Games, Skopos, and (Functional) Limitations

As I’ve been recovering from qualifying in June, I’ve been playing a few games that I’ve been meaning to play (Assassin’s Creed 2 — the translation/localization issues are ever present in interesting ways; Avadon — a fan translation might be very interesting of an indie RPG like this) and reading some things that I’ve been meaning to read (Wendy Chun’s Control and Freedom, Jeremy Munday’s Introduction to Translation Studies, and various others). Here I’d like to think through a few ideas I had when reading Munday’s intro text book. It’s quite good in its breadth and inclusivity, so there’s been a few areas it has tied in for me, particularly the idea of skopos.

The skopos theory of translation is attributed to Hans J. Vermeer and Katharina Reiss as focusing particularly “on the purpose of the translation, which determines the translation methods and strategies that are to be employed in order to produce a functionally adequate result” (Munday 79). Its advantage, according to Munday, “is that it allows the possibility of the same text being translated in different ways according to the purpose of the TT [target text] and the commission which is given to the translator” (Munday 80). The above sentence is interesting for two reasons. First, it implies different translational possibilities and the likelihood of these possibilities happening, which also indicates that these differences might add up or be equally obtainable. Second,  it is the commission that determines the direction that the TT must go. A popular novel must be translated according to the publishing industry’s whims; a government or legal document according  to a different ‘commission‘ that is more ethically or politically oriented; a game to a different orientation still.

As Munday notes, various theorists critique skopos theory on grounds including the lack of a single purpose or meaning in certain texts (particularly Christiane Nord). On the surface, the different skopos lead forward solving this difficulty, they do different things if not all at once, but the problem still exists in terms of publication and visualization. How do you convince the monetary support to publish multiple versions (here I largely refer to literature and other popular forms that are translated, like movies and games) according to the different skopos, or aims, when the publisher/commissioner’s aim is money? And, how do you visualize these different forms? The latter I’ve discussed elsewhere, and the former is a very spiky question.

For now I wish to breifly look at how skopos theory has been taken up by Carmen Mangiron and Minako O’Hagan in their work on game localization. According to Mangiron and O’Hagan, [t]he skopos of game localization is to produce a target version that keeps the ‘look and feel’ of the original… the feeling of the original ‘gameplay experience’ needs to be preserved in the localized version so that all players share the same enjoyment regardless of their language of choice.” The authors identify a single skopos to game localization and ignore the commission element. They identify the look, feel and experience as legitimate elements to be translated, but ignore the contextual elements causing these particular elements to be the focus. Could there not be a different skopos for different games depending on if it is a publisher or if it is ‘abandonware’ with a rabid fanbase?

If games have distributed authorship (Huber) and fans help author them (Jenkins), then why does the publisher’s wishes get privileged for the skopos commission? The ‘source’ that is considered by skopos theory is not simply the publisher wishes, but a range of things seemingly unconsidered by standard localization discourse.


  • Huber, William. Soft Authorship. Dissertation.
  • Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
  • Mangiron, Carmen and Minako O’Hagan. “Game Localization: Unleashing Imagination with ‘Restricted’ Translation.” Journal of Specialized Translation, no. 6 (2006): 10-21.
  • Munday, Jeremy. Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications. 2nd ed. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *