Video Game Translation – Biggest Challenges

Video game translation is not an easy task. Therefore, developers of games need to understand the complexities of translating games and make the proper allowances. To make this distinction, you have to recognize how this type of translation is unique. For example, if you are a translator who is not familiar with gaming, you might think that most game characters speak Martian.

Video Game Translations - Biggest Challenges

Video Game Translations – Biggest Challenges

A Reason for Confusion

As a result, a translator, with no game experience, may have a rough time translating such words as “Tauren,” “mob,” “pull,” or “tank.” Include World of Warcraft (“WoW) jargon into the mix, and a language translator can become literally confused. So, one of the major challenges associated with translation is finding a translator who is also well-versed in gaming.

You need this kind of translation background as the translator must also translate newly developed words and phrases. Not only are new words produced for creatures, they extend to tools and items as well. Again, a video game translator must know a good deal about gaming to make the right translation decision.

Localization Plays a Key Role in Translation

When making translations, localization also plays a key role in the final translation. However, trying to translate some Japanese Kanji characters into English can leave English speakers utterly perplexed.

For instance, one situation involved the video game translation of four Kanji characters into English. These four characters eloquently described the characteristics of a weapon through wordplay. However, when these same four characters were translated to English, the content made no sense at all.

Translators Must be Good at Solving Puzzles

Therefore, another major challenge of video game translation are the puzzles that translators must solve. In this particular example, the translator must determine if a metaphoric or literal approach needs to be taken. When this methodology is used, the translator has more freedom in deciphering the puzzle.

However, the above two examples are only the “tip of the iceberg.” In some instances, video game translators must balance certain translation constraints with the use of creativity. One translator talked about this type of challenge in the translation of Phoenix Wright during PAX East 2011. He related that translating the Japanese name of Masashi Yahari to English proved to be difficult.

That is because, in Japanese, Masashi means “with certainty” while Yahari means “I knew it” or “of course.”  In turn, the name is sourced for a number of jokes in game play. For example, “when something occurs,” you know it is “Yahari.” However, if the name was not used for localization, the character would have lost his appeal, and gamers would have been disappointed.

In English, the Japanese character Masashi Yahari is known as Larry Butz, which specifically was developed to be a source of several jokes – some literal and one because of the mispronunciation of the name. Therefore, translators face another big challenge – coming up with a name that works in various and specific contexts.

Translators Must Do More than Translate

Therefore, language translators for video games are not just tasked with assignments that only consider the original language and the target language. They must also translate new words, parts of fantasy languages, and idioms. For example, J.K. Rowling produced many idioms that are derived from “Muggle” expressions, which assist in immersing movie goers and readers. “I wouldn’t come near you with a ten-foot broomstick!” is one of these expressions.

Other authors, such as Tolkien, developed entirely new languages for their fantasy worlds. Even Star Wars languages have developed from pieces of language, such as the Mandalorian. These types of creations add yet another set of challenges for translators – even those who are well-experienced gamers.

Indeed, translating video games necessitate more advanced skills than when you translate a novel or manga. In addition to the text, you also have to contend with the visual and audio elements. Then there is the game interface. Translators must deal with cut-scenes, game control and dialogue.

Prioritizing Translation Services

Not only that, localization must be included while considering budget constraints. Therefore, if you want to promote the cultural value of a game and promote interactive entertainment, you need to prioritize translation.

Translations are based on a narrative frame – one that is supposed to lead gamers into a richer game-playing experience. Therefore, one of the greatest challenges and hallmarks of video game translation is the ability to be creative. As a result, translators are given more creative license to include cultural jokes or references, or any other element that will preserve the game experience.

Therefore, a translator must have a language background that includes experience in video gaming, the culture of the gaming community, and the target language itself.


Picture Credit:

Flickr – Creative Commons

Satyana Rayan P