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 There are so many “problems” with manuals its amazing that they’re still there and haven’t been replaced by in-game education (by which they have partially been replaced).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?

Censorship vs. Localization

There has been varied, but relatively constant noise being made by the World of Warcraft community about the Chinese release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Said in one way it is simply a year late. This is normal practice for some operating systems or languages, but for an MMO expansion pack it is a bit more visible, and with angry waiting fans it’s even more visible.

The thing about WotLK is that it has been ready for release for a year, but has gotten hung up in requirements put forth by the Chinese government regarding its release. These requirements have been dubbed censorship by the fanbase (particularly those on Kotaku and MMO-Champion), but the interesting element is that these are simply localization [L10n] issues from a different angle.

The main points of contention are skeletons: skeletons under cauldrons and against walls, skulls on spikes, skulls on weapons, skeletal knees poking out of zombie bodies, giant bone animals, and I’m not sure about skeletons in armor. The claimed ideological basis for and defense of, the censorship is that ancestor veneration, signified by being good to the bones of ancestors, is difficult when you’re going around destroying those bones/skeletons/zombies or putting them on weapons or spikes. Of course, there’s a slight problem when the the the majority of the expac deals with necromancy and its problems (via the Lich King). In short, the narrative of WoW: WotLK is hard to localize to China.

And yet, it has been done. Skulls are removed, zombies have no bones, and bone dragons and bone griffons are transformed to flashy ghost dragons and griffons. Is this a sign that, indeed, narrative does not matter? Or is it a sign that millions of ravenous players will force certain hands, and this is the best the Chinese government (particularly the the ministry in charge of publications and press (GAPP) and the ministry of culture (MOC)) is going to get (the fact that other games, particularly other, more local MMOs such as Perfect World were not put through such direct censorship, but multinational Blizzard’s MMO was is, perhaps, telling)? Or, is it just a sign that L10n really is the way things work now, and like translation only becoming visible with its mistakes, L10n is only visible when it doesn’t happen ‘properly,’ which is to say when it isn’t localized enough and is thus put through additional censorship. Games that are localized enough (self censored in both the production and L10n phases) do not need censorship; games that are not localized enough get censored before release.

This logic seems to be mirrored in calls to limit indigenous exclamations in Final Fantasy XIII (Koncewicz), which would make L10n easier, or at least possible due to the extensiveness of these noises (one of many places where you can seen these unlocalized noises is in Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks). But what they’re asking for goes part and parcel with the L10n process as internationalization [i18n], the production level planing for L10n. Both Koncewicz and guides to L10n indicate making assets easily changeable is best practice for i18n as L10n can then more easily push the product into some parituclar locale. However, while Koncewicz indicates this was the intention of FFXIII as an internationally aimed game it seems to be opposed by the very imbeddedness of certain games into certain cultures (Subarashiki kono sekai, which is subtitled It’s A Wonderful World in Japanese, but localized as The World Ends With You in English is an interesting example). Thus, the complaints of FFXIII are less against L10n than against Square-Enix’s i18n process and the idiosyncrasies that they do not want to delete from FFXIII and other games.

However, in the case of WotLK, Netease.com, the company releasing WoW in China, wants to censor, but did a poor job self censoring in the L10n process, and Blizzard in fact did not i18n ‘enough’ in the development process. One might also extend this claim by saying their recent, much lauded Starcraft II L10n is a direct step up from the failure of localizing WotLK for China. The ‘enough’ here is actually problematic for two reasons. One is that  they are being forced to change the narrative level significantly, and if such alterations are in fact part of the L10n can one even call the game a translation? If you don’t fight a Death Knight, a Lich and a Bone Dragon are you really playing Wrath of the Lich King? Is WoW: WotLK US/EU and WoW: WotLK China the same game? The second is that while WotLK was hounded by the Chinese goverment locally developed (multinational, but of Chinese origin) Perfect World Online was released with skeletons available for slaying. So how much of i18n and L10n are being enforced where they should not be, how much of cultural particularity or universality are being reinforced by political clout or business acquiescence where it is actually a nonexistent thing?


  • Koncewicz, Radek. Localizing Exclamations in FInal Fantasy XIII
  • Mickey Yang. “Pics: What’s Changed in Chinese Version Wrath of the Lich King.” Chinagame.178.com. Posted: 8/16/2010.

On Localization

After reading Heather Chandler’s Game Localization Handbook I’ve come to realize that what I am suggesting is not impossible and despite the LocSIG response it is not particularly problematic. It is, however, an as yet unset standard especially in the US, but also in other smaller linguistic locales and by smaller companies. However, I also cannot emphasize enough that it is not economic suicide.

Essentially, the suggestion is to enable multilingual applications in an open way. Such multilingual versions are becoming more reasonable as the international market is further acknowledged. It is not unreasonably expensive from the large American/English based developers where i18n/L10n is a viable/necessary strategy. It simply requires an extra step of planning not only for L10n-friendliness, but integration. As the companies controlling releases Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft can control standards in certain ways. One way would be to require i18n as a standard. Such a standard would be beneficial for larger companies as it would entail the greater possibility of foreign releases even as gray market releases.

Further, if integrated in a patchable model gray market becomes less sensible as games can be sold as ‘language-bare,’ then localized assets can be purchased in micro payments. This allows the fanatics to get what they want and the companies to monitor things.

In the case of smaller companies it could be seen as problematic as they must also do more work, but as things become more international fan based L10n might happen more. An example of this is Basilisk Games’ ‘languages packs’ for Eschalon Book II. Such language packs are partial localizations (if that), but they might be extended to more full localizations by changing non-linguistic elements in the future. For postcolonial/minority languages forcing internationalization is a problem in that it forces less defensible positions. However, in order to force the dominant sides to be slightly more international the international standard must be made on all sides.

The trick is in asset integration. As long as there are infinite slots for languages with the nicely named schema there should be no problem. Additional languages simply extend the list in the same way that OS language integration has the installed options visible. Other, uninstalled languages are a grayed out option: neither out of sight, nor out of mind.

The available spread of Loc Kits would also allow further translations for political and/or alternate linguistic efforts.

The fact of play is universal, but different people get their jollies in different places. As I said a few months ago some people like masocore. Well, some people like Polish audio with German subtitles, or Korean audio and English subtitles, or English subtitles and no audio. Having the option is beneficial for making money in international markets. Who knows what people really want, what they’ll use if they have, and what is best?

And of course further important is the belief that there are long term benefits to players being acculturated to non-locales. That is not happening to some (US), but is to others. Such an imbalance has global/political ramifications beyond fun.

If global disculure is really supposed to bring us together it should be in a way that is not determined by businesses decided what becomes a locale and forever separating groups based on those locales. Industry determinations are not simply natural: they affect the groups as well.

A lot of this is discussed in Anthony Pym’s Moving Text, but it isn’t much of a thing in either other translation or localization writings. Something important is to discuss this sort of thing, especially before things are standardized.

Referenced Books:

  • Chandler, Heather Maxwell. The Game Localization Handbook. Hingham, Mass.: Charles River Media, 2005.
  • Pym, Anthony. The Moving Text: Localization, Translation, and Distribution. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co., 2004.

A Note/Warning on My Position

While I advocate for particular strategies and theories of translation, I do so in the historical context of 21st century US sociopolitical irresponsibility and dominance.

I do not speak as a minority, nor as a reader of a language fighting for survival and self determination. Rather, I write as an early 21st century US citizen who has seen ‘his’ country at war for a decade. A decade where significant backlash has resulted against people who look or act different regardless of their relationship to the ‘enemy.’

The US has fought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against an undefined terrorist that can best be summed up as ‘different.’ America is at war with difference: “those who oppose our way of life.” And one of the (many) ways this insane fear of, and aggression against, the cultural other has been reproduced to massive levels has been in the systematic representation of the other through and in translation.

A simple result of the discursive regime of domesticating translation (Venuti) is that everybody else – the foreign in books and other media – looks like us. As all translation, all media made by anybody else, is made to look as if it were made by us, we never see difference. All that is good looks like us. All it then takes is the mass display not only of difference, but difference that “hates us,” to spark 10 years of war.

I believe I do not overemphasize the importance of changing the way translation happens in the US.

  • Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008 [1994].
  • —. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Destabilization of the Translator | Destabilization of the Translation

There are two new trends in translation that I would like to discuss. Both are postmodern and intentionally unstable, but they have opposite instabilities. One trend destabilizes the translator, and the other destabilizes the translation.

The destabilization of the translator has multiple translators, but a single translation. It has its history in the Septuagint, but its present locus is around dividing tasks and the post Fordist assembly line form of production. Like the Septuagint, where 72 imprisoned scholar translators translated the Torah identically through the hand of God, the new trend relies on the multiplicity of translators to confirm the validity of the produced translation. However, different is that while the Septuagint produced 72 results that were the same, the new form of translation produces one result that arguably combines the knowledge of all translators involved. This trend of translation can be seen in various new media forms and translation schemes such as Wikis, the Lolcat Bibul, Facebook, and FLOSS Manuals.

Wikis (from the Hawaian word for “fast”) are a form of distributed authorship. They exist due to the effort of their user base that adds and subtracts small sections to individual pages. One user might create a page and add a sentence, another might write three more paragraphs, a third may edit all of the above and subtract one of the paragraphs, and so on. No single author exists, but the belief is that the “truth” will come out of the distributed authority of the wiki.  It’s a very democratic form of knowledge production and authorship that certainly has issues, but for translation it enables new possibilities. While wikis are generally produced in a certain language and rarely translated (as the translation would not be able to keep track of the track changes), the chunk-by-chunk form of translation has been used in various places.

The Lolcat Bibul translation project is a web-based effort to translate the King James Bible into the meme language used to caption lolcats (amusing cat images). The “language” meme itself is a form of pidgin English where present tense and misspellings are highlighted for humorous effect. Examples are “I made you a cookie… but I eated it,” “I’z on da tbl tastn ur flarz,” and “I can haz cheeseburger?”[1] The Lolcat Bibul project facilitates the translation from King James verse to lolcat meme. For example, Genesis 1:1 is translated as follows:

KING JAMES: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
LOLCAT: Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat Maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem. [2]

While the effort to render the Bible is either amusing or appalling depending on your personal outlook, important is the translation method itself. The King James Bible exists on one section of the website, and in the beginning the lolcat side was blank. Slowly, individual users took individual sections and verses and translated them according to their interpretation of lolspeak, thereby filling the lolcat side. These translated sections could also be changed and adapted as users altered words and ideas. No single user could control the translation, and any individual act could be opposed by another translation. The belief is that if 72 translators and the hand of God can produce an authoritative Bible, surely 72 thousand translators and the paw of Ceiling Cat can produce an authoritative Bibul.

FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) Manuals and translations are a slightly more organized version of this distributed trend [3]. FLOSS is theoretically linked to Yochai Benkler’s “peer production” where people do things for different reasons (pride, cultural interaction, economic advancement, etc), and both the manuals and translations capitalize on this distribution of personal drives. Manuals are created for free and open source software through both intensive drives where multiple people congregate in a single place and hammer out the particulars of the manual, and follow-up wiki based adaptations. The translations of these manuals are then enacted as a secondary practice in a similar manner. Key to this open translation process are the distribution of work and translation memory tools (available databases of used terms and words) that enable such distribution, but also important is the initial belief that machine translations are currently unusable, which causes the necessity of such open translations.

Finally, Facebook turned translation into a game by creating an applet that allowed users to voluntarily translate individual strings of linguistic code that they used on a daily basis in English. Any particular phrase such as “[user] has accepted your friend request” or “Are you sure you want to delete [object]?” were translated dozens to hundreds of times and the most recurring variations were implemented in the translated version. The translation was then subject to further adaptation and modification as “native” users joined the fray as Facebook officially expanded into alternate languages. Thus, <LIKE> would have become <好き>, but was transformed to <いいね!> (good!). Not only did this process produce “real” languages, such as Japanese, but it also enabled user defined “languages” such as English (Pirate) with plenty of “arrrs” and “mateys.”

Wikis, FLOSS, and Facebook are translations with differing levels of user authority, but they all work on the premise that multiple translators can produce a singular, functioning translation. In the case of Facebook this functionality and user empowerment is highlighted; for FLOSS, user empowerment through translation and publishing are one focus, but a second focus is the movement away from machine translation; in all cases, but wikis particularly, the core belief is that truth will emerge out of the cacophony of multiple voices, and this is the key tenet of the destabilization of the translator [4].

The other trend is the destabilization of the translation. This form of translation has roots in the post divine Septuagint where all translation is necessarily flawed or partial. Instead of the truth emerging from the average of the sum of voices, truth is the build up: it is footnotes, marginal writing and multiple layers. Truth here is the cacophony itself. The ultimate text is forever displaced, but the mass intends to eventually lead to the whole (whether it gets there or not is separate matter for Benjamin, Derrida and the like).
While this style of translation is less enacted at present it is not completely new. Side by side pages with notes about choices is one variation centuries old (Tyndale’s Biblical notations, Midrash, and side by side poetry translations), the DVD language menu coming from multiple subtitle tracks is another variation, and finally this leads to new possibilities for multi-language software translations.

While the Septuagint leads to the creation of a single text in the myth, 72 translators translating a single text would produce 72 different translations in reality. The attempt to stabilize this inherent failure of translation argues that one of those translations is better and used, but it can be altered if a better translation comes around. The Bible translation is always singular, but it changes. Similarly, the Odyssey is translated quite often, but the translations are always presented alone. They are authoritative. In contrast, Roland Barthes comparison of modern works and postmodern texts and Foucault’s discussion of the authorial function both lead toward this destabilization of the author [5]. This discussion can be linked into translation studies’ discussions of author and translator intellectual production. The destabilization of translators and translations build off of both of these postmodern traditions, but the latter trend attempts to avoid weighing in on the issue by simultaneously exhibiting the conflicting iterations.

The main difficulty of the destabilization of the translation is the problem of exhibiting multiple iterations at one time in a meaningful way. How can a reader read two things at once, or with film, how can a viewer understand two soundtracks at once? Books and films provide multiple examples of how to deal with such an attention issue. With literary works endnotes are a minimal example of such attention divergence. Endnotes do not immediately compete for the reader’s attention, but the note markers indicate the possibility of voluntary switching. Footnotes are a slightly more aggressive form of attention management s they tell the reader to switch focus to the bottom of the page, a smaller distance that is more likely to happen.

For film, subtitles, which layer the filmic text with both original dialogue and the authorial translation, are a close equivalent to endnotes as they split the viewer’s attention, but do not force the attention toward a particular place. It is entirely possible to ignore subtitles regardless of complaints against them (much harder to ignore would be intertitles filling the screen). Finally, the benshi, a simultaneous live translator/explainer, is an early to mid 20th century Japanese movie theater tradition that most resembles the more aggressive footnotes as the benshi’s explanative voice competes with the film’s soundtrack for the audience’s aural attention [6].

Unlike websites such as Amazon, which have language dedicated pages (.com, .co.jp, .co.de) and block orders from addresses outside of their national coverage, or services such as the Sony PSPGo Store, which disallows the purchase of alternate region software, some sites utilize pull down language options that change the language while remaining on the same page, or provide multiple linguistic versions for purchase.

With digital games the localization process has traditionally replaced one language with its library of accompanying files with another. However, as computer memory increases the choice of one language or another becomes less of an issue and multiple languages are provided with the core software. This gives rise to the language option where the game can be flipped from one language to another through an option menu. Most games put this choice in the options menu at the title screen, but a few allow the user to switch back and forth. The simultaneous visibility of multiple languages or a language switch button would be further advancements toward the destabilization of translations.


[1] Rocketboom Know Your Meme. <http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/lolcats>; I Can Has Cheezburger. <http://icanhascheezburger.com/>; Hobotopia. <http://apelad.blogspot.com/>.

[2] LOLCat Bible Translation Project. <http://www.lolcatbible.com/index.php?title=Genesis_1>.

[3] FLOSS Manuals. http://en.flossmanuals.net/

[4] This conceptualization relates to Bolter and Grusin’s hypermediacy. Bolter, J. David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

[5] Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, Donna Jeanne Haraway and Teresa De Lauretis. London: Routledge, 2007; Foucault, Michel. “What Is an Author?” In The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, edited by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose. New York: New Press, 2003.

[6] Nornes, Markus. Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Masochistic Translation

Painful Differance

I recently had a taste of a truly alienating translation: a translation that made me cry from lack of comprehension, and said comprehension was intentional in the author’s method and theory as well as the translator’s. This text, if you haven’t guessed, is Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

I am told that Of Grammatology is forever deferred both in fact and meaning. Nobody gets it enough to fully summarize, but individual chunks might be worked through, as can be terms such as ‘trace,’ ‘sous rature,’ ‘differance’ et cetera. Writing exists in a particular relationship to language and to speech, and this relationship is opposite to that believed by the formalists, structuralists and logocentrists. We cannot get to meaning and the signified; we can only slide around in trace relationships between various signifiers in one time, place, language: one moment. What can be made present is only a partial presence, the trace; what is lost, the arche-trace, can be slide back and around, but never regained.

Spivak furthers this theoretical endeavor by sliding around in her translation, by making a 90 page translator’s preface that forces particular readings of the following 300 pages and challenges the relationship of original and translation through such placement. The preface, which comes after Derrida’s de la Grammatologie, is placed before Of Grammatology and thereby becomes first. Derrida’s text is not signfied to her translation’s signifier, rather there are only signifiers of signifiers, translations of translations, versions of versions. Spivak notes how related all of this is to translation in passing implications on lxxvii then straight out on lxxxv-lxxxvii.

All of this taken as is, reading Of Grammatology is a painful experience of slippery wordplay and neverending deferral of understanding. Reading Spivak’s translation is just that much more painful.

The Derridian (and de Man and Spivak) translational project would lead to very unpleasant translations: Spivak’s case is a prime example. However, she got away with it as she is not writing for entertainment and pleasure. Only for the masochistically inclined is Derrida fun.


Speaking of mascochism, there are such things as masocore games (a term coming from Anna Anthropy’s blog entry on Auntie Pixelante). Not everybody likes or plays them, but they do exist. Said simply, masocore are games that revel in mistreating the player.

Giantbomb  notes masocore is “a postmodern indie game genre in which the designer intentionally frustrates the player. This frustration is typically accomplished by restructuring a preexisting game genre to place it in in one of three categories of frustration.”

“Trial and Error” is the necessity of following an exact path and figuring out that path. This is easily seen in platformers that necessitate exact jumps, or adventure games that require an exact path where alteration of such leads to the inability to complete the game (such as an item that you needed to pick up in the opening scenes without which the game cannot be completed)

“Confusion” is where generic conventions are broken (often resulting in the player having to relearn generic boundaries through Trial and Error). An example of this from Auntie Pixelante is “you jump over the apple, and the apple falls up and kills you. the apple falls up and kills you.” Auntie Pixelante goes on to reject the “merely super-hard” moniker and sides with the belief that masocore games are those that “[play] with the player’s expectations, the conventions of the genre that the player thinks she knows. they’re mindfucks.”

“Play,” Giantbomb’s third category, is the removal of play motivation (end, death, etc) in order to force the player to focus on (uncomfortable) play mechanics.

As Anna Anthropy states in the conclusion of her piece, masocore is visible now because of the intersections of independent gaming and free and easy distribution methods. She writes: “most of these games are simply unmarketable. which is why the masocore game, twenty years later, is starting to come into its own: now there are avenues for freeware games to reach wide audiences. these games have no need to sell themselves to the player, which allows them to be among the most interesting game experiences being crafted right now.”

Key to her statement in my mind is the how the gaming aesthetic of masochism has been enabled by the early 21st century game industry that has expanded beyond the generic as marketable to the niche as marketable.


Masocore, is certainly a recently dubbed generic name, but it has persistent links to previous forms of the past decades. While the third form of masocore frustration (Play) might be unique, the other two forms can be seen in earlier methods of differentiated difficulties (and in general it can be traced back much further to such “games” as gladiatorial combat, martial arts, war, et cetera).

Game difficulty exists for multiple reasons, only one of which is enjoyment. (The relationship between difficulty and profit where arcade games necessitated difficulty to garner maximal profit, but video/computer games necessitated ease to enable the completion and further purchase of another game are ignored here.)

Due to the belief that difficulty is good for some reason (Flow, or any other theory), games have had various levels of difficulty and different methods of implementing said difficulty. Some games were simply really, really hard such as Donkey Kong and Ghost’n Goblins, some included the use of continues to enable the completion of a game (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter), some offered different difficulty levels (Atari’s difficulty switch; The standardized Easy, Normal, Hard; Doom‘s I’m too Young to Die, Hey, Not too Rough, Hurt Me Plenty, Ultra-Violence, Nightmare!; Marathon‘s Kindergarten, Easy, Normal, Major Damage, Total Carnage; Halo‘s Easy, Normal, Heroic, Legendary; etc), some went the full opposite direction and made it impossible to lose by re-spawning the player at one point or another through some diegetic method (Prey, Bioshock). All of these are based around the idea that there is some benefit in difficulty, but just what that benefit is, and what level of difficulty is good, is unsure.

One new variation is the use of achievements to create a masocore element to an otherwise reasonable game. For instance, one of Mega Man 10‘s 12 achievements is Mr. Perfect, which requires the player “Clear the game without getting damaged.” In a Megaman style platformer this is nearly impossible and both a new proof of hardcore’ness and an implementation of masocore’ness.

Difficulty changes (as do implementations), but the tendency is neither to bow down to the masocores nor the casuals. Instead, the game industry has increasingly attempted to provide access to both. Difficulty, even masochistic pleasure in the extremely difficult, is increasingly deemed acceptable. The inclusion of the masochistic Mr. Perfect achievement between Mega Man 9 (2008) and Mega Man 10 (2010) and its correspondence to Anna Anthropy’s post in 2008 and the present 2010 point to this process of incorporation. Translation should learn a lesson from this, especially when localization’s main defense for its problematic translational method is that games need to be fun, to be entertainment. Some people like masocore games; some people like Derridian translations. Let’s start having masochistic translations.


Anthropy, Anna. “Masocore Games.” Auntie Pixelante. Posted: April 6, 2008. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <http://www.auntiepixelante.com/?p=11>

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak trans. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Mega Man 10 Achievement List. X-Box 360 Achievements. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <http://www.xbox360achievements.org/game/mega-man-10/achievements/>

TheDustin. “Masocore: Mr. Gimmick: The Best NES Platformer You Haven’t Heard Of (and Sadly Haven’t Played).” Play This Thing. Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010. Accessed: Sunday, February 14, 2010. <http://playthisthing.com/game-taxonomy/masocore>

Various Authors. “Masocore (video game concept).” Giant Bomb. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <http://www.giantbomb.com/masocore/92-1165/>.

The Task of the Translator; The Location of Localization

I’ve been reading a lot of Walter Benjamin’s “Die Aufgabe des Ãœbersetzers” lately in reference. So much so that I also went back and (re)read the original. The question of course for everybody, or at least as I understand decades later and after Paul de Man, is whether the focus is on ‘translation’ as the ‘failure’ or the ‘task’ of the translator, both of which are built into the German. This comes down to whether the translator tries to translate the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ of the original, the idea of touching and either deflecting or reforming the ‘vessel,’ et cetera. The voice in my head then asks what the relationship between localizations is?

There’s an interesting thing that happens when I read translation work: I don’t feel like I’m barking up a crazy tree. This is nice. However, the other thing that happens is that I wonder exactly how I’m trying to tie things together, which doesn’t exactly work. Too many partial overlaps at once.

Things that are important here are, of course, the failure of the translation process, but also some of the other basics such as translation being not just ontological and spatial, and not just historical and temporal (which Bermann and Wood try to point to, rightfully, in Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation, but also specifically NOT temporal or spatial for localization.

Or rather, that is of course what is the intent with localization.

Translation is a post-production effect. It is written and then it’s translated. Even if I’m going to be difficult, or pomo, and say that repetition, adaptation and the like are also forms of translation there is still a key difference and that is the temporal aspect. However, localization specifically abuses that location of the translation. Game translation (localization) is increasingly moved from the post-production to the central production point. This follows through with the central claims of games as new media: that they have no original and are variable. This moving (temporal) position of localization also justifies the claim that games are not actually translated as it was never officially in one place or another. And more, for the case of simultaneous releases (and better yet releases with multiple languages) they are able to claim a full disabling of the temporal element of translation.

(New Media) Translation After Pound

The 20th century turn toward domestication essentially stems form Ezra Pound’s translations, but impurely, through the modern emphasis of the author mixed with the business of selling books.

According to Ronnie Apter in Digging for the Treasure: Translation After Pound, Pound influenced translation theory and practice in three major ways. First, was the move from “Victorian pseudo-archaic translation diction” to modern style. Second, is by arguing for a criticism of the original in some form: not simply the objective transfer (an acknowledged impossibility by the Victorians as well), but to focus on some particular element and thereby “criticize.” And finally, the creation of a new poem: not just something derivative.

These three were all essential breaks with both the Victorian practice, which focused on three criteria: paraphrase with no additions (subtractions were inevitable, but additions were taboo), the reproduction of the author’s traits (just what the traits were was, however, up for grabs), and the reproduction of the overall effect of the text (whether the “effect was of the original on the original’s original audience, or the original on the modern audience who can read the original text is unknown). It was also an adaptation with the contemporaneous translation theory professed by Matthew Arnold and F. W. Newman.

However, while Pound was translating against the Victorian grain, we have come full circle to a new norm. The fashion of the times has changed to one that embraces Pound’s basics, but not the depths. If “great translators transcend the fashion of their times [and] minor ones merely manipulate it” Pound was a great translator, many minor figures have manipulated his transcendence, but Pound himself would simply be one of any in the current fashion. As Lawrence Venuti has argued, the times and dominant style have changed and another transcendental shift is called for.

What I want to argue is that this shift is called for by the media itself. The move from literary page translation to multimedia and digital forms leads into new possibilities for and understandings of translation. In an interesting way, however, it is Pound’s logopoeia, his style of meta-translation, that can still lead the way. Whereas Pound focused on the meaning of words to bring into focus both the older era and the present, a type of dialectical juxtaposition, the move toward searchable, digital data in opposition to static, analogue data allows the simultaneous existence of both data sets and a new type of logopoeia. This new form of meta-translation involves the layering of translational tracks. Instead of juxtaposition, there is the coexistence of both tracks/languages/cultures.

This is similar to the possibilities evoked by subtitles and abuse (Nornes), but it considers the issue in relation to digital, new media and not simply film considered in an analogue manner. Instead of the ability to simply choose one or another track/language, it gives all, or switches between languages. It renders the possibilities of putting three real languages into a game such as Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 (English, Russian and Japanese to use the fictive world), but more meaningfully (and less deliberately/offensively stereotypically), of switching them on the fly so that one game has the US speaking English, the Russians Russian and the Japanese Japanese, but another switches so that the US speaks Japanese, the Russians English and the Japanese Russian. The media uses its ability to draw from the swappable data files not to simply replace one with another, thereby changing one representation into another, but to abuse the user with a constant active experience that questions the submerged normativity of language that exists with translated entertainment products (games in particular) at present.