Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Geoculturalization in Video Games

We all have heard about the importance of making a proper linguistic check before a localized video game is submitted to be lot-checked by a hardware maker. However, few videogame testers know the difference between language correction and geoculturalization. 


Simply put, before a video game is published in European or Japanese territories it is critical to perform a QA check that tests the cultural, historical and geopolitical aspects of its content. Not only can it help to make the finished product much more engrossing, but in some cases it can even "save" the game. For example, I know a publisher whose video game was rejected by the Japanese hardware maker because they failed to edit out some racial slurs against the Chinese. This game had already been released in the US without incident, but Japanese society can be more sensitive with these kinds of themes so much so that it is common knowledge that such vocabulary would have never been approved for release here in Japan. A proper geoculturalization before submitting it to the lot-check would have helped the publisher to avoid this mishap

In video game localization, geoculturalization involves two basic stages: geoculturalization before the translation starts, and testing of the geoculturalization. First and foremost, before the translation starts the translator must know where the game is going to be published and have an understanding of the culture and language of that region. Unfortunately, video game localization companies often wind up seeing their Spanish translations -which were meant to be used for Spain- being used in US versions, or in other cases French translators having to translate something that will fit both the European and Canadian markets.

Translations not being properly geoculturalized can lead to some embarrassing linguistic misunderstandings. In the case of Spanish for example, a good translation for "Take a mouse" in European Spanish would be "Coger un ratón", but this same phrase in South America Spanish has a very clear sexual implication that, as one could imagine, would be rather problematic (considering the word "take" might be repeated thousands of times in a single video game).

As a professional in the video game localization industry, I always explain very carefully to my clients the risks they take when there is not a thorough geoculturalization before the translation. It is very important to identify any potential risks before even attempting to start translating strings, especially considering that a few days of preparation can save weeks of setbacks when the testing time comes.

 This process is even more important in the case of online games, which unlike console games can also be localized for Middle Eastern territories or Continental Asia. Certain cultural points can be especially tricky if one doesn't implement a proper geoculturalization before localizing something into, let's say, Hindi.

 Now let’s take a look at the second stage: The linguistic check of the geoculturalization. First off, the head of QA should receive a proper geoculturalization guide from the team that translated the videogame. This can be very difficult, because publishers often do not want to share information about who translated a game. However, in order to ensure a problem-free testing, we need to know what the translators had in mind when they translated the text.

Beyond doing a check of the linguistic content in the text strings, a tester must also do a geoculturalization check for the graphics as well. As an example, there are a number of Japanese games that use swastikas to mark where shrines are on maps (appropriately so, as it is an ancient Buddhist symbol here in Japan); however, the swastika carries a stigma in Western culture and would not likely be included. 

Publishers often believe a simple translation is more than enough to have a game published abroad, but it is our work to explain to them how crucial a proper geoculturalization is.