Translating Video Games – Your Personal Entertainer

translating video games

Translating video games is a part of the localization process of the game and implies, in addition to the translation of the text, the cultural adaptation of the texts and materials, its revision, the assembly of the screen texts in the game, the layout of manuals and boxes, audio or dubbing recording and testing.

Video Game Companies may Outsource Translation

Large video game companies may have internal translation or localization departments or, on the contrary, outsource these services through localization agencies

A Considerable Increase in the Volume of Video Games to be Translated

In recent years there has been a great technological advance, which has led to a considerable increase in the volume of text to be translated, which in some cases can reach one million words. The consequence is that it has become impossible for a single translator to carry out the work load, so it is necessary to establish a good project management strategy and use tools that guarantee the cohesion of the different product texts.

When Translating Video Games, dialogues, webpages, marketing materials need to be Translated

For example, Nintendo has a translation and localization department in Frankfurt from where the entire process is centralized. Normally, the translation is covered with internal resources if the project has few words, but for large titles it is necessary to use specialized localization companies that offer not only translation services, but also dubbing. Translating video games implies translating the text that will appear on the screen, but also the text that will end up being dubbed. Also, the text that appears on the screen can be divided in turn into text boxes that appear on the screen (e.g. menus) and graphic text, which implies more work by the developer since they have to be integrated graphically into the video game. In addition to the video game text itself, all associated products such as web pages, marketing brochures, etc. must also be taken into account.

Translator in charge of Translating Video Games must be Familiar with the Game itself

In any case, it is very important that the translator familiarize himself/herself with the game that he/she is going to translate in the original version, since he/she will be able to understand the game in its context and translate it better i.e play the video game itself. However, this is not always possible: if the translation is done internally, there are usually no problems, but if you send it to an agency, the pitfalls caused by confidentiality problems can become insurmountable.

Normally translators work in environments known as CAT tools, text editors (Word), spreadsheets (Excel) or databases, to which the texts of the original version are exported.

Translating Video Games is a Tricky Process

However, this does not mean that the translation process is exempt of difficulties. 

Some of the problems facing the video game translator are the following:

  • Text length: there is usually a character limitation that should not be exceeded
  • Platform: this is usually related to the type of console. Some do not allow much text or that it is very small, because if it could not be read, such as the Nintendo Switch
  • Problems due to lack of context, which are especially acute if the original game is not available to the translator.
  • Age classification: PEGI is a pan-European code that establishes an age classification of Pan-European Games Information (the marks are +3, +7, +12, +16 and +18). This, on the one hand, gives the translator an idea of ​​the player or target receiver of the translation, and on the other hand, it tells the translator what kinds of expressions he/she can use and which ones he/she cannot (swearing).
  • Language differences between countries: the translator will have to take into account not only the use of bad words in the country he/she is from, but whether those words are available in other cultures that also speak the same language. For example, the use of the verb ‘catch’ in Spain has no major implication, while using that word in a game for children in Argentina can lead to problems. The use of violence can also be another controversial issue that can also cause a game to be censored.
  • Gender use (masculine and feminine): while in English we start from a single base with hardly any distinction between one gender and another, in French, this distinction is necessary. Previously, when there was less awareness of the phenomenon of localization, the texts tended to neutralize as much as possible. Nowadays, games adapt more and more, since the number of players has increased, and there may even be different phrases for boys and girls, men and women.
  • Objects: in the same line, translating objects can also be a problem as they can have different genres. In this case, the translator works directly on the code and must be very careful not to erase or corrupt certain codes, as this could result in the game ceasing to function at a certain point.
  • Accent by characters: in this case, the translator is free to decide if any of the characters adopt a particular accent or not, depending on the role he/she has in the game
  • Naming characters: translators usually have enough freedom here to develop their own creativity, unless the client demands to keep the name in English.
  • Cultural references: the rule is that the text should be kept as timeless as possible so that, if a player wants to download a game 10 years after it was developed, he/she can still play without getting lost into cultural references of the past that are no longer in force.
  • Cultural adaptation: here, examples are multiple and varied. For example, when translating a Japanese video game which might include events that are typical of Japanese culture, of which a gamer here knows absolutely nothing. In this case, if the client does not wish to invest in the total adaptation of the game (which in this case would imply changing its structure), it will be necessary to keep it as neutral as possible.
  • Religion: religion is another cultural aspect that must be taken into account. Again, the best thing to do here is to try to neutralize its aspect as much as possible. Unreliable religious references can cause a game to be withdrawn from the market or its launch delayed (Sony had to temporarily withdraw Little Big Planet because of the inclusion of verses from the Koran.

Translating Video Games Requires a Thorough Review

These are just ‘some’ of the problems that the translator will face during his/her work. Then there will also be a review phase in which an expert will be in charge of approving it before it is sent back to the developers.

Testing Phase of Video Game Translation

Finally, there will be a testing phase, an expert quality control in which the final product is reviewed. It involves playing with an almost definitive version of the game, with the translated text and the final sound mounted, in order to detect all the errors that may have remained, the bugs, with the aim of reducing them to zero.

And all this being done against the clock, with the pressure of a given release date that, if not met due to translation problems, can cause great losses to the company.

A career in Video Game Translation maybe?

As you can see, translating video games is not an easy task. Translators might take this into account whether they might consider a future career in video game translation. As for video game players, you might get a better understanding of all the work involved in video games; work necessary so that you can enjoy your favourite video game in your mother tongue.

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