Video game localisation and beyond: shifting digital boundaries in Translation Studies

[1] Game Localization, Translating for the global digital entertainment industry; [2] Fun for All: Translation and Accessibility Practices in Video Games

[1] Carme Mangiron and Minako O’Hagan; [2] Carme Mangiron, Pilar Orero and Minako O’Hagan ([1] 2013; [2] 2014)

[1] John Benjamins: Amsterdam/Philadelphia, ISBN 9789027224569, 374 pp., € 99; [2] Peter Lang: Bern, ISBN 9783034314503, 309 pp., € 82

Reviewed by: Gianna Tarquini & Serenella Massidda

With a global turnaround rivalling cinema industry’s, video games have come of age as a mainstream digital medium and a vibrant cultural phenomenon worldwide. As international sales account for 30-50 per cent of annual revenues, far-reaching issues related to video game localisation practice need to be addressed in academia, in terms of their highest descriptive, theoretical and applied purposes. This review introduces two pioneering volumes that seek to conceptualise a set of practices and reflections that have been emerging in the last ten years, linking them with well-founded disciplinary frameworks including Game Studies, GILT (Globalisation, Internationalisation, Localisation and Translation), and, of course, Audiovisual Translation and Translation Studies.

Game Localisation, written by Carme Mangiron and Minako O’Hagan, is the first scholarly attempt to establish video game localisation as a worth-studying and groundbreaking discipline in Translation Studies, beyond the bounds and the aura of controversy that have long surrounded this medium. Moving from literature review and translation theory, through in-depth description of industrial processes poached with fresh examples and case studies, to translator training and new avenues for research, the two authors leave no stone unturned in offering a comprehensive introduction to relevant topics in game localisation. Furthermore, as anticipated by the evocative subheadline Translating for the global digital entertainment industry, the book can be read as an extension of game-specific issues, opening new translation perspectives in the contemporary scenario of media technologisation and convergence. More specifically, after introducing key stakes and previous research in game localisation, the authors set out to define this area of study by illustrating its historical evolution and fundamental concepts. The second and third chapters provide an insightful description of global workflows and processes, from upstream planning through strategic internationalisation strategies down to localisation management and modi operandi, which are known to have a major impact on translation practice. In so doing, Mangiron and O’Hagan seek to bridge the long-standing gap between a set of industrial practices streamlined by global companies and the lack of relevant theorisation in Translation Studies. The second chapter, in particular, can be read as a standalone contribution to the conceptualisation of localisation and translation both in the utility software industry and in the gaming industry, thus providing solid foundations and arguments for a “technological turn” in Translation Studies. The fourth section, devoted to game translation proper, seeks to situate game localisation in the context of Translation Studies. Drawing on functionalist approaches (Nord 1997, 2005; Reiss 1971/2000; Vermeeer 1989/2000) and linking them with translation strategies and norms (Chesterman 1997) as well as industrial constraints, the authors provide a valuable and well-thought-out framework for the operationalisation of game localisation as a unique kind of “transcreation”. Of particular value is the systematisation of translation priorities according to an accurate taxonomy of text assets/types and their respective functions in games (p. 155-8), since video games are rather complex and textually evasive artefacts, and the application of the concept of “patronage” (Lefevere 1992) in the discussion of the operational framework underlying game localisation. Building on the emergence of a “cultural shift” in Translation Studies, chapter 5 sheds light on the adaptation of broader cultural dimensions in video games as a malleable digital and audiovisual artefact. Cultural content, in facts, is not only embedded in language but relates to a variety of semiotic codes (e.g., design, artwork, animation, and music scores), technical specifications (e.g., character sets, directionality, and hardware components) as well as marketing and legal issues. As popular cultural products, video games are heavily bound to target gamer markets and communities, international rating boards and, more generally, to the preferences, beliefs and regulations of each locale. Chapter 6 discusses largely unexplored pedagogical concerns in training game localisers, proposing learning pathways that satisfy industrial needs while at the same time building on a social constructivist approach. The issue of copyright and access to primary materials is also covered, as it represents one of the major hurdles in creating game translator training content. Finally, the last chapter represents a unique contribution in setting the agenda for future research in video game as well as in new media translation. Moving away from process- and product-oriented paradigms, the authors turn the spotlight on users, addressing broad issues regarding multimedia accessibility (covered below), fan-based practices and user-focused empirical research, including reception studies and eye-tracking methods. Of particular interest is the insight into fan translation as the authors attempt to explore the dichotomy between the concepts of ethics and legality, focusing on the micro-areas of crowdsourcing and translation hacking, in order to highlight the inherent contradictions, the profound implications and the significant repercussions for the global translation and gaming industry at large. To conclude, this book represents a must-read reference to anyone interested in game localisation as it targets not only scholars and professionals belonging to this field, but also those who are interested in emerging issues in Game Studies, audiovisual translation and localisation. Provided with an initial glossary of game-specific terms, Game Localisation is designed to serve as an introduction to this dynamic area, keeping a balance between theoretical and practical dimensions. However, the highly specialised approach to the subject under analysis, along with the complexity of the arguments and topics covered, may discourage a readership less acquainted with information and communication technology or localisation-related dynamics.

The second pioneering contribution to the establishment of video game translation as a groundbreaking area of research is the book titled Fun for All: Translation and Accessibility Practices in Video Games, edited by Carme Mangiron, Pilar Orero and Minako O’Hagan. Stemming from the scholarly ferment stirred by the first two editions of the “International Conference on Video Game and Virtual Worlds Translation and Accessibility” held at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, this volume includes a collection of cutting-edge studies on game accessibility and translation. The starting point and underlying rationale of the editors is the concept of accessibility in its broadest sense, encompassing not only “users with functional diversity, but also those who, due to age or skill, are not able to play a game successfully, those who do not speak the original language of the game, and those who, owing to socioeconomic conditions, cannot access games or virtual platforms" (p. 9). Hence, this entails accounting for localisation and accessibility issues in the early development stage of video games as well as raising a wide range of sociocultural concerns related to inclusion and participation in the digital information age.

The book is divided into two major thematic sections: the first one, mainly focused on game accessibility theory and practice, contains innovative contributions on designing “universally accessible games” (Dimitris Grammenos), while others shed light on the potential role of Translation Studies in promoting accessibility and e-inclusion (Alberto Fernández Costales), game-related educational issues (Javier Torrente et al.) and professional challenges (Javier Mairena). The second section of the book is a collection of nine papers covering major cultural, translational and educational challenges posed by video games. Cultural issues are tackled, to start with, by Ornella Lepre, who argues for a ludological approach to game localisation in her discussion of cultural adaptation and remakes of Japanese games for the international markets. Another fresh perspective is provided by Stephen Mandiberg in his approach inspired by Cultural Studies. The contributor conjures up the evocative concept of diaspora in addressing the inclusion of minority communities dispersed in foreign regions, as in the case of Chinese people living in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, or the United States, who are not targeted by official versions of games released in the Chinese market. Kate Edwards delves further into the notion of culturalisation, which to date has become a key issue among scholars and professionals, and argues for culturally sensitive game development. Translation strategies and constraints are systematically investigated in the pilot studies proposed by Annelies Van Oers and Gianna Tarquini, and by Xiaochun Zhang, focusing on terminology management. Emerging topics covered in this volume also include fan translations (Rafael Müller), game localisation training (Oliver Carreira and Eugenia Arrés) and professional project management (Víctor Alonso). As this volume is manifestly related to audiovisual and accessibility issues, it may represent an easier “access point” to game localisation for scholars, professionals and those who have a background or interests in these domains, providing, at the same time, new stimuli to localisation experts.

The wide range of contributions and the wealth of information contained in these two volumes are difficult to sum up, but it is worth calling attention to two emerging topics. The first issue is represented by the need of an epistemic reflection on the scientific methodology (-ies) employed in order to investigate game localisation. As research on game accessibility, cultural adaptation, translation and reception is still in its humble beginnings, a wide range of case studies and methods will provide a considerable input. However, as the discipline is going to develop and build on further theoretical foundations, the methods used for data analysis and for verifying or generalising scientific assumptions will need to be re-discussed. The second broader phenomenon is the digital osmosis across different media, calling for new approaches in pre-existing translation paradigms and cross-fertilisation. As in the polysystem theory, the borders between audiovisual translation and localisation are increasingly blurred, causing major shifts in the two systems both practically and theoretically. To conclude with Mangiron and O’Hagan’s words: “As the media cross their previously distinct boundaries, translators are likely to have to go beyond their own specialist fields. For example, translators who have been working in the field of AVT primarily for cinema may face an increasing need to become familiar with other media such as comics and games, whereas software localisation specialists may need to be more specifically versed in audiovisual content requiring AVT techniques. This will have clear implications for future translator training to prepare the profession for a dynamically changing digital entertainment field […]. The dimension of ‘transmedia’/ ‘intermedia’ adds further complexity to the key goal of localizing entertainment media such as games so as to transfer ‘user experience’ that is specific to the nature of the given medium.” (p. 74-5).


Chesterman, Andrew (1997) Memes of Translation. The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Lefevere, André (1992) Translation, rewriting, and the manipulation of literary fame, London and New York, Routledge.

Nord, Christiane (1997) Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained, Manchester, St Jerome.

Nord, Christiane (2005) Text Analysis in Translation: Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis, 2nd Edition, Amsterdam and New York, Rodopi.

Reiss, Katarina (1971/2000) Translation Criticism – The Potentials and Limitations: Categories and Criteria for Translation Quality Assessment, trans. E. F. Rhodes, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Vermeer, Hans (1989/2000) “Skopos and commission in translational action”, in Translation Studies Reader, Venuti Lawrence (ed), London and New York, Routledge: 221-32.

©inTRAlinea & Gianna Tarquini & Serenella Massidda (2014).
[Review] "Video game localisation and beyond: shifting digital boundaries in Translation Studies", inTRAlinea Vol. 16
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