Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Language Construction and Cultural Representation in Fantasy Video Games

Language Construction and Cultural Representation in Fantasy Video Games

Terri Renaud

Hierarchical structures and racism are found in a great number of fantasy video game storylines and worlds. These worlds are immersive and incredibly detailed including the language construction and background history of playable characters’ non-human racial groups. Language construction and representation in books and movies have been studied with great frequency but there remains a lack of study in regards to video games. This research begins to fill that gap.  My research explores how video game languages are constructed and used to represent race and ethnicity.  This project explores the motives behind and functions of language creation in fantasy video game contexts.  Analysis of interviews with the game creators, the history of the in-game worlds, exploration of the research regarding J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, language comparison and analysis are all employed in this investigation. The fantasy genre in all its forms cannot fully escape the characterizations formed by Tolkien but today’s creators are working hard to create their own unique interpretation of their world. Future research should focus on more expansive multiplayer fantasy games and other video game genres.

April 6, 2017 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I remember your presentation on this research at the Transformations conference, and it sounds like you have some great ideas. Does your paper say anything about how video game portrayals of fantasy races connects to perceptions of race outside of games? Also, regarding Tolkien, I have wondered whether he got the idea for elf and dwarf languages from older mythology, particularly the Norse poem Alvíssmál. I believe there is some scholarship on how the words in Alvíssmál are meant to characterize the temperament of different the mythical beings.

    Comment by John Anderson | April 10, 2017 | Reply

  2. Do you just focus on Tolkien, or do you talk about other fantasy writers that have created languages of their own? Obviously Tolkien created an extremely complete language system, but there have been other more modern authors who have done similarly. For other study, I wonder what the findings would be like in sci-fi, with alien languages.

    Also, I really want to read the final paper! My summer project is going to be beginning my fantasy novel and this seems like a very useful source!

    Comment by Rebecca Sawyer | April 17, 2017 | Reply

  3. Terri, this is a really cool project! As someone who is familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien but not fantasy video game storylines and worlds, I would be really interested to see how they connect. My one suggestion is to add a brief sentence at the end of your abstract mentioning what you have found the connection to be between Tolkien’s work and the video games you examine. Are you concluding that video game creators are trying to branch away from Tolkien’s socially hierarchical structures/groups? Maybe you are still finding the answers, but I recommend having a brief sentence at the end delineating your results. A very well-written abstract!

    Comment by Kailey McAlpin | April 17, 2017 | Reply

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