Swearing in games, a short story

About a decade ago I was invited to a personal preview for Nier. Present were among others Yoichi Wada, Yoko Taro and a few others.

After the presentation I could ask a few questions but what I had witnessed had left me numb so instead of asking the questions I wanted to ask I asked a few shitty generic questions and decided I would not write about this game.

The ultra violent demonstration I got included Kaine shouting at an opponent that she was going to cut of his balls and feed them to his children.

Like I said I did not write about the game and did not play it until years after.

Something similar happened when I was shown DMC by Ninja Theory, they showed me the infamous FUCK YOU cutscene and boss fight. I was like WTF is this shit and like Nier I decided not to write about it and did not play the game until it was on XBox gamepass.

Both are decent games but the swearing and presentations I got made me actively avoid them for years.

What do you fine people think, curious about opinions here(not you Brandon, you think its lazy writing and I agree)

I don‘t have a problem with swearing (it would be very hypocritical of me to). Like all things, it’s all dependent on context. I can't say I love things like Kaine shouting about ripping off balls just isolated on their own merit in isolation, but I also adore the little tone-setting snippet of dialogue from Kaine that plays while the game loads:

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Weiss, you dumbass! Start making sense, you rotten book, or you‘re gonna be sorry! Maybe I’ll rip your pages out, one-by-one! Or maybe I'll put you in the goddamn furnace! How can someone with such a big, smart brain get hypnotized like a little bitch, huh?! “Oh, Shadowlord! I love you, Shadowlord! Come over here and give Weiss a big sloppy kiss, Shadowlord!” Now pull your head out of your goddamn ass and start fucking helping us!

It's provocative and evocative. It's well-written. The actor who delivers it does a brilliant job with it. Contextually, it makes sense.

Most videogames have pretty embarrassing dialogue. When games try to go really hard on "edge" by including a fuckton of swearing, it's extra embarrassing. This is not usually helped that (especially localized) games frequently hire the same pool of pretty mediocre voice actors.

I learned English with Scorcese movies and HBO so it took me a very long time to recalibrate to what is in fact considered proper English in a normal conversation. I still swear a lot in business meetings held in English. I think it's the same for several non-native people I know from the industry, many of whom swear vastly more in English than they would in their native language.

I am not sure how my remark above is relevant to your issue, but I think American English has a very specific relationship to swearing, due to the type of pop culture promoted by recent mainstream American English entertainment (gangster movies and series, hip hop etc.) and how other cultures absorb them altogether. And so it does not really strike me as odd when characters swear like sailors in English.

I would probably not have paid much attention to your example and I do not remember noticing at the time that Kayne was swearing too much for her own good. In fact, I am sure her dialogue seemed in character to me, considering its tone and its message.

@chazumaru#846 Yes, it’s the same for me. Many of my friends think swearing is the way to sound like native English speaker, but when I came to America someone told me the way I swear sounds so strange haha

That bit that @jdm0079 shared from the game is in fact infuriating to me. I really really hate it, and though I am reluctant to say things are bad writing, especially when I know who did the writing in this case, I find this so tiring to even read, let alone listen to. I can't remember if there was a JP language option in the 360 version… I think there was maybe? I either changed it right away or muted when kaine was on screen, which sucks.

Basically an overabundance of swearing makes me take things less seriously, because it sounds so performative. I find that people who swear frequently either wear it like armor, or do it to perform, as our non english speaking friends are noting. I mean, if you listen to tim rogers, he's always coming up with new ways to describe a thing, and swearing is very often used as a substitute for expressing an emotion or thought.

So that's why I think it's lazy. it's a catchall like "interesting" or "good," without adding much to the conversation aside from "oh, this person is really trying I guess." In moments of actual anger it's a different story, but even then, that quote above is like... I can't imagine a real human being talking that way except in extreme circumstances, which, well, video games barely have, so... yeah. it doesn't work for me!

Folks at my work (myself included) swear a lot very casually, so I don‘t know that i really notice (depending on what words are used an the context) when talking to actual humans.

In games, it often feels so forced and rough. It’s like a teenager who just learned a new piece of profanity and is so excited to try it out they‘re going to ram it into every sentence they can (and some they can’t). Dialogue in games often feels awkward already (between the writing and voice actor issues already mentioned), mixing in the profanity just makes it difficult to suffer through.

I don‘t want to hate on anyone’s preferences, and I see that a lot of people like that kaine stuff in particular. For me it‘s like - when you’re a teenager and your mom starts talking to your friends and trying out “new slang” she learned at work, and it‘s like "mom, that’s not how you talk. that‘s not how ANYONE talks." but your mom is just trying to be cool and doesn’t know how.

that's what an overabundance of swearing in a creative work is like for me.

@Fishie#842 I was the community manager for DmC and that FUCK YOU scene will haunt my nightmares forevermore. Having spent several years looking at the game under a magnifying glass, I still think there was a layer of self-aware humor that got lost in the marketing and surrounding discourse (which was often disturbingly similar to our current political discourse, complete with people straight-up lying about the game to garner support for their conclusions about it). But the marketing was a big part of the problem–it said “look how edgy” when I think Ninja Theory was trying to say “Look how juvenile Dante is at the start.” I mean, HE thinks he's edgy, but I think the game is kind of aware of that in a way DMC3 never was.

I'm in the @exodus camp re: that Kaine snippet; it made me cringe a whole lot back in 2010. I think it's because the monologue feels really scripted, which indeed makes the swearing sound very performative. Like, for someone so enraged it's awfully wordy. I want to think they wouldn't localize it that way now, and I guess we might find out soon since they're rereleasing it?

The Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes have an uncanny knack for reading my mind and having the characters react in-game with the thing I just said out loud in real life. Like when the Nemesis shows up at a particularly mean moment and Jill says "Are you fucking kidding me?!" (or something like that). It felt not only natural, but kind of clairvoyant because I'd just said it. There's a time and place!

Re: swearing in games and english as a second language– whenever I think about swearing in games, I remember the discourse from years ago about whether there was too much swearing in Bulletstorm. I remember Adrian Chimelarz defended the cussing in the game up to release, then some time after release did a 180 and admitted that there was too much swearing in the game.

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Adrian Chmielarz, the creative director at Poland-based People Can Fly, tells the latest edition of Game Developer magazine that he didn‘t know just how much swearing was going on until he read its Polish translation at the end of the game’s development…

>Chmielarz said hearing “I will kill your dick,” and many other profane, vulgar and obscene words in its fratboy lexicon, had next to no impact because they were being said in a foreign language. “Being Polish, all the strong language in Bulletstorm was just exotic and fun to us,” he told Game Developer.

I have heard over and over again that it's very difficult to understand what's an appropriate amount and type of swearing/vulgarity to use in English-language media, but honestly I believe that this is probably the case for many people who work in multiple languages, not just English. Swearing is so contextual and requires so much deep cultural knowledge and sensitivity to what you can/can't get away with as a creator. I think that America is just in a unique position where we've had so much globally popular R-rated media that folks who begin creating in English don't always have an accurate feel on the full range of the English-language media landscape. If you become a big fan of American movies as a teen, you're unlikely to have your sample of American media also include the stuff everyone grows up watching as a child, or the stuff people watch with their children, or the TV you see before 10 PM on most major channels. I think it would be equally hard for me to figure out what the limits were on swearing if I began working in some other language myself, though.

I do have a concrete example in mind of something that felt like exaggerated and unnecessary cursing. Maybe it hits me more because I could relate to the intentions of the writers; the original script is most likely coming from the hand of native French speakers. Since the very first watch, I have always felt this (otherwise excellent) CG trailer for the re-reveal of Beyond Good & Evil 2 had one curse too many.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9VPnI34dPw

Let's forget the existential question at 00:58 (_Wait what... Does Switzerland exist in this universe? How and why do they import it? Wouldn't this exotic trinket cost a fortune on such a remote planet?_), I think there is one Fuck too many, somewhere along this short movie. Even if it is clearly established in these few scenes that the chimp character does not have the best education or etiquette, he could and should have blustered more creative curses. The Fucks get too repetitive. It might be Swiss Fucking Chocolate. It might be Bang Bang Motherfuckers. It might be the last Fuck Me. I remember thinking _okay let's chill out with the Fucks_ at the Bang Bang Motherfuckers line on my first watch, so it's probably that one.

Wow, I forgot about beyond good and evil 2! So did everyone I guess.

But yeah, I do think it comes down to that American media thing, but also how much of American media, for SO LONG (including a lot of it now) is just aimed at teenage boys. I remember reading my friend's script in highschool, and like every other word was "fuck" and I said it was a bit much. but he was like "haven't you seen pulp fiction?" I hadn't. I watched it, and I was like well, this is a silly amount of swearing. But the main thing about pulp fiction is Samuel L Jackson can pull it off, because he's that kind of actor, he's got that kind of face, and that kind of voice. Everyone thought it was cool and tried to ape it, but you can't just try to be Sam Jackson, you have to work at it for years, and who wants to do that - so let's just do the swearing bit.

To me, watching a movie that's constantly swearing, I feel like, okay, this was made for someone younger than me, who still thinks swearing makes you edgy and cool, kind of to that earlier DmC point. Another interesting thing I've thought about sometimes is you never hear somebody being like "why's there no swearing in this" - even a mediocre script doesn't make you notice its absence. But you notice its overuse very quickly. It takes a very strong script to support a lot of swearing intelligently, and we don't have a lot of that in games. I guess that's another thing that makes me feel like it's... not lazy, but a coverup. Using swearing can jazz up a mediocre script, but it'll make it divisive. But if you write a good script, you don't need it at all.

I‘m in an unusual position where I swear constantly in real life but rarely, if ever, ship swears in my written fiction. No game I’ve ever worked on has been the kind of project which can sustain a lot of swears. In Where the Water Tastes Like Wine it was always very contextual… in my most recent gig, I couldn‘t even use the word “shit”. It’s interesting to me that I spend so much time all day long with people who swear constantly, and I use the word “shit” to broadly mean “stuff” in conversation, and then I instantly pivot into little-to-no-swears-mode the moment I touch a keyboard. I've been trained well, I guess

Yeah, I think there‘s also some sort of social conditioning too - casual offhanded swearing exists in my friend circles, but in a dire situation I can’t imagine any of them swearing really. Swearing is for funtimes, not rough times, for people I know who swear frequently. I would say that people I know who swear when they're actually angry are pretty scary on the whole.

Just to point out, I support all types of swearing if you have to use excel or google sheets for any reason.