Thursday, August 18, 2005

The power of a word

I have often contemplated how the English word roleplaying differs from the Swedish translation rollspel. I think this difference have an impact on what "laymen" think about the hobby and what they expect when you try to introduce it to them.

Rollspel seems to be a pretty straightforward translation. Roll means role and spel means game. That makes it something like role-game. But what about the play part? The thing is that spel could mean both game, play and acting, so play is already covered. Simple. Or maybe not?

Rollspel can mean role-game, roleplay, role-acting, or roleplaying game, depending on how you choose to interpret it. These three meanings do have different feels to them, different implications on what to expect. Due to how the word is used in other situation the game part is usually not what people get in their mind when hearing someone say rollspel. What we have left is roleplay or role-acting, with game not being an important part of the word.

The effect is that roleplaying is not seen as necessarily being a game at all. People expect a role and they expect to act or play it. The game is entirely optional. I do think this fact may have had an impact on the general rules light nature of Swedish roleplaying, and the existence of the so called Nordic Scene. The name can have a big influence on the type of people a hobby attracts, and the expectations of these people will in turn shape the hobby into something resembling that word.

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