RPGs as Languages: On Grammars

August 20, 2013

In the past few years I’ve been finding it increasingly useful to consider RPGs as languages. At their root, RPGs communicate ideas, emotions, and stories among their players, perhaps to a particular end or just to enjoy the collaborative experience. In any case, communication is a central part of playing RPGs, even “solitaire” ones. In this light, we can see the rules, procedures, and components of an RPG as words and structures within a language in which the social and fictional worlds of play are built and communicated.

One useful idea that derives from this is the notion of grammar – a set of rules which generate what can be expressed through play. Grammars can serve many purposes in language. They can capture the syntax or structure of a communication or they can be used to translated into other languages of games or otherwise, or even sketch out the semantics or meaning of events during play. They can be prescriptive, defining the correct way to use the game, or they can be descriptive, describing the way the game is played by a particular group or community.

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