SPLIT/SECOND: A Grammar Lesson

Filed under: PSN Update — CJ @ 12:16 am May 18, 2010

Everyone find their seats and take out a pencil and notebook. Today you get both a snide review of a free demo from the PSN Store, as well as a complimentary grammar lesson. What culmination of astrological happenings placed you in this fortuitous position? Black Rock Studios presents us with SPLIT/SECOND. For those keeping track, this makes the second consecutive PSN demo on PBB with an unnecessarily loud title (note the lack of any lower-case letters). Let’s begin.

SPLIT/SECOND is really nothing more than a racing game that allows you, the driver, to blow up portions of the track with hopes of somehow ruining your opponents’ chances of victory. Unfortunately, you don’t operate any machine gun turrets or harness any sort of rocket-propelled grenades. You gain a sort of “energy” by drafting behind other drivers or drifting around tight corners. This energy gauge is displayed on-screen just beneath your car, close to other important information such as lap information and race position. Once you fill your energy gauge, you can trigger disasters ranging from building implosions, roadside car bombs, even commanding helicopters to drop crates of explosives right on the track! This mayhem might crush your opponent outright or alternatively alter the track in such a way that the future laps will follow a different path. If you enjoyed Burnout, then you should probably take a look at SPLIT/SECOND. Though I only tried a couple of rounds, I did find myself enjoying the time spent playing this demo. However, I was constantly burdened by two things: First, this is a really silly concept for a game. Secondly, should there be a slash between the words split and second?

Before I engage Teacher Mode, I should acknowledge the fact that one of the reasons I love the English language is for its flexibility. I accept the notion that many rules that apply to Standard English are blatantly ignored and accepted as truth outside the realm of formal writing. The basic function of any language, spoken or written, is to communicate ideas. But what ideas are really being conveyed by using the slash this way? Journey on, intrepid grammarians.

One common way that we see the slash used is via different abbreviations (w/ for with, w/o for without, b/c instead of because, etc.) Another everyday slash sighting comes courtesy of different “initialisms”, or acronyms (R/C for radio control, A/C for air conditioning, or AC/DC for best rock group featuring grown men dressed as small schoolboys etc.) None of these implementations of the slash seem to make sense when combining SPLIT/SECOND. Since we can infer that the game’s title is meant to convey some sense of immediate action or precise timing, we might want to consider another function of the slash.

A second ability in the slash’s repertoire is the ability to embody the idea “or”, often seen used as “and/or”. For example, “You may use pencil and/or pen to complete this form.” We know that, as readers, we have a choice to make: use a pencil, use a pen, or use some combination of the two. This gets us slightly closer to what I think the developers had in mind when naming SPLIT/SECOND.

The slash can often unknowingly take the role of another punctuation mark: the hyphen. My favorite use of the hyphen is to join compound modifiers (rocket-propelled grenade for example). Black Rock Studios employed a similar idea when dubbing their creation SPLIT/SECOND. By replacing the hyphen with a slash and joining the words split and second into the capitalized behemoth SPLIT/SECOND, they combined two separate words into a single idea, thus creating the image of the game’s fervor. What might normally have read as a compound modifier “split second” (implied “split second reaction time” or “split second decisions”, both terrible names for a video game) now has this unexpected punctuation: SPLIT/SECOND.

I shudder to think that there were probably multiple meetings and focus groups devoted to assess the potential pros and cons of this decision. “Do we leave split and second as two distinct words? Will the gaming community get the message? What if we hyphenate them? Do they know what a hyphen is? What about a slash? It’s simple and edgy. Whatever we do, just make sure it all gets capitalized.”

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