The success of the early online multi-player games like Doom laid the groundwork for successors like Halo and more recent titles such as Fortnite. Since then, there have been significant improvements in network capabilities that now allow hundreds of thousands of people from English and non-English-speaking countries all over the world to play a game together.
So what happens when you connect with someone that speaks a different language than you do?
Many players use microphones to communicate so this creates an obvious barrier. But Luis Rodriguez says that there have always been ways to get around such language barriers if a player is willing to look for them. Rodriguez recalls working with what he describes as “an Italian gang” when playing Tony Hawks’ Underground online.
Having been a part of the video gaming community for 15 years, Rodriguez was first enamored of online gaming in 2004 when he played Halo 2 for the Xbox. Around this time, development studios improved matchmaking capabilities that allowed players to be matched with other users of the same skill level.
“In order to communicate with people on the team, I was taught to speak Italian. This happened over a microphone with someone on the other end teaching me all these phrases I should know,” Rodriguez said.
However, according to an online forum for Fortnite gamers, some English-speaking gamers aren’t interested in playing with people who speak a different language.
One gamer who goes by the username “MyTeamAlwaysSuck”complains that whenever he plays the game he runs into “nothing but 12-year-old open-mic Mexicans.”
Rodriguez says he has had some bad experiences when playing with someone speaking a different language but says the experiences vary.
“It can be anything from having someone on your team who doesn’t know your language that’s constantly ruining situations in the game or causing you to lose your advantage in the game, but it can range,” Rodriguez says.
While some players are unwilling to work around a language barrier, other gamers like 88Infamous, a senior member of an EpicGames forum, have no problem working around the language barrier.
“I play EU servers from London and English is the least spoken language I hear when playing lol. It’s definitely annoying, but can be quite funny at times trying to communicate with single words and picking up clutchy wins,” writes 88Infamous on the online forum.
Ashley Lacey, an assistant manager at Gamestop, says that she uses Google translate when she receives in-game messages in a different language.
“I tend to use Google translate for Fortnite item requests, unless I’m playing with my six-year-old who just usually ignores the chat box altogether,” Lacey says.
Other members on the forum suggest English-speaking gamers exchange information with one another in order to host their own matches in English.
While much of the communication that occurs in online gaming is achieved through mic headsets, some gamers communicate exclusively using a keyboard. Since timely communication is key to certain multiplayer games, early gamers developed what came to be known as 1337 SP34k (or “Leet Speak.”)
In the early days of the Internet, most search functionalities were reliant on keyword identification, which meant hackers wanting to keep their secrets hidden resorted to using vowel substitutions such as a 3 instead of an E or a 4 instead of an A.
Though mostly obsolete, Rodriguez says that Leet Speak is still his preferred method of communication via a keyboard.
“They want to involve as many people as you can, say if you’re handicapped and couldn’t speak or type there’s always some way for you to play the game and I feel like that’s a good thing.”