The Secret Language of Cars

edited August 2006 in Story Games
Ok, if you go driving, you may occaisionally notice cars with small, square stickers, usually with simple, abstract symbols like
image or image.

These symbols all mean something to people who are in the know, and they can be an effective way for a subgroup to self-identify. While they most commonly show up on cars, if you're looking, you'll see them in badges, patches, banners and tatoos. I find it absolutely fascinating.

I've been wondering whether gaming would benefit from such a symbol, and I am curious what people think of the idea.

-Rob D.


  • Well....given this years theme.....


    In all seriousness, I'm not sure it would matter in any concrete terms. What potential benefit do you see?* I mean, I'm not gonna hang out at some guys car in a parking lot and ask him to play a game with me because he has a polyhedral dice sticker on his bumper.

    *Serious, not snarky, question.
  • Are you looking for something as visually iconic as those squares, or just an adapted hobo-sign we can scrawl on fenceposts & such?

    I think this idea is intriguing, and would be fun, but it probably lacks the impetus for self-identification that those subgroups have.
  • Yeah, but how would you promote it?
  • If such a thing existed, I would consider its promotion to be sort of self-sustaining based on the level of interest. If it wasn't an idea that people responded to, it'd be a bad idea in the first place. And Dave is probably right that we lack the kind of impetus that has motivated some of these symbols. But on the other hand, we're nerds who love symbolic language, so I could see it having legs. Expose a geek to Hobo code, and watch what happens.

    But to answer Nathan's question, I see a couple benefits, and the first (and possibly biggest) has nothing to do with communication, and more to do with identification. It's a reason to give The Nod. The Nod is that moment of acknowledgment that members of a readily identifiable subgroup give when they see the symbols of their group. Apple computers are a great example of this: as a Mac user when you see another Mac user there's a little bit of buzz because you both know you're in the same group, and by virtue of being in this select group, you are somehow cooler/smarter/more with it/whatever than people who don't "get it".

    A corollary of this is that I admit I would totally get a little thrill anytime I saw evidence of a gamer outside of the usual game haunts.

    Now, it's a potential icebreaker in the regular scope of things. A patch on a bag, a sticker on a laptop, whatever - it's not going to be something to suddenly turn us into socially well adjusted individuals, but by the same token, I admit I would love a way to spot gamers that does not depend on either the books they carry or their level of personal hygiene. :)

    -Rob D.
  • edited August 2006
    Potential rpg symbol (and universal): A white square with a red lowercase "d" on it. Like almost, but not quite, the "d20" logo (without the 20).

    But then there's so much factionalization that next we'd need symbols for pervy Forge folks, the Clan That Hates Theory, etc. :-p

    BTW, what do those above symbols mean? (I've never seen that sort of thing before, it must be a meme that's taking a long time to spread phsically over to these parts.

    And then, finally, yeah, to echo Nathan: I figure most people who use these (I'm imagining religious or military groups) have that hobby as part of their personality, their being. I'm not sure that RPGs warrant that sort of thing. Cause I'd need to make up one for Kung Fu and American Pragmatism and I Like Cats too.

    But interesting. Maybe something could come out of thinking about them.

  • I vote a red square with a white triangle inside, rotated to point to the left.


    It has no meaning. That's the point.


  • The first symbol basically means gay-friendly, and the second (I am told, but unconfirmed) indicates a proclivity for BDSM.

    Other symbols I have seen include:
    image which indicates membership in a police anti-theft program. You put the sticker on your car and agree that if the cops see your car on the road between 2am and 6am, you can be stopped for no reason at all by the police to confirm that you are driving your card.

    image is a Dive flag, and often sported by scuba enthusiasts.

    There are others, some of them being less kind, but once you start looking for them, you may be surprised.

    -Rob D.
  • edited August 2006
    (See Rob's below)
  • edited August 2006
    Heh. Actually, I imagine image and I thought "I actually think that means "Play", like on a VCR.

    But having realized that, I like it very much indeed.

    -Rob D.

    Edit: Though Jason's looks cooler. :)
  • That crime stoppers one looks like a George Adamski UFO.
  • I think Andy's "d20" without the "20" is the clearest badge. It's simple, graphically pleasing, and recognizable by people in the "in-crowd" even if they didn't read this particular story-games thread. It doesn't need a special in-crowd PR campaign.

    btw, I know the "yellow equal sign" badge is the Human Rights Campaign logo, but what group's logo is the black-and-blue badge?
  • It does! I was puzzled about it for months since I literally couldn't decide if it was a car, a spy, or a UFO.

    -Rob D.
  • edited August 2006
    No, wait, Play, that makes sense. I was going for kinetic, die in motion, but appropriating the international symbol for play is awesome. Duh.
  • Oh, hey, that's good, Rob. Very, very good.

  • Jason, Rob -- Yeah, like that. Either way. I think that Jason's is very appealing visually but I like the "play" pun in Rob's.

    The point isn't that it is instantly recognizable right away: none of these other symbols are. The point is that it will become recognizable in the future. We are going to give it meaning, ourselves.

    Anyone want to make some decals? I don't own a car I'll slap one on my laptop. We can sell / give them away at GenCon.


  • Another popular self-identification trend are those black and white oval bumper stickers. I believe they were originally for foreign cars, but now people made up their own oval sticker abbreviations.
  • edited August 2006
    If Jason will apply his color eye to a "play" one and post it (his red choice was way better), I'll call it a win and happily look into what getting decals requires.

    -Rob D.

    (Though looking, I think 990000 may just be easiest.)
  • edited August 2006
    Such a symbol would definitely be cool. On my car I have this a bat which identifies me as a caver (spelunker to those not in the know), something like this image which identifies me as a Unitarian Universalist, and an "I brake for trains" bumper sticker which sends both a safety message, and suggests that I'm into trains.

    Hmm, for old school gamers, how about an image of the 5 platonic solids in the colors the original TSR dice came in (pink d20, blue d12, green d6, yellow d4, orange/red d5 if I'm remembering right - the sticker would even look just perfect once it started to fade and get a bit ragged...)...

    I have definitely had people chat with me about being UU and caving as a result of these stickers. The bat sticker, in reflective safety yellow, has even once or twice helped in trying to find a caving event late at night, or at least been comforting that I'm on the right road (or we're both lost together...).

  • Rob, it was RGB 200 / 0 / 0 or CMYK 15 / 100 / 100 / 5; maybe we can get somebody clueful to set up us the 600 dpi decal master bomb. Joshua A. C. Newman perhaps.
  • edited August 2006
    #990000 image
    200/0/0 image


    -Rob D.
  • Does this make us all players?

    Or playas?
  • Aren't we already both? If not, that might explain my lack of hos and my excess of ho hos.

    -Rob D.
  • The brighter color is better for recognition on cars.

    The darker color is better for bookbags, backpacks, computers, and such.


  • Red fades. Badly.

    I would recommend a green arrow (green for "go") on a black or gray background.
  • A couple of things - screen color and actual print color are not the same, so choosing by vote based on how it looks on your monitors is a bad idea. Maybe we can get a bona-fide graphic designer to help out.

    It would probably be smart to see if that symbol is being used already, since it seems like a no-brainer.
  • If at all possible, it should be the same red as the red-box for D&D.

    But that's just me :-)


  • In an older issue of Critical Miss was a desire for a secret gaming handshake. To summarize the article, the writer wanted a way to identify other gamers in social/work settings without committing "career suicide" by letting everyone know he likes pretending to be an elf princess every Friday night. ("You'd do less damage to your prospects if you said you were into trainspotting or model railways. Roleplayers learn early on to not talk about it.") Recently on the Dragon's Landing Inn podcast, one of the listeners left a voice mail about how he wore one of thier CafePress t-shirts ("My other shirt is +5 elven chain") to work and discovered that two of his co-workers were gamers. After working with them for over two years, he never knew.

    I think a solution is readily available -- you know all those odd-shaped dice we gamers seem to have too many of? Place one of them at your desk, cube, or workstation. If someone says, "Hey, a d8," gamer. If someone who is not a gamer asks about the funny die on your desk, you can just explain it's like a die in Monopoly, only with more sides.
  • I want a sticker.

    Yes, that's my contribution to the conversation.
  • I'm tempted by green background rather than red, myself: Green means go, as Vax. says, and red usually means "warning."
  • For visualization purposes

    -Rob D.
  • I like that better. It looks less... nautical.
  • Hmm ...

    It looks too much like an air freshener. How about blue?


  • Green! Green! Green!
  • It looks all Esperanto and shit. Which is awesome.
  • Yay, Esperanto!

    Ludanta estas tre bona! Ludistoj venkas la mondo!
  • Whatever we come up with should definitely be tested on a diverse array of non-gamers.
  • Oh, and now is the time to go "originate" this idea at and enworld. Seriously, there's no point unless it can achieve wide acceptance.
  • I really like the red. Yes, it fades, it's true. But we can always buy more.

  • I vote green. Red looks like it belongs on a ship (I've done too much research on the British navy) and the blue is just kinda... boring.
  • Well, the alternative plan is I show up at Gencon with 100 of them and just hand em out.

    -Rob D. :)
  • I'll shell out for another hundred, Rob.

    Or, you know, however many, depending on price.


    P.S. We should write a little note that goes with the sticker.

  • Just 100, Rob? Lemme tell you a little story.

    My dad works an offset press -- or did, at least, when I was in high school. So at the end of our sophomore year, when it came time for the ever-popular student council elections, one of my friends filled out a nomination petition on a lark. We could make funny posters and post them around the school, ha ha! I had the great idea to make funny little campaign stickers (I'll be honest -- it was a high school sized class-conflict smear campaign; the 'funny' stickers were kind of savage), and got my dad to run off a couple pages on sticky paper. In a grid of 15x10, there were 150 stickers to a page; presses working as they do, it was just as easy for my dad to run twenty or thirty pages as it was to run five. So it was that we released over three thousand stickers into my two thousand population high school... and ran out on the second day.

    I'm pretty sure Gen Con is bigger than my high school.
  • And I'm still most fond of the red. It's flamboyant and easily noticed (that's why it looks nautical) which is key to the whole affair.


  • How about you mix & match stickers based on your gaming:

    Red looks like a D on a red field, and is used by those who play d20-based systems?

    Green is representative of money, and is used by those who have a business stake in the field?

    Blue is a cool color, and means you're willing to game whatever with whoever whenever, at least once?

    Black, gray, purple, orange, etc? we could have a whole symbology pretty quickly here
  • No.

    This is symbology. Simple is good.

  • Fine. Then I vote green, and here's why:

    Flamboyancy and easy-noticability don't seem to be the goals of this type of graphic. The Nod and the nose-scratch from The Sting are not flamboyant gestures. Green means go, triangle in square means play. GO PLAY.
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanP.S. We should write a little note that goes with the sticker.
    If you wanted to get all complex about it, you might be able to print on the backing of the sticker.
  • Dude, GO PLAY.

    It could be a GO PLAY sticker.
  • Posted By: Dave YounceGO PLAY.
    I admit, that is pretty mighty logic.

    -Rob D.
Sign In or Register to comment.