RPGs As Language: Sub-languages and Translation

September 13, 2013

Both languages and RPGs can be decomposed into smaller pieces that behave in much the same way. For languages, this includes things like the technical language of law, screenwriting, or botany. In RPGs this is often seen in subsystems and halo of communication which occurs around them. These sub-languages are valuable because they provide a focused, way to communicate within a specific context. Thus, only considering a sub-language allows a narrowing of attention and a refinement of purpose, than concerning ourselves with the entire possible language or game.

However, sub-languages provide another possibility when they are brought together. If we look at two sub-languages within the same language or RPG, there are likely common elements as well as places which are incompatible, at least at first glance. Going from one sub-language to another requires translation, just as passing between any two languages does. However, this translation is built on a layer of commonalities, those aspects shared in both sub-languages. This makes translation necessary, but comparatively easy.

As mentioned earlier, translation exposes the semantics or meaning of what is being communicated and expressed. In contrast a single sub-language promotes focus and can eventually drive toward the pure syntactic manipulation of the sub-language as an end to itself, especially if that sub-language is part of an RPG. One prediction from these observations is that styles of play focused on concentration and immersion lend themselves to single sub-languages for most or all of play. Conversely, styles of play which focus on interpreting stories and themes lend themselves to multiple related sub-languages and the translation among them as being central to play. Of course, beyond either of those two styles, there are many other styles of play which could also be considered more semantic or more syntactic.


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