One of the considerations I had to make for “What Happened Here”, was how to approach communication. The game is multi-player exploration game on planet Earth, and I wanted to be considerate of the benefits and limitations of different languages and ways to communicate.
Language is Complex
When I moved to Sweden, I experienced this first hand. It could be quite lonely not understanding road signs, labels in stores and food on the menu. You always depend on someone else.
On top of that, there’s a high chance of miscommunication. At times I explained myself wrongly, because I misunderstood underlying meanings behind certain words or word sequence.
One time I thought someone was explaining to me how they rode motorcycles, and I responded by explaining how I used to go to the TT in Assen, an international motorcycle get-together event in the Netherlands. It was only later that my husband explained how the man’s husband had died in a motorcycle accident. I’m still horrified.
Language is More Than Words
My inability to understand the different complexities of Swedish has, on multiple occasions, caused me to completely misinterpret a situation. This may be one of the worst examples, but I definitely wasn’t the only time.
One of the things that can make this complicated sometimes, is that beyond the direct translation behind words, there’s layers of history, culture, norms and values, woven into language.
Considering this, I knew the ways of communication would impact players on multiple levels, in how they experience the game, and how they experience interactions other players.
Video Game References
Some of the video games which most inspired me by their uncommon use of communication are the Sims, Overwatch and Journey. The Sims create its own language, Overwatch uses a large variety of existing languages, and Journey uses no form of verbal or written communication with other players.
Many other games often release their game in a default language, such as English, and provide language packs for different regions in the world. Overwatch took it a slightly different path. It’s heroes have origins from all around the world, and to build on these identities gave individual heroes voice lines specifically in their “mother tounge”, in addition to English.
Because of this, when you play the game, you may hear , for example, “Thank you” in Russian, “Hello” in Korean, and a countdown “3-2-1” in German.All while the characters mostly speak English.
The exciting thing I have noticed, is that, similar to how many friends of mine have learned to speak English in World of Warcraft, players of Overwatch know how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in a variety of languages, and will use them ingame.
Popular video game “The Sims” famously chose to create a fictional language for its game; “Simlish”. The creators knew there would be dialog, and gave characters the ability to express distinct emotions, but opted to create one gibberish language especially for the game, rather than create actual dialog and translate this to different languages.
Some fans of the Sims can replicate the language, and cleverly use body language to convey the different scenarios in which dialog could occur.
Journey is an exploration game, and one of its key charactaristics is that when users interact other players, they cannot speak or write to each other. You can write in the snow and sand, and can use body language, but that’s about it.
That means confusion, and assumptions, require an open mind, but keep a focus on the game itself. No classism, racism, sexism, people are merely an avatar that for a moment in time co-exist in the same space.
Learning A New Language
All of this got me thinking. People pick up useful language from Overwatch, and even learn a fiction language such as Simlish. People can learn languages from a video game. This can be hard at the beginning, and be a barrier, but isn’t overcoming barriers not a part of the joy of playing video games?
There is undoubtebly going to be dialog in “What Happened Here”, what if it was something that would be new to most of us. What if this could be a fun community in which the few that speak Esperanto have an upper hand?
It would surely prevent me from having to be some form of arbiter of what is considered a global language. English is common, but so is Arabic, Mandorin, Spanish and French. Which would I choose? Would I need multiple? It’s a question that can easily go out of control.
I like the idea of using a variety of languages, because the differences are such an incremental part of the human experience, but I have to also think practically. This is a fictional game, but even the best ideas need boundaries.
Esperanto is for Everybody
Esperanto is a language that was created by Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, a medical doctor from Poland. It combines vocabulary from languages such as Romance and Germanic, and is heavily influenced by Slavic languages.
His goal was to bring the world a little closer. Differences in language can often be experienced as a barrier, between different people, but also between people and the societies they live in.
Esperanto isn’t perfect, if anything it’s a rather Eurocentric approach to a global language. However, it’s an attempt to create something together, and that is one of the characteristics which convinced me it could be one of the best choices for a language in “What Happened Here”.
It could level the playing field, most people can’t speak it, but maybe, like in Overwatch, it can inspire people to learn some words. It requires people to have an open mind, similarly to Journey. And maybe, it can get people excited to make it their own, as people have done with Simlish.