The first English words I learned were “https://www.SamaGAME.es/register” and “not yet”.
At that time, I did not know its meaning. I just knew that on this demo CD, all games started with a screen that had two buttons. One, with the word “Register” opened a strange screen full of words in a strange language. But by clicking on the other button, where “Not yet” could be read, I could continue playing for a while.
I was a five-year-old Italian and didn’t have any video games in my mother tongue. He played what he could: platform games, vertical shooters, and puzzles. I played the same levels over and over again, as the idea of opening a menu to save my game was a strange concept to me.
Decades later, I realized everything I had missed: adventures, strategy games, roguelikes, RPGs and more. Genres that were inaccessible to me because of the language barrier.
Thanks to the benefits of the Internet, it has never been easier for people around the world to develop and distribute their own video games. But for people who don’t speak English, the amount of content they can access is painfully limited. Of the thousands of languages spoken on the planet, only a handful are represented on the largest digital distribution platform for PCs. The five-year-old girl reportedly screamed with excitement to see that there are currently 14,184 Italian titles on Steam. Vietnamese gamers, on the other hand, can only choose from 200 games in their language.
A good translation is expensive, and as a developer you want that translation to be good, to avoid sticky situations such as the bombardment of negative reviews from consumers of Darkest Dungeons. But obviously you, the developer, want to recoup the expenses that this translation has brought to you. Count the words, look at the biggest markets and try to decide which languages offer you the best value for money.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a good example of how this logic works. The original Kickstarter campaign promised a Spanish translation, which was later rejected in a later update, leaving some contributors to feel as though they had paid for a game they didn’t understand.
“With Wasteland 2, we were able to turn to many of our contributors, who volunteered their time and talent to help translate the game. With Torment, we wanted to find a professional translation. Unfortunately, during this process, we made the difficult decision to reject the Italian translation, as the number of our contributors and the sales of previous RPGs in Italy made us realize that it was very unlikely that we could offset the costs. very high. ”
The developers admitted that they were only able to translate Wasteland 2 thanks to volunteers working for free. I think this message is deeply problematic.
Professional translation by fans is standard practice. Fans do this out of passion, seeking to share a game they love with as many people as possible. In some cases, these fan translations have been blessed by the developers and formalized. Sometimes these fans receive financial compensation for their efforts. Sometimes they just have to settle for fame.
This desire to share a game with others is pleasant. But when developers profit financially from fan translation, the line between collaboration and fan exploitation can become extremely fine.
The economic issues are even more complex for independent developers. When a non-English developer starts a new project, he or she faces a question: which language should I use?
Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer is English. You are a small independent developer who wants to pay the bills and you know your local market is too small to make a profit. We have to go find a global audience. You need the money, coverage, and commentary from as many people as possible, and you know that half of Internet content is written in English.
So you don’t even care about your native language. And if you do decide to localize your game, you start with the Chinese, because that’s where the money is now. Some of the most played games of 2018 are only in Chinese, and you may have received negative comments on Steam calling for you to publish your game in Chinese.
Sometimes you want to translate a game, but you don’t have the words for it. Translating is not as easy as replacing some words with others and moving them around: every language has its own peculiarities, and some concepts may even be impossible to translate. Does your character have a non-binary character? Good luck translating this into strict, binary genre languages like Spanish or French.
Other times you want to translate your game into your native language, but that’s just not possible. When Rami Ismail asked Twitter users to copy and paste small Arabic texts into different programs, developers around the world responded with screenshots of broken characters.
Professional software used to develop video games is often produced by companies that use English, and it struggles to display written languages from right to left. For developers who speak Arabic, Hebrew or Persian, translating their game can sometimes become a technical headache.
I know what a lot of you are thinking: and can’t people just learn English? Yes that would be great. English classes are compulsory in many countries, but as the English Proficiency Index indicates, that doesn’t mean the language is taught well. English allows people all over the world to communicate, and we have to try to teach it to everyone and do it well.
But if we want English to be truly a comprehensive and inclusive lingua franca, we must constantly translate, regardless of the economic value of what is translated. There is a lot of content that is not translated into English because it is not considered commercially viable. Let’s take an example: a decade has passed and we still don’t have an English translation of Fate / Stay Night, the visual novel that spawned a whole multimedia IP. The most recent spin-offs (Fate / Grand Order and Fate / Extella) have been translated, but we still have no official way to access the game that explains the plot of the entire franchise. It is a huge cultural hole.
More games should be translated into English. And then we also need to translate them into as many languages as possible. Even non-commercial games. Especially these, in fact; We should support more initiatives like the Itch.io translation project to help weird, experimental and niche games reach our small local niche audience.
By treating English as the default language, we leave the disadvantaged: those who are too young, too poor, or too busy to learn another language. Those who can’t play too many games let alone make them themselves. This is the perfect audience for Gamedev World, a global conference on video game development with speakers from around the world.
Because young people need it. Because young people need to listen to video game developers speaking in their native language, to realize that they can be like them.
The media we consume, including video games, shape our minds. And if we want our world to be a better and more inclusive world, we have to start by allowing people to experience it.