Adventures in technical writing

Technical writing at its finest. Image: Joe Shlabotnik via flickr

Technical writing at its finest.
Image: Joe Shlabotnik via flickr

Our project revolves around games. Now that we’re starting to write, I’ve been thinking about writing games, and about related areas of technical writing.


Games have rules, and rules are generally negative. They tell you what you are not allowed to do. For example, the rules of football has this to say about off-side:

A player in an offside position is penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or

  • interfering with an opponent or

  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.


In contrast, instructions have a positive framing – they tell you to do things. For example, this is how to use a Davis brand Happy Troller:

Ready to troll?

(a). Bring boat to a full stop.

(b). Place motor in neutral.

(c). Pull control cord and hold for a few seconds while the springs move troll plate to the down position, then release.

(d). Shift to forward gear and slowly adjust throttle for proper trolling speed.


These two forms of writing are related but different. Instructions tend to be clearer, because they only describe one course of action. Playing a game requires choice, and the rules of the game describe both the freedoms and restrictions within that game.

With all that being said, there are good and bad examples of each. The rules of many major sports (especially cricket) are written in impenetrable legalese, but the rules for, say, Dungeon Lords have cute stories to help you remember things better:

Also recommended for the center of the dungeon is this tastefully decorated hide-away that we call “the Magic Room”. Send in two imps and a romantic din- ner, and out come three. It’s magic! The new Imp Figure shows up in your Imp Den immediately, so it can also be used in production. And yes, even in this room you can use Troll Tokens. What can we say? They just really like imps.

And Lego instructions are just beautiful.


And the obvious question:

Currently, which sections of our show are phrased as activities? Which are framed as games? And for our purposes, does the distinction matter?



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