24 August, 2013

Cultural Instincts

Sometimes you just know someone is different, they haven't spoken yet, they have barely encountered the outer limits of your personal space...but you get the feeling.

Let's assume that this isn't a skin colour thing, and the clothing they wear doesn't have anything specifically "different" about it. Maybe it's something about the way they hold themselves, perhaps they are a bit more curious in their observation around them, perhaps their actions are slightly defensive and guarded...not enough to really alert you that something is wrong, and when you look again that moment might be gone. But there are enough half-caught glimpses, that you notice something.

I don't know if other people see this in the world around them. I don't know if it's just an instinctive things that has been picked up through decades of work in customer service, and therefore dealing with hundreds of thousands of people over the course of my daily life.

I saw it again today at the place where I do a bit of part time work, where I teach people about wine, taste it with them, and occasionally sell a bottle or two.

She was relatively attractive. Not drop-dead magazine-cover gorgeous, but then again she wasn't coated in makeup. She was just wandering through the area where I happened to be doing some work, she was looking at the more expensive wine and spirits, no different than any other person who'd come into the department. At first I though there was something a bit different about her, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I offered some assistance, but she shook her head. There are dozens of similar encounters every day, some people want to chat, some don't. She didn't...so I let her be.

I didn't know anything else about her, I hadn't heard her speak, but there was something "other" about her.

It got me thinking about cultures in games. How do you react differently to different people? Not just humans versus elves versus goblins...those are distinct racial and physiological differences; I mean something about cultures that mark themselves as different to one another. Perhaps like castes, one person has a certain bearing, and they act differently around people who don't hold themselves in the same way. The words that come next are just a reinforcement of the first thoughts and opinions established by instincts, or perhaps the voice and language are contradictions to our first instincts (and that gives us pause).

I was intrigued by the "otherness" of this girl, some people might feel discomfort...either way it's an instinctive prejudice. I didn't particularly desire her, she was just one of the many people encountered in daily life; but I had formed opinions about her. A few minutes later she came back into my field of vision, with a male who was clearly her "significant other". They were talking in hushed tones, as many people do...he was looking at the display of a phone, she was pointing at things. It was typical activity, so I pushed any thoughts into the back of my mind. They were dressed like anyone else.

Eventually, the two came over. He spoke to me with a thick accent, he spoke to her in a language that I think was Spanish.

I had no way to tell that they might have been foreign before that; no language cues, no ritual movements (like a japanese bow of deference), nothing I could put my finger on. But once they spoke with each other, my instinctive preconceived notions fell into place.

How would culture like this manifest in game mechanisms? It's the kind of thing I'd love to explore in Walkabout, because it's all about the responses people have when they deal with one another, the way someone feels when they encounter the "other". How do the scavengers treat the nomads? How do you know someone is a nomad if they are wearing the same clothes as you? Do you know at all? Do you simply get a vague feeling of otherness from someone who belongs to a different "people"?
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