I’m a 90’s kid. The gaming scene back then wasn’t quite how it is nowadays in positive but also negative ways. If you happened to have been a kid on that decade as well you’ll probably remember that the mainstream media wasn’t quite fond of this entertainment medium. Back then, if you heard anything about video games in the news it was always related to something negative. Video games make you dumb, video games make you violent… a lot of bullshit that with time and actual scientific research has been actually proven wrong.
You never heard positive stories about video games back then but I have one that I happen to experience on myself from those times. This “gaming memory” is about that.
Here I am writting in english for everyone to read but this isn’t my native language. I was born and happened to grow up in Spain. I still live there actually but we’re talking about the 90’s here.
You could say that the gaming scene in Spain in the 90’s was more popular than it had never been until then but, at the same time, it wasn’t quite there yet. You see, apart from nichest japanese titles, you can pretty much assume that any game you buy at a store here nowadays will be subbed (and most times even dubbed) into spanish. That wasn’t the case twenty years ago. Maybe gaming companies weren’t taking the european market seriously enough to go and translate those games into the bajillion different languages we use in this continent or maybe it was because of technical limitations but the truth is, games not having a spanish language option was the norm back in the PS1 era, not the exception.
If you’re European yourself or simply have ever visited Spain, you’ll know that we are typically regarded as being quite bad at english. Even if tourism is probably the strongest economic motor of the whole country, it seems like we never cared to learn it. The reasons for that are more complex than what my lazy spanish ass is willing to explain. It does involve some politic matters that I don’t even fully comprehend myself but I also have my own alternative theories to that.
I haven’t met an english teacher that at some point hasn’t recommended me (and my classmates) to watch hollywood movies with subtitles but on their original language. It’s a simple way to be exposed to the english language and way cheaper than getting a flight to London. But, if you go to any mainstream theater here in spain all of the movies are dubbed to spanish. It’s that way now but it also was back in the 90’s and, as far as I know, it has always been that way.
You can probably tell where I’m going with this. If you were a kid in the 90’s you were never exposed to english outside of the few weekly hours at school which weren’t that fun to be honest. In video games though, things were different.
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee came out in 1997. It was a 2D puzzle platformer in which you took control of Abe as he tries to escape from an evil corporation that is trying to kill him and his mudokon pals and turn them into a new kind of snack. The game was pretty story heavy for the era. It had very fancy looking cgi videos with dialog that, again, looked great for 1997 standards. That alone would make it a good influence for kids that are trying to learn english but, at the same time, it doesn’t explain why would I pick Abe’s Oddysee as an example over any other game like Resident Evil.
Abe’s Oddysee had a very unique mechanic that honestly, even today not many games incorporate. An unscripted dialog system.
You had to communicate with those mudokons you were trying to save. You had to catch their attention with a salute, cheer them up if they were depressed, ask them to follow you or to wait at a certain location. It all worked as a puzzle solving mechanic and it was quite original and fun to use and, at the same time, educational for a non english speaker like I used to be and I’ll prove it to you with an anecdote.
I was in english class at school, age 7 or 8. I think this has changed with time but back then, schools wouldn’t start teaching any english until age 6 so everything we were taught was still basic vocabulary stuff.
At some point during the class the teacher turned to us and asked if any of us knew what the verb “follow” meant. She didn’t even write it down, I just heard the word from her lips but I instantly recognise it. I had heard the phrase “follow me” from the lips of Abe countless times. I raised my hand and gave the class the most awkward explanation. I said that it meant walking behind someone or something along those lines but the teacher understood the meaning behind my strange answer and congratulated me anyway.
Even if remembering the moment now feels a little embarrassing, I remember being very proud of myself at that time and, I’ll dare to say that I can pinpoint that anecdote as the moment where I started to have an actual interest in the english language which, in the end, has made me learn more of it until now that I can even write articles like this one. And all thanks to Abe’s Oddysee.
This article though isn’t just about learning english through Abe’s Oddysee or my personal story with it. What I want to point out is that, unlike the tv used to warn us back in my childhood, video games can be a good influence on kids. If you’re an english speaker yourself maybe you won’t learn vocabulary from them but they’ve been proven to be good at training our brains in decision making or improving hand-eye coordination so let your kids have fun with them!