< How Game Titles Work, Part 1
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[Comments] (3) How Game Titles Work, Part 2: Trademarkability: I'm not gonna keep posting these huge entries one after another, but here's another big entry. First, a summary of the previous entry.

  1. It took a while for non-nerds to grasp the concept of electronic games. Naming games after real-world activities (whether or not there was actually a resemblance) created a bridge between the real world and the electronic world.
  2. If a game is based on a real-world activity, it's a good bet its name will be based on synecdoche or metonomy, assuming it's not just flat-out named after the activity. Random examples: Pong, Pole Position, Double Dribble, Pro Wrestling.
  3. All else being equal, a game that demonstrates some new technology--hardware, software, game mechanic--will have a more generic name than a game that doesn't. It's likely the game will just mention the new technology in its name. Hardware examples: Computer Space, Super Glove Ball, Sonic CD, Yoshi Touch and Go, Wii Sports. Software examples: Wolfenstein 3D, Virtua Fighter. Game mechanic examples: Portal, World of Goo.

Now I'll carve off another chunk of the space of possible game names. Game names can be constructed with techniques used to come up with other trademarkable words and phrases. Misspelling doesn't happen as much in game titles as in, say, cleaning supplies, but it's pretty common, especially the fake abbreviation. (Petz, Cruis'n, Mortal Kombat, Rush'n Attack, Toobin'). Alliteration and assonance happen pretty often. (Excitebike, Final Fight, Bubble Bobble). I'd like to give special notice to "Elevator Action", which really seems like there's alliteration there but it's actually just very easy to say.

Nonsense compound portmanteau words happen very often, possibly because this construction is common in Japanese (Excitebike again, Gradius, Gyruss, Pengo). But it happens even in non-Japanese games (Tetris, Myst, Skulljagger (see future entry), BioShock, Starcraft, Carmageddon, Populous[0], Gravitar, Q*Bert). Combine with metonymy and you can come up with many plausible-sounding game titles for a given game.

Metonymy, you say? Yes! Even games not based on a real-world activity usually have some connection to reality, and the title can use metonymy on those parts. Just as an example, consider (the game) Bubble Bobble. It's a pretty nonsensical game but there are two points of contact with reality: dinosaurs and bubbles. The main game mechanics are blowing bubbles, popping them, and jumping.

Metonymy on "dinosaur" yields lizard, reptile, dino-, -saurus. Metonymy on "bubble" yields blow, pop, and float. Bubble Bobble could be called "Float Fight", "Dino Pop", "Pop 'n Drop", or (with less cutesy graphics) "Reptile Rage". That's just names that are the same kind of name as "Bubble Bobble." They're not as good as "Bubble Bobble," though "Reptile Rage" has an interesting baby-Godzilla thing going on, but I bet similar names were considered during development. And this is a common pattern. "Dig Dug" is the same name as "Bubble Bobble", just for a different game.

[0]"Populous" happens to be a real word, but I think whoever named the game liked the Greek-myth-sounding "ous" suffix better than the dictionary meaning of the word.

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Posted by Evan at Sun Feb 01 2009 10:58

There should be a category for Names With Naughty Associations, ie elevator action, pop n' drop, etc

Posted by Tim May at Sun Feb 01 2009 12:36

Most of those "nonsense compound words" are blends, or portmanteau words, rather than compounds.

Posted by Jeremy Penner at Sun Feb 01 2009 19:58

It's interesting how close you actually just got to generating the name of Bubble Bobble's predecessor, Chack'n Pop.


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