usually doesn't for games.

I haven't found any rules for metonymy, because there probably aren't any, but there are some interesting patterns. Fantasy games have epic names, as you might expect--specifically, they have names that sound like bad fantasy novels. This connection is strong enough that fantasy RPGs often have literary imagery in their names. ("Adventures of", "Legend of", "Tales of", "Book", "Scroll", "Odyssey")

Naturalistic imagery is also common. In fantasy RPGs the imagery is familiar ("Mountain", "Ocean", "Wind", "Rain", "Tree"). In science-fictional games of all kinds it's alienating ("Space", "Planet", "Galaxy", "Asteroid"). "Star" and "Moon", astronomical phenomena you can see from Earth, can be either comforting or alienating. Compare "Harvest Moon" to "Moon Patrol".

One unexpected thing I found was a vein of aspirational language in the names of fighting games. (Karate Champ, King of Fighters, Urban Champion)

Like I say, any rule about metonymy is shaky. But there are some pretty well-defined kinds of synecdoche that cover a lot of game-naming ground.

What's left in this series? There are two more interesting title patterns I'll cover next time, as well as rules for constructing sequel names. Then I'd like to analyze some of my favorite game names in detail. I tend to like game names for their complexity and literary value, attributes not traditionally associated with trademarky or synecdochal names. Finally, I need to figure out which of these patterns happened because of the nature of video games, and which are artifacts of the economic context in which most games were developed.

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Posted by Kris Straub at Tue Feb 03 2009 16:05

I think Quake is notable from a naming perspective because it also completely sidestepped the content aspect as well. Meaning -- they seem to have made a game, then tried to fit a concept to it to tie it together in the same way a name is chosen.

I can't find the text online, but the closest thing to a plot as summarized in the game manual went something like this:

You get the call late at night. Soon you're in the secret underground base. The commander says "We got a bad one this time. An enemy organization, codename Quake, is opening portals to another dimension." You put on your boots and lock and load your pistol. Mama said there'd be days like this...

It's no deeper than that. I don't know who I work for, why I care about Quake, and there sure as hell isn't any of that stuff in the actual game. At the end you don't fight some organization, you fight Shub-Niggurath, for F's S.


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