Video Games Translation & Localisation: The Struggles of a Linguist

Video Games Translation & Localisation: The Struggles of a Linguist

With all the new media available nowadays, the world of translation and localisation is a completely different field than it was a decade ago.

Besides the regular texts, we now get to work with sites, mobile apps, video scripts, and yes, video games. However, in order to work with these types of media, you need to understand how they work and how they address the end user. Otherwise, misspellings and mistakes in translation/localisation can create confusions and even bring down the rating of the project.

Believe it or not, this tends to happen a lot in the video games industry.

When a title gets popular enough, it gets published in other countries. But in order to appeal to the local public, the action, voices, and all the text need to be translated and localised for the native players. For this, the game producers first hire a team of translators to work on the text, after which the text is reviewed by a language tester (or a person who does the proofreading). This person tests to see if the translation fits the action and checks for localisation errors (colloquialisms, expressions, use of idioms, terminology, and so on).

This means that the language tester also gets to play the game while working, which is quite a fun activity!

How do you Translate a Video Game?

In the best case scenario, the developers send over the text files (which is usually an Excel file with all the lines of text) and the game. This way, the translator(s) can work on the translation while going through the action and can adapt his/her work based on what’s happening in the game.

However, due to budget cuts or tight deadlines, most game developers only send the Excel file and ask for the quickest turnaround possible. This leads to errors in interpretation, which is why thorough proofreading is required once the translation is implemented into the game.

Quick note: When you don’t have access to the entire material and only work with bits and pieces, it doesn’t matter your level of experience as a translator, mistakes will happen (regardless of the niche)! We’ve actually discussed the subject and how you can help the work of a translator, as a customer, in this article.

Now, if the people in charge of proofreading and localisation don’t have the chance to do their job right, the game will be launched with a disconnected translation (phrases that don’t connect, literal translation that doesn’t make sense, instructions that don’t really fit the action, and so on). And the results may be less than positive for the producers.

Not to mention that such a job is extremely frustrating for a translator who wants to deliver high-quality work!

Developers Who Got in Trouble

Games use language to communicate with their players and attract them through storytelling. Language (written or spoken) is used to give quests, awards, rewards, and describe various elements in the game.

Sadly, even big companies, like Bethesda Game Studios, don’t pay too much attention to translations. For them, the problem doesn’t arrive from lack of funds, but from incredibly tight deadlines. For instance, one of Bethesda’s biggest productions, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is filled with literal translations in languages other than English.

Obsidian Entertainment is another developer that uses literal translations in their Fallout: New Vegas. A good example is the Italian version, where the word “restrooms” is translated as “stanze di riposo”, which means actual rooms designed for rest and relaxation (and not bathrooms).

The list could go on (here you can find some more juicy examples), but the conclusion is clear: if translators are not allowed to do their job or if they don’t have access to the entire material, the result can’t be promising.