Voice and Language
The way a character speaks conveys an enormous amount of information. This breaks down into various elements:
■ Vocabulary indicates the age, social class, and level of education of the character. People who don't read much seldom employ big vocabularies. Teenagers always use a slang vocabulary of their own in order to exclude adults. Beware, however: If you use too much current slang, your game will sound dated six months after publication. Conversely, period slang can help set a game in a different time—calling a gun a roscoe promptly suggests the hardboiled detective fiction of the 1930s and 1940s. In all cases, a light touch is best unless you're deliberately trying to be funny.
■ Grammar and sentence construction also convey information about education and class; bad grammar reveals bad schooling. Although it's not really valid, we associate articulateness and long, complex sentences with intelligence.
■ Accent initially tells us something about a person's place of origin and social class. City people and country people speak differently the world over. Accent is also, unfortunately, thought of as an indicator of intelligence. (This can backfire; smart lawyers from the American South occasionally play up their southern accents to fool their northern opponents into thinking they're not as bright as they really are.) Avoid the "dumb redneck" stereotype; it is as offensive in its way as the "dumb Negro" stereotypes of 1930s radio plays were.
■ Delivery refers to the speed and tone of the person's speech. Slow speech is— again, mistakenly—often associated with a lack of intelligence, unless the speaker is an Eastern mystic, in which case slow speech can be mistaken for wisdom. Try to steer clear of stereotypes. Speed and tone can still work for you, indicating your characters' excitement, boredom, anxiety, or suspicion. The speaker's tone conveys an attitude or emotional state: friendly, hostile, cynical, guarded, and so on.
■ Vocal quirks include things like a stutter (Porky Pig), lisp (Sylvester the cat), and catchphrases that identify a character ("Eh... what's up, doc?" from Bugs Bunny).
Consider how The Simpsons defines its characters' education, intelligence, and interests through language. Homer's limited vocabulary and simple sentences show that he's not well educated; the kinds of things he says indicate that his interests are chiefly food and beer. Marge's middle-sized vocabulary goes with her middle-class outlook on life; from her statements we see that she's concerned with work, friends, and her children. Lisa is the scholar of the family, interested in reading, writing, and music; she has an unusually rich vocabulary for her age and speaks in long, complex sentences. Bart's use of language varies considerably based on his situation, from moronically crude when he's playing a practical joke to quite sophisticated when he's making an ironic observation. Bart is a carefree hedonist but self-aware enough to know it and even comment on it. He's a postmodern sort of character.
StarCraft, which draws on a variety of American accents to create several different types of characters, exhibits some of the most interesting uses of language in games
in recent years. Although designers did include the regrettable redneck Southerner stereotype, they also included the southern aristocrat and western sheriff speech patterns for Arcturus Mengsk and Jim Raynor, respectively; the laconic, monosyllabic diction of airline pilots for the Wraith pilots; a cheerful, competent midwestern waitress's voice for the pilots of the troop transports; and a sort of anarchic, gonzo biker lingo for the Vulture riders. This gave the game a great deal of character and flavor that it would have otherwise lacked if it had used bland, undifferentiated voices.
Character creation is an important part of computer game design. Games have come far since the rudimentary characters of their early days, and character design continues to become increasingly sophisticated. For many games, simple, iconic characters will do. However, as our medium continues to mature, more games need rich and deep characters as well. Whether a player defines the avatar she uses in the game or a designer creates a complete character for her to use, the designer has to make characters belong in the game world they inhabit, making them complete, compelling, and believable.