The Importance of Dialogue in Gaming

I was sitting on my bed this evening, talking to myself (I do that a lot…I like to think out loud in my room and just process things verbally. I swear that I am not crazy! At least not that crazy…) when I had a realization. For me, language and conversation are necessary for me to form connections and to create concrete ideas. Cooperation, whether in a game or in a real-life situation, cannot happen for me without dialogue, and learning, for me, occurs best when I can either verbally work something out myself or when I am able to run it by other people. I study in group settings before exams; it helps me to form better connections. When I am writing, I often bother my boyfriend or my roommate to help me to figure out how to phrase something. I read things back to myself when I am reading research papers for science courses or for my Honors Thesis to further process ideas. For me, dialogue is incredibly important in learning, and I am realizing the importance of dialogue both in learning during videogames and in establishing in-game worlds.

The game that I am playing for class, Final Fantasy Tactics, is well-known for its intricate story line, but it is also well-known for its poor translation. The story is very complex, and, although the main plot is well-translated, side quests and dialogue between characters is confusing at times. For example, one of the characters stands up mid-way through an argument, slams his hands on the table, and yells at another character, “Your words are harsh!” Translation issues range from awkward, like this character’s angry comment, to confusing and detracting from the story. This occurs in both the tutorial and in side quests and makes the game’s world difficult to navigate and prevents me from being overly motivated to participate in side quests because I may not understand what is going on and how to integrate it into my understanding of the world.

There are other games where the use of dialogue is incredibly efficient at drawing the player into the world and creating the illusion of a fantasy setting, as discussed in our reading for class this week, that engages the player and encourages their interaction with the world. Bastion, one of the games presented about in the poster session today, has a voice-over narration that explains the back story and provides a strong connection to the character. This voice-over narration also serves to motivate the player to continue by providing fairly regular feedback on the player’s actions and giving advice to the player when the player appears to be having difficulty. In several RPGs, including my favorites Earthbound and Chronotrigger, characters in the world address the silent protagonist with the name that the player has given the protagonist, allowing greater identification with the game world.

Dialogue can also be used poorly in games. In Final Fantasy X, an excellent fantasy world is created, with excellent dialogue between the players. However, the protagonist is a rude and brash individual. The player has no way to control his interactions with the other characters, and many characters end up disliking the protagonist. The player is left feeling discouraged, unwanted, and lacking control over the development of the character and of the fantasy world. In League of Legends, a free on-line game, the narration in the tutorial is condescending and overly critical. Although it provides advice and feedback, like the narration in Bastion, it does not motivate the player but instead reduces the player’s self-esteem, leaving the player less motivated to continue to attempt to learn how to play the game.

Is anyone else a verbal learner? Has anyone else had any experiences with dialogue and its importance or influence on a videogame?