RPGs As Language: Design – Contextual Sub-languages

October 18, 2013

Games which are built from multiple interacting sub-languages can present an experience of delving into the meanings of fictional events and player decisions or they can constrain the complexities of a variety of coupled situations. Before even creating the sub-languages and the translation points used to go between them, it is important to consider how players will recognize each sub-language. Each language within the game relies on a context. This context is the domain of play which it covers, and when that context arises, it serves as a learned signal to players to venture into that sub-language.

Deciding how to break down the experiences of play and in so doing how to setup the relationships between linked sub-languages. Whether those relationships represent layers of strategy or layers of meaning, the contexts for each sub-language should be clear. These contexts can be fictional experiences, such as gunfighting, seduction, or research. Or the contexts can arise in terms of the player experiences, such as performing or improving dialogue, collaboratively describing a new person, or drawing on a map. As always the root of these decisions are the design goals. One game may want to encourage players to consider the relationship between battle and romance, in another those two experiences can be broken apart to express something entirely different.

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