Warning, this article includes frank discussion of non-consensual sex. Also there are spoilers for the entire gaming library of David Cage, though honestly, being spoiled now is better than having to play the things.
It should also be noted that this is an opinion piece based on the subjective views of the author.
The obvious implication of any piece of work not based in a scientific realm is that it is the product of the writer’s own opinions and interpretations. Only someone criticizing in serious bad faith would ever jump to the conclusion that any given writer believes their opinions are unimpeachable facts. In almost all cases, it is unnecessary to point this out.
This is one of the exceptions to this rule. Usually when pointing out problems within video game narratives, the blame is laid at the hands of the developing company at large, as individual responsibility is very difficult to divine. In the case of David Cage games, however, the director’s self-proclaimed auteurship means it is only he who the finger can be pointed at.
In which case it is necessary to point out that the following arguments are entirely my own opinion, that I have never met David Cage, that it is entirely possible that I am wrong and that arguments to the contrary are welcome. This should in no way be read as anything other than a personal interpretation based on a familiarity with Omikron, Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls.
With all that said, David Cage games consistently feature weird and terrible sex scenes.
Mr. David Cage
For those unaware of who David Cage is, here is a brief history lesson. Cage is a French game developer who founded the company Quantic Dream, currently employed to make exclusive titles for Sony. He has directed four games in an almost twenty year career, with the fifth due to be released in the near future.
Cage is a champion of the gaming auteur, namely the concept that games should be made by a singular vision rather than by committee, as having a singular director will lead to stronger artistic works. It is an admirable development philosophy, and Cage is one of the few directors in gaming with enough clout behind him to make the games he wants to make.
Aside from his first game, his works have trended towards creating ‘cinematic’ experiences. Complicated gaming mechanics are shunned in place of simple button prompts, with the focus on emulating motion pictures as much as possible. Running away from the conventions of the medium seems a rather wrong-headed approach, but given that the phenomenal Until Dawn follows a similar template to Cage games, it is not an approach without some merit.
The real problem, in my view, lies in the fact that Cage seriously struggles to write coherent stories. He comes up with good ideas, and most of his games start with promise, but they invariably collapse due to his seeming inability to gel ideas together and maintain even vaguely coherent character motivations. For reference, follow this link to read about the insane plot holes in Heavy Rain, easily the best game Cage has made thus far.
Given that three out of his four games are pretty appalling (and Heavy Rain is a mixture of good and bad so potent it is rendered entirely mediocre), his continued success is quite baffling, but that is neither here nor there for this discussion. The point here is to talk about the sex in Cage’s games, because here lies one of the more unexplored aspects of Cage’s writing failures.
By the way, the header image of this article is of David Cage appearing in one of his own games. Just in case you needed more evidence that this man makes poor design decisions.
The Villainous Soul
Omikron: The Nomad Soul (Cage loves colons in his titles) was the first game produced by Quantic Dream. Released in 1999, it bears the odd distinction of both featuring David Bowie and being one of the worst designed games in history.
Upon beginning the game, the player is greeted by Kay’l, a detective who implores the player to take over his body to help solve a murder (and eventually save the world). Two things are important to note about this set-up.
- You literally play as a soul that hops from body to body as it attempts to achieve its goals.
- When you occupy a body, the owner is not killed. They are entirely conscious of everything you are doing with their body, but are entirely powerless to stop you from doing whatever you want.
Among the very first things it is possible to do in this game is to go to Kay’l’s apartment, talk to his wife, and subsequently sleep with her. While this is an optional part of the game, given that it is triggered by simply talking to Telis while she is lying on a bed, most gamers are likely to wind up doing this.
The problem lies in the fact that Telis is not consenting to have sex with you, the player, she is consenting to have sex with her husband Kay’l. She is unaware that her husband’s body has been taken over by a rogue soul (and she will not believe you if you tell her, because why would she, that is insane). You are hijacking her husband’s body to sleep with a woman who is denied all opportunity to consent, and would almost certainly not consent if she was fully aware of the situation.
This is non-consensual sex, in the same way that pretending to be someone’s husband at a masquerade ball is non-consensual. In fact, it is actually worse than that, as Kay’l himself is a witness to this heinous crime and is powerless to prevent it. This is horrifying in all respects, especially given that these are the actions of the game’s hero.
And the Nomad Soul will always be categorized as a hero, despite the many heinous acts they commit. At one point you will force one of the bodies you pilot to kill itself in order to trick another person to surrender their body to you. All this occurs so that you can move a rock out of the way of a door, which you really could have just asked the other person to do in the first place.
It is possible (and indeed preferable, because the alternative is way worse) that Cage simply did not recognize how horrifying he was making his main character’s actions. Mind-invasion, however, is just the beginning of Cage’s game’s bizarre attitudes towards sex. These games have been plagued by some very creepy things for years.
To Love a Living Corpse
Side note: A quick Google search revealed that is apparently legal to marry a dead person in France. This was not the answer I was expecting to find when I searched “Is Necrophilia illegal in France” in order to set-up a snarky joke which would now fall very flat.
Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy (it was called one or the other depending on localization) was the second Cage game. Protagonist Lucas Kane commits a murder while possessed by a supernatural force. He attempts to evade the capture of detective Carla Valenti while an apocalypse looms involving Mayan prophecies, Artificial Intelligences, mute children of destiny, a secret organization of homeless people, military conspiracies, and flying Kung-Fu battles. There is also a scene where Lucas is attacked by his furniture. This is Exhibit A of Cage failing to mesh ideas together, but I digress.
Lucas dies in the closing hours of the game, only to be mysteriously walking around again two scenes later. He convinces Carla that he is innocent due to mind-invasion (Cage circa 2005 realizing that mind invasion is a bad thing). They subsequently fall in love, off-screen, despite Carla spending 90% of the game convinced that Lucas is a crazed murderer. They consummate their love in an abandoned train car.
Remember a moment ago when you learned that Lucas died? Yes, Lucas literally died, and was re-animated due to some supernatural shenanigans. The game goes to great lengths to spell out the fact that Lucas is absolutely still dead. A character actually says:
“You didn’t survive that fall. We found your body and we resuscitated you. The truth is that you are dead Lucas.”
They then go on to say;
“It is impossible to kill you Lucas, as you are already dead.”
Lucas is a corpse. He and Carla sleep together at least several days after his death. Yes, he still thinks and moves around, but a magical A.I. states several times that he is dead, so he must be viewed as such. There are two possibilities as to why this occurs in a story written by a human being that undoubtedly wanted his story taken seriously.
- He wrote himself into a corner regarding Lucas’ death, and decided to proceed with his already planned love story regardless.
- This was an elaborate attempt to include necrophilia into a story in way Cage viewed as palatable.
Honestly neither would be surprising to me. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Cage’s first two game feature their ‘heroes’ engaging in non-consensual sex and necrophilia. Yet both games were somehow critically lauded upon release and Cage was granted bigger budgets to keep making games.
Heavy Rain, though frequently cheesy, poorly paced and ultimately insubstantial, is easily the best game Cage has ever made. Indeed it was his first game to not involve his heroes committing illegal and immoral sexual acts. The incredibly low-threshold of both parties being both consenting and alive is at last reached at the third time of asking.
That is not to say there is nothing wrong with the sex scenes found in Heavy Rain. Aside from being aesthetically horrifying, the two most prominent sexual encounters in the game are unsettling due to the wider context of the plot.
The fact that Ethan Mars could possibly decide to engage in some tomfoolery during an intense few days in which his son has been kidnapped by a notorious serial killer—who Ethan knows has put his son in a pit that is slowly filling with rain water and is currently forcing Ethan to under-go Saw style torture games to prove his love for his son—is absolutely insane. Ethan has just hours to save his son. He would realistically never waste time sleeping with a women he barely knows, and yet Cage made sure to include this as an option.
It is also possible for Scott Shelby, a private-eye investigating the serial killer, and Lauren Winter, the mother of one of the serial killer’s victims, to end up in bed together. This is the first such encounter in a Cage game that actually makes plot sense, as their mutual trust and affection is well-established throughout the game. It is honestly nice to see two sympathetic characters find some happiness with each other.
Or rather it would be, if Scott Shelby was not dramatically revealed to be the serial killer all along in a twist that is famous for undermining an otherwise passable plot. Which means Lauren unknowingly slept with the man that murdered her son. DAMMIT ALL DAVID CAGE WHY DO YOU KEEP PUTTING THIS STUFF IN YOUR GAMES.
Earlier when I stated that the sex scenes were at least not illegal and immoral in this one, I meant to say that they were not both. Deciding to sleep with a woman whose child you murdered is pretty much the safest thing one could ever refer to as being immoral.
Now, on to the big question.
OH DAMMIT ALL DAVID CAGE WHY DO YOU KEEP PUTTING THIS STUFF IN YOUR GAMES?
This is the only reason that makes sense for any of the sex scenes in David Cage’s games to exist. He can argue all he wants that he includes them to further the emotional development of the story, but it is hard to get away from the implication that this is all for titillation’s sake.
Did you know that Carla Valenti once appeared naked in Playboy in an image produced by Quantic Dream? Or that Cage’s three most recent games all feature shower scenes that serve no purpose other than letting the player gawk at the female character models? Or that a nude model of Ellen Page was created for Beyond: Two Souls, despite Ellen Page having a no nudity clause in her contract? And that said model was quickly leaked onto the internet (as it was never actually taken out of the game and some very minimal hacking could reveal it)?
These actions combined provide pretty damning evidence that titillation is the main aim in all cases. Which is not necessarily a bad thing in all circumstances, but certainly is when the supposedly titillating scenes involve mind-invasion, corpses and the looming spectre of child murder. When the intent and the result are combined, imagining the process in which one led to the other is a very scary prospect.
(And as a quick side-note, David Cage collected a folder of pictures of Ellen Page ranging from when she was eight years old to her as an adult. He did this before he had ever met her, before she had any idea he wanted her to star in Beyond: Two Souls, and he is proud to tell the world that this is a thing he did. In the context of the rest of this article, this is rather concerning).
Each and every one of my conclusions are entirely based on my own opinions. Each and every one might be entirely incorrect. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. No one is suggesting that Cage himself has ever done anything illegal or immoral.
The only thing being suggested is that David Cage’s games frequently feature sex scenes with hideous implications. By all means argue against this conclusion in the comments. If there is a defense of this stuff, I would gladly hear it. This is one of those times where being wrong would actually be a weight of my mind.
Either way, though, David Cage is bad at making games. That much cannot be argued.
All images courtesy of Quantic Dream
Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.
However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”
Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.
Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.
The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.
In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.
The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.
Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.
We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.
Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.
Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.
Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster. Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.
The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.
I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.
And By Sea
There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.
For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.
The Hunt Goes On…
So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!
Images Courtesy of Capcom
Hopes and Fears for Deadfire
The release of Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire, the sequel to an old-school RPG that’s close to my heart, was pushed back a month. An unfortunate state of affairs, to be sure, but tolerable if it gives the developers the time to eliminate bugs. It also gave me time to undertake another play-through of the original. This time, as a female dwarf druid from the Deadfire Archipelago, just to see if it becomes relevant.
And for those of us who appreciate traditional, yet forward-looking RPGs as I do, I’d like to talk a bit about what I hope and worry about in the sequel. Unfortunately, I was unable to get into the player beta that has been going on for some months now, for brutally fiscal reasons. So while I kept close tabs on the testers were saying, I must avoid making authoritative statements.
Instead, I’m going to cover some big topics that occur to me as I play Pillars of Eternity again and wait for Deadfire. Those are, in no particular order…
Spells: rest or encounter?
First things first: since I play a full spellcaster as my main character for the first time, I already can’t wait for Deadfire’s upgrade to spells with per-encounter uses, rather than per-rest. Having spells that only recharge on a full rest stunts the game’s pacing and makes balance very difficult. What we have here is three situations:
- The caster doesn’t use any of their per-rest spells and doesn’t contribute much.
- The caster does contribute without per-rest spells, using per-encounter or passive abilities. Each main casting class has those.
- The caster dominates the encounter with powerful spells.
None of those situations are optimal. If we have either the first or the last, it means two extremes. If the second or the last, then it means those classes’ performance is similar to those with per-encounter or passive abilities, but they also sit on tactical nukes.
There’s really no way to balance it against classes whose abilities are available a number of times every encounter, or entirely passive. It will inevitably swing in the direction of some classes having more impact on the battle than others.
Resting as a pacing mechanic is notoriously unreliable, because the game can’t really control how much we rest. It can dole out camping supplies and make some areas impossible to rest in, but players can bypass it all. In a tabletop game, per-rest encounters will rely on the GM’s willingness and ability to enforce a particular pacing. In a video game…there’s no GM to do that.
This change has met with mixed reception. Aside from those who think it’s dumbing down the game, there have been concerns over insufficient quantity of spells and the fact that they take too long to cast. Meaning the battle might be over by the time you fire off that spell. The latter two are legitimate, and I hope the developers address them.
But regardless of what issues arise from a shift to a per-rest resource management, I really think it’s for the best. Per-rest spells are a relic of old-school D&D that has stuck around by inertia. We can’t be rid of it in D&D, so let’s at least remove it from Pillars.
Health and safety
The health system of Pillars of Eternity is somewhat controversial. Its removal in favor of a more traditional health in the sequel, perhaps more so. The original system measures two health “bars”: endurance and health.
Every time you take damage, you lose both, but while endurance regenerates by itself and through abilities, health doesn’t. You have at least four times as much health as endurance, which means it drops slowly. Once your health becomes lower than maximum endurance, the latter is also lower. Dropping to 0 endurance knocks you out, dropping to 0 health maims you, then kills you.
In theory, I like it. It’s a compromise between old-school unforgiving attrition and a more modern style where everyone gets back to full strength after each battle. But I’m not sure it works so well in practice.
Sometimes it does, and introduces slow sapping of your characters’ strength and forcing you to rest. But at other times, you either avoid damage enough for it not to matter or one character is focus-fired by enemies and their health drops dangerously low. So you have to rest even though everyone else is fine.
This particularly punishes characters who get into the thick of it without necessarily being tough and wearing heavy armor, but also back-like casters or shooters who end up target of enemy attacks. There’s no “taunt” mechanics that would straight-up force enemies to attack certain characters instead of others, either.
Deadfire will remove this duality and simply have health that acts like endurance did. Once you drop to 0, you’re once again knocked out, which results in maximum health dropping by 25%, in addition to injuries. But if it didn’t drop to 0, it will return after the fight just fine.
While I wish they could have tried to strike some sort of compromise and refine the health/endurance system, I can see why they did this instead. The old system was fiddly, random and many players didn’t understand it. Although in the last case I think the problem was with insufficient explanation. The game never tells us in plain terms how it works, so of course it confuses people. But other than that, I can respect their choice of predictable simplicity over continued tinkering.
Matters of romance
We don’t know a lot about romance in Deadfire, only that it will be there. It will also include non-heterosexual relationships, something rather conspicuously absent from the original – with the exception of openly lesbian Maneha and her crush on Pallegina. Whether or not Pallegina reciprocated it is less than clear. She’s flustered by Maneha’s attention, rather than threaten bodily harm as she usually does, so maybe?
This has drawn some ire from people. Some complaints stem from elitism, believing that romances are something from a BioWare game and Obsidian should be better. Others come from a place of homophobia, believing that the existence of non-heterosexual romances are a sign the SJWs are coming.
An actual concern one might raise is accidentally getting our character tangled up in a romance. The developers promise a complex system of inter-personal relationships, where all sorts of interactions will influence them. That’s great…if it works. I expect that they will still be predictable to some degree. But I also worry about accidentally making an NPC attracted to us.
Relationships developing in a way we didn’t expect or plan for is natural, of course. In fact, that’s what the supposed complex network of influence is meant to accomplish. But when it comes to romantic or even sexual matters…I feel it’s different. Having someone suddenly display such interest in your character can be uncomfortable.
We’ve seen it in RPGs before, particularly those from BioWare. That studio eventually adopted a system of making it absolutely clear we’re pursuing a line of dialogue that may develop into a relationship. What will Deadfire do here? Regardless of how they handle it, I do look forward to this new way of tracking relationships and influence among our companions.
One of the major features in the sequel is the ability to mix and match classes. Or, well, not mix and match, really. You can pick two classes and get abilities from both, but at a slower pace. While you will have a broader repertoire, you will get new tiers of abilities later than a single-class character of the same level would get.
I’ve been excited and worried about it ever since its announcement. It has so much potential for customization, but also for breaking the game. The balance team certainly has their hands full with it. By some accounts, single-class characters feel not so much weaker as constrained, compared to multi-classed ones. There’s just not enough abilities to pick from, or ability points to use. There have been some hints on how they plan to fix it, so I hope they do. This is a tremendous opportunity and I look forward to playing a greatsword-wielding Fighter/Rogue.
…and many more
There’s a good deal of other innovations Deadfire will include, but it would really take me a while to discuss them all. The new system for damage reduction and penetrating it, managing your ships, exploring the vast archipelago… this game promises to be huge, and what I discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg,
Whatever happens, Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire promises to stay on the same course of marrying old-school gameplay with innovative, fresh design. I have high hopes for it, with the usual trepidation over their getting dashed to the ground. But that’s just how it goes when a series doesn’t just repeat the same things over and over.
Images courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment
Dialect is an amazing game that asks if dying languages should be saved
Greetings readers! Today will be the first of hopefully many reviews of tabletop role playing games. Some of them more mainstream, and others somewhat obscure. Today’s review is going to be about one of the more obscure titles. The game is Dialect and it is made by Thorny Games. Dialect is about language. Specifically, how languages are born, can grow, change your way of thinking, and how they can die. The team working on it has quite a pedigree, and includes people like David Peterson, who created the fictional languages on Game of Thrones.
Now, full disclosure: This game was on Kickstarter, and I did back it. My review will be based on the initial digital copy of the game I was given after the crowd-funding campaign was successful. I played Dialect with three other people: M, T, and V, none of whom backed the crowd-funding campaign.
Dialect itself is different then a lot of “traditional” tabletop RPGs in that there are no dice, and no GM running the game. All you need are index cards, the five different decks of language cards that come with it, and the rules. Dialect requires three to five players as well, counting yourself.
The first thing the players do when they begin a game of Dialect is picking a backdrop for the game. The backdrop (called an “Isolation” in-game) is what separates this group from the wider world. These Isolations range from the physical (A new colony on Mars) to the cultural (A thieves guild). The Isolation is what lets them develop their language. The language also changes with the Isolation as well, as the next step is to define three different “aspects” about the Isolation. These shape the language, and will vary from game to game. In one example from the book, an aspect for a colony on Mars might be the ever present dust storms. After that the players have to answer questions about their community. These are smaller than the aspects, but still can define how the language will grow and change.
Once the players have answered all the questions, they draw three “archetype” cards, choosing one of them to use. These cards define a role in the isolation, and range from Innocent to Zealot. Leader to Jester. Each archetype has a different relationship with the different aspects. Some relate to only one aspect, some relate to them all. After selecting an aspect, giving a bit of backstory to the character, and determining their name and what others call them, the meat of Dialect can begin.
Each player starts with three cards from the first language deck in their hand. These cards have different word ideas on them. They range from ‘Greeting’ to ‘Bad Omen’ to ‘Filler World’. The player then ties this word to one of the aspects, explaining how the aspect gave rise to this word. It’s at this point that the players can discuss what word fit the best. In the end though, only the person who played the card can decide what the word is. After that, the final step is to have an in-character conversation either using or conspicuously not using the word. The final step has the player draws a card from the second language deck, and play passes to the next person.
After each player has had a turn, the “Era” changes. Now the isolation will have to deal with hints that their way of life is ending. There are three eras. By the end of the third, the Isolation has ended, and the language (Or at least the culture that spoke it) dies.
One of the goals of Dialect is to create a language based on what the players want. And in this, it succeeds spectacularly. The language cards are clear and concise. The round table nature of the game also makes sure that every player has a say. As ‘V’ puts it: ”The floor is pretty much always open for discussion, but it prods every player into the spotlight so nobody gets unintentionally left out. The ‘this is 100% your choice’ questions make you feel more attached to that element of the game.”
Another, smaller aspect of Dialect I particularly enjoyed was how the book (and by extension, the writers) were concerned about player’s comfort levels. They stress repeatedly how the group should know it’s limits, and to avoid situations or scenarios that might be triggering to other players. A lot of games do this nowadays, but few do it as frequently or as early as Dialect does.
Dialect is also open ended enough that it can be useful when used with other settings to define specific cultures. ‘M’ agreed with that sentiment, and added: “I feel like it was less a game in and of itself than one of those generators I see every now and then, to help build a setting or a space marine chapter or whatever else.”
One of the strongest aspects of Dialect is the re-playability. With the randomness of the cards, the different selections of Isolations, and even the contrasting moods of the players, you will have a totally different experience each time. ‘T’ put it best, saying: ”A lot of the games will be different each time. Between the scenarios and the players and the cards, everyone will have a different perspective.”
Dialect is not without its faults. The most prominent of which is the very thrust of it’s premise. A game about how languages die can be very high concept, and that can scare some players away. Another thing that can scare players away is the group role-playing and decision process. Some players are just naturally more timid than others. In ‘T’’s words: “as it stands someone who isn’t comfortable at the sort of ‘rping’ it out probably wouldn’t get the same enjoyment’
Another fault with Dialect that stems from its focus on language is that nearly all it’s focus is on the language. There is very little to help new players get used to roleplaying. There is also very little that helps distinguish between the language creation and the roleplaying aspect. ‘V’ had a bit to say on this: “I think the game’s biggest weakness, from what I played, was the actual roleplaying part. It’s 90% meta, OOC [Out of character] discussion of your language, then you suddenly have to scramble into character and improv on the spot.”
The final criticism I have with Dialect is that there are places in the rules where there is ambiguity. Some rules errata will fix that issue though.
Before I give my opinion on the game itself, there are a few things I would like to mention. The first is that the Isolation does not have to be literal. It can be as simple as a boarding school, or even a website where people go to congregate. I even noticed some parallels to a few of the Isolations and the early LGBT movement. Not that the LGBT movement is dead, but that the language of it has changed since the early days.
The second thing I want to tell you about is a story from the test game I ran before writing this review. The players were members of a thieves guild in early 19th century London. They were con-men, swindling rich aristocrats out of their money by selling them ‘Mummy dust’ that was actually just dirt scraped up off the side of the road. One of the words the came up with was the word ‘Stone’ to refer to a bad omen. Named after the newly discovered Rosetta Stone, the word took on new meaning in a few turns, and began to be a term for anyone who wouldn’t fall for their tricks. It became one of my personal favorite words that session. When the game ended, I realized that the word was dead. Only a game like Dialect could make me feel that way about a simple word.
Dialect is an amazing game. I highly recommend it for people curious about language, those who are looking for a tool to help flesh out their own worlds, or for anyone just looking for a unique, fun game that doesn’t require a lot of set-up. Everything from the art design to the rules to the cards all helps bring the main focus of Dialect into perspective: What is lost when a language dies? Are dying languages worth saving?
Having played Dialect, I can tell you the answer to the second question. Yes.