Communication: Rise of the Emoji

I remember when I was thirteen and dad showed me AOL instant messenger (AIM).  We had moved away from Wisconsin the previous year and I was feeling pretty isolated.  But then dad swooped in on the wings of a mustache and was like, “Son, let there be chat.”

Immediately I was able to talk to people like Pat and Izzy in Wisconsin.  AOL led to MSN and all sorts of other chat programs.  Everyone at school was using it.  It was the precursor birth of social media and the social internet.

I remember— and this will likely sound quaint to those who have grown up with it— the first time I saw someone use an emoticon.


Colon symbol + Capital Letter D.  It makes a smiley face!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Even WordPress turns the emoticons into emojis so they all have to be in fucking quotation marks.

It was such a feeling of concise nardledanger that my life was altered forever.  I was delighted about making smileys.  And after a time they eventually started taking on specific meaning.  So the “:D” smiley became one of sarcasm, not just being overjoyed.

“Have fun at work! :D”

The smiley was me joking at my friends who didn’t want to go to work, or something else marginally sarcastic.  Most emoticons had this happen to them.  The only one that really stayed true to its original was “:P.”

Eventually MSN and AOL introduced emojis.  It pissed me off because now they changed the expression I had come to know and use in my lexicon.  I had assigned emoticons meaning beyond the literal.  You know, how language develops.  But then these companies took the faces and gave them more distinguishable expression.


On the left here you can see what they did.  Just giving little graphical faces to the emoticons.  Now— much like a fickle pokemon, they have evolved into something I didn’t expect nor liked.

Directly to the left of this sentence (a happy accident) you can see what happened to my “:D” emoticon.  Those three different faces communicate different things.  Less sarcasm, more smug.  For the MSN emoji it seems more like Fry from Futurama finding out how socks work.  When I use the “:D” emoji it has nothing to do with looking like Totoro figuring out that he can make fucking umbrellas.

The rest of them as well.  The language of the emoticon was seized on by larger forces.  And they turned them into a new staple of language: emoji.  Some of them were better, some were far worse.  Winky face “;)” had vaguely flirty, mischievous connotation.  Now depending on the company you have the knowing wink, the creeper wink, and the “I have something in my cheek pouch” wink.

This is not the first nor last time the emojis change.  Each time they change we adapt and use the emojis in a more exacting manner.  We re-adapt the meanings we had applied so that our language could stay the same.

The entire point of this post is that I realized how fascinating it is for language to change as the “words” change.  I almost rarely use emoticons or emojis unless the emoji displays the surgically precise feeling I want to convey.

But now we are inundated in emojis.  I think I read a fact once that if you combined the weight of all the emojis in the world— they weigh more than the rest of the creatures on earth.

People sling emojis into messages and across social media in ways I am far too outside of to understand.  For instance: my coworkers with children when trick-or-treating.  Inevitably there were images of their children getting candy.  And on those posts there was every single candy or chocolate emoji that they could find.

To me it was like, “Well duh.  You get candy on trick-or-treating why did you have to go locate all 14 different candy emojis?”

Well to them I’m sure it was just the same as me back in the day slapping a “;D” on the end of my sentences.  They are just a part of language.  They convey meaning in a more specific way than words might given several sentences.

The whole reason I thought to write this is because the other day I was responding to my friends sarcastic comment and I went in search of the perfect GIF to express my response.  As I was searching I took pause to wonder why I was searching for a GIF when I had the nearly infinite human language to express my response.

The images and pop culture that we now use in place of emojis (in place of emoticons (in place of words)) are far easier and more specific to understand.  We are a massively social world and common experiences are more useful in communication than words themselves now.  Using a GIF from Parks and Recreation are easier to get my point across because someone will see the GIF and remember the context and situation of the TV show and apply it to my current response.

“The rules for assaulting in Warhammer 40k have been fixed.”

Even reading my above caption for that image you immediately understand why I’d use that specific GIF.  You don’t even need to play Warhammer 40k— from the context of the GIF you can tell that it’s fucking great for me and terrible for anyone else and I’m experiencing schadenfreude.

Language is weird.  To this day I wish that certain chat programs wouldn’t change my emoticons into emojis.  Its simply not what I want to express.  But the more I have to communicate digitally the more I realize that this is simply how its going to be.  It’ll probably evolve into a different thing as more interesting technology becomes available.

I can only hope that at some point 3D printers become ubiquitous and I can start sending my friends emojis that automatically print.  I would love to send a text message accompanied by a 3D file and my friends have to sit there and watch their 3D printer slowly create a giant middle finger.




So you want to be a Dungeon Master?

Over the last few months we have been talking nonstop about Rogue Trader and the campaign you would be running for your friends. I know next to nothing about Warhammer or Rogue Trader, but I’ve been enjoying listening to your story ideas and helping you brainstorm. I love telling stories and creating stories for real people to act out is a new and fun challenge.

Well, today you told me I should run my own tabletop campaign. I quickly responded with a no thank you. While I am a storyteller and it has been SUPER fun talking to you about your campaign, I really don’t think I’d make a good dungeon master. I don’t have the motivation to create a game, much less the patience to run it for a group of people. It sounds like a very quick way to ruin friendships and give yourself a headache.

But not everyone feels the same way, of course. Obviously there are people out there who get a great deal of satisfaction out of building and running games for their friends, otherwise Dungeons and Dragons would have disappeared years ago and it definitely wouldn’t have spawned the thousands of other role playing games on the market today. A game can’t explode in popularity like D&D did without some people out there who really love reading up on tons of rules, creating complex but adaptable plotlines, and wrangling sugared up nerds. I know lots of people who DM. Hell, I married someone who likes to DM.

So what’s the pull? It can’t just be the storytelling aspect. Like I said I love telling stories  and, honestly, running a campaign sounds like hell to me. But it’s obviously heaven to others.

I think it all comes down to how people tap into their creativity. Everyone, well most everyone, likes to be creative, but not everyone likes to express their creativity in the same way. Some people paint, others play music, and I like to write stories. My DM friends also like to write stories, but in a different way.

When I write a story, I start with a concept. Usually, it’s a single scenario that I’ll put my characters in and then, using what I know of the characters, I’ll let them write the story. Basically all of my fiction stories are campaigns, except I get to be the DM and all of the players. And I like it that way honestly. I’m an introvert by nature and I like writing my stories by myself. I’ll let other people in when they’re done, but they definitely don’t get to be there during the creation process.

Well people who like to DM like to write stories just like I do, except they like involving other people in their creation process. Some people like creating in groups, which is perfectly fine, just not my cup of tea. Also, allowing people to be a part of your story means the story will be more dynamic and unexpected. There’s also little change for writer’s block. An entire group of people can’t get writer’s block at the same time.

However, as appealing as that sounds, I’m not running a game any time soon. I am the textbook definition of an introvert. I can barely play in a D&D campaign, much less run one. But at least I understand where the motivation to be a DM comes from.


Tabled: The X-Wing Story

Hello my name is Daniel and I’m a kinesthetic learner.

Feels really good to admit that.  I feel like I’ve been hiding my disability my entire life.

While I’m at it with deep, personal, devastating confessions: I really like strategy games.

I’m sorry to drop this on you all.

I don’t exactly know what it is about strategy games that I really like but I guess its similar to the feeling everyone has: feeling that you are a cunning strategist and you are unstoppable.  I acknowledge that I’m not but it would be fun to be good.


Currently I’m into X-Wing.  I enjoy playing it but I have way more fun collecting and preparing.  I spend a lot of time planning out game lists, planning maneuvers, and reading about historical strategies.  It would be a great conversation topic except I almost universally get schooled at these games.  I played Warhammer 40k for many years, and my win/loss record was pretty bad.  In those years I won probably less than 20 games total.

I don’t play Warhammer 40k anymore because the people who make the game forgot to make the game fun in recent iterations.  Most recently I’ve started playing X-Wing.  A cool tabletop involving the Star Wars universe.

I’d probably say that I’m a quick study.  While I understand the nuances of the games I’ve played, learning to be good is much harder for me.  Its pretty frustrating sometimes when I plan my army lists days in advance, compare and contrast pilots and upgrades, and think about complicated maneuvers only to have my friends turbo-stomp me.

What annoys me the most is that I know why this happens to me.

While I am a quick study, I am a shit learner.

I know what your thinking, “Daniel you fucking idiot do you even read the words you write?”

Being a kinesthetic learner means that I don’t really learn anything permanently unless I do it myself.  I don’t learn well when I’m listening or watching.  I’ll learn the fuck outta stuff if I have to do it myself.

This is why sometimes I’ll talk to people about things I’ve recently read.  It helps me remember it when I’m teaching it to something.  I’ll talk your ear off about 3D rendering techniques even if you don’t care, I’ll talk about European politics if you give me the chance.  Hell, I’ve given my cat a long lesson on the Syrian Civil War.  I learned so much more about those topics when I “teach” someone this stuff, and I also learned that my cat is a shit student.

Playing X-Wing with my friends caused me to learn the rules of the game really quickly, but for nuanced strategies I don’t fucking learn whats successful or awful until I sacrifice the lives of many rebellion pilots.

This is true for Warhammer 40k, Battlecraft (formerly Flipit), Risk, Axis and Allies, Magic the Gathering, even checkers.

I’ll plan, I’ll scheme, I’ll research, but it all falls to pieces because I can’t see the problems with my strategies because listening and looking aren’t helping me.  I have to lose first before I can learn what works and what doesn’t, and its super annoying.

I still have fun!  Don’t get me wrong.  I just like to muse about the fact that I’m inherently bad at strategy games but I love them anyway.

This is probably confusing my buddy Devon who I play with since our last game I did really well and claimed victory.  I’m pretty sure all total we’ve played something like 10 -15 games, and I’ve only won two times.  As we keep playing I hope to eventually prove a consistent opponent for him and our buddy Scott.  Games get boring when they’re easy, so I want to prove my mettle (plastic?) by continuing to lose until my limit gauge fills up.

At the very least, X-Wing is a pretty concise game.  The rules are succinct and straightforward.  The rules aren’t needlessly complex, and each model you buy comes with every single thing you could possibly need to field it.  Its awesome to play so if you are new to table top strategy games I highly recommend X-Wing.

Its funny though, even though I’m playing X-Wing pretty consistently I do yearn for a more complicated game.  Warhammer 40k had so much material and rules guys.  Just the most.  And being able to wield a complex army makes you feel so good when you know the ins and the outs.

So yeah- I love strategy games.  I’m just not inherently good.  But these games teach me to accept my faults and turn them into strengths.

I hate ending on inspiration lines like that so, uh, fuck the Empire.