Mother Tongue

by Nell Raban

Slice of life

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Number of Reviews: 8
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1-8 of 8

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A moment of connection through a language lesson, December 9, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

Mother Tongue is a small thing, but oh, it does a lot with its fleeting play-time, boasting a grounded take on issues of identity, family, and assimilation, a surprisingly effective incorporation of puzzles, and great attention to detail. The blurb tells the whole story: you play a young Filipina/o (if the gender of the protagonist is fixed, I didnít catch it) whoís exchanging some quotidian texts with their mom, when the conversation turns into an impromptu Tagalog lesson.

For all that this is a very short game, thereís a lot going on here. I havenít directly experienced the issues Mother Tongue depicts, but my wife is Iranian-American and weíve had lots of conversations about what Farsi means to her, how sheís treated differently from her folks because she doesnít have an accent, and what weíd do about languages when and if we have kids. And while Iím a white guy, both my sets of great-grandparents came to the U.S. speaking something other than English but, bowing to the contemporary models for immigrant assimilation, didnít want their kids to retain those languages, which is something Iíve spent a fair bit of time thinking about.

So hopefully Iím not completely off-base when I say that pretty much everything the protagonist and their mom say to each other (or, for the options I didnít take, consider saying to each other) rings really true Ė the challenges of holding on to a home language, the push and pull between being in touch with oneís cultural identity and getting the advantages American culture bestows on those who ďassimilateĒ, the feeling that food is maybe the only connection one has with oneís ancestorsÖ itís all really well sketched out, with only a few sentences here and there and without any heavy-handed didacticism. The attention to detail is impressive, too Ė it was only towards the end that I realized that the protagonist speaks all in lower-case, whereas the mother uses capitalization, emoji, and proper punctuation (including putting periods at the ends of her texts!)

Critically, the characters get to be characters, rather than just functioning as mouthpieces for these issues. The protagonist, at least as I played them, is a rather overenthusiastic person who canít help but explain the plot of the CRPG Morrowind to their indulgent mom (reading this bit made me cringe a little as I remembered similarly babbling to my mother about how cool it was going to be when you could play nonhuman paladins in 3rd Edition D&D). And the mom is cheerful, unpushy, and clearly relishes the chance to play teacher.

I also found the language-quiz segments really fun, surprisingly so if Iím honest. Four or five times, the mother will ask you ďhow do you think you say X in Tagalog?Ē and offer you two choices; after the first one or two, these require thinking about what youíve learned to date, and seeing how she structures her sentences. This kind of inductive learning mirrors how we actually gain languages, and made me feel like I was actually learning a little about Tagalog as I went (Iím proud that I got a perfect rating without any do-overs!) Mother Tongue isnít the kind of thing I go into looking for an especially game-y or puzzle-y experience, but it wound up scratching that itch nonetheless.

If I were to cast about for critiques, I suppose I could list two or three bits of dialogue that are a little on the nose (thereís an exchange where the protagonist can tell their mom ďitís clear you care a lot and I appreciate that!Ē). But given how easy itíd be to write a version of this game thatís all Hallmark-channel schmaltz, those very few infelicities are more than forgivable, and donít do anything to undermine a really satisfying, well-observed vignette.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Immersive and Unique, December 6, 2020
by brwarner (Vancouver, BC)

My girlfriend and I had a good time playing this one in bed last night. Itís the perfect length for its premise and challenges you to learn a few basic words of Tagalog while exploring the inter-generational relationship between a mother and daughter.

I really liked how the game introduced you to the quirks of the language. Word order and spelling changes based on context that the mother canít quite explain over text because itís ďvery complicated.Ē I only speak English, but I can just imagine trying to justify even some of our simplest conjunction rules. That being said, this isnít Duolingo. The challenges are short and solvable with what youíve learned, and when you get it wrong itís fun to see your mom encourage you and try to explain exactly why the right answer is right. Itís cute.

What I would love to have seen explored better was the tension between the two characters. In the gameís early choices, I tended to express interest in learning more about Tagalog and my cultural ancestry, but near the end the game railroaded me into (Spoiler - click to show)blowing my mom off and explaining to her that learning a language will not make me Filipino; that I am already American and my mom canít just suddenly fix that over text. Iím not an immigrant, and thatís probably true, but I didnít feel as though I was playing a story about that until it was suddenly sprung on me. I thought this was about a moment of connection.

To be clear, I have objection to that theme at all. I think itís very interesting. I just think it needed to be more consistent. I believe the choices we are offered as players tell us about the relationship and character. They should be limited based on what the author wants us to explore and learn. I just found it inconsistent. If this interactive tension existed throughout, it would really bring the game to the next level. I think the possibilities for this 15 minute game could be quite profound.

Great work!

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Simple and nice, December 2, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

This was rather nice actually, though not, as one could have expected, a good way to learn a new language. Rather, itís a discussion on cultural identity and the value of the mother tongue among second generation immigrants. Itís simple and does not go particularly deep, but still quite effective.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Moving Experience, December 1, 2020
by Ann Hugo (Canada)

I found this game to be an emotional and thought-provoking experience. I don't exactly relate to the experiences in this game, but I really felt a lot while playing through it regardless. I think it was the perfect format to tell the story. The characters and dialogue felt just right.

In conclusion, I'd definitely recommend this game.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A cute text conversation narrative, October 21, 2020

Mother Tongue tells the story of a character whose mother wants to impart lessons in Tagalog, in the process exploring the ambivalence of what it means for second-generation folks to discover parts of their identity.

I found the framing device of a text conversation very effective; the chat screen and the little moments waiting for a response from the mother help to create a realistic and compelling flow. Thereís also good use of subtext to develop the relationship underlying the language lessons.

Though itís interesting to learn words and grammar in Tagalog, the gameís use of lots of ďtestĒ questions makes this sometimes feel more like a language learning app than a game/story. There are great moments where the language lessons serve the narrative, and I wish those had outweighed the more rote testing moments that focus on rule recall.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short but compelling dialogue between immigrant mother and daughter, October 10, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

This game had a ton of buzz on Twitter and received a lot of early reviews, so I was interested in playing it.

It turns out to be really good. Raban seems to have a firm grasp of storywriting and interactivity. This is a perfectly well-crafted game, limited only by its relatively small size. I imagine, though, that many judges will be happy to find a quick and enjoyable game with excellent handicraft.

In this game, you are texting with your mother. You come from a family of immigrants, and your mother decides to try and teach you Tagalog over the phone. She quizzes you on your life and choices while trying to introduce you to various grammatical rules which, of course, you could never absorb in a single sitting, but which she seems determined to impart.

This game uses slow text to good effect, which is really rare. I think the keys are having a very short game with well-defined parameters. Here, we know we're in a text message conversation which can't last too long, and the game is advertised as short. The delays are realistic and not too long.

I think the best part of the game is showing the tension between a mother (especially a southeast asian mother), her desires for her American-raised children and the children's own personality and feelings. I think this is great.

+Polish: Very polished.
+Descriptive: The characters really came alive.
+Interactivity: I felt like my choices really mattered.
+Emotional impact: Felt some tension. Worried I'd say the wrong things.
+Would I play again? Sure!

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short game about a mother teaching her child the language of their ancestors, October 8, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

My childhood best friend was Filipino; born in the Philippines, but moved to the US at a very young age. I would hang out at his house a lot and heard his mom speaking Tagalog quite a bit. I picked up a handful of words, including the curse words, along the way. All that to say that I think this story reached me in a way in might not reach others.

The game is very short and takes places completely over text messages. A mother tries to teach her child her native language, something she regrets not having done sooner. A choice-based game about the decisions immigrants have to make in the name of helping their children fit in to a new country, and children deciding if it is too late or not to connect to their heritage. A simple and heartwarming conversation.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short and sentimental; old message, new medium, October 5, 2020
by WidowDido (Northern California)
Related reviews: if comp 2020

A quick game concerning the relationship between immigrants and their first-generation children (in this case, a Filipino mother and her child). The conversation plays out over a series of text messages, with the mother teaching/explaining a few phrases and words of Tagalog.

The game is not effective at learning language--which is perhaps part of the point. Even if you get the majority of the questions correct, the player comes away without any real grasp of Tagalog. Likely what a real person in the position of either the mother or child would feel.

I think the medium is perhaps the most innovative element of this piece. There are countless pieces of fiction and social science addressing how a new country, a new language, and modernization change the relations between parent and child, as well as how the child will relate to their own ethnic group. I don't think that too many new things have been said on these tropes in this work. But, the author does succeed in placing old wine in a new bottle by forcing the player to communicate through texts--rather than writing a Twine piece that takes the form of a phone call or a parser game where the same information is discovered through recovered memories. Not only is texting probably more representative of contemporary communication, but it is quite effective at heightening the distance between mother and child.

Not an amazing game, but good. People interested in exploring issues of immigration, language and identity should certainly play through this piece.

1-8 of 8 | Return to game's main page