Marriage Interfaces

Dissertation brain is a nasty thing. It’s like culture goggles, or other loss of vision, but you also forget to do all the things that you like. While I still have dissertation brain, and will likely have it for another year (plus or minus 6 months), I was happen when something translation related popped up in my life and I was aware enough to think it cool, worthy of note, and not something that i needed to somehow put into the dissertation. Merry days!

I went to a wedding today. A wedding of an old friend and his (now) wife. He is American (Hawaii/California/Oregon); she is Japanese (Osaka). He speaks English and Japanese; she speaks Japanese, and the smidgen of English glommed through Middle/High School education, but repeatedly denied in practice. Certainly the combination is hardly unusual given the second half of the 20th century and Western colonial practices. Their daily language mediation (speaking in Japanese) is not what interested me. Rather, what interested me was the 3-way that occurred during the wedding ceremony.

Picture, if you will, a bride on one side, a groom on the other, and a pastor in the middle (I’m not sure what denomination, but the other half of his work is as a surf instructor, if that helps). It’s not an unusual picture: it’s the heteronormative one, in fact. However, what is interesting is that I have become used to thinking about that positioning and relationship in a slightly different manner.

In the course of the past weddings I’ve attended (particularly of same-sex couples), the relationship is of a triangle with the (possibly) the officiator in a position of power, but the couple in a position of equality. Each side goes into the ceremony (and marriage) with equal power. Of course, such is not necessarily true, nor has it tended to be true historically. That said, the typical marriage oaths that Hollywood has spread include ideals of equality: each side says the same thing, each side talks about loving and cherishing, sickness and health, good times and bad, etc. Each side is an equal partner.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t always the case (surprise surprise). For example, the 1549 Church of England’s Booke of Common Prayer ceremony required the bride to say “to love, cherish, and to obey” to the groom. And of course, when it’s simply a matter of trading horses for women equality goes right out the window. However, that’s not my point here. Rather…

What interested me about the wedding ceremony today is that, due to the bride’s (and her family’s) inability to speak English fluently, the groom translated. Yes, there were other people who spoke Japanese at the ceremony, quite a few, in fact, but not the pastor, and anybody else speaking in that position would have broken the important triangular relationship. So, re-picture, if you will, the bride on one side, the groom on the other, and the pastor in the middle, but now, every time the pastor speaks an utterance, he must stop and the groom must translate.

It’s a part of their daily life, yes, however, given the marriage ceremony it does other, interesting things. The constant effort of the groom to properly translate, even when struck with more difficult phrasing and terminology, is admirable. This is particularly true given that he is an English teacher, not a Japanese-English translator, let alone an English-Japanese translator. Thus, there are two interesting points that I wish to describe and then show why I find them interesting.

First/Second/Third Person
The groom first had trouble when the pastor stated, “I’m honored that you chose me to be your pastor.” It’s not a difficult phrase, and the groom had already translated both honored and pastor, the only real vocabulary of the phrase. And yet, the groom stuttered over the phrase because of a difficulty in roles and position.

At that point the groom was unable to be ‘himself,’ the groom that was translating the pastor for his bride-to-be. Instead, he was suddenly the translator mediating the pastor. And as a tangled subject, he had difficulty with his phrasing. Was he to say “the pastor says, ‘I’m honored that you chose me to be your pastor'”, or was he to say “I’m honored that you chose me to be your pastor.” The groom ended with “と言う” but did not start with “牧師,” a cop-out of sorts. So, he says the “said”, but not who said it.

The first issue was interesting as shows the troubles of mediation when you are within the situation yourself. Essentially, that there was a double mediation.

Repeating Vows
The second problem moment came during the home stretch, when the pastor went into the marriage vow section. What is the groom to do when told to “repeat after me. I, Bryan…”? Obviously, to repeat the sentences that begin with I and include the various honoring, cherishing and loving. To repeat word-for-word the ‘legally’ binding phrasing. But what is the translator to do when told to “repeat after me”? Obviously, to translate the phrase ‘repeat after me’ and anything that comes after it.

At this point, the groom did not “repeat” the binding vows, but translated them (with some trouble, I might add). Interestingly, he was at this point not only translating, but talking to his bride who does not speak English enough to understand the vow in English. As such, the vow was less about the legally/religiously binding phrasing than it was telling the bride how he (as the groom) would treat her, honor her, etc, etc.

Next came the bride’s turn, When told to “repeat after me: I, Yuri…” she did not mimic the groom and translate the phrases into her native Japanese as she did not understand them enough to do so, nor was her memory of the groom’s translation sound enough to reproduce the same phrases (mistakes and all). Instead, she repeated the pastor as best she could: Ai, Yuri, teeku Buraian, tsu bii mai…” Unlike the groom, she did what she was supposed to do and uttered the legally/religiously binding words, but she did so without a full understanding of just what she was saying.

So, in the end you have two people who have given different vows, each mediated in a different way through language, ceremony, bureaucracy, pomp and circumstance. Does this change their marriage in any way? Of course not. That ceremony had nothing to do with the legal binds of marriage that they went through in Osaka, and it likely has nothing to do with the papers they may or may not submit to California. While their differences might not be important to the marriage, they are interesting to the situation. While the pastor is the official mediator in his (in this case it was a he) role as interface between couple and higher powers (church/state), it was the groom that acted as mediator here, and in so doing marked out very interesting power relationships. The mediator/translator is, as I firmly believe, an interface. However, interfaces are not invisible, or just about the user, despite what Norman and others say. In the case of the wedding, who is the ‘user’? Is it the groom? The bride? The pastor? The audience? A user necessitates a particularly stable role that does not exist with translation as interface. As such, both translation and interface must be reinterpreted as unstable qualities and positions.

Multilingualism and Japan (in translation)

As an American living abroad (again), it continually strikes me that one of the essences of living within this world, and being cosmopolitan in that particular sense that means you don’t run from others or hate them, is that you deal with multilingualism on a daily basis. You might not be multilingual, but you deal with it. You live with it. You do not simply have a “coexist” bumper sticker, but you really do exist in tandem with otherness on a daily basis. Again, as an American who was brought up simultaneously hearing about how multiculturalism is good, but living in one of the whitest cities around (Portland, OR [1]), such linguistic mixture, which seems to be at the heart of living with and between multiple cultures, is both a good and necessary thing. Why is it, then, that this mixture is the first thing to go with adaptation into American contexts? Suddenly, everybody speaks English (albeit with some sort of disparaging accent) and all of the signage is in English. This happens in American remakes of both movies and games, and doesn’t even begin to touch on the oddity of people mysteriously speaking English in books. This mixture might not the be all and end all of existence in the world, but it is certainly important in certain places. And yes, Japan is one of those places.

Japan is a strange place. Not in the “Oh, Japan” sort of dismissal, but in the, wow, almost every sign around is in both English and Japanese, yet the majority of people cannot for the life of them respond to a simple question in English despite national training at (minimum) the middle school level, sort of way. Why is this? Granted, I can’t say that my French would allow me to respond despite 1-11 “training” that I’ve forgotten abysmally, buy then again, I don’t live in Quebec. At various points in Japan’s history English has almost become a national language, and as stated above, the Ministry of Education (MEXT) has made English a mandatory subject in middle school (and recently this has expanded down to 5th graders despite teachers’ inability to properly speak/teach the language) [2]. There is a LOT of English here. As long as they don’t really speak to anybody, most foreigners can get around without any trouble (as long as they speak English, and not, say, Polish). However, I need to iterate that it’s not simply that signs are translated. That’s happened (often with expectedly poor results that end up on webpages thanks to botched machine translations [3]), but such simple sign translation is not the point. The point is actually that signs are mixed. Many businesses and buildings are only in roman characters that often are arranged to make English words. I’m sitting in the basement of OICITY in Ueno. Technically, OICITY is pronounced ‘maruishiti’ [マルイシティ] in the crib underneath the sign in front of me, but EPOS CARD and GAP, both in the nearby visual space, are not given similar translations. The only sign that is only Japanese in front of my is 無地良品 (which, as an aside, is simply localized in the U.S. as MUJI — the brandless company itself becomes a brand). However, the truly common one is not these that politely keep the English and Japanese separate, but ATMコーナー, (ATM Kounaa, which is the loanword for corner) the sign right below the one for the EPOS CARDs. Here we see the mixture that is present and implied with all of the signage. It’s like a bilingually trained child was never told they were actually speaking two different languages when they were grew up code-switching and as an adult they now expect everybody to follow both of their languages.

This is everywhere. I just came from the Ueno Zoo, and all standardized signs were written with katakana (despite the animal’s nativity) with English underneath, then the Latin name, and finally in the standard usage with both kanji and hiragana to describe the animal’s eating habits and place of origin. And any argument that katakana might be easier to read for children does not hold, as the nearby signs saying not to feed the animals (arguably what children must read and understand) is written in hiragana, not katakana. The animal, as an essentially alterier creature, is unknowable/not human, and it is marked as such through katakana. Just like you can never get in the cages, the animals can only be known from afar. Similarly, foreignness is held at bay linguistically through a simultaneous embrace and rejection through the constant utilization, but never full incorporation. Such mixture is a major part of Japan. Not the the most important part, but definitely an important element. So, why then if translation is supposed to bring understanding, does translation never deal with this? And, no, I’m not arguing that Japan is loveydovey, and translations must represent this. Rather, I’m arguing that it is the ethical responsibility of translations not simply to be enjoyable, but to bring understanding of what it is like to consume that text in its place of origin. A text does not travel as some unmarked pleasure, ready for easy consumption, but loaded down with context, necessarily.

Take Murakami Haruki’s (relatively) recent 1Q84. Even the title has wordplay where the pronunciation of 9 and Q is the same, but it goes further than that. Murakami, like many postmodern Japanese writers (including Yoshimoto Banana) deliberately flirts with the West both textually and thematically with resultant negative reviews from the more traditional Japanese literary circle. It is this flirtation, often in the form of mixture, that makes Japanese multilingualism (seen everywhere, including in postmodern Japanese writing)… not unique, but at least interesting. But why does none of this flirtation, this mixture, come across? Obviously, the simple answer is that adaptation to local tastes sells well, but that is neither helpful, nor when you get down to it, a good translation. Adaptation to local tastes is simply translation that sells well.

And the merry-go-round comes back again and I’m on ethics.


  • [1] “Racial/Ethnic Segregation.” Greater Portland Pulse.
  • [2] “Teachers worried about new English classes.” The Japan Times Online.
  • [3]
  • [4] Murakami, Haruki. 1Q84.

Connect-the-dots: Lippit, Bellah, Pollack and Bogost (or, an Ethics of the Trace in Game Translation)

Akira Lippit has written extensively of the trace in Japanese cultural texts, particularly in its relationship to a post atomic residual [1]. Lippit uses Derridian post-structural critical theory to unpack the ethics of this layering, or avisuality. While his analysis of the texts is wonderful, it exists primarily in the original. Since the films he analyzes are global, like many 21st century texts, the question of an ethics of transmission and translation becomes key. Is it the responsibility of the translator to transfer this particular level of reading? Said a slightly different way, would it be necessary for an American remake of any of the films he discusses to include the same avisuality?

From a completely different disciplinary area yet similar focus on Japan, Robert Bellah has noted the Japanese tendency to incorporate oppositional ideologies insofar as they do not upset the overarching Japanese familial structure [2]. It is when the overarching structure is upset (including Christianity popularization and late Meiji westernization) that larger disruptions occur (leading to purges and the 20th century build up to WWII). What Bellah argues as the partial incorporation of the other, which often takes the form of a mixing of English with Japanese in both daily life and popular cultural texts, can be seen as an important historical and cultural part video games. We can see David Pollack’s study on Japan’s synthesis of Chinese culture and linguistics as it transitions to a synthesis of Western culture as a theoretical link to this claim [3].

Finally, we can mash in Ian Bogost’s claim that games are a mess, and we need to study them as a mess. They’re not simply the code, or the graphics, or the play, or the box, or the advertising, or any other clean ontological state, but everything together in a slutty ontology [4]. The mixture in Bellah and Pollack, which Lippit sees in films that are not subjected to localization, is an important part of the ontological orgy that is video games. With such thinking games are necessarily their cultural connotative meaning as well, and while it may not be in the goals of the industry for localizers to transfer the theoretical and ethical mash that is Japan, it is the ethical responsibility of the translator to do so.

[1] Lippit, Akira Mizuta. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
[2] Bellah, Robert. Imagining Japan: Japanese Tradition and its Modern Interpretation. University of California Press, 2003.
[3] Pollack, David. The Fracture of Meaning: Japan’s Synthesis of China From the Eighth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.
[4] Bogost, Ian. “Video Games Are a Mess.”Keynote at DiGRA 2009: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory, 2009.

Musings about Ready Player One

Ready Player One is a recent novel by Ernest Cline. It’s about a contest to find an easter egg in OASIS, the novel’s uber MMO that has absorbed all MMOs, games, shopping, Internet et cetera. Right before dying, the bachelor, shut-in, and stuck in his childhood in the 80s creator of OASIS created a huge easter egg, and made a contest of solving the easter egg. Whoever won got his fortune, which was the largest in the world by far. It takes the world some 7 years to solve it, and the book is about the solving. It gets almost all of its allure, unabashedly, from 80s pop culture (although this extends to 70s and 90s in parts), and the plot itself is basically about how the crazy megabillionaire’s own nostalgia for his past has affected the rest of the world in their search for the easter egg that will grant them his megabillions. So, that’s the plot, but what’s interesting is the nostalgia.

I use the term ‘nostalgia’ here rather loosely though as it isn’t exactly nostalgia. Or rather, it isn’t nostalgia for everybody. For the author it probably is nostalgia, for the reader it might be, for the diegetic creator of the game it was, but for the players it was entirely second hand. As egg hunters (“gunters”) they’re obsessed with 80s pop culture as it is assumed to be (and in fact is) the key to solving the easter egg. It was never their culture, and this is doubly sad as their own culture, as the book is so quick in its distopia to point out, is dead and escaping in virtual worlds that comprise OASIS. The real world sucks, so they get out, but the virtual worlds (at least the ones visited in the book) are completely filled with 80s nostalgia. They’ve lost their past and present and instead live in somebody else’s past. It’s a bit trippy in some ways. It makes me wonder about whose nostalgia it is now. By ‘now’ I mean now now, outside in the real world where remakes and demakes and minecraft and the SC2 lost viking minigame splash screen are all present.

The other thing I can’t help but think about is the large number of environmentally distopian novels I’ve read recently. While Wendy Chun has written about sci-fi as the never coming future I wonder if that holds with the more scientifically frightening science fiction like Oryx and Crake and Ready Player One that are really all based on the belief that we’re screwed because of a built up fucking over of the planet.

Culture, Genre and Localization

I’ve been thinking about the boundaries of translation and localization lately.

Translation is a specific linguistic alteration, but when it is paired with localization in a way that extends beyond linguistic alterations it re-grasps some of its pre-modern sensibilities. Here I refer to the difference between modern traduction, and premodern translation (. The one is vague movement of a text and the other modern authorial/translatorial alteration of a text from one language to another.

Localization (and particularly video game translation localization) includes graphical and ludic alterations, and even censorship and culturalization alterations (Chandler 2005; Edwards 2006).This change hearkens back to translatio and the pre-modern sensibilities that at one point included commentary on texts (in the margins, or critical exegeses) and adaptations (Dryden 2004 [1680]). What it also leads toward is generic manipulations.

Essentially, what I’ve been thinking about is that the localization from Japanese to English of a game involves (practically) the alteration of coded assets to make it salable within a new linguistic, socio-political and geographical context. Localization helps games move to a new ‘culture.’ However, generic alterations, modding, or reskinning also help games move to new cultures, but in this case the cultures are subcultures, or non-national contexts.

The example that I am working with is Glu GamesGun Bros, which was generically modified into Men vs. Machines. Gun Bros (released on October 28, 2010) and Men vs. Machines (released on April 14, 2011), are almost identical. The assets used for Gun Bros, which was released in 2010, were modified and Men vs. Machines is the result. Glu Games has altered the game from a top down twin thumbs shooter (syntactic genre) within a machismo/sexist aesthetic (semantic genre), to a top down twin thumbs shooter (same syntactic genre) of the steampunk aesthetic (different semantic genre). Furthermore, Glu Games released a third iteration, Star Blitz, on May 26, 2011. The third game also alters the genre, but this time to a science fiction space shooter with ships instead of people.

Title Screen:


Welcome back:


Shopping for new items


World Select:




Results of play:


The above shots, Gun Bros on the left and Men vs. Machines on the right, are almost identical. The assets used for Gun Bros, which was released in 2010, were modified and Men vs. Machines is the result. Glu Games has altered the game from a top down twin thumbs shooter (syntactic genre) within a machismo/sexist aesthetic (semantic genre), to a top down twin thumbs shooter (same syntactic genre) of the steampunk aesthetic (different semantic genre).

Generic alteration alone is not particularly strange, as these alterations occur quite often. It is essentially what makes a syntactic genre (the alteration of semantic elements to fit different groups of people). First person shooters in westerns, space, comic books, modern war, old war, etc are all examples of this standard generic manipulation. What is interesting, is that the alterations were done by the one company, and that the way the game plays is identical. Usually the requirement of using an engine is that it must be changed somewhat, or perhaps that is simply what happens to make it a meaningful game to the gaming populace. Ironically, the response of outrage on the Glu forums toward Men vs. Machines from players who are angered that the time they spent in Gun Bros is for naught as the company will switch to updating the Men vs. Machines is widespread.

What is interesting is that the limited alterations raise the core gameplay to an essential level. Because the only thing that changes are the assets that helped relocate the engine within a new, steampunk subculture, the process of altering Gun Bros to Men vs. Machines and then to Star Blitz is the same process as localizing a game.

Where I am now in my thinking can be summed up with the following thoughts: according to LISA, localization is the process that renders appropriate a game for a new cultural context, but that makes adaptation and reskinning the exact same process and a form of localization. If the above is true, then what is the culture to which localization companies seek to render games accessible? Are they as malleable and perfunctorily determined as generic alterations? Are socio-political realities less important than target market desires (which have themselves been created by the marketeers)?

Is it not that the culture to which localization seeks to render games accessible itself created by the process of localization?


  • Berman, Antoine. “From Translation to Traduction.” Unpublished translation by Richard Sieburth. TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction volume 1, number 1, 1988: pp. 23-40.
  • Chandler, Heather Maxwell. The Game Localization Handbook. Hingham: Charles River Media, 2005
  • Dryden, John. “From the Preface to Ovid’s Epistles.” In The Translation Studies Reader, edited by Lawrence Venuti. New York: Routledge, 2004 [1680].
  • Edwards, Kate. “Fun Vs. Offensive: Balancing the ‘Cultural Edge’ of Content for Global Games.” In Game Developer’s Conference: What’s Next. San Jose, CA, 2006.

Utopian Thought Experiment #7

1. Multilingual or omnilingual linguistic set up for game environment [1]. The more languages the better. The more subtitles the better.
2. Individual characters are tied to their various languages and subtitles.
3. Current statistics of national languages and used languages within any given nation tied to the user determined ‘locale.’

1. So here I’m going to sprinkle a bit of abuse (Derrida -> Lewis -> Nornes) on top of the utopia [2]. Not just the languages, but what one could do with languages to rob people of their safe homeness. Their belief that they are alone with their friends and family and don’t need to deal with the world.
2. The game reads the locale, as usual, and loads the appropriate localization. I’m in “United States” and my language is English. It loads appropriately. Or does it.
3. The United States of America has one [ed: de facto, and this is problematic, I know] official language: English. Language chauvinism is ripe and often linked to nationalistic/anti-foreign fervor. As a result, the fact that ~25% of all people in the United States speak a language other than English at home goes unmentioned, or at least ignored [3].
4. The game reads the current statistics of the determined locale and finds that 75% of the populace speaks English, 12% speaks Spanish, and then there are a massive host of other native, exilic, diasporic and immigrant languages. The game allocates these percentages by rounding up.
5. The player must then interact with their locale not as a safe environment, but as a unhappily statistical environment (I am loathe to say ‘real’).
6. This could work in the US as above, but it could also work elsewhere. Japanese in Japan is not as homogenous as it would like to believe, nor is Mandarin in China, or Israeli in Israel.

[1] This refers to a accessible and user increasable plethora of languages as opposed to the standard variation of one language per one locale or one language loaded as determined by the OS.
[2] Lewis, Philip E. “The Measure of Translation Effects.” In Difference in Translation, edited by Joseph F. Graham. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985; Nornes, Markus. Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
[3] This is the 2000 census as the 2010 has not yet be uploaded to the web.

The First ‘Actual’ [International Edition]

At the Tokyo Game Show Square-Enix informed the public about the release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix. Like the rest of the International Editions this will include English voices; unlike Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+ it will likely not include the theater mode with both English and Japanese cinematics; unlike all previous International Editions this one will be playable in other regions, which is to say, internationally.

The known so far is that it will be released with the North American edition’s (English) voice acting, have a sticker system, a new boss and new enemies, and possibly a secret ending. This mostly comes from the unrecordable video in the Square-Enix booth at the Tokyo Game Show, and the Famitsu page [1], both of which have been blogged across the net. Other than these details most is unknown, but a few things can be deduced/guessed.

Because Birth By Sleep is a PlayStation Portable game a few interesting things can happen. The first is that the data disk is more limited than a DVD. Therefore, the direct implementation of both voice tracks is unlikely (or impossible). This means that the theater mode from KH 2:FM+ will likely not happen, and it also means that there will not be multiple selectable vocal tracks, which only Star Ocean: The Last Hope International (for PS3) has had in the past. The most common thread across the English blogs following this line of thinking is that the game has no release date in the US and it will most likely not be brought over like the other Final Mixes. However, what they’re missing is that because Birth By Sleep is on the PSP it becomes easily playable internationally, and the recent Sony announcement of cross region sales on the PlaystationStore [2, 3] make this even more interesting.

Unlike the PS, PS2 and PS3, the PSP does not use region encoded data disks, which means that a player has almost no restrictions on what s/he can play. That which becomes a restriction is availability. However, with Sony’s cross country sales implementation this also will be less of an issue. Less because what is put up on the store is a limited selection of what actually has been released on disks. The fact that all of two games were uploaded to the store in the first update shows the problem here.

However, regardless of the PlayStation Store’s implementation people around the world will be able to play the new “International Edition,” Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix, and likely be upset with its naturalized global English. Of course, such availability/downloadability could force Square-Enix to make available truly International Editions that fully support multiple languages through downloading (after all, there is no size limit to an SD card). This is, of course, and unlikely eventuality, but I can only hope…


  • [1] ファミ通.com. “東京ケームショウ特集: 始まりへとつながる眠りの物語が再び紡がれる『キングダム ハーツ バース バイ スリープ ファイナル ミックス』.” Accessed: September 25, 2010.
  • [2] Chen, Grace. Playstation.Blog. “PlayStation Store Update.” Posted: September 20, 2010. Accessed: September 25, 2010.
  • [3] Kotaku. “The PlayStation Store to Start Selling Japanese Imports This Month.” Posted: September 16, 2010. Accessed: September 25, 2010.

二ノ国 : Impressions and Localization Expectations

Day 1: Initial Impressions

I was discussing Japanese manuals and their translation at a game developers/producers bar gathering. Specifically, I was being told that translating them is incredibly boring as they are routine, have little of interest, et cetera. This struck me as odd at the time because my informant was referring specifically to Japanese manuals (although he then added that English manuals have similarly become boring), but also vaguely true in that manuals are very chunked up in terms of translation. They are incredibly redundant and simplistic. As Gee has noted they make no sense at first, but become sensible after playing. There are so many “problems” with manuals its amazing that they’re still there and haven’t been replaced by in-game education (by which they have partially been replaced).

To my informant I asked if it had something to do with reading and Japan. Their answer was that such was a relativistic statement as it’s no harder to read in Japanese as a child due to furigana as it is in English. I demurred, but still questioned. I’m still not sure what the answer is, but having just seen Level 5 and Studio Ghibli’s upcoming Nintendo DS title 二ノ国 [ni no kuni] I’m writing about how that manual will turn out in relation to this whole idea of manuals in particular and translation in general.

Technically, I’m not even sure if the 352 page book next to every DS unit filled with characters, items, story, et cetera is a “manual” that comes with the game or an extra for the Tokyo Game Show, but I can’t imagine the latter as during my 15 minutes of play I was required to go into the tome (to page 61), retrieve the phrase “いでよなべまじん!”, and input it into the game to summon the genie-like boss/enemy.

So, the question here is two-fold: First, is it really an integral 2nd half to the game? If it is, then what does a 352 page required reading tome do to “video gaming?” Second, how will that tome be translated!?

Both of these questions are fantastically interesting on various levels. The first to theories of “game” and “play.” Where is the story, and where is the play? They’re overlapped in that to play the game one must understand the story. Narratology has a vague revenge on ludology. Does this interaction of book and game encourage kids to read? Is all of this intentional?

The second is of course particularly interesting to me in that a 352 page tome is so far from both the standard practice of manual translation and the standard type of game localization that to translate it almost requires a translation and not a localization. Will the job be distributed? As Ghibli has previously even gone to Neil Gaiman for celebrity/professional rewriting style translation will that be the avenue of choice? And how will that then effect the actual localization element of the game?

Sure, 二ノ国’s manual is hardly “usual,” but it’s exceptional qualities bring out the very questions that came up with the original conversation of manual translation. Is reading ability, which is to say “literacy,” a target of this game spearheaded by a company whose head has a penchant for hating new media in particular and technology in general?

Let us simply say that I am looking forward to the translation/localization of this title, and I hope I can talk with the localizers. For that matter, Im’ not sure that a localization has even been announced…

Day 2: Further Thoughts and Localization Expectations

I went back to Level 5’s 二ノ国 DS title today and confused the hell out of the staff by not playing the game at all. No, I don’t want to put on the headphones, and no I don’t want to choose one of the two demos. I just want to peruse the book. So here goes my further impressions and expectations.

It’s a 352 page book divided into 7 chapters (魔法指南, 合成指南, 装備指南, 道具と食べ物, イマージェンと魔物, 伝説の物語, and 色々な地方), and those chapters have an amazing amount of stuff from how magic and alchemy work, to information about equipment, tools, food, and creatures, to legends and stories of the world, and finally various extra information about characters and places. And of course there are pictures throughout. The book is really beautiful, but its truly amazing in that it forces the player to read it! They must peruse it at least enough to get information, but its beauty encourages them to read the rest. Yes, it’s a carrot and stick situation involving children and literacy.

This book alone would make translation an interesting task as it would be translation, not localization. But the particular use of language within the game makes it even more complicated. The in-game alphabet is based off of the Japanese 46 character syllabary with corresponding characters including “, ° and っ. Such a one to one choice is far from unknown: FFX had a similar trick with the アルベドalphabet but it was largely a non-issue due to the bulk replacement and lack of visual use of the language in the game. The particular use in Final Fantasy is to take the language, mix it around and voila, a “different language.” Because . The issues with 二ノ国 are heightened by the visual representation of an alternate language and the writing of characters during play. If the player does not write them it is less of an issue, but still a great difficulty.

To give an example, the book itself is called Magic Master, which transliterates to まじっくますたー, which transliterates to English as majikku masutaa, or Magic Master. This is on the cover of the book and there are paragraphs of the game language throughout the book at various points. One expects it is in the game world as well. To localize the game the ties between the in world language and the player’s language must be untied and then retied. To do that for English the 46 characters must be weeded down to 26, which is easy enough on a surface level, but  more difficult if anything in the game uses some of the 20 deleted characters in an interactive way.

So, who is taking on this task? I asked one of the Level 5 booth workers and was told it is not being localized. It’s possible he was missing my point and thinking I was asking for an English version on the spot, or he didn’t know, or he couldn’t answer due to legal restrictions, but I’ll take the general ‘no’ for now. After all, what company would want to take on a task that highlights the difficulties and unruly ties between localization and translation? This is not to say I don’t want it to be released in other countries, just that it will be both interesting and problematic when it eventually comes up for localization.

Localizing Visibly Ideologically Material

Is it possible to localize America’s Army? How about Under Ash? Finally, what about Kingdom Hearts? The initial answer for both America’s Army and Under Ash is generally ‘no.’ It is not considered possible to localize such strongly ideological games because the ideological elements for these games are such a central feature, the content, and yet to localize a game is to take out such particulars and make it legible to an alternate audience. In order to localize America’s Army it would be necessary to take out the America element. Similarly, to localize Under Ash it would be necessary to remove the Hezbollah part. Subsequently it would be necessary to insert similarly understandable, equal yet different, elements in their place. Such a task is generally considered, if not impossible, incredibly difficult.

However, I want to answer that, yes, it would be possible to localize either game using the standard process of localization, but that the results would be meaningless. Both an America’s Army that did not help recruit cadets for the Army and an Under Ash that did not demonstrate a way to fight against incursions in Palestine would be so far divorced from their original text that calling them translations, or in any meaningful way related to the original text, would be false. And yet, that is largely what the localization of Kingdom Hearts, a story within the Japanese cultural context, but localized and transferred to America, does.

This statement is building off of arguments I have made previously with William Huber at the blog Gummi Ship, so I will skip going over those arguments extensively. The gist is that the allegorithmic (Galloway 2005) logic of Kingdom Hearts reproduces American Imperialism within the 20th century. Your main task within the game is to enter and control the entry into other worlds [countries] in order to aid/redirect their cultural politics in a manner highly reminiscent of developmental theory (Rostow 1960, Schramm 1964). But the point for Kingdom Hearts is that while barging into the countries is problematized within the games especially by having the Japanese player act the role of the American side, and through the mixing of Japanese and English in the so-called International Final Mix, thereby highlighting the problems of American exceptionalism, the localization removes these elements, places the American players within their own standard role, and eliminates any element of internationalism that was otherwise visible through the mixture of languages.

The point here is that Kingdom Hearts is just as ideologically charged as America’s Army and Under Ash even if this ideology is slightly submerged below the surface. However, even with that it is translated/localized without consideration. Importantly, however, is that such ideological changes happen with the localization, but they are not considered as really being changed.

So, I suppose my point is that translating ideologically prone games is impossible, but localizing them is certainly possible and done where you least expect it. But again, is that a good thing or a bad thing?


  • Galloway, Alexander R. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • Rostow, W. W. The Stages of Economic Growth, a Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1960.
  • Schramm, Wilbur. Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Heavy Rain in Japan

Heavy Rain has recently been lauded for its adult nature and its story/narrative. What hasn’t been noted in the US game press is that the characters are very much Western. Such an element to a game released in the US is unremarkable and as such it goes unmarked.

I have not yet looked into the press reaction in Japan, but the game itself has had little localization from what I can see. Or rather, the characters, vehicles and setting are all the original, which is to say not Japan. Further, the language they speak and think is still English.  Essentially, it’s a very foreignizing translation/minimal localization.

According to the industry and most localization experts who write in English about Western localizations such a foreignizing translation is bad and will be bad for the eventual take. According to the random Japanese teenager playing the demo in Tsutaya it’s a resigned fact of life: いや、外国のゲームだから別に… And when asked if he’d rather the voices be in Japanese he didn’t have an opinion.

Obviously, the single player is hardly a good sample for anything other than a musing blog entry, but there’s something about the lack of care that’s interesting. The blunt knowledge, and lack of care, about the fact that it’s a foreign game is very different from localization’s drive to hide a game’s production home.

Do we really want games that just attempt to represent our locale? Is that good for us?