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Part 1A: The Problem With The Word Game (v3) - Re-laying The Foundations Of Our Understanding Of (our) Language
by Darren Tomlyn on 12/08/11 03:27:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The Problem With The Word Game – v3.00

(Time For An English Lesson)

By Darren Tomlyn - 08/12/2011

 

An Examination of Games as a Matter of Linguistics

 

Part 1: The Foundations

 

Note: since it was taking me so long just to try and write everything in a single post – I’ve decided to split it up – (so I can at least get some information out there while I finish working on the rest).

 

I’ve decided that my last attempt at describing the problems that are affecting the word game, especially in relation to the rest of the English language, was still not enough for people to fully understand the true nature of what is happening with, and affecting the use of, our language, in general, including the word game, and why.

Since my previous post only covered certain symptoms, without delving into how and why they exist, it is not entirely surprising that some people had problems understanding and recognising the true nature of the problem itself - of which all I have written about before, and here, is a symptom of – and so it was incomplete.

Unfortunately, even these posts will not cover all of the possible symptoms – even those at the same level as the main symptoms I will be writing about – since I feel to do so properly will probably require a book, let alone a single blog post.  Indeed, I am deliberately leaving out many of the symptoms, since I feel it would be too hard for me to explain how they can be solved, since that is the main reason for this post in the first place – to explain not just the problems, but also the/possible solutions to them.

Because of the nature of the problem we have with the word game itself, however, many people have become fixated on one (or even two) particular way(s) in which it can be perceived.  Unfortunately, both of these are unsuitable for recognising and understanding the ultimate problem(s) we have.  Both of them involve the use of the word philosophy.

The first problem with the use of such a word to describe what is happening, relates to the use of the word as a general description of the ways in which we study how things (the universe?) happen to function.  In this manner, from this perspective, it is true that this is all a matter of philosophy, but, just like labelling problems with the climate (climate change/global warming) as a matter of science, merely using such a word will not help people understand the specifics of the problem itself, and therefore it simply doesn’t help, or really matter very much for the problem at hand.  Of course, many people take such an approach because, although, and even since, they know it’s complicated, they cannot be bothered to make the effort to fully understand what is actually happening, and so merely labelling it in such a basic manner is generally a way of either coping with such a problem, or a method of dismissing it as something that doesn’t really matter, since they see it as out of their control and/or influence..

The second problem with the use of the word philosophy in relation to this matter, is to do with its subjective application – e.g. his/my/their philosophy – relating to the subjective manner and perspective of how things are done and (especially people’s) behaviour.  This is, unfortunately, a big problem in itself, because it dismisses this matter in a way that can help make the problem we have, worse.  This, of course, relates to the perception that, since people can use the language however they like, in a subjective manner, then it doesn’t matter if what words represent is affected the same way.

Such a perception is, of course, wrong – especially for the problem at hand – for language in general, since what it is used to represent cannot afford to be so subjective or it cannot function.

All of the relevant questions of philosophy in this matter have therefore already been answered by the use of the language and the rules it has that should govern such use in the first place.

The real question, therefore, is how the word game and other words have become so subjective in the first place…?

The answer to such a question does not fully lie with the word game itself, which is why merely focusing on the word itself, in isolation, cannot solve the problems we have with it.


Analogy:

If buildings are not being built straight and true, or are not straight anymore, so we have trouble building them high enough, (or even mistaking breadth and depth for height!), then people are not caring so much, because they feel that either:

1) We can build however we like, so it doesn’t really matter if we don’t build things ‘properly’, and not very high, or

2) The ground we’re building on isn’t flat in the first place.

But the problems we see are caused by neither of those.  The problem is that the foundations are wonky – because we don’t recognise that we’ve got them upside down.

I have been attempting to talk to people at the local universities, especially since the problem has, if anything, now grown to become even more basic and fundamental, and affecting far more, (if not all), of the English language itself, (and maybe others), but no-one has ever been interested in replying, or have merely been ‘fobbing me off’.  I’d like to say it is their loss, but it has gotten far too serious for that, now, to the point where I think it’s starting to become everyone’s loss.


Part 2: Introduction & Background

 

This all began with an argument with someone from rpgforumsonline.com about a post I made concerning the use and definition of computer-based role-playing games, (cRPG’s), in April/May 2009.

Although I knew there were problems already at that time, and tried to explain my argument about some specific problems I saw in cRPG’s themselves as best as I could, (which is where the initial arguments with others on that particular site began), it took that long argument/conversation on MSN Messenger for me to take the first step towards grasping the nature of the problem itself, at least regarding what I was focused on at the time:

The lack of recognition and understanding of the relationship between, (and the differences of), games and art.

It was only after the argument had finished, that I began to realise, that because of what was being argued about, that the nature of the problem was a matter of language.

As soon as the problem was viewed within such a context, all the problems I saw started to make sense – people were not fully recognising or understanding words for what they represented based on how they were being used – in this case, game and art – (defining a type of game for the art it contains, (cRPG’s for their plot/narrative)).

During my replies in that conversation, I had already taken a step towards solving some of that problem, but without fully understanding how and why it truly mattered.  Because of how the word was being used within the argument itself, (any plot and narrative, and therefore art itself, was about telling stories), I realised it could be used to help describe both games and art in a manner that would show how they were related, and help to solve this particular problem.

But why would that really matter?

Just like peeling away the layers of an onion, the problem that started off being about labelling and defining a type of computer game, began to become a far deeper, and far more fundamental problem within, and for, the English language as a whole.

Indeed, it is now, in my opinion, the biggest problem the English language has, and may always have had, and, because of its nature, may even affect our understanding and perception of other languages too.

Even within the term cRPG and beyond, the nature of the problem itself, however, has never changed – only the number of words being affected has grown.

It so far includes game, art, puzzle, competition, story, noun, verb and adjective – (which are those I’ll be focusing on in my blog) - aswell as others.

The reason why I need to cover all these words, is becuase of the nature of the problem we have with understanding the word game - both in isolation, and in relation to the rest of the language, including other, similar, concepts, (such as art, puzzle, competition etc.).

 

Part 3: The Problems With The Word Game

 

So, we have a word - game – and we need to know what it means – what piece of information it is used to represent - so we can then go about designing and creating products, (especially using computers), to enable such a thing as best as possible, yes?

This should be an easy problem to solve, yes?  We simply study how the word itself is used, to then understand what it represents, and we’re done, right?

 

No.

 

The problem in understanding and recognising what it is the word game represents is, unfortunately, not so simple.

Even more unfortunately, is that nearly all of the attempts to understand the word game and what it represents tend to be based upon such simplicity, and have made the problem(s) worse.  A lot of the posts on this site demonstrate symptoms of this, though it is rarely, (if ever), recognised or understood to be part, or symptoms, of any actual problem.

The first thing that everyone needs to fully recognise and understand, is that this basic problem, upon which all these others are built and appear, is one of language – or, to be more precise, it is a matter of linguistics, (the study and teaching of language), that is then helping to cause the problem of semantics, (what it is the word game represents or means).

To try and understand and recognise, and then build upon such an understanding and recognition of, the word game, is not possible without involving the subjects above at this time.  Any discussion or perception of the word game that is not consistent with such a thing is only going to cause more problems – which is exactly what I see.

So, why is the problem of understanding the word game so complicated?

There are two main reasons for this, and the inconsistencies with these are causing all of the main problems, because of how the word is used:

1) The word game itself does not exist in isolation.

2) What the word game represents within its main use (and related context), does not, nor cannot exist in isolation.

The reason why this is causing more problems than it should, is that the word game is treated by the language as though what it represents does exist in isolation – in the same manner as words that do represent such things.

How the word game is used, therefore gives an illusion that what it represents can be dealt with and understood completely in isolation – but it is simply not possible, without ignoring the rules of (at least the English) language itself, essentially denying its very existence.

We therefore have two problems to solve – understanding what it is the word game represents for itself, in relation to anything involved in what it represents, when and where applicable, which is a problem I’ll be looking at later, and also understanding the word for what it represents in relation to the rest of the language.

This latter problem is far more important for our understanding of the language as a whole – (let alone the word game) – and so I’ll be dealing with this, first.

So, the question therefore becomes:

How can the problem of understanding how the word game is related to the rest of the language, cause ongoing problems for its use and corresponding definition, in a manner that is making it hard to study the word for what it represents?

The answer to this, is very basic, and very simple, but also begins to explain why the problems we have are so great:

Because the language is not being taught in a fully consistent manner for what it represents, based on its general use and the rules it has that govern such use.

 

Part 4:  The Basic Problem With Our Understanding Of (The English) Language

 

The English language, along with all(?) others we use, is of our own creation.  People do not know the language innately, from birth, but must be taught and informed about the language, whether formally or informally, in order to be able to use it.

If a language is not taught consistently, then of course people are going to have problems using it consistently – and if the study of language is further based upon such inconsistent use, then we’re going to have even greater problems…

The root of this matter is the perception and understanding we have of the use of the language in general.  The reason for this, is that such a perception is not based on the use of the language itself, but the study and deciphering of what information the language has already been used, (or is being used), to represent.

It should not be too surprising, then, that by teaching people to use the language in the same manner as it is studied, we’re not fully understanding and recognising the full manner in which it is used – the full amount of information it is used to represent, including the word game.

For that is the purpose of language – to transfer information between people, in a consistent (enough) manner, by using rules to govern its use and content, that allows it to then be able to be understood and deciphered more easily.

The basic concept which represents an individual piece of information is something we call a word - a single or combination of sounds and associated symbols that are then used in combination with each other to form a larger, more complex piece of information, i.e. a message.

The relationship between individual words for how they sound and their spelling in the written language, is something many people can have problems with – since many sounds can be spelt in different ways, (using different symbols or combination thereof), depending on the word they are being used as part of.  Some people consider this to be a problem with the language itself – which is, of course, wrong – it’s merely a matter of how it is applied, which has always been, and always will be, subjective to a certain degree.

Likewise, with many foreign language speakers now learning the English language as their second language, some people also consider the effects they have on its use and content to be a ‘problem’ – but if that was the case, the language would not exist in the first place, consisting, as it does, of many different words from many different languages, used in many different ways.

Some people also complain about the use of words in such different ways – usually using words that normally describe things, to describe some kind of behaviour involving such a thing, (‘verbing’ nouns) - but since that is how the language functions, it can hardly be considered a ‘problem’, unless, of course, such people do not understand how and why the language functions in the first place, which brings us back to how it’s being taught…

Such matters can, and are, considered to be ‘problems’, only because of the same underlying problem affecting the word game and others - that our perspective of the language is inconsistent with its actual use.

Because of how the language functions, what individual words mean, can, (and will), differ when used in different ways.

Our entire understanding and perception of the English language is therefore based, not on its use, but the study of such use – to decipher what words represent when they have been used, because it affects our understanding of their meaning - upon a simple philosophy, that has ‘probably’ been part of the study of language for as long as it, (the language or its study), has existed.  (I could be wrong, however – but since it would take far more resources than I have available to me to actually find out the answer to this question, I’ll leave it as a ‘maybe’.)

The problem, is that since such a basic philosophy has now become ‘institutionalised’ for (at least) the English language, it will not be easy (or quick) for it to change.  I say ‘at least’ the English language, because, depending on the age and root of such a philosophy, other languages may also be, (and probably are), affected, too.

The basic philosophy, which forms the foundation and basis of all of our current (and past?) understanding and recognition of (at least the English) language, is simple:

 

How the language is used, determines and defines what (information/concept) it represents.

Or:

How words are used determines and defines what (information/concept) they represent.

 

As I said before, this philosophy is perfectly consistent with the study of this language as it is being, or after it has already been, used, in order to determine, (and even define), what information it has been used to represent and describe.

The problem, however, of which every other problem I see is merely a symptom, is that for the actual use of the language – the philosophy guiding the person using the language, as opposed to one merely perceiving it – this happens to be ‘back-to-front’ or ‘upside down’.

The true philosophy underpinning and guiding the use and meaning of the language, which should therefore also guide its recognition, (which can then involve the application of the philosophy above), and teaching, is therefore:

 

What (information/concept) the language represents determines and defines how it is used.

Or:

What (information/concept) words represent determines and defines how they are used.

 

This would appear, on the face of it, to be a fairly simple and basic change, and yet it has far reaching ramifications for our perception, recognition, understanding, and therefore teaching, of (at least) the English language.  Indeed – the impact may be so great, that it may take a long time for such ramifications to fully appear.

But how can I be so sure that it is necessary to change?  That such a perception is, indeed, correct, and must therefore replace the foundation and philosophy we currently have and use, that almost our entire language is based upon?

What difference could it possibly make?

The problems that such a philosophy is currently causing, is that we are not fully recognising and understanding the relationships between what words represent – especially concerning what type of information or concept they represent – and also how they are used.

Many such symptoms are basic, obvious, logical, and easy to demonstrate – which I will do within the next few posts of my blog, for the ultimate purpose of recognising and understanding the word game both for what it represents in isolation and in relation to the rest of the language, based on how it is used.  Again, the first philosophy that governs the study of the language, must first be informed by the second for it to have any true consistency.

There are a couple of main ways in which this problem affects individual words within the language, (both of which are affecting the word game), but they are ultimately based on a lack of understanding and application of the basic rules of the language itself.

So the most basic symptoms of this matter, as should be expected, can be found within our perception, understanding, teaching and description of the basic rules of the language – the basic rules of English grammar - and so that is what I will demonstrate, in the next part/post of my blog.

Indeed, the only reason I can say with any certainty that this is a/the problem, is because the problems I see with the teaching and information of and about the basic rules of English grammar, which then helps to cause the problems I see with words such as game, would simply not exist, otherwise – the confusion of what, with how.

 

(Of course, if this problem is also affecting other languages – and I would be surprised if it were not, (since our way of describing and understanding the basic elements and functionality of language in general tends to be very consistent, you would have thought such recognition and understanding, would be, too) – (i.e. if the problems have been figured out for one language, you would expect such understanding to spread to others, especially English) – then this gets extremely important, very quickly…  (Which is why I’m annoyed that no-one’s interested in talking to me about it!))

 

Part 1B: Problems With Recognising And Applying The Basic Rules Of English Grammar


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