As a native English speaker, I tend to assume that I will be able to understand when other people speak my language, even if they have little skill and perhaps a heavy accent. It may take a repeat or two, but I eventually get it.
In the gaming world, language permutations are rather common. Although not at all specific to social games, I was made particularly aware of this trend through the Facebook platform. In the world of Facebook apps, people "friend" each other in order to play together although they don’t know each other at all and likely never will. In a way, they are creating their own community to play with from a pool of possible fellow players. Although this kind of community full of strangers is like a server in a typical MMO, it’s also quite different. A server, one’s community, in an MMO is typically restricted to a certain region, often along country lines, and the language differences are not very great, especially in the US. In Asia and Europe, it’s much more likely one encounters different languages, but they are still those likely to be encountered in a single regional area.
There are three different groups of gamers in which I’ve noticed language change happening:
1. Social media + games
3. Text-based games.
All groups show signs of problematic grammar usage. Spelling includes both common mistakes as well as purposeful shorthand. The most interesting thing I’ve found is change that seems to result from learning the language aurally. Combining that with the other two changes of English, I find it quite hard to understand sometimes. Considering that these changes typically occur because of different mother languages, it can also happen that new words are formed for a particular group, especially if there is a minority of native English speakers in said group. Add that into the mix and one begins to wonder just how English this “English” really is.
I am no linguist, so I will make no broad claims about how or why this is happening, but I find it especially fascinating that the group most impacted by these language changes is the one involving social media. I do admit this may be purely due to personal experience and would love to hear your own experiences if they differ from mine. Since Facebook as a gaming platform has no regional barriers, I have app buddies from all corners of the globe while my experience in other games tends to be more heavily weighted toward native English speakers due to my location in North America.
There are two ways I encounter language change in social media. First, I occasionally will get requests on Facebook that are written in 2 or 3 languages – typically a native language, a bastardized English, and then occasionally something else based on I do not know what. “Aidez-moi svp, pls hlp, piaco graci mio.” [Yes, the third is my made-up Italian-looking gibberish.] Second, I see comments on either peoples’ app-related posts or their personal statuses and photos.
It is the comments on photos and personal statuses that show the most extensive changes in English, to such an extent, I often cannot understand what is being said. Perhaps this is because people are trying to actually communicate something substantial, as opposed to just asking for general help with an application. I can pick out words, and sometimes I can read all of the words, but the manner in which they are joined combined with a plethora of emoticons makes the thoughts communicated impenetrable to me, while others in their community are able to respond and converse. I see this happen most often between Asian users. It is not always so extreme. There are also some comments I can usually understand, but they seem to come from people who have learned no English in school and instead have just picked up words either from seeing other application user’s comments or from the applications themselves or even from real life. These comments do not try to carry on a conversation – instead, they simply express thanks or need. These users are most predominantly Hispanic I have found but there are also those from Eastern Europe and Asia whose comments fit in this category. There are also the comments by native non-American English speakers which tend to be mangled more by the Internet than that of my fellow Americans for reasons of which I’m unaware. It is the extremely different English comments of my Asian app buddies though that most baffle me. It is unclear to me how such extensive changes take place while still conveying a sense that the users have actually had some education in English though clearly a small amount and as a second/third language.
I have separated them somewhat by region and that may be influenced by educational practices in the various countries. European ESL folk tend to be the most clear when using English, but I assume that is because most start learning English in school at a young age. Since all my languages are European or form the base of European languages, perhaps it is just easier for me to understand their use of English and to not notice so much the changes in grammar.
How would these different kinds of English usages arise? Games with a social component certainly are a huge incentive for this. One needs to communicate, even if just a little, with one’s fellow players even in a game so simple as a Facebook app. English is the language of many of the main applications on the platform, so unless they use some translator, some basic form of English certainly helps though it isn’t hard to tell what is being said in a Facebook app since almost all of them follow the same basic formula. This formulaic simplicity likely helps with basic vocabulary acquisition.
The big question I have though is why is it so much more prevalent on Facebook than in an MMO? I think one of the primary reasons is the state of textuality in the games themselves. MMOs are typically translated to the language of their target region, so an understanding of English is not required to play the game, but rather serves as a bridge to other players if necessary. North American servers occasionally encounter players who rarely speak English, for example, some French-speakers from Canada, but they are such a small segment of the population that it has no real effect outside of their immediate group.
In text-based games, the difference lies not so much in the difference of language in the text, but simply the aspect of textuality itself. I have little experience with contemporary text-based games, but I would imagine the impact of textuality would create a different kind of petri dish for language breeding. Depending on the language setting of the game, the population of the community (which is not so strictly monitored as in an MMO), and the level of interaction among players, the language permutations found here could be vastly different from those in other game settings. Even in these different conditions, English very often serves as a kind of administrative language, if you will. For example, one web-based game whose website is translated into 24 languages and whose forums have separate boards for separate languages, still shows the English segment of the forum to be the most-used and the site’s general information how-to-play section is also in English. Clearly, if one seeks to play a game like this to one’s full potential, knowing English in some way is going to be beneficial. Even if one’s client of the game is in one’s mother language, if the community one is playing with speaks primarily English, the player will naturally pick up phrases and words even with no English background. I am not sure if the manner of acquisition would be different depending on original mother language, but it would be a fascinating study.
Perhaps the most fascinating result is that I, as a native English speaker, have to learn a strange permutation of English in order to communicate to my Facebook app buddies. I do not need to be able to write this language – simply to read it superficially enough to understand it. What kind of literacy is that? AESL – Alternate English Sub-Literacy. I jest and am also quite serious.