My mother plays games to win. She was born in Malaysia and moved to Singapore by herself in search of work while still in her teens, which may explain her resilience and competitive spirit. Before arriving in Singapore, my mother only spoke Malay, Chinese, and a smattering of dialects. She has since then picked up basic words and phrases of English and Singlish after coming to Singapore.
Her first memory of gaming was when she played Super Mario World on a TV console. After that, she moved on to play Pokemon on a handheld console. Nowadays, she primarily uses her iPhone to play games. Hay Day was one of the first few phone games that she picked up. She does not remember when she first started playing it, but she does remember that she downloaded Hay Day on her very first iPhone, which was an iPhone 5.
To my mother, phone games are a way for her to feel a sense of achievement. The style and rules of the games she plays are not very similar – in fact, she played Candy Crush (a matching game) before she started on Hay Day (a time-based farming game). Most of the games she plays are primarily in English as well. However, she says that she loves the challenge of figuring out the rules of the game, despite not having a strong command of English.
As a small business owner, she enjoys the thrill of success. As someone who is extroverted and young at heart, she loves meeting new people. Hay Day allows her to experience the thrill of winning a game and meeting new people at the same time.
Hay Day is a freemium mobile farming game. The premise of the game revolves around the player’s uncle who is unable to take care of his farm. The player has to pick up the responsibility of caring for the farm. Similar to Farmville, the player has to harvest crops and create items from these crops.
These can be sold on the community marketplace (from other players) in exchange for coins and experience points. These coins can be used to buy production buildings and decoration items. Experience points are used to level up.
Players can also buy items off the community marketplace (from other players) instead of making it.
Hay Day is inherently a social game – it requires players to cooperate and compete with others to get ahead in the game.
It has an in-game chat function that players can use to talk to their “neighbourhood” – a community of players who play as a team for missions. Players can also request for items from within the neighbourhood.
My mother belongs to one such neighbourhood, called “Singapore Chiong Team”. “Chiong” is a Singlish word meaning “hurry up”, or in this context, “get ahead”. My mother plays to win. However, playing to win does not mean winning at all costs.
My mother shared that Singapore Chiong Team was actually splintered off from a predecessor which was both much larger and more competitive.
In this larger team, players were competing within the neighbourhood as well as with other neighbourhood, which did not help, since cooperation within a team was important for completing missions. Requests for items in the group chat often went ignored as no one wanted to give up their items to help someone else, even if they were working towards the same goal of winning the team mission. Hence, her current team decided to break off from the original team to form their own smaller and more collaborative neighbourhood as they shared similar values and beliefs. These values manifest themselves in the form of the tone of the in-game chat (encoded text).
According to my mother, the tone of the new in-game chat is friendlier and more encouraging. Players offer their extra items to help other members. For example, Lawyer offers her extra fish in the group chat.
Interestingly, although they have all met through the game and do not know each other in real life, they occasionally share about their personal lives. For example, Bernard’s Farm shared that he would be taking a break for a month from Hay Day as he would be going for a kneecap surgery.
They also make fun of each other in the game.
Transcript of audio file:
In the game, sometimes, other people request for items from me. I told them I would only give it to them if they sat on the ground and cried, so they sent me pictures of them sitting on the floor and (fake) crying.
Other than just communicating via the in-game chat function, she also communicates with her Hay Day friends via Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Interestingly, her in-game friends’ contacts are saved according to their in-game usernames.
My mother’s primary language is actually Chinese. She only picked up basic English words when she came to Singapore about 30 years ago. After playing Hay Day, her English has been improving by leaps and bounds. When asked how this has happened, my mother explained:
They don’t correct me, but in the group chat, based on what they write, I see new words and translate them. After I find out the meaning, I pick up new words.
She does note that the language she picks up is not just English - she also picks up Singlish phrases:
My English has improved a lot, but so has my Singlish! Jialat la (oh no), siao la (crazy), luo suo luo suo (naggy)... I’ll tell you when I think of more.
Using all these platforms (the in-game group chat, the marketplace, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger), she communicates with others in the affinity space of Hay Day.
Focusing on one specific literary event, I will study how she cooperates with Singapore Chiong Team to compete with other teams in a “Derby” in English despite primarily communicating in Chinese in her daily life.
According to Gee and Hayes, game designers design the relationship between players and the game world:
“Game designers are often storytellers, but they are primarily designers of the relationship between players and a game world by creating problems for the player to solve and by giving the player fun and interesting ways to solve them.”
Although there was never an official language “set” by anyone in the in-game chat, my mother automatically defaults to typing in Singlish or English in spite of the fact that she types in Chinese on Whatsapp. This is possibly because the formal institution in the setting of Hay Day (the game designers) has used English as the language to explain the rules of the game. This therefore influences language in the in-game chat to be English or Singlish rather than Chinese or any other language. In this case, game designers appear to have influenced the relationship between different players, beyond merely the relationship between a player and the game world.
You need to be able to communicate with them to play. You need to know what they are saying. Based on what the contents of what they say (e.g. what items they are requesting) you can roughly figure out what the words mean.
To ensure that her team wins, my mother’s team only completes tasks that gives the maximum of 320 points. During this particular Derby event, her team was losing as one of the team members (username 123) had made a mistake by accidentally completing a task that was not 320 points. The split second mistake had cost the team.
Move the slider to see a before-after screenshot of the exact moment:
As a result of this, 123 contributed to the team lagging behind in the Derby. The team had not had a good run as well as a whole because they did not manage to complete many tasks that yielded 320 points.
In response to this, the team was accommodating, even encouraging. 123 was apologetic about it and joked that the points of the task she/he had completed was so low she/he might as well go and “bang a wall”:
Happy Farm jovially commented with emojis that if 123 really went to “go bang wall” she/he would probably become a ghost. My mother joked that 123 would become an angel instead, because she/he was such a nice person:
The team had definitely seen better days. My mother fondly recalls one such Derby where her team had emerged first.
Although her current neighbourhood does not win as many competitions as her previous neighbourhood did, she has a lot more fun with her current one. The Derby today may not have led to a win for her neighbourhood, but she says that everyone is okay with it:
It’s important to win, but not everything needs to be about winning. Sometimes it’s about having fun too! Isn't that the point of playing a game?
Gee, James, and Elisabeth R. Hayes. Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning. Springer, 2010.