Dialogue is a tricky thing to pull off in a video game. It’s already more difficult to suspend disbelief over a video game character, and once you put words into that character’s mouth, it becomes that much more challenging. Few writers have the know-how to script lines and make them feel authentic. But then again, some of it may just come down to confusion. Take for example...

Mistranslations

Obviously, this is the most forgivable type of bad dialogue. Someone had a little too much confidence in his or her ability to translate from one language to another, and so, we get classics like this one from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins. But it’s minor, and we get the general idea; no harm, no foul. But then there is also...

Plain Carelessness

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At some point, the buck has to stop somewhere. Because if it doesn’t, you get dialogue like this. This is just a lack of proofreading. And with these old games, there was such a lack of dialogue to begin with, so whatever dialogue they did have, they needed make it count. But even when it’s grammatically correct, it might just be a case of...

Captain Obvious

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Captain Obvious can rear his head in several different ways. It can be a character stating, “I am dead,” as he’s dying. It can be a character who’s narrating what he’s doing as he does it. Or it could be the end screen of a game like Bad Dudes, which has all the subtlety of a rock.

As games got more advanced, they did away with direction booklets. Instead, they started including in-game instructions, it gave birth to whole new genre of...

Tutorial Talk

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Metal Gear Solid was perhaps a bit more self-aware than others, but games started Hulk Smashing the 4th wall by explaining control pad functions to the player. It created a brief moment of dissonance in the player’s head — who is my instructor speaking to, exactly? But interaction from character to character isn’t necessarily any better, especially when it deals with...

Budding Romance

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This is sort of a lose/lose proposition. A convincing love story is a tough feat, and usually the less said, the better — characters should demonstrate their love with actions instead of words, which have a tendency to make everything sound cliched, blunt, or awkward. That’s why the more advanced RPGs, rather than scripting every single action, wisely allow for multiple options. And one of them is usually a...

Horrible Decision

This is the deliberately bad dialogue. It almost tempts and dares the player — what will happen if I choose the stupidest option out of the four? In decision-based games like The Walking Dead, this rarely ends well, but it doesn’t stop us from creating a save point, and trying it anyway.

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That covers the major categories of terrible game dialogue. Everything else falls into...

Just Ridiculous

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There are no words.

What are some of your favorite bad dialogue moments? Let us know in the comments.

Kevin is an AP English Language teacher and freelance writer from Queens, NY. His focus is on video games, American pop culture, and Asian American issues. Kevin has also been published in VIBE, Complex, Joystiq, Salon, PopMatters, WhatCulture, and Racialicious. You can email him at kevinjameswong@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @kevinjameswong.

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