Is game localization OK for you?

When I play a game set in the USA (it’s just an example) I play it in its original form because if I don’t play it in its original version, there is a risk that the translator localized the game, meaning that he/she changed the topic of dialogues and texts to fit them better with non-US cultures.

Now, one of the reasons I play games strongly based on narrative is to extend my knowledge and to discover new things about different cultures. In Thimbleweed Park, for example, I didn’t get the joke of the “O-Ring” and I had to search for what this reference was about. When I discovered that this object was an implicit reference to the Challenger disaster, I understood the joke but I also learned something new about the US culture (the strong connection between that object and that event).

If you take a game set in the USA, containing references of US events and change them with references of events more popular in other cultures, it doesn’t make much sense to me. Sure, the new reference will be more understandable to people of a different country but it will make the game less coherent, because there is no reason for US characters to suddenly mention things about other countries, unless the story justifies it in some way.

What’s you opinion on localization? Does it feel it right to you to discard an original element that made sense in that specific setting only to make the game more suitable for people of different cultures?

Absolutely YES! And the answer is in your question yet.
For most people a good translator finds a way to express the meaning in a different linguistic context, also making (slight) changes.
For those who want to get all the original references… well there’s the original text and voice!!!

That’s a great point in favour for products like games, compared to books. In TWP you get six different languages in one product! You can even switch to another language at any time!

It was an argument of discussion since the times of the TWP Development Blog, and I always expressed this point of view, that was brilliantly realized in the italian localization.


Localization is very, very important and can add extra value if done right. Of course, it can be a disaster if done wrong.

An example of this can be the way The Simpsons have been adapted in Italian. Nowadays, with Internet and all, it’s very different, but in the early 90s nobody knew anything about USA and its culture. So, some jokes needed to be translated.

Some were easy: e.g. in S03E24, Lisa says “This award is the biggest farce I ever saw”, to which Bart objects “What about the Emmys?”, in Italian Bart cites Sanremo, the most important Italian music festival. It doesn’t change the joke at all, but makes it understandable to the Italian audience which, at the time, had basically no idea about what the Emmys were. However, some other were next to impossible or went just wrong due to the adapters’ ineptitude, and it shows, especially now that I can compare the translation to the original version, but at the time I wouldn’t have loved The Simpsons as much if they weren’t adapted to the Italian culture.

The same goes for videogames: if it weren’t for localization, I would have never played Monkey Island right. The translation is sloppy, but still, it allowed me to play it. In a story-driven game, it’s of vital importance to understand everything right, and while I played TWP in English, I still think localization is very very important. And I know the Italian adaptation is wonderful :smiley:


From a commercial point of view it makes sense to localize everything, because you can sell the new product to more people. But let’s put aside the economic aspects for a moment and let’s focus on the artistic and cultural aspects.

Is there a negative aspect in keeping a story set within the specific culture it was intended to take place? What’s the worst thing that can happen if we keep a work of art in its original form?

You can misunderstood the art and the culture. If you are not familiar with the language and the culture you won’t get the joke or the puzzle. A good example (Sorry, Ron :slight_smile: ) is the monkey wrench puzzle: You have to know that “monkey wrench” is a tool. In TWP you have to know what and how famous the “Tonight Show” was. If you don’t live in the country (US) it is more difficult to understand all these things.

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Of course, I agree. But what’s the negative aspect of that difficulty? What’s the negative aspect of making efforts to understand other people’s culture?

You aren’t able to solve a puzzle or you misunderstand the meaning of the story.

You mean, that the player should try to understand the culture? I think that is very difficult to achieve, because sometimes you have to live in that country and in that culture. For example before Monkey Island 2 I didn’t knew that a monkey wrench is a tool. And even if I had spend several month in the USA I’m not sure, if I had learned that term (I never needed a monkey wrench).

I wasn’t focusing on that. In fact, I cited a joke which - in a context like The Simpsons - is something vital in the artistic aspect of the product.

In fact,

You should ask yourself the opposite question: what’s the negative aspect of NOT making efforts to adapt to other people’s culture?

If you want your piece of art to convey (more or less) the same message to everyone, you need to normalize that message. If your spectator needs an effort to understand, he loses the spontaneity of the moment, or the joke goes above his head.

With localization (again: if done right) he can best understand what you originally meant. And he also has a means now to better understand the original culture, having a counterpart for comparison.

I don’t see it as a requirement but if he/she decides to try to extend his/her knowledge I see it as a positive thing, yes. That’s because it gives him/her a new tool to understand the world around him/her and to appreciate not only the derivative work but also the original art. I see it as an improvement.

Sometimes, yes. But today we have Google. For example, I googled “O-Ring” and I found the connection with the Challenger. Sure, it required one or two minutes of my life, but my perception is that I learned something more and it also was a way to enjoy Ron’s joke instead of some other people substitution. Further, this new knowledge might help me to understand other future references to that object.

(the reference of the “O-Ring” is just the first modern example that comes to my mind, I’m not interested into any specific issue)

One negative aspect is this kind of “help” keeps my knowledge confined within my cultural bubble. Everyone lives in a cultural bubble, but we can expand it if we want to and in my opinion being exposed to examples of other cultures is a way to improve our knowledge and to better understand the world.

This is absolutely true, he loses the spontaneity of the moment and he probably will not understand the joke… the first time.

But if we accept that “consuming” art produced by different cultures is also a way to understand more and that the effects or art don’t stop after its immediate consumption, a percentage of those people who didn’t understand the joke the first time will search for its meaning and will get the knowledge to understand in the future other references of the same thing.

I think that if we believe that the effects of an artistic work coincide only in what happens in the precise moment it is perceived and no further, then any easily comprehensible form of it is OK. We focus on easiness, not on an expansion of our culture.

But what if we consider art also a medium that can expand our knowledge well beyond the things that we already know? If you give me a reference to something that I already know, I immediately get the joke/story and you also prevent me to learn something new about the original story/joke/context/culture. I’m perfectly able to walk but I thank you for the wheelchair that you give to me, because it’s more practical and prevents me from using the muscles of my legs. Could using this comfy wheelchair have long-term effects on me?

Now that I have given to you my answer, I would like you to answer to the question that you didn’t answer (sorry, it’s an ugly sentence):

What’s the negative aspect of making efforts to understand other people’s culture?

I’m sure that there are negative aspects. For example, making efforts can be bad because it requires time and sometimes it’s boring. What else?

That won’t work for example with the monkey wrench puzzle: You have to know in advance that the monkey wrench is a tool to solve the puzzle. MI2 doesn’t display the word/term “monkey wrench”. So you can’t search for it on Google. This is just one example: If you don’t know what to search, you can’t inform yourself properly and so you can’t solve the puzzle.

This works even better with a translation: A good translation shows and explains the culture to me. If we go back to the monkey wrench example, the translator could somewhere include a hint, that in English “monkey wrench” is a tool. So I have a chance to solve the puzzle and learn a new English word.

You assume that the person understood that it was a joke. :slight_smile: But that’s not necessarily the case.