Letters from America: Words, words, words.

originally posted 11th April 2004

So I attended the Game Developers Conference in San Jose a couple of weeks ago.

We know a lot about engendering emotion through novels and films. While telling a story in a game uses different methods of presentation (via cut-scenes and in-game dialogue, for example), we don’t need new theories to talk about how to make characters and story affect people.

Most of the writing presentations at the conference were concerned with emotion through story and character, but one looked at the emotions you can experience through gameplay itself.

The speaker was Nicole Lazzaro, President of User Experience Research company XEODesign. If any of you are thinking of developing games any time soon, I highly recommend you get in touch with her.

A large portion of the talk covered the emotions that you probably know about already: anger, frustration, wonder, awe, excitement, relief, amusement, and schadenfreude. All can be brought in via gameplay or design rather than story or character.

In a way, she’s proved that it’s simply not necessary to have a compelling story to have an emotionally involving game. But I guess those of you who’ve played Tetris or Solitaire already know that.

The most important things I took away, though, were two words.

Fiero and Naches.

Fiero is an Italian word. It’s the emotion you experience when you finally overcome adversity, or solve a problem. It’s the thrill you get from filling in a clue in a crossword puzzle, or beating the end-of-level boss. It’s the moment when you clench your fist and say: “Yes!”, or throw your arms above your head.

Naches (the ch is pronounced as in chutzpah, or reich) is from the Yiddish. It’s the emotion of pleasure or pride at the accomplishment of someone you’ve helped or trained. It’s the feeling you get as a parent, teacher, or mentor, when someone is able to succeed because of what you’ve shown them.

Now the point is, we’ve all experienced these two emotions.

But before now, I had no way to talk about them. I had no way of defining these emotions, or discussing them with other people. I had no way to consider how to analyse or engender these emotions, no way to understand or discuss them.

Without these words to define the concepts, I had no way to even *think* about them.

Today I can do things that I couldn’t do before, have thoughts and experiences that I simply couldn’t have a fortnight ago, just because I know two new words.

And now you can too.

3 responses to “Letters from America: Words, words, words.”

  1. Have you read Suzette Haden Elgin’s Native Tongue series (novels and short stories), Piers? They deal with exactly this issue from a feminist perspective – how having new words for specific concepts actually makes it possible to think differently. (Sam Delany also touches on this in, I think, Babel-17.)

    Today’s word verifcation: ellytor. I wonder what that means?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *