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n00b: Learning to Speak the Language of Video Games

n00b: Learning to Speak the Language of Video Games

A few seconds of research on video gaming taught me that I am what gamers call a ‘n00b’, meaning I have little to no knowledge of computer games. I find this interesting because 1. My Google searches for “gaming for beginners” responded by telling me that I have no knowledge on the subject. 2. Aside from that, the searches didn’t result in much else. The video game industry has grown from arcade game days of Pong and Pacman to a point where games are diverse that the medium is difficult to even begin learning about.

Understanding the world of video games becomes easier when the vast body of games is broken down and categorized. This is usually done by console or gameplay interaction, but as I continued to experiment with video games I began to form my own method of categorization. I noticed that some games are played by following my gut, while others seemed to be missing a manual.

Luke Winkie, a journalist and gamer, articulated this characteristic perfectly:

“Video games have always had their own language. They follow certain implied rules and structures that can make deciphering even the most basic mechanics (movement, objectives, camera control) seem absolutely alien to anyone who didn’t grow up with games around the house.”

-Luke Winkie

This quality could be read as approachability, but it refers to more than difficulty level and complexity. Thinking of this feature as a language allows us to understand games as having specific mechanics and relationships with people that can be studied. This categorization doesn’t rely on measurable rules or apparent qualities, and allows us to understand games according to their relation to the player. What creates range within this categorization method is the fact that games differ in how much they make use of this language. Playing certain games requires a fluency in the language of video games and others not at all. I define these as games that require maximum proficiency and games that require minimal proficiency.

Maximum Proficiency Games

In games that require maximum proficiency, the rules and mechanics are implied and the operator must understand certain nuances in order to advance. These games often feature objects that can be activated, options for switching weapons or tools, and controls for specific actions, and therefore are usually action-adventure and open world games. In the Grand Theft Auto series, for example, players are able to earn extra cash in exchange for accomplishing side missions. Assassin’s Creed 3’s ‘Glimmer’ ability gives players the option to become invisible during a multiplayer game. To create a character in World of Warcraft the operator must first choose a class for its character, which comes with its own permanent specialization of abilities and limitations. In order to properly and strategically maneuver these games, the player must know to use these options, and players who do not face will too many setbacks to play at a satisfying pace.

Descriptions of Class options in World of Warcraft . Source

Minimal Proficiency Games

Games that require minimal proficiency only require enough interest and curiosity to explore and become familiar with the game’s world. These games are designed so that selecting and navigating are the only skills required and the operator’s strategy is their instinct. A great example of this is the design of Minecraft, where all matter is made up of visible building blocks. This encourages the natural instinct to take things apart and to build, which is exactly how the game is played. Independent video games tend to fall into this category of minimal proficiency, as they do not have cult followings that blockbuster games do and are designed to allow any operator to gain a satisfactory amount of knowledge of the game as they play. This is exemplified in Gone Home, an indie story exploration game in which the operator investigates an abandoned house for clues that might explain the disappearance of the character's family. Maneuvering the game comes almost as naturally to any player as would maneuvering the situation in real life, and therefore requires minimal proficiency. But minimal proficiency games do not have to reflect a familiar world. Botanicula is a minimal proficiency point-and-click game wherein the operator helps five plant creatures save their habitat. No instructions are given, the story is told visually and the operator learns to play by clicking leaves and creatures until they begin to understand its effects.Like Gone Home, these games are played by following your gut. The limitations and functions still operate in the language of video games, but in a dialect that is more familiar to any given player. 



"Assassin's Creed 3 Multiplayer Lets You Turn Invisible." N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
"Salon." Saloncom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
"12 Video Game Buzz Words." N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
"Wikia." WoWWiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

1 comment

Most of what you're writing really boils down to depth and complexity of games, for which there is some pretty good info out there (

Insomuch as a language is described, it's not some type of language particular (or peculiar as the non-gamers might tend to interpret it) to games, but rather a very common design language that extends across all fields of design.  Wrought well, we see examples that are the digital equivalent of Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language" (which Jennifer Tidwell really breaks the ground for in Common Ground

I applaud what you're writing about - as a gamer I don't think there is anything more worthwhile to write about - but the kind critic in me is compelled to point out that there are already fantastic frameworks within this ontological space, and we should give them a nod before dressing up old ideas with new language.