Overall, the players on my server did not seem to talk much. Perhaps games back home went that way too. Calamitous racket always sticks out more than silence, and the words could not grip me as they did in America. Even when things turned bad players rarely took to the keyboard. I would sometimes try to type things in pinyin.
I knew how to type in characters, but not in League’s in game chat system. When I typed in pinyin the other players gave me an array of awkward or disgruntled emoticons. Most of my messages came across through bursts of color and sound, pings.
Through pings and movement alone teams came together or crumpled apart. Only using pings and movement, I found it easier to figure if I baited the team into something bad. Most of my own shortcomings felt more present. With only pings, it became clearer how movements alone can cause miscommunication. Though mistakes stood out more I did not mind them as much.
In a ranked game giving up first blood caused my stomach to sink. It felt like other players were waiting on the wings to write something rude. It did not need to be particularly confrontational. They could utter a simple “ugh” or “come on”. It only had to have that senselessness of an annoyed person behind it. It needed only the blind and maligned idea that a sharp, kneejerk indulgence in shaming another would somehow straighten them out. Even if I ignored the user, I would likely tilt harder than a teapot. Even if no one made a comment the sinking feeling alone could cause a tilt. With the chance of argument cut away I studied mistakes more clearly.
Slip-ups still irked me. I knew that four people still relied on me. It still felt bad to do poorly by my own standards. I removed all the things I blamed my fragility so heavily on. That only meant I had to admit to my own flawed thinking. A bad apple could spoil the whole bunch but a good thought could keep me from biting into rotten fruit. I always plunged myself head first into unnecessary mental narratives. Too many hours went to thinking up resolutions to problems I could have been up and about solving. My happiness depended on me. That lesson would become clear as I opened up to China.
The language came quicker as the semester wore on. I wove through the city to see famous temples and to get to work and back. The fear of getting lost and not knowing enough of the language always remained. In the beginning retreating into an asocial shell seemed the best response to that fear. I saw the flaw in that and Confidence came gradually. With it gathered all sorts of new acquaintances and connections, Chinese and American. That confidence applied right back to League.
I still lacked the ability to read enough characters to piece together most of the things people said. But understanding comes subtly. Pointing at pictures can get you food in any country, and reading enough contexts will help you gain some understanding. When the chat filled up after each mistake players made, a rager likely chose this game to vent his frustrations. When “好 (hao)”, good, popped on the screen it likely meant congratulations. I even picked up on some unique Chinese internet slang like SB (Sha Bi 傻屄).
Sha Bi roughly translates to “stupid bitch” or “stupid cunt”, surprisingly brutal insults by American standards. People talk up the Confucian elements of social rigor in Eastern societies and the freedom afforded by individualist America. Yet, people seemed much more frank and open in China then in America. Back home my parents and peers taught me a social script for near everything. Even if rage cut to the bone, I would not call someone a stupid bitch unless I wanted a fight. It feels extraneously angry even for the internet.
SB popped up in a lot of games too. Though it translates to stupid bitch Chinese players dropped it like American players drop the ellipses. I bristled at it in an unusual way. In the North American servers the ellipses or “why?” annoyed me for the petty, passive aggressive behavior they exhibited. SB filled me with this mixture of confusion and indignation.
I wondered if Chinese people got that mad or if the culture put less weight on those words. Ellipses might annoy me, but I would not report for a few of them dropped in game. If someone called me a stupid bitch in game for giving first blood, I would report so fast. The difference jarred me for a while.
Once I started registering the toxicity it became pretty fun to interact with. Big walls of characters blipped into the chat interspersed with SB’s. I never figured out how to type characters in the league chat (despite genuine efforts) so I wrote random things in English. Wrathful players would not register my absurd replies, nor I theirs. Sometimes I did try to say nice things in pinyin (Romanized characters).
During a casual bout of absurdity I met a friend. We played in a lane together and I offered up strange assurances and compliments in English. He responded asking in English if I spoke Chinese. The questions continued during downtime in the game. We spoke afterwards in the league client, where I could type characters. We did our best to translate for each other, as we knew similar amounts of the other’s language. I learned that he lived in Beijing and attended college studying computer sciences.
Rather quickly he said he had felt fate ordained the friendship. It is not the most unusual platitude in China. The Chinese use a term called Yuan Fen 缘分 to indicate any sort of fateful relationship. I cannot account for how often Chinese people throw the term around. We still email back and forth. League introduced me to a friend I hope to maintain.
I owed it gratitude for an element that I loathed it for. The socialization that I despised at home felt beautiful abroad. The thousands of miles did not change so much, nor did the language. The truth was that League had the power to be what anyone made of it. I treated the game as though it had great control over me. It felt like a slot machine drawing in my energy and spitting out tokens of praise or denial.
In reality it provided a barometer for my own wellness. If angry and frustrated, league appeared a den of ragers. If happy and light, it seemed the fun distraction I needed. When closed to the world, League injected meditative emotions to help me through. When I opened up it let me socialize in a ways unseen in real life. League might have some control over me. It might swallow up half to a whole hour of my day in one game. The length sits out of my control as does the actions and words of others.
For all the control I gave it, it gave back just as much. The ultimate experience came down to the way I handled life just moments before entering the lobby. The Chinese servers taught me much more about my identity than it did the middle kingdom.
~Austin R Ryan