RPGs As Language: Words and Games

September 6, 2013

Linking together mechanics and ephemera (or distinctions and free content, if you like) creates the ‘words’ of play, the units in which players can express and communicate. But just like in language, these words are not always interpreted in the same way, either by different individuals or by the same person in differing contexts. If we can say that during the course of play we communicate ideas, stories, and feelings, among other possibilities, then this relies on the process by which those interpretations are brought together.

Ludwig Wittgenstein discusses this concept in his Philosophical Investigations, actually calling it a ‘language game’. A language game is a process of coming to an effective shared understanding of words, context, and their practical implications. At its root, it cautions that shared understanding isn’t something which is the basis of communication, it is a constant effort and evolving process of forging that shared understanding. This is one of the core insights about looking at play at this more basic level – the shared space of ideas (imagined or otherwise) is not the basis of play it is an emergent, dynamic thing. Not just the means to some loftier goal, but a crucial goal itself.

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