...to the personal blog of Kynan Pearson. You might know me from my work on the Metroid Prime Series, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Halo 4. This blog is here so I can share some of my design philosophies, dump some ideas and post some of my random art. These are all my views and do not represent those of my employer.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

There's Power in Words!

Words hold power! I know you’ve probably heard something along those lines at some point in your life but it’s absolutely true. What you call something defines it!

Let’s look at the simple example of titles or positions. Imagine I asked you if you would like to meet one of two people. The first one is a SALES ASSOCIATE and the other one is the PRESIDENT. Not everyone will choose the same one but you can almost guarantee that more people will chose to meet the president than the sales associate. The funny thing is that both of those choices could be the same person. You can do this with any number of positions from directors to custodians to workers. These are just words used to describe someone. Now the sales associate could be more amazing in every way than the president but people have to react to the only info you have provided. You can see how powerful a simple label can be.
How about we switch gears and talk about descriptions. This is where hyperbole can become a factor. Let’s say I offer you the choice between and INCREDIBLE sandwich and a TERRIBLE sandwich! The sandwiches are both technically the same sandwich but the choice is clear! How about a more subtle approach? You can have a good sandwich or you can have an ok sandwich. The choice is no longer so clear which is why people tend to exaggerate. Again simple words have the power to sway a decision.
These principles apply to fame and advertising as well. The more you hear a word the more familiar and comfortable you are with the word. This leads to the word having more power. Let’s say you travel to a country and you get arrested. While you are in jail you are given a choice between a COKE or an INGLIOMDORETRIA SODA. Most people around the world would choose a Coke, even if the ingredients are the same and even if they’d never had a sip of Coke in their life. There’s history, familiarity and comfort there. They have heard Coke so they feel more comfortable choosing that.
Words can be self-fulfilling prophecies as well. Have you ever heard someone talk about how they can never meet anyone when they are sitting in a room full of people? Have you ever heard some say I can’t do it and then never make an attempt? Words have the power to manifest things by how they not only influence the speaker but also those around them.
So now let’s look at games development. You’re making a children’s adventure game and your team consists of 30 people who will all be working on various things. You are in the process of making content for the game and put together a list of assets that need to be developed. The list might include entries that look something like this:
·         Levels
o   World 2 – Room03
·         Enemies
o   Generic Mover
If you are in development you might see the list and think that style of content description isn’t uncommon. You’ll figure out what you want to do with those along the way and then give them final names once you’ve defined them. Now think about what we are discussing when looking back on that list. It’s all up to random chance. Someone might figure out something cool to fill in there but often time’s people have time pressure. They might not have direct access to the writer or director. They might just have to make something and then pass that on to someone else. So think about what happens when the description they get is generic. How much character will they actually add to it?  What would someone think if they hear about it from the outside and share that with another person?
Let’s adjust the list so that the assets now have some type of name description.

·         Levels
o   Glowing Mountain – Cave of Wonder
·         Enemies
o   Laughing Leaper
These words have now created a description and an expectation of the assets to be created. Even without any additional information anyone that hears about them will be more inspired to think about what they would do with those or what they mean. It’s not guaranteed that you will end up with better results but based on what you call something, what word you use, you have the power to change or improve whatever it is.
Another talking point is in regards to picking titles for a game from existing words or making something up. Remember that a word will define something and often times you only get one shot. You see 2 games behind the counter at your game story, LEGENDARY or STANDORETHICA. Sometimes you can gain interest by using a made up word as it’s mysterious, but the vast majority of people will pick the familiar word. They will be able to say Legendary and will understand it immediately. When people speak about other things and someone says legendary then you might think of the game even though that wasn’t the context in which it was said. Legendary has a history full of meaning. The other title just can’t compete.
There are risks associated with using familiar words though. Unless your use becomes known to begin with it might be swept away and lost in a sea of other uses.
Look at your favorite Films, Music and Games. Think about all of the content within them. Now look at some that haven’t succeed. Some of the most famous and popular are familiar and defining in ways that describe them in a superior manner. Would a game like Street Fighter have been as successful if it had been called Shinku Hadoken? Would the Master Sword have been as important or timeless if it had been called Garudo's Bane? Would Master Chief be as iconic or memorable if his name had been Nathan Smiggles?  StarWars, Batman, Superman, Tomb Raider, Megaman and Avatar all had familiar words before you’d ever seen them.
There’s always going to be more to any subject but just remember that what you call something defines it in ways that can expand beyond your expectations. People can repeat those words, they can have prior meanings and they can influence how something is perceived, received or even created. Remember how much power your words can have the next time you name something or describe it to a friend. It can make all the difference in the world.

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