Monday, October 24, 2011

An All too Common Mistranslation Found in Games Localized from English to Japanese

In our first industry professional contributed article, translator Y.G. points out a common translation error (mistranslation) still quite prevalent even in many big-budget Western-developed titles localized for the Japanese market, detailing why this particular slipup can easily be a stumbling block for many translators, as the context within which the terminology is used in-game can be somewhat deceptive.   

Some knowledge of the Japanese language and how some basic terminology is commonly used to represent different types of data in many Japanese video games will certainly lend additional value to readers of the article, however we encourage you to give the piece a read irrespective of your Japanese language ability.  While localization has come a long way in just the past decade, with the quality of localization for many Japanese titles typically being far better than it has ever been, it’s also important to raise awareness about what’s happening with games in other regions undergoing these same processes as well.

An All too Common Mistranslation Found in Games Localized from English to Japanese

Rather far from being a rare case even today, Japanese players quite regularly get their hands on games developed outside Japan which have been localized and then released into the Japanese marketplace only to discover what they feel to be mistranslations (誤訳 - goyaku), and that error then ends up being mentioned on various message boards and game-related media sites, eventually becoming an open point of discussion scattered about the internet within game fan communities.  However based upon my personal experience, there exists one rather common mistranslation that I have repeatedly stumbled upon which for some mysterious reason or another has failed to gather similar attention around those same sources across the web, which is what I would like to address today.

First, we’ll begin by assuming a case where it is your task to translate the content presented below which has been (hypothetically) pulled from a game originally produced in English and is intended for localization into Japanese:

Enemies Killed: 882
Items Unlocked: 65/100
Missions Completed: 37/50
Points Collected: 85,578,300
Time Played: 20:30:09

Data representations similar to what is depicted above often appear within what is commonly referred to as the “Stats Screen” in many Western developed games.  Such a heading suggests that the sort of data to be found on the game’s corresponding screen is obviously, “Stats”.  The question then is, “How should this heading be interpreted for Japanese translation? “

At first glance, “Stats”  may instinctively be interpreted (by many Japanese game players) as an abbreviation for the word “Status” (ステータス), however in this case, the word “Stats” is actually short for “Statistics,” which is commonly referred to in Japanese-English dictionaries as tokei or tokeihyo (統計 or 統計表).  Very different from “Status,” the word “Statistics” refers to a set of calculated numerical data, whereas “Status” likely refers to something’s state of being.  Within a game context, the “Stats Screen” often displays data such as the player’s accumulated experience points or cumulative play time.  In other words, statistical data pertaining to game play.

However, cases of games localized into Japanese where “Stats” has been translated as “Status”  are surprisingly common.  This is problematic because in many Japan-developed games, the “Status Screen” most often displays information such as character health, attack strength and items in that character’s possession, data of a rather different nature from that represented in the example above, which most certainly does not fall into the category of “Status Screen” based upon the common Japanese standard.  The results procured by performing an image search for “Status Screen” (in Japanese: ステータス画面) using a search engine such as Google expresses the nature of this situation clear as day.  Provided this example, you ought to be able to see how the translation of “Stats” into “Status Screen” might evoke a slight of a sense of confusion for Japanese players.

As an aside, in cases where I have found myself tasked with translating “Stats” (in games), some common terminology found in Japanese games such as “Play Record,” “Play Data,” “Record” or “Senreki” (戦歴 – an expression related to Battle/War Record/History) tends to be appropriate when referring to this particular depiction of “Stats”.  Taking into consideration things such as the context of the game world, as well as the sort of item headings displayed on the “Stats” screen are helpful in determining how to handle such related expressions.

But this “Stats” issue can be rather pesky, as there exist cases where the translation of “Stats” in English can be handled by a direct translation, where that translation then accurately matches up with the appropriate context in Japanese games as well.  The stats screen below displays information such as “Character Level” and “Health,” content entirely in-line with what a Japanese player would expect to see on a standard “Status Screen” found in many Japan-developed games.  A translation such as the one represented below is clearly appropriate.  As a result, it may be safe to assess that the mere existence of cases such as the example shown below could very well be one of the primary factors directly instigating the alarmingly high number of translators’ misinterpretation of the “Stats” abbreviation.

Image from Aeria Games’ Twelve Sky 2 (

The mistranslation of “Stats” into “Status” stands out as an example of a common video game translation error that I cross quite regularly.  It’s an issue that pops up even in Western titles that are reasonably popular in Japan, titles that may ship over 100,000 units.

However being entirely honest, I must admit that I have also been guilty of such translation crimes in the early days of my foray into the world of game localization.  Luckily in each case the error was discovered and corrected in the process, hence circumventing the risk of such a blunder slipping through the cracks.  Yet based upon these experiences, I felt it worthwhile to take a moment in order alert others engaging in game translation and localization to this rather specific yet significant point of interest.

by Y.G