This Space Reserved for Filthy Lies
If I am to judge by current internet standards, then I fail at the art of the link-grabbing, punch-you-in-the-gut headline writing. My archaic idea of a good headline is one that at least makes a passing attempt to be clever or accurate or ethical. This is, of course, wrong and stupid.
Even that headline right up there at the top of this story -- dull, dull, dull. I already realize that what I should have written was something like: How Headlines Can Get You a Date With Katy Perry; Have Headlines Hacked Your Computer / Stolen Your Bank Info? ; or Top Ten Tips for Maximizing Your Blog’s Ad Revenue!
According to several studies I am literally making up right now, but that definitely sound like things I have heard before, people spend less than 4 seconds deciding if they will read a given page on the internet. Our own site analytics actually bear this out. As a reader to our site, you have either spent fifteen minutes tooling about searching for the toenail porn -- an actual search term from our database -- you apparently are certain is here somewhere, or you left before I ever got around to talking about stabbing Google spiders in the eyes, which is a shame because that part is coming up, and I think would have quite liked it.
I mean, talk about quick to judgment — I haven’t even gotten to the bump yet.
Oh, there it is.
Even a casual jaunt through the sideshow barker landscape of current gaming blogs reveals that headlines are expected to live up to some critical mass for arbitrary search term density, so that when Google’s matrix-like spiders crawl into our domain, they are immediately set upon by a cadre of crazy-eyed, knife-wielding adjectives. We then send back their multi-faceted eyes one at a time until we get our demands of first-page placement and a nice fancy page rank.
Instead my sedate headlines kind of lounge on the porch with their feet up on the railing, only dimly aware of Google's wary tech as it wanders nervously past.
I have some pretty old fashioned ideas about headlines I suppose. Among them that:
1) They should try to be inventive
2) They should be accurate
3) They should not be outright lies
4) They should not break any of the Geneva Conventions
It’s not that I don’t understand the temptation to play with headlines. Nice thing about bending word pictures to your will is that you don’t even have to use Photoshop. You just cherry-pick an issue, particularly one on which people will expound at length without the burden of knowledge or insight, assign a villain, preferably a corporate one, to carry the mantle of evil-doer and then sarcastically condense whatever content follows down to the best sound bite.
And, the reality is, they get results. Particularly as we run up on the coming E3, where everyone is basically disseminating the same information, there are two ways you can get eyes on pages. One way is to do serious work to build a unique perspective on the information. The other option is to slap in some bombastic slant of artificial nonsense to attract undeserved attention — what I affectionately term the Kardashian approach.
Now, don’t let me over state the case here, because I fear that I am implying that every other site out there is abusing those great big colorful words at the top of their articles with every single article they write. In reality most of the time, what little news that can be gathered is so well and accurately summed up by a half dozen words anyway, that one wonders why further expounding is even necessary. For example, Monkey Space Ninja Gun Battle 2 Demo Now Available on Xbox Live, feels to me like a pretty complete thought. To find that someone has further invested the time and effort to Photoshop a monkey’s face onto a screenshot from Ninja Gaiden followed by 200 words on the relative awesomeness of monkeys, ninjas and/or guns can feel a bit like overkill.
I like to imagine that these are the "duck, duck, duck" headlines to the inevitable coming "goose!" Reading the daily gaming news, I find myself genuinely waiting for that glorious linguistic kick to the head.
Dead Horse Games Announces Revenue up 14.5% in 2nd Quarter — Dull
New Logo for Criss-Cross Applesauce RPG Edition Revealed — Who cares
Gran Turismo 5 Delayed — Duh
Draconian DRM Policy Stabs Infant in Face — Wait! What?!
Tell me, which article are you clicking on? No, seriously? How can you not click that link? Logically I know that I'm being completely manipulated, and that more than likely the headline is so misleading that the Donner party would have followed it into the mountains, but where does the willpower come from not to click that? And, that's to say nothing about the bastardization the article will further endure in the tall weeds of a place like Digg.
I have learned from years of experience that should Jack Thompson, Ubisoft or the issue of piracy become briefly newsworthy -- a term I use with loosest possible interpretation -- I should get some popcorn before reading through a swath of ever increasingly inventive headlines. In fact, I look forward to it. I wish now that I had collected my favorites, particularly the ones where the article ended up saying the exact opposite of what the headline inferred, because that kind of hubris is more worth seeing than the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World trailer.
It’s a hard world out there, people, and much as I want to build some kind of ire toward those who succeed on the backs of deceptive or slanted headlines, I just can’t. I kind of love them, actually. It’s supposed to be an entertaining biz, and when I am covertly browsing the web at work, what I want is to get that electric thrill from a headline whose transitory promise can never be truly fulfilled. I want to see ordinary things portrayed as extraordinary, even if for an illusory moment before the magic is dispelled.
So, here’s to you Deceptive Video Games Headlines Writer. May your thesaurus always be handy, and your capacity for hyperbole runneth ever over.