Double language (nope Japan)

edited May 2011 in Story Games

Over at the rpg haven there's been a few threads discussing methods to deliver the historical settings for a rpg. I see that similar discussions about historical games have happened in S-G. MountZionRyan is bouncing ideas about this here, keeping the discussion open but with an eye for his Dokkodo game (lethal samurai rpg during the Edo period). I was especially interested in the question of conveying the subtleties of Japanese culture in a digestible/playable manner. I'm far, far, far from knowledgeable in this domain, but I love the tidbits I've absorbed (through movies mostly).


What I wish a game could achieve is depict these awesome moments in fiction when social cues send messages that differ or contradict dialogs. Example: a samurai visits his daimyo, the dialog is very polite and codified, and at first it looks like he's a happy loyal vassal paying his dues to his master. But then the author, or a third character, explains that in fact something else was at play entirely. The samurai did a gesture that breached the protocol and silently but intentionally insulted his lord. And then it goes for a long explanation of the ins and outs of the whole situation. What the protocol expected, what the deviation meant, why the lord kept a smiling face though he was offended.

I love those moments that make me peek into this very foreign culture. But it's very difficult to transpose into gaming. The external voice, explaining the obfuscated side of the social scene, would make the game crawl and players would probably start to wonder wtf they're doing at this table.

So maybe it's time for some abstraction? Let's get the complexity out of the picture. Rare are those who will read ten books about tea ceremony, kabuki and court protocol in order to depict these subtle social exchanges. But we can be aware that they happen a lot in a feudal Japanese rpg (or maybe another setting with similar phenomenons). So why not a game mechanic for this?

One that would be easy peasy would be to use writing slates. Players would speak in character their official speech while writing completely different things on their slates.
Player A vocally "Hi Kazuki san! How are you doing today?"
Player A on the slate "Are you still mad at me for my mistake of yesterday?"
Player B vocally "Hi Fumiko chan! I feel great. It's because the cherry trees are blooming. It makes my heart sing"
Player B on the slate "Leave me alone and don't piss me off. I'm still upset about yesterday's fiasco"

What other way could we play with double language at the game table ?

Comments

  • Have player C, assigned at the beginning of the scene, deliver the context of each portion of speech.
  • How is this different from having the players say what their characters mean? We do this all the time: "My character's all 'yay emperor', but it's obvious from his mode of address that he's being obliquely insulting to the host."
  • I'm not sure if this would be applicable to a gaming environment, but who knows?
    When I was an English teaching assistant in Japan, there was always some difficulty in expressing the nuances of English expression and behavior, since, well, the kids just weren't used to how we speak or act. Since I was dealing mostly with Elementary and Junior High students, I made little signs I could hold up above my head, to express the feeling behind what I was saying, so they could connect the two. These signs were images, done in the style of cartoonish effects a la typical manga/anime, like a drop of sweat, popping veins, bloody nose, excalation mark, question mark, and...uh...there were one or two others, but they escape me at the moment.
    Anyway, they were pretty quickly able to connect how I was speaking and acting with the image above my head.

    I used that idea recently with a co-worker who couldn't catch on to my sarcasm, so I made a bunch of small signs with words like "Sarcasm," "Serious," "Jovial," "Deadly Serious," etc., that, again, I would hold above my head when I was expressing those things in my speech, so that she would notice and catch on. (she wasn't disadvantaged, by the way, she was just airheaded and easily distracted)

    So...to the point of gaming, how about using those signs, or maybe cards, that can be held up or something, so that while you are speaking as your character, saying one thing, it will become apparent that there is some double-meaning or undertone related to your dialogue?
  • I like the sign idea. Perhaps some kind of token that a player could slid over to the person they intend to offend? That way they would keep all other actions in line with the obvious meaning while expressing a double meaning.

    Then if players want to elaborate on that they could do a voice over later explaning exactly what the slight was to make it double speak.

    I like that idea. I think it could be built on to make something better. I will probaly have ime this weekend to think about things.
  • Posted By: stupidgremlinI'm not sure if this would be applicable to a gaming environment, but who knows?
    When I was an English teaching assistant in Japan, there was always some difficulty in expressing the nuances of English expression and behavior, since, well, the kids just weren't used to how we speak or act. Since I was dealing mostly with Elementary and Junior High students, I made little signs I could hold up above my head, to express the feeling behind what I was saying, so they could connect the two. These signs were images, done in the style of cartoonish effects a la typical manga/anime, like a drop of sweat, popping veins, bloody nose, excalation mark, question mark, and...uh...there were one or two others, but they escape me at the moment.
    Anyway, they were pretty quickly able to connect how I was speaking and acting with the image above my head.
    With Great Power has a thought bubble for you to hold over your head to show that you're narrating your character's inner thoughts. (At least, it did in all the con games of it that I've played.) This generally didn't get used for several scenes, then one person would get the bright idea to use it in a particularly talky scene, and then everyone would be using it throughout emotional/melodramatic scenes. And a lot more depth could be conveyed this way.




    My old Game Chef game has PCs split into two halves of their personality, which are played by different people. For one character, one player can only tell the truth, while the other can only lie. So simply by trading off which player was in control/speaking at a given moment, you could convey key information about how honest the character was being at the moment.

    Which is sort of along the lines of Mark's suggestion. You could easily have a secondary player for each PC, who describes the subtext of every action mentioned by the primary player. Or several secondary players, each of whom represents some subconscious or repressed desires of the PC. So a conversation between two PCs would be like two simultaneous games of The Road Not Taken.
  • The Jeepform technique Bird-in-Ear could also be a way into this. At the table I say "Hi Kazuki san!" but another player, who represents my meaning, "translates" in whispers to Kazuki's player. I think this would be the most fun if the translator had free reign, having carefully considered the communicator's general intent. Both sender and receiver could end up surprised this way.
  • Having an object or color coded token to hold to represent the subcurrent would be another, non-verbal way to express the subtext. I'm thinking of how it feels to have the knife on the table in Mist-Robed Gate, though that doesn't have the same effect. Bird in the ear, or having another player play that subtext would be very effective.

    Also, something like the language of flowers could be used to introduce the meaning through the game text. Frex, if given the samurai example everyone could be given a sheet of or briefing on etiquette cues. So then you could describe them happening and have everyone at the table gasp. :) Something like that would be great in one of my Game Chef games, City of the Moon. Hmm....
  • You might establish a list of symbols for the game. Like "Every time you mention the moon, it implies sadness. The sun implies pride, and mentioning dogs is an insult." Then every time I mention one of those elements, it conveys additional, non-literal meanings to what is described. I can describe my samurai looking up at the moon, being silhouetted in the sun or passing by a picture of a man and a dog, or whatever.

    Possibly, the list of symbols could be developed in play: you start with a list of emotions/subtle social cues, and as you want to convey them subtextually, you write a new symbol on the list next to the appropriate emotion.
  • Nice suggestions all around. I especially like Nick's poetic equivalences.

    Eero: I agree, you can convey the same thing by alternating IC and 3rd person voice. But I still think there's a benefit of not abandoning the first person voice, if only to keep the flow of the conversation going.
  • In Misery Bubblegum, you can give other people one of the cards from your hand by having your character give an opinion about their character. The text on the card doesn't have to match the text of the opinion, though. So I might say, "Junichi, you have such incredible confidence - it's no wonder you're the team leader," but actually hand over the "Prideful" card when I say that.

    It's pretty cool.
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