RPGs As Language: Judgments and Translations

September 20, 2013

Judgements about ephemera, which form a corner stone of mechanics, seem an awful lot like the interpretations we use when translating between sub-languages. At first blush it is tempting to just attribute the difference to scales. Mechanics form the patterns which are translated. But translation between two sub-languages of play isn’t something which happens outside of play – it is part of playing. To have two sub-languages within a language is also to have means within the language for relating what is in each of them.

Rather than purely happening at a different scale, mechanics are a means for translation, and even a single mechanic can also serve to translate on its own between sub-languages of play. This is like the interpretation of a single sound or symbol within a word transforming the meaning and understanding of the entire context of that word. Natural languages make from this phenomena things like puns, innuendo, and poetics. As RPG design continues to explore the mechanical translation among sub-languages (or as some put it mechanics between ‘clouds’ and ‘boxes’) there is almost certainly a wealth of potential to discover.


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