Game Localization: Translating for the global digital entertainment industry

In the introduction to their book, Minako O’Hagan and Carmen Mangiron differentiate their work from Heather Chandler’s The Game Localization Handbook, which I reviewed in MultiLingual back in March 2005.

The authors state, “Whereas The Game Localization Handbook brought to light the practical dimension of localizing a video game, we aim to conceptualize game localization essentially as a translation phenomenon, analyzing it according to theoretical frameworks available in Translation Studies, while also drawing on Game Studies as appropriate” (p. 25).

In a way, the title of this book is slightly misleading. The authors themselves state: “Given the sheer variety of games, we freely admit that we were only able to focus on a small selective section of contemporary console games” (p. 40) and “Another approach we chose to take in this book is to focus on Japanese games” (p. 41). Within these self-imposed limits, however, the book presents an extremely thorough and well-researched treatment of numerous aspects of game localization.

As O’Hagan and Mangiron attempt to bridge the divide that exists between academic theories (or lack thereof) and the commercial practice of game localization, different chapters alternate in their focus. In order to accommodate audiences who might not know that much about gaming, the authors even included an extensive glossary of terms ranging from AAA title to Walkthrough and bold-face these terms when they first appear in the text. Chapters cover such topics as “The Video Game and Translation,” which includes a brief history of video game localization, as well as “The Localization Paradigm: Localization versus Translation,” which attempts to place game localization in relation to “translation as viewed in Translation Studies and the localization industry.” A chapter on “Game Localization: A Practical Dimension” provides a detailed overview of the processes and tools used in the industry today, with numerous specific examples. This covers everything from outsourcing and in-house models of localization to such issues as space constraints, the use of variables and concatenations, as well as various quality assurance steps relevant for localized products.

Chapter 4 “Translating video games; New vistas for transcreation” not only categorizes various forms of texts present in video games while discussing them in relation to ludic and narrative theories, but also contains a fascinating case study of game localization at Square Enix, a Japanese developer and publisher known for such franchises as the Final Fantasy series.

Other sections on accessibility and localization, fan translation (“ROM hacking”) and crowdsourcing, as well as the use of machine translation in online games provide valuable insights. To me, however, the most interesting chapter was “Pedagogical issues in training game localizers.” The authors criticize the fact that despite the large demand for game localization and the existence of numerous translator training programs at universities worldwide, this subject has been largely ignored (though they do include an appendix on “Postgraduate courses in game localization in Spain”). Rather than simply decrying this state of affairs, they offer a detailed discussion of what such programs should consist of, including specific course descriptions. While doing so, they do not gloss over potential problems, such as the paucity of experienced teaching personnel, the difficulty in obtaining suitable teaching material (due to copyright issues and non-disclosure agreements), and the basic issue of a mutual lack of interest both in academia and in the gaming industry. Considering that game localization is still a relatively recent phenomenon, developed largely through trial and error, the establishment of such programs for providing well-trained localizers, and the creation of partnerships between academia and industry could only be welcomed.

Game Localization: Translating for the global digital entertainment industry is a useful and significant book, both for academic scholars who might not be familiar with the gaming industry and for localization practitioners who now can perceive their field within a larger theoretical context. Numerous charts, diagrams and full-color illustrations enhance the presentation of the argument. My only point of criticism is not directed at the authors, but at the publisher for its confusing pricing policy. On the publisher’s website, the e-book costs as much as the hardcover edition and more than twice the price of the paperback version, whereas GooglePlay offers it (maybe temporarily) even cheaper than the paperback.