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September 29, 2013

Should Video Game Translations Be Regionalized?

Okay, I'm hitting a more touchy subject of the video gaming industry, as it deals with entertainment laws and all, but here goes anyway. First of all, why this subject in the first place? Well... It's a little something that's been bugging me recently. You see, I live in Quebec, a little province located on the East of Canada, a province that is mostly composed of French speakers. Our culture is different enough from the rest of Canada, we have our own view on the world, we have our own culture, our own icons (yay, lys flowers!). I'd go as far as to say that if we weren't linked to the rest of Canada by the province of Ontario, you'd swear we're our own country. (Not getting into nationalism versus separatism debates here, because this is a video game blog and, frankly, if you're living anywhere else in the world, chances are that you don't care much about that debate in particular.)

Now that this is said, let me make one thing clear. I'm proud of my province. No doubt there. However, there's a Quebec policy about video games and animated medias in general, and without quoting it entirely, it goes along the lines of "if thisDVD/Blu-Ray/video game doesn't have the option to be watched/played in French, it cannot be sold in stores". I might be wrong on the exact wording - actually, I'm sure I'm wrong on many places if we're looking for the exact wording - but the ideas is still there. If you can't watch this film in French, it cannot be sold here. If you cannot play this game in French, it cannot be sold here.
Thus, we get our own versions. Most of the time we just get the international French version, translated who knows where, yet we know the translators cared. I suppose. Anyway, in the land of the lys flowers, there's an odd case of video games that have been translated in French... In Quebec's French. Thanks God I don't have a lot of games like this. However, the biggest offender is Super Mario Galaxy, who uses and abuses of the Quebec dialect.

Should video game translations be regionalized? Should they use a particular dialect from a location? Should they use different words in some places, even if technically it's the same language? Hell, NO.

I'll respect the idea that video games NEED to be translated, as the inductry is spread all over the world and, while English IS a language fairly easy to learn (compared to, well, French, for that matter), sometimes translations are necessary. On Nintendo consoles, a large number of games are rated below T. Arguably, the act of translating almost all the games came around the time of the Wii, on which you can pick the console's language, and most games would adapt to the choice taken by the player. That's a very great idea, seeing as most Quebec children would have problems understanding the games if those stayed in English only. In a way, translating the games is required to reach a greater audience, one that will buy your games if they're in their native language. That way, the games don't appeal only to the children who are just elarning English, it also appeals to the old generations, our parents and grandparents, people who didn't have English classes, or did but it was at a time when it was much less important to speak English than it is now, so they still need to read the things they see in French. There will always be the people saying "well, kids are learning English in schools", "us gamers never needed that before, even when we were children", or the ever-popular "English rocks, translations suck". Good thing the last one never comes up.

However, another variable comes into play. Again, this blog is called Planned All Along because I approach the games on the aspect of their stories, and as I've said before, the gaming industry has evolved from games with a minimalist story yet hours of gameplay to games with complex storylines that blend in with the gameplay, so much that the two cannot be separated. Therefore, as the industry approached that second state, the need for translating became imminent. After all, the story is so important now, non-English speakers NEED to know what the characters are talking about. Likewise, non-English speakers will be glad they can understand the on-screen explanations on how the games work.

However, translating a game's story means that it is not altered in any way and, well, respect any canon that has been established in the preceding games. That's why an international version of the translation language should be used. We don't get this kind of problem in languages that elong to a single country. However, when I started playing Super Mario Galaxy with my Wii set to french, what did I get? Toads saying "Ayoye", Toads saying "Tabarouette", all kinds of interplanetary creatures speaking... *gasp!* QUEBEC WORDS!

God damn it! Would you imagine the Mushroom Kingdom set in an International English region? Of course, that's how you get your games! That's why it's awful to suddenly hear the Mario characters speaking non-International French! Makes no sense. Makes really no sense! It's an abomination! It's not working!

No, video game translations should not be regionalized. Maybe there can be a few exceptions, such as games set in particular cities or locations and, therefore, it wouldn't make sense if the characters weren't speaking with that place's expressions and accents. But in any other game that is NOT supposed to be set in a realistic environment nor in a city whose residents are known for their local expressions.

Regionalized translations? No. Super Mario Galaxy, YOU SCREWED UP. Any translation company who decides to roll with regional translations in games where it's not working: You're doing it wrong. Please, don't do that again.

(And only now I realize I wrote this enormous article for a problem that doesn't bother a lot of groups on Earth...)