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 ?