Journey, Abstraction and the Invention of Language

I’ve spent the last five Christmas Eves having dinner with a table full of people speaking a language I don’t understand. My partner was born and raised in Canada, but her parents were born and raised in Warsaw, Poland, leaving several decades ago when the country was still under the thumb of the USSR. She, her brother and her cousins are (frustratingly, perfectly) multilingual while I only speak English fluently and can somewhat passably read and understand spoken French. At Christmas family gatherings with only two or three others who can’t speak/understand Polish it’s only natural that conversations eventually shift away from English. The older members of the family are most comfortable speaking in their first language after all and, especially after several bottles of wine and vodka have been emptied, their usual consideration for including everyone in every conversation starts to dissipate. The first year I came to the big Christmas Eve dinner I felt extremely awkward because of this. I imagine a lot of people surrounded by a language they don’t understand get to wondering what the hell is being said and, most anxiety-inducing of all, if they’re being talked about without understanding it.

The next year it seemed a bit better. I knew these people, had grown more comfortable drinking my wine and sort of drifting out when the conversations turned to Polish. The Christmas after that I barely noticed a thing and now, all these years and several failed attempts to learn the language (it is goddamned impenetrable, but I’ll keep trying until I die) later, I find that I can follow the gist of my in-laws’ Polish dialogue despite only recognizing a handful of words. It is possible to intuit the rhythm of a sentence, to understand how changes in tone and volume communicate a joke or sarcastic remark without a proper understanding of the complexities of the language. This is, I think, a common phenomenon. In lieu of properly interpreting a language, those regularly surrounded by it will at least learn to “feel” how it works.

By the end of two hours with Journey a similar thing had happened.

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Communication Breakdown in Dragon Age: Origins

My first experience with a Bioware game was Dragon Age: Origins. At the time I didn’t know much of anything about the studio, what their “return to roots” project meant to people or, really, what I was getting into at all. I just read a lot of really good things about a game — namely, the amount of narrative choice it offered players — and thought it would be worth trying out. Now, having played two Mass Effects, two Fallouts and Skyrim, I’ve gone back into the first Dragon Age with, maybe, a bit more of an understanding of how to approach these kind of massively customizable RPGs (MCRPG?) and a better grasp on how to play off their shortcomings.

In short, I’ve learned how to communicate with a videogame by speaking its own language.

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Papa Madden

When I am one day forced to admit my most horrific crimes to St. Peter, one of them will be that I enjoy playing Madden games. I don’t really care which. I play the 2011 one, but if you’re going to try to convince me that it is different than, say,  the previous ten or the subsequent one then you care more than I have the energy for. It is important for you to understand that I am not the type of person who would easily admit  to a love of football video games. I certainly don’t follow the sport in real time and I certainly do have the body of a stick insect with weak knees. I have little to relate to football and especially the culture around the game. All that aside, have you heard of this thing called a “Hail Mary”? If not, have you ever wondered what it feels like to be in that last scene of Remember the Titans? Well, just successfully throw a Hail Mary in a game of Madden NFL and the next thing you know you’ll be holding up the game ball with Coach Boone saying things like, “You’re hall of fame in my books!”

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