Language services for games

Announcement

On 20th October I will be back in the UK after almost three years working in the games industry in the San Francisco Bay Area and Vancouver. I’ll be continuing to do the work I’ve been doing for the past year: running Memory Insufficient, writing a history of mobile games for my PhD and my backers, and providing language services for games. I want to talk a little bit here about that last category of work.

If you’re in the UK making games, this is a good opportunity for us to work together.

Language design

Constructed languages are an exciting thing to bring to games, because they get into the systemic heart of language and manipulate it for artistic and expressive ends. The applications could be as simple as writing dialogue for an alien race, or creating puzzles with secret alphabets, or as involved as constructing a system whereby players can actually learn to communicate using a fictional language.

The norm in games has been for fictional languages to be represented either as ciphers — think Al-Bhed in Final Fantasy X or the procedurally-generated alien language in Out There — or improvised jumbled sounds such as Simlish. Games have also featured constructed scripts, which give fans the opportunity to decode messages, such as the tetris code in Fez. I think it’s possible, and even desirable, to go further than this: games can feature fully-realised constructed languages, built from the ground-up to be fun for superfans to learn, and to contribute to a sense of immersion in a fictional world.

This is a new area that I’ve been exploring over the past year. I’ve created a complex system of magical symbols that transcribes anime-style power moves for a Silverstring project, and I’m working on a solarpunk dating sim written in a utopian language that breaks the boundaries of gender and individualism. I’d love to construct languages for more game projects: get in touch to talk about how I could bring your game project to life.

Translation

If you work with partners in Japan, I can help with correspondence, paperwork and documentation. If you want to release a game in Japan, or publish a Japanese game for the Anglophone world, I can help you with localisation. If you have already released a game that has attracted attention in Japan, I can translate the press coverage and fan discussions to help with your PR efforts.

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secaican

Language services for games. Translation, bespoke language design, and interlingual critical writing.

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Original writing

Over time I have developed a unique set of skills based on my understanding of social and technical systems in history. What does that mean for game development? Very often, a game’s fiction is about worldbuilding, whether it’s a D&D-style fantasy scenario, a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic future, or a nostalgic look at the recent past. As a writer and consultant, I come in and look at a text from that historical and systemic point of view: I think about different ways that an AI might talk about relationships, or how the magical objects encountered in a world would be understood by its users.

My goal is to make sure that a game’s writing doesn’t just tell a story, but makes the player feel like they’ve accessed a window into another universe. I work with the consultants at Silverstring Media to make sure that all the bases are covered: Lucas Johnson is an expert at plot development and characterisation, and Claris Cyarron has an unmatched insight into narrative architecture in game spaces.

I’ve left Gamesbrief: here’s how you can hire me and/or support my work

I just finished my final week at Gamesbrief, where I was Deputy Editor (here’s the announcement post). Aside from continued work on my PhD, my work is going to take two directions from now on:

1) Translation for games, digital art and new media

I’ve been studying Japanese culture for almost a decade now, including four years study at Cambridge University and two years at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In that time I have translated a huge range of texts for a variety of clients, including primary historical sources, an exhibition catalogues, mobile games, dating sims, marketing copy and technical documents. You can learn more about my intercultural media analysis and translation work at secaican.com.

2) Editor-in-Chief, Critical Publishing at Silverstring Media

I’ve been really happy to see my two-year-old ezine Memory Insufficient become a very well-regarded publication among people with a penchant for critical approaches to games writing, and is particularly lauded as an accessible alternative to games studies journals. In a delightful turn of events, experimental games studio and design consultancy Silverstring Media has recently taken the publication under its wing. It will relaunch for volume 3 next month at the Silverstring website: silverstringmedia.com/memory-insufficient. We’re looking for funding from arts and cultural organistions as well as considering sponsorship opportunities, in order to build an outlet that can have a bigger impact on game design as a craft and a practice. Get in touch at zoya [at] silverstringmedia.com

Alongside both of these things, I’ll be continuing to work on my PhD research into the history of games between 1998 and 2008, starting with the mobile games portion that was crowdfunded last year. If you missed the chance to support the project last August, you can still help out by preordering the book with Indiegogo InDemand.

Happy 9th September, Dreamcast fans!

front-webToday is the anniversary of the Dreamcast’s 9/9/99 launch in the US! Fifteen years ago people were excitedly opening their Dreamcasts for the first time. It was one of the most successful console launches in history, for a device that most people agree was far ahead of its time; it came with a modem for online play, the VMU enabled portable mini-games for multi-sited play, and it was home to all kinds of groundbreaking experiments in game design, graphics and storytelling.

Today is also the one year anniversary of the launch of Dreamcast Worlds. I can’t believe only a year has passed, it already seems so long ago. The book has been featured in a Storybundle, received numerous press accolades, and I had the pleasure of giving a talk about it at DiGRA this year alongside Mia Consalvo and Skot Deeming, who have also written excellent studies of the Dreamcast.

To celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the Dreamcast’s launch, read these extracts for free and then go buy the book at rupazero.com.

Food and games history: Memory Insufficient volume 2 issue 3

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Food and play are both things that sustain us, connect us, and nurture us. This issue of Memory Insufficient looks at some of the ways that food and games have been connected: Lana Polansky and Austin C. Howe look at representations of food, cooking, and eating in games history; Jefferson Geiger and Onesimus Kain examine their own personal associations with eating and play; and Zoya Street looks back at Shenmue in an alternate history, imagining if cuisine took the place of combat in games culture.

Guest edited by Nick Capozzoli
Lana Polansky, Soup is good food: On the economy of props
Jefferson Geiger, The drinking game: Taste and nourishment in games culture
Zoya Street, Culinary RPG: An alternate-history game review of Shenmue
Onesimus Kain, Breaking Bread: Games as kinship rituals
Austin C. Howe, Chrono isn’t hungry: gastrological ludonarratives

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Conversations between languages

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Some time last year I stopped blogging here and started using Medium instead. More recently, I’ve started writing more ‘interlingual’ pieces. That means trying to write in response to pieces written in languages other than English, to try and break out of the usual circle of English-language critically-minded games writers. These pieces have been getting a lot of traffic, and it’s been exciting to see people get enthusiastic about them.

Oscar Strik wrote a great post on this topic, calling for more effort to bring the linguistic periphery closer to the center of critical discourse about games. I agree with him, and I want to see more blogging that interprets ideas that were initially expressed in a language other than English. Interlingual writing does take a lot of extra effort, as Oscar points out, so whenever this work happens I want to help celebrate it.

I’ve set up a collection for writing of this sort on Medium, so that when other people publish interlingual criticism they can send it through and I can help to signal boost. If you’re doing interlingual critical writing about games or any other media, drop me a line. I’ll invite you to write for the collection if you’re comfortable publishing on Medium. Even if you don’t write on Medium, I still want to read it and share it with people, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Meet me at GDC

Hey. I’m going to GDC this year on a press pass, and the emails from PR companies are starting to come through. It’s always great to meet new people and learn about new things, but I tend to be limited to only getting to spend time one-on-one with people who are spending lots of money trying to get their name out there. I don’t think this is right, and it feels like a missed opportunity for me.

So, if you’re going to be in San Francisco during GDC, and you have a project that you think I might find interesting, please go to this page and set up an appointment so that we can hang out. This is the kind of thing I particularly like to hear about:

  • Experimental indie games
  • Free-to-play social games
  • Creative funding for creative work
  • Alternative games writing projects
  • Archive, preservation, and historical writing about games
  • Community initiatives that involve games or other aspects of geek culture
  • Challenging hegemony in games (gender and sexual minorities, race, cultural imperialism etc.)

Again, the page for requesting an appointment is right here. Be careful if you’re currently in a time zone other than PST, it makes things go weird and you’ll have to do some maths.

13 things I wrote in 2013

It’s been a good year. Here are thirteen of the things that were in it:

1. Silliness

I shifted most of my ad-hoc blogging to Medium.com. One of the most popular posts there has been What do you think of when you think of Batman? It was a very silly write-up of a totally unreliable survey, refuting something foolish that a games publisher said in an interview.

2. Schadenfreude

What has EA done now? was a blog that I was updating regularly for a couple of months when EA seemed to be perpetually upsetting people.

3. Heroism

On Gamesbrief this year, I started writing some feature-like articles based on interviews with developers. One of my favourites was a write-up of how 5th Planet Games kicks ass at community management.

4. Worldiness

I can’t do this list without mentioning Dreamcast Worlds, the book I crowdfunded in 2012 and published in September.

5. History

I also started Memory Insufficient, an ezine exploring games history from perspectives that are normally ignored. I think I did some of my best writing here, covering digital games, board games and folk games from personal and documentary perspectives.

6. Heritage

I also got to write historically-informed articles in traditional magazines. I’ve written a few pieces for Comics and Gaming Magazine, an outlet that focuses on writing about geek culture for a grown-up audience. One of my more art-historical articles there was about three games that use “retro pixel graphics” in a way that goes beyond nostalgia to something complex about craft and culture (preview link dead but maybe it will work again one day?)

7. Legacy

Then at Australia’s leading gaming magazine Hyper I wrote about games that address an anxiety over leaving a legacy for future generations. If you’re keen, you can get issue #242 through the Android and iOS newsstand apps.

8. Solitude

On a more personal note, I was feeling lonely for much of this year. Sometimes I had this strange sense of being with people but not really being with them, both online and in real life. One piece explored how that could be better represented in games.

9. Ambivalence

During re/Action’s pre-crowdfunding phase, I contributed two articles. One of them was a complicated response to the state of queer games discourse at the time, called “Why invisibility isn’t a superpower“: which is not to say that invisibility is not a privilege, but that it is an ambivalent state that lends itself to a sense of isolation and hopelessness.

10. Community

Those feelings did start to change. In a Borderhouse post about Gaymer X,  I mentioned feeling less isolated, and discussed safe spaces and different approaches to queer games community building.

11. Attraction

Samantha Allen and I started writing queer readings of romance games together in a Borderhouse series called Bunk Bed, where we share our different experiences playing the same games.

12. Complexity

Then I had the amazing honour of speaking at Queerness and Games Conference about queering histories, by disabusing them not just of great men, but also of grand theories. I wrote up the talk here.

13. Transformation

More recently, I wrote about Twine game Pure Again, discussing why it feels like such a good representation of much of my experience of transition.