Conversations Without Words

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I bought Meadow, the newest game from Shelter devs Might & Delight, the other day on a complete whim. The game is a strange kind of MMO which casts the player as a variety of cute animals in a large online meadow. What intrigued is that, other than wandering around as a badger cub collecting flowers, there isn’t much of an objective to the game. Which honestly is fine by me. There’s something soothing in exploration for explorations sake. And the art style is beautiful enough that it’s a delight to see what this world has to offer.

For me, the most interesting feature of this game is the interaction between players. Communicating with others is nothing new to online games, it’s an expectation nowadays. Voice chat or text boxes allow us to express ourselves to other denizens of online spaces exactly how we want. Many MOBAs even offer stock phrases that can be communicated to team mates for those without keyboards and microphones. Today, communicating is easy and effective.

What catches my attention is the way players communicate with each other when these options are not available, or just ignored. In Overwatch, the pre-match time spent in the spawn point is when you bond with team mates. Spamming the hello pre-set voice line is a must, but so are sprays and avatar movements. I once bonded with a Zarya as we stood face to face and took turns to punch the air using the melee attack button then jump up and down.

Dark Souls allows you to leave messages for other players, but in PvP situations emotes are the only mode of expression. Hence bows before duals are polite, the too-edgy-for-you slow walk is to intimidate, the disrespectful point down is cocky and clapping is the silent version of ‘gg’. I’m amazed by how these emotes can become their own language, spread amongst the PvP community to universal understanding.

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Meadow is a game that allows for creative communication. Players are given a set number of emotes (such as the laughing animal shown above), and I was surprised by how well chosen these were. For a relatively small number, they were universal enough to allow flexible use, but precise enough to convey meaning. Players can also make animal noises, and of course jump to express feeling.

For example, I bumped into two other badger cubs on my travels. After squeaking, jumping and waving to each other  (what I consider a polite introduction) they informed me they were looking for other players by showing me an emote depicting 4 animals. I squeaked in understanding and we set off. We found a goat, introduced ourselves and conversation began. We showed the animal sound emote and the map icon. They showed us a monument emote and a question mark. We squeaked. The goat showed us a forward arrow and off we set. [Note, there are monuments in the game that require multiple players to squeak at together to unlock.]

These modes of communication are so simple, yet I a constantly amazed by how players can use them effectively, and creatively. And the above is only one example of how I’ve communicated with other players. Usually, I prefer to embark on these games alone, but from the first moment a frog helped me find some flowers to collect, I was charmed. Not only by the game itself, but the way players were using this space to have fun and help each other. There’s something special about feeling part of a community of animals without speaking any verbal language.

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