With my limited Japanese vocabulary and clumsy understanding of the language structure I found it extremely difficult to hold up my end of the conversation with the people I met in Japan. As our conversations got deeper and blew past the hajimemashtes and domo arigato gazaimasu's, I found myself in foreign waters bobbing along the shadowy depths with nothing but a typo-ridden Japanese phrase book.
During one particularly late night I found myself sitting with a mutual acquaintance watching a trashy Japanese soap opera. He spoke no English and I had exhausted my "ka koi yo's." Our friend had ventured into the night to party in Shibuya leaving us to forge our new friendship with no means to communicate. Having "suki desu ka'd" my way through each of the songs in my iPhone we had all but resigned to sit in silence and let the vapid soap lull us to sleep.
Then he asked, "Dragon Quest ga suki desu ka?" It was as if we'd unearthed the Rosetta stone. I showed him my favorite iPhone games: Rolando, Geo Defense, and Spider and he showed me his Light Bike, Angry Birds, and Street Fighter. I took out the copies of GamePro and Edge Magazine that I had brought with me to read on the plane. He devoured the articles on western games. We gestured to show our excitement and clumsily talked about our favorite Mario games.
That night I had an epiphany, possibly my greatest take away from the entire trip: Video games are a universal language. Shared experiences forge common bonds. That night in Nakameguro language was no longer an issue. As we watched past episodes of the Co-op video podcast on my iPhone's tiny screen and challenged each other in Light Bike multiplayer I felt connected, accepted, and determined to create games that facilitate more experiences just like this. Every day I find new reasons to pursue game development full time.