Monday, March 19, 2012

Language Barriers

by woodleywonderworks
Language Barriers
by Tobie Abad
March 2012

Being based in the Philippines, the choice of what language to use for a game is a common challenge.  In this country, you see, the lingua fraca is Tagalog, which is a conversationally friendly mix of English, Spanish, French, and other words sprinkled around a healthy use of Filipino.    While many geeks and gamers easily prefer using English while gaming, there are the occasional players who are either not that fluent (or comfortable) using English or players who just don't really speak it.  While running games in Tagalog are not really an issue, I personally found that there are many pros and cons on what language is used for a game.  In this article, we explore those pros and cons.

For a person to enjoy a game, you must allow them to express themselves in a manner that comes easily and comfortable to them.  In a group setting, this however, must be balanced with what the group generally lends itself to.  Many gamers in the Philippines prefer to use English because it feels appropriate especially when the games are based/derived from Western shows or influences.  A Game of Thrones inspired Dungeons and Dragons session, for example, just doesn't have the same atmosphere when run in Tagalog.

However, games that do indulge in the local mythology or setting wonderfully benefit from using Tagalog.  Just as a Legend of the Five Rings game would sound and feel better if the players were able to speak (or at least inject key phrases and expressions) in Nihongo, finding ways to use the language of the setting or source can greatly enhance your game's atmosphere.

But all of these are irrelevant if the use of the language ends up making your players focus on "how to say things" rather than just saying thing.  Never force an add-on to a game at the expense of your players' opportunity to express themselves better.  If forcing a language ends up making players pause between sentences to look up the word on a list, then all you are doing is slowing the game down with unnecessary commercial breaks.

by eyesplash
As mentioned above, some players may not be as fluent or as comfortable speaking in English during a game.  When faced with that kind of a situation, stick to using what language is most comfortable and simply focus instead on being able to run the game and having fun.  Mixed groups can prove to be a challenge especially if they are composed of people who have varying communication preferences.  I have run games where two players speak English very well, one was most comfortable speaking in Tagalog, and one barely spoke.  So running the game, I stuck to English for any general narrative (the game was based on a superhero cartoon after all) but communicated with each player with their desired language.  The quiet one?  I realized was still being shy to the group, so I instead offered every scene to her similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure game, with suggested options each time until she started to ask, "Can I do this..." on her own.

Also consider the wealth of resources the web offers.  The internet nowadays is a treasure trove of easily accessible information that can be utilized to enhance any game session.  Why not look for websites featuring phrases and statements in a foreign language that you can easily learn to use in a game?  This page, for example, has enough phrases to make your L5R games more fun.  Your Serenity game can sound more like an episode of Firefly with this page as your guide.

Language should never become the hindrance in having a fun game.  The very point of language is to permit communication between at least two individuals.  Try to see all hindrances as challenges to overcome and opportunities to approach games in a way which may be different from what you are used to.  Opportunities to find more ways to make games fun!

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