Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sega Master System: Before Rosetta Stone...

In 1991, I received my first home console, the Sega Master System. It was a piece of technology that stupefied and enthralled me for a whole variety of different and banal reasons. However, it wasn’t the console proper that left an indelible mark upon me: it was the instruction manuals that came with its games.

For reasons I do not know, but for which am eternally grateful, Sega decided to publish their instruction manuals in wide format for around five or six different languages. Each page comprised itself of a set of paragraphs first in English, then French, German, Italian, Spanish and perhaps a number of others. This is not a research piece, but a momentary reflection on my past, and so I will not be checking the veracity of the languages. The important point is that these booklets did not divulge all of their information in one language and then begin a new section in a new tongue, as might make logical sense. Rather, they dealt in databursts of knowledge alongside their foreign counterparts, perhaps in a bid to save on the reprinting of the images that would appear throughout.

Looking back at these, it is truly amazing how significantly they shaped my life.
This meant that when reading the instructions for, say, Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap, the left-most set of paragraphs on each page was the only set to which an English reader would be obliged to pay attention. Well, most English readers, anyway. There were some readers, from all sorts of linguistic backgrounds, who found those other, jibberish paragraphs that perched beside their own more than a mite fascinating. How could someone understand this nonsense? Perhaps they had to crack a code. If I crack the code, I will know how to read these, too. This is what I mused to myself as I looked for keywords in the superficially connected texts. This is how I learned to read rudimentary French, Spanish, and German extracts when I was merely six or so years old.

I know! I also can't believe someone would go to the trouble of scanning these, either.
Flash forward almost twenty years, and I’ve since graduated with a degree in French Studies. I’m still fascinated by the links between languages, or even just the trickle-down effect of Greco-Roman influence on Indo-European and Germanic tongues. They were nothing more than secret codes waiting to be cracked. As a five-year-old boy with an untold number of long summer days before me, I had plenty of time for cracking codes. Thanks to Sega’s money-saving solution to printing, I was passively ingrained with a love for words, phrases, and language roots long before I should ever have been exposed to them otherwise. In placing the challenges right under my nose, and by connecting them to a subject I was (and still am) obsessed with, Sega gamified education before anybody realized what that was, or could be. For this, I am truly thankful.

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