If you were to ask a gamer why it is they like playing video games, the answer would likely be that it has to do with some form of escapism: Temporarily and fully immersing themselves in a different world. Immersion is critical in great storytelling and doesn’t come out of nowhere; it needs to be created. Among other means of worldbuilding, one of the most powerful tools to create immersion in a lore, is language.
Localization of a game is itself not an easy task, but some developers take it upon themselves to develop their own language for their games, dedicating so much time and thought to the players’ immersion that their invented virtual vernaculars can fill entire dictionaries.
In this article, we’d like to present some of these examples and talk a bit about the merits of creating an original language.
Paul Frommer, linguistic consultant and creator of the Na'vi language from Avatar.
The Hylian spells out "Master Link" in japanese. (Image credit: Nintendo)
Like the fictional alphabet, fictional syllabaries are usually not based on their own original vocabulary. The only difference is that their symbols reflect syllables, not letters. These systems usually feel more authentic and closer to real languages.
To explain a bit further, we may have a look at the Hylian writing systems from the Legend of Zelda series. Even though there are many forms of Hylian, including alphabets, Hylian syllabaries are often used to impart an “ancient” feeling on scripts and texts, and deepen the lore beyond the “simpler” Hylian alphabet deciphering.
Also often referred to as artlang, this refers to fictional languages which, just as the name suggests, exist solely for aesthetic and phonetically artistic purposes, meaning they possess little to no grammar and vocabulary and rather exist to convey a certain feeling, or make games appear more mysterious or in-depth.
When mentioning video game languages that have no method or sense, the first thing that might come to your mind is Simlish from the Sims franchise. Supposedly the creators of The Sims wanted to originally base their language on either fractured versions of real languages, or perhaps unexpectedly, on Navajo.
It was two improvisers who were invited to the studio and, with their excellent gibberish skills, ultimately convinced developers to go with what we know today as Simlish.
While there has been recurring vocabulary (for example, “Sul sul” means “Hello”), The Sims creator Will Wright said that creating Simlish as a nonsense language was the right decision as it enhanced the user experience, allowing players to use their imagination with the language.
Because most of the language is improvisational, virtually anyone can speak it. This becomes very interesting when it comes to celebrity cameos. Did you know that some of your favorite early 2000s radio hits have made their way into the Sims world? In Simlish, of course. Who could forget such classics as Katy Perry’s “Lass Frooby Noob”?
Fictional languages are overall a great way to create more immersion and rapport with players. Even if there is little to no realism, players on the whole appreciate worldbuilding through any means. Whether it is creating an extensive lingo, or captivating the audience with puzzling ciphers, fictional languages do not only deepen the gaming experience but also encourage people to stay invested in the lore long after finishing a game.