Translation and Localisation in Video Games: Making Entertainment Software Global

In Europe, the academic study of video game localization is flourishing, much more so than in the United States. While US institutions of higher learning, such as the private Full Sail University and the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas at Austin, are finally focusing on the design and development of video games, the localization of these products for a global market still is in academic limbo.

This is also reflected by the fact that two recent major books on the subject, Game Localization: Translating for the global digital entertainment industry by Minako O’Hagan and Carmen Mangiron and now Miguel Á. Bernal-Merino’s Translation and Localisation in Video Games were authored by European scholars. A list of “Courses, Certificates, and Credentials Related to Game Translation and Localization” at the LAI blog ( also demonstrates how much further European universities are in turning the study of video game localization into a recognized academic subject.

Bernal-Merino teaches game localization and media translation at the University of Roehampton in London. His pedagogical background informs much of this book, which would make an excellent textbook except for one issue that will be discussed later. The book contains an extensive glossary of terms, which are also conveniently boldfaced when they appear in the text itself, and the individual chapters end with discussion questions that could serve as the impetus for class discussion or as student assignments.

Bernal-Merino starts with a general introduction to the global video game industry (in which he quotes an amazing forecast of more than $300 billion in total revenue for 2015) and defines his basic terminology. He emphasizes that the translation of MIES (multimedia interactive entertainment software) goes far beyond the textual translation that the field of translation studies has traditionally focused on and states: “The challenges that game interactivity imposes on translators, processes and tools are truly new in the translation of entertainment products” (p. 98).

The chapter “The Translation of Video Games” discusses the variety of texts present in these games, ranging from user interface to subtitles, voiceover, packaging texts, warranties and end user license agreements. The author then addresses the various issues and obstacles during the translation of video games, such as translators having to deal with fragmented texts that are sometimes presented without any context, or the various pitfalls connected to the translation of linguistic variables. All this is presented with numerous screenshots from games and localization tools, as well as sample scripts and would provide a newcomer or outsider with an excellent introduction to the practical activities involved in video game translation.

The following section, “The Industrial Process of Game Localisation,” places the activities of translators in a larger context. It traces the evolution of game localization from the 1980s (when so-called “docs and box” partial localization was still acceptable) to the present day, discusses the influence of national age rating boards and deals with tools and practices used in game localization.

To me, the most interesting section of Translation and Localisation in Video Games was the chapter on training localization professionals. It offers not only an overview of existing programs at European universities, but also outlines the basic components that a module on game localization should include. The basic goal of Bernal-Merino, as he states at several points in his book, is to help bridge the gap that exists between academia on one side and the gaming and localization industries on the other.

Overall, this is an excellent study, which would serve well as a textbook for a course on video game localization. Its particular strength lies in the numerous practical examples it presents, which make its arguments accessible to readers with little experience of video games. There is only one major shortcoming, for which the publisher rather than the author must be blamed. I received the hardcover edition as a review copy. Unfortunately, the numerous screenshots from games are only in black and white and it is therefore sometimes hard to make out details. In some cases, the black and white reproduction of images clearly defeats the author’s purpose, as on page 130, where he discusses the use of various colors in the subtitles for Diablo III. I know that color illustrations are costly, but in this case Routledge should have considered what would be lost by using only black and white illustration. This is a pity, because in every other aspect Translation and Localisation in Video Games: Making Entertainment Software Global can be highly recommended.