On Gaming as Women, we often discuss power, privilege, discrimination, who is allowed to speak and who is silenced. One subject we haven’t discussed so far is language.
The gaming community is international and multilingual. People play, write and discuss games in more languages then anyone will ever learn. The norm in international gaming discussion is to use English, since a lot of people know it and a lot of people have it as a first language. It is great that we have a world language, English, that a lot of people chose to learn to be able to communicate with people who speak other languages.
But having English as the norm in international gaming discussion also create a privilege hierarchy, where the people who know the most English are the most privileged, the ones that know the least are at the bottom of hierarchy. The ones that can express themselves in English are heard, and those who can’t are silenced.
As usual, this is not because people are evil assholes, but it is a side effect of having a world languages that not everyone is equally skilled at using.
That means that in any international gaming discussion your knowledge of games won’t be the important thing in how people judge you and interact with you, but your ability to express that knowledge in English. Anyone that can’t express it well enough in English, wont be heard or wont be taken seriously. That probably mean we are all missing out interesting insights about games because the person isn’t a part of the privileged class of English speakers.
I’m a Swede and fortunately for me Swedish is a tiny language, while at the same time Sweden rich country that takes English education extremely seriously. We Swedes are so few that we really do need it. Be it college textbooks, music or TV series, in Sweden the majority of it is in English, not Swedish. Because we are so damn few, we import more of it then we produce. Without English, you are screwed in Sweden.
As I come from a whole culture that is dependent on being able to use English, getting into an international gaming community relying on my use of English hasn’t been that painful. But I’m privileged in that aspect. A lot of other people come from countries with a lot less English education.On top if that, many languages less closely related to English than Swedish is, which makes it a lot harder to learn the language.
For anyone not fortunate to not know English well enough it can be a really painful experience to try to reach out and be a part of international discussions.
Remember that privilege hierarchy based in English skills I mentioned earlier? I not at that bottom of that language hierarchy, far from it. I’m pretty good at English. In a gaming discussion I can say what I wanna say (although in a funny accent) and be understood, and I can with some help with editing write blog post at Gaming as Women. While I make mistakes I can voice my opinion in international gaming context and have people listen to me. My English is good enough to be treated and respected as an equal in gaming discussions. Yet, I know that respect doesn’t come from my knowledge of gaming. It about me being able to write express it in English.
Normally I always get some help from native English speakers to proofread my articles. Both to fix normal errors like typos, but also to help me with all the problems I faces a non-native English speaker and as someone suffering from dyslexia. The editors change phrases so they sound more “right” and native and sort out all the mistakes I make. Of course everyone even native speakers needs a editor, but this post is unedited, due to the subject of the article. This is how I really write in English.
So, even if I’m might not be at the top of the privileged hierarchy, but I’m definitively not at the bottom either. If I was at the bottom of the hierarchy, you would not even read this post. Because my English would be so bad that you would quit reading after the first sentence. Or even the headline. Hell, you would not even read the first sentence. I never been invited to write for Gaming as Women of I been at the bottom of that language hierarchy, no matter how many interesting thing I had to say about gaming or womanhood.
My voice would be silenced. I would be powerless unable to be a part of the discussion. And you, my dear reader, would be missing out on whatever I had to say. I could be the best game writer in the world, and I would on my own not be able to make my voice heard on an international level.
Even if I did know English, but didn’t know it well enough, I would be fucked. I never ever be heard or be respected as an equal. You see this every time someone bad at English try to say something in an international gaming discussion. They get ignored, mocked and not taken seriously. People don’t even consider that they might have anything good to say. They are screwed.
I even been there. When I tried to discuss games in English at age sixteen with the English skills I had then, I was ignored, mocked and not taken seriously. Fortunately I probably didn’t have all that many smart things to say at sixteen, but I still remember that vulnerability. Speaking up can be hard enough, knowing that you won’t be taken seriously or even notices if you do. Shame and people behaving like assholes against anyone without perfect English silence even more people. People that could spoken up.
Many adult, knowledgeable and intelligent gamers is and might forever be in the position where their English will be bad. At the bottom of that hierarchy. Invisible and ignored. English doesnt even have to be a foreign language, people with dyslexia can face the same problem if they have problems expressing themselves in writing.
What do I want to say with this essay? That this hierarchy of privilege exist. Language is power. Become aware of it.
We can discuss privileges and problems in the international gaming community all day long, but we need to be aware that we are shutting out anyone that isn’t good at English from those discussions. That we are privileged people in this aspect, and a lot of unprivileged people are never heard.
If you are in the privilege position of being good at English, try to be compassionate of those who isn’t and be aware that there is a lot of people who can’t voice their opinion in an intentional context. Try to listen to them anyway and help them out. Otherwise you will be missing out on the gaming knowledge they can offer you.
Internet translators like Google Translate is an excellent tools to reach out across language barriers to learn stuff about games written in other languages and from gamers that don’t share an common language with. There is a world of games out there you will miss out on if you don’t.