24 May, 2006
Scott Jennings just posted lots of fascinating photos from his trip to Korea. Perhaps one day we will all be lucky enough to work for a Korean company that will fly us half way across the world.
One thing he mentioned was about the experience of being a complete alien. He didn’t speak Korean, and few people on the street spoke English. I’ve been in that experience a few times when I’ve gone to Germany to meet with the Meridian 59 licensee there.
The irony is that I’ve studied Spanish and linguistics of Romance languages in college, so I’d do okay in many countries in Europe. My trip to France to work with Nevrax wasn’t nearly as bad since I could get by with a few words of Spanish in some cases, and most of the Nevrax folks spoke English well. Of course, it was funny when my friend from Germany came to visit and even though we spoke 3 languages between us (English, German, and Spanish), the Metro ticket vendor could only understand French. :P
Anyway, it’s a truly interesting experience being helpless like that. Although many Americans have European ancestry, the culture in Europe is quite different from what you expect from America, especially when you get away from the big cities. Simple things like staying at a small hotel were surprisingly difficult. From his text between photos, I’m sure Scott enjoyed a lot of the same confusion I have in the past.
The interesting thing is that this really puts things in perspective. For example, you can talk about “intuitive interfaces” in games, but you don’t really understand how much of that “intuitiveness” is learned. Some might call a menu with pictures an “intuitive interface”, but you quickly learn that what you saw isn’t always what you get in a place where you don’t speak the language. You also start noticing different cultural things. It’s one thing to hear about Korean PC Baangs, but it seems that all the stories didn’t quite prepare Scott for what he finally saw.
Unfortunately, I fear the only people that will understand this are people who have done what Scott and I have. Too often people like to live in their familiar little lives without stepping outside and doing something different. Plunging into a new culture can be quite a shock, but it can also teach you a lot about the world. And, as Richard Bartle has shown us, sometimes it takes a different view on things for them to finally make some sort of sense.
Then again, things may never make sense for most people. :)