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.