Gaming, and the helplessness of illiteracy
August 17, 2009

So a fellow guide writer at GameFAQs mentioned an NES RPG called Shadow Brain. It's part Japanese, part English. It's pretty paint-by-numbers, so I'm able to figure out most of what to do. I was able to find which bytes did what--a lot of the game is, oddly, in English. It'll have text like "ID A" and so forth. So you know you have to get ID Card A. There are also lots of pictures with devices that hook up to a computer, and you have a sort of depiction of the Internet before it really existed. Games like that are neat, though Neuromancer did it better.

Still it's enormously frustrating not to be able to read stuff--or to know that you've changed something, because the letters look different and the numbers do, because you gained X hit points--and knowing that if you could, it'd be very easy. Like most people here, I've been literate from a young age. But I've always wondered what it's like to feel illiterate, or not be able to read.

In some of my work I run past Hebrew text or Arabic text, or other languages. I can just cut and paste all that now into Google translate. Games are one of the few places I can't cut and paste for, and given that there's an immediate emotional need to know--I just want to solve the darn game--I really do feel the frustration of not understanding the game. Coupled with being able to byte edit my character into gaining the items I want, being Japanese-illiterate leaves me quite frustrated & will hopefully spur me to make the small jumps to learn how to read the basic alphabets.

It's not the first time a Japanese game left me baffled, but at some points I realized mucking around with the game would be clearly less productive long-term than 15-30 minutes a day to learn things. There are internet resources, of course.

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