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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

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.


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 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?




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.


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.


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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Kevin Maxon
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After having read a few of your blogs, I'm just going to leave this comment here. I don't feel that it's worth my time to read and reply to your pieces, partially because I think there are deep flaws with your methodology. It's also blatantly obvious to me (from reading others' comment threads with you) that you're too stubborn/arrogant to even begin to consider opposing views, so it would be a waste if I tried to respond RE: why I disagree. That said, I have some advice for you if you want to continue writing such pieces:

(1) Write more concisely.

This is essential to discussion. Your claims need to be clear, so that people can digest and respond to them clearly. Given several hours, someone could boil your pieces down and find their claims, but that's putting an unreasonable burden of work on your audience. For my part, when I already know that you won't address my complaints, there is absolutely no way I'm going to bother doing so much work for your sake.

Probably more importantly, though, when you write your claims out concisely, you're able to see more clearly for yourself what you're really saying. Most of the claims you're making here are pretty foolish, and I think you'd be able to see that if you didn't obscure everything with so many useless sentence fragments. Again, this takes the burden (this time of helping you understand your own work) off of your audience.

(2) This is related, but be careful not to make unfounded, blatantly false claims out-of-hand, especially when they hardly relate to your subject matter.

This isn't a problem with this article in particular, as far as I can remember, but be careful whenever you arbitrarily capitalize words for emphasis, or when you make claims about existence—these are the places where I notice you making your most bizarre and obviously untenable claims. These claims usually aren't worth responding to, because they seem to be exaggerations, but they do make it hard to take your argument seriously. If you're really speaking truth, you don't need to make stuff up or yell for effect.

(3) Don't be an asshole to your audience. (And in general, lose the ego.)

Your response to the people kind enough to leave feedback is usually insults, condescension, sighs, etc etc. This is not productive and it makes it very hard to care about anything you say.

This egotistical stance also prevents you from understanding the problems with your pieces. You seem unable to believe that a single sentence you write could be flawed in any way. There is no way you're ever going to have actually progressed with your thought if you can't be critical of your own work. My recommendation is to consider your own pieces, post-publication, as if someone else had written them. Separate yourself from the work. Make comments a place for dialogue with the people who disagree, not a place to be defensive and rude.

Also crucial to understand is that some of your audience is actually better educated than you on the subjects you're speaking about, and might have some really important insights into your work. Contrary to what you seem to believe, you aren't a lone wolf in the world of linguistics or philosophy of language. There's a large community of extremely intelligent people doing important work on these subjects. You should take them seriously, rather than just assuming that you're the only one who has ever thought of this before.

Andrzej Marczewski
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Thought I would finally take a look, but this is really hard to read. Your sentence structure is very awkward. Just reread the final two paragraphs

"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!))"

Read them out loud to yourself - nested parenthesis and all. Does it flow?

I am saying this because I really want to read your work and understand where you are coming from, but I had to give up. not due to a lack of understanding, but just because it is so hard to read.

As the previous commenter said, simplify the way you are using your language. You already think we are all far more stupid than you (and I think this is a fair comment after some of the stuff you have said on my posts), so write in a way that even I could understand.

Also, one small word of advice about attitude. The reason no one is interested in talking to you about it is because you are so abrasive in your reactions to everything. Take a moment and think - would I want to be spoken to in this way. Would I speak to my Mum or my Gran or my Great aunt Bessie in this way?

Matthew Miller
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Darren, I was intrigued by your comments on Adrzej's blog and linked through to this one. I have to agree with Andrzej and Kevin. I gave up trying to read this post after a paragraph and just skimmed for the fundamental concept of language from which you are arguing. Your sentence complexity and concept sequence is so high it makes not worth the mental effort of reading them. There are too many folks who can write clearly--and do so well and frequently--to make this kind of effort.

One point I did want to express a disagreement about is your position that language is a static thing and meaning is derived from it (your fundamental concept of language, in my perception). In your words, 'the foundation is upside down.' In this your understanding of what language actually is, how it is created, and how it is used is fundamentally 'upside down.'

In simpler language, your basic assumption about language and meaning is completely incorrect. Because language exists only within and between humans, it derives meaning from our use of it. We create language; it does not exist without our thought, so there is no inherent meaning in any word, only in our use of words.