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News & Features Discussion  » [Column] General: Cultural Reference, Localization & Assumed Knowledge

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22 posts found
  SBFord

MMORPG.COM Staff

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 12120

 
OP  4/18/13 9:14:25 PM#1

The games we played are filled with all sorts of symbolism that pertains to the worlds we inhabit. What is sometimes overlooked however, are the cultural symbols that slip in, localization issues and assuming that the whole world thinks the way the dev team does. Check out our latest Fair Game column to weigh our thoughts before leaving your own in the comments.

I believe this is why import games, no matter how good, often have such a difficult road to success. When taken out of their original context, away from a native audience that understands automatically what all those visual cues and spoken references mean, these games no longer make as much sense. It’s not that the games themselves are necessarily bad, or poorly made, but that they are not sufficiently prepared for an audience that isn’t equipped to understand them. Worse, that audience isn’t given the tools to really figure them out.

Read more of Lisa Jonte's Fair Game: Cultural Reference, Localization & Assumed Knowledge.

Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

  Senadina

Hard Core Member

Joined: 4/16/06
Posts: 882

4/19/13 3:07:11 PM#2

Excellent point about not knowing what we know. I think you hit the nail on the head. We have SO many cultural cliches, idioms, and mythical touchstones it is mind boggling.

A few years ago a good friend of mine married a woman from Mexico. At first, our group had not only a language barrier but a cultural one as well. Surprisingly, it was the references we made to Anglocentric fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and myths that were the least understood. The things we were weaned on, that we knew as well as we knew that water is wet, were complete nonsense to her. It opened my eyes in a way I have not forgotten.

Edited after ruminating on my own cultural bias that England encompasses all of Europe. I am sorry.

  Quizzical

Guide

Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 12778

4/19/13 4:14:02 PM#3

Is the problem that localization doesn't include enough references to culture-specific things?  Or is the problem that the original game had too many references to culture-specific things?  Why should a fantasy world be based on real-life cultures at all?  Why can't they have their own cultures and their own ways of doing things?

Why should a game universe have Christmas at all, unless the game takes place on Earth?  That and many other holidays mark events specific to the history of Earth--and events that never took place in Azeroth or Tyria or Norrath.

  maplestone

Advanced Member

Joined: 12/10/08
Posts: 3109

4/19/13 5:06:35 PM#4
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
  sketocafe

Elite Member

Joined: 7/19/11
Posts: 484

4/19/13 5:18:30 PM#5

I much prefer not to see familiar cultural references in games. Make cultural references specifically for the world you've created. Some will be analogous to stuff we're familiar with and some we may not understand until we've explored the world a fair bit. Doing this will add that little bit more life to the world.

When a flight master in WoW tells me, "May the wind be at your back," It isn't something i'm familiar with but it's obvious enough that I don't need to puzzle it out. The first time a quest giver in Tera said, "let's roll," I had to stop and make sure I actually heard that. Then one told me that this wasn't his first time at the rodeo and that was that as far as any chance at immersion went.

 
  BahamutKaiser

Novice Member

Joined: 3/08/13
Posts: 295

On hiatus for a while guys, MMOs still aren't interesting me.

4/19/13 5:20:41 PM#6
It's a definite hurdle, even something ad simple as a turn phrase or joke, or situation which is reminiscent in one culture may have no equivalent in another. Situations like these take very talented translators and writers who can communicate the same effect to a different culture. In specific, triple A games should have detailed localization which may even alter the series of events to fit a different culture. If the audience is there to make millions in separate cultures, specific alterations are worthwhile.

On a broader scale, games have a platform to educate players in foreign customs, cultural differences, and lifestyle. As long as proper introduction is done to make it feel relatable, it can become an interesting alternative to what we are used to, and make things more creative.

I've often wanted fighting games to have each character speak in their native language, like soul calibur. The introduction of foreign behavior may be odd at first, but later it adds to immersion and cultural influence, certain characters could be bilingual and respond in the opponents language, and subtitles could share what their expressing.

Overall, cultural differences may be a barrier, but they can also enrich a game. Many of us have learned several Japanese customs simply from exposure, and some of it ain't bad :P

Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, if they get angry, they'll be a mile away... and barefoot.

  Jerek_

Apprentice Member

Joined: 5/08/04
Posts: 391

4/19/13 5:36:00 PM#7

One of the things I really enjoy about foreign media is the moments when I realize I didn't get something and get to search for the meaning.  I like finding out something like this about a culture I've never encountered in real life. 

A good example is anime-  sometimes when I watch it in English they simply remove or substitute content that I wouldn't get, then I watch the same thing thats been subtitled and they leave in it even though its confusing.  Once I figure out whats going on I feel like I was robbed the first time and often I get a better understanding of the characters or plot than I would have if it had been localized for me.

I can see why MMORPG's would be a somewhat different case, because you don't want to lose the players that wouldn't or couldn't figure out what they didn't understand, but it still makes me feel like I'm missing something neat.

  Arkudel

Novice Member

Joined: 6/13/06
Posts: 20

4/19/13 8:07:50 PM#8

I totally agree here -- it's interesting to note that, despite the success of American movies in foreign markets, some of the cultural concepts never embedded themselves like they did in American English.

 

Currently, I work teaching adults in Korea conversational and business English. You wouldn't believe how much of my job involves answering questions that ultimately trace back to either Star Wars or Star Trek. Now, when a class leans too heavily in that direction, I give them homework to go watch the original Star Wars trilogy.

 

Conversely, they have a lot of French literature here and often make references to children stories in particular, and although I understand the words they are saying, lacking that cultural knowledge they usually just get a confused look out of me. It really serves as a wake-up call and game makers as well need to familiarize themselves with these cultural nuances on both sides of the world if they want to meet success.

  bcbully

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/03/12
Posts: 6489

4/19/13 10:54:58 PM#9

Nice write. We need more columnist like this. 

 

It's strange how we in america see the world. We know english while the rest of the world  knows their native language plus english. 

 

With regards to AoW there will never be anything telling you "go here to do this." That's just not the way it works. Example no guide is going to tell you how to hire 2 lowbies to run dungeons for you so that you can advance your internal quest. That's not in the rule book. That's freedom. 

 

I don't think you 're talking about that type of thing though. I think you're talking about "What's this stat do," or how to set up a shop. In this case you are right, there could be better explainations. At the same time AoW would require a 500 page manual to breakdown and explain everything. Then again that's what questions and guides are for.

 

Getting lost comes along with freedom. That freedom western developers have not been giving us. Quest, Dungeons, Battlegrounds. Tokens for eachh, and maybe a title for achievment. There's no freedom there, no variables, thus "quick, well written tutorials." do job of explaining how a particular game handles these familiar systems.

 

I'm no genius as you can see by my spelling and typing, but with a little effort I've been able to learn the systems and also about several cultures. It's neat being on neutral ground, in mumble, with people from pakistan to vietnam.

  erictlewis

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/08/08
Posts: 3047

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

4/19/13 11:18:12 PM#10
Originally posted by maplestone
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

Wow great star trek reference, being as it was on their facebook page today.

I got to agree with the op, and this is why I avoid so many of the korean games, I just don't know enough about their culture to understand the game devs and what they are trying to accomplish. 

 

  bcbully

Hard Core Member

Joined: 3/03/12
Posts: 6489

4/19/13 11:41:50 PM#11
Originally posted by erictlewis
Originally posted by maplestone
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

Wow great star trek reference, being as it was on their facebook page today.

I got to agree with the op, and this is why I avoid so many of the korean games, I just don't know enough about their culture to understand the game devs and what they are trying to accomplish. 

 

damn i missed this. Darmok and Jalad fought together at Tanagra.  

 

AoW is chinese btw :p just incase you didn't know, you probably do.

  berlight

Novice Member

Joined: 9/14/10
Posts: 163

4/20/13 3:41:47 AM#12
Just for your reference Lisa acarajé isnt a brasilian dish but an african one brought there by portuguese people. :P

Beta tester maniac

  aspekx

Advanced Member

Joined: 12/24/05
Posts: 2148

4/20/13 4:51:57 AM#13

You nailed the primary reason I decided not to play AoW and why I believe Asian f2p models often have a difficult time in the Western mmorpg markets. The answer to both is far too many assumed cultural reference points.

Why are certain f2p shop options seen as violations or p2win and yet in Asia seem to do fine? Westerners must clearly have a different vision of free and cash shops and what constitutes fair value, exchange value, and what is fair to sell.

I really enjoy Japanese manga, but I find myself constantly bumping up against cultural assumptions. Some of which are enlightening, others violate not just my sense of propriety, but rather solid ethical stands (treatment, role, and expectations of women being the most common).

Some things are worth taking a stand on, others you have to ask yourself, "Is this really a hill I am willing to die on?"

 

"There are at least two kinds of games.
One could be called finite, the other infinite.
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
an infinite game for the purpose of continuing play."
Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

  aspekx

Advanced Member

Joined: 12/24/05
Posts: 2148

4/20/13 4:55:27 AM#14
Originally posted by bcbully
Originally posted by erictlewis
Originally posted by maplestone
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

Wow great star trek reference, being as it was on their facebook page today.

I got to agree with the op, and this is why I avoid so many of the korean games, I just don't know enough about their culture to understand the game devs and what they are trying to accomplish. 

 

damn i missed this. Darmok and Jalad fought together at Tanagra.  

 

AoW is chinese btw :p just incase you didn't know, you probably do.

 

maplestone just won this lil corner of the interwebz and a statue Gilgamesh and Enkidu locked in struggle.

"There are at least two kinds of games.
One could be called finite, the other infinite.
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
an infinite game for the purpose of continuing play."
Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

  itchmon

Hard Core Member

Joined: 1/21/07
Posts: 1420

4/20/13 2:05:53 PM#15
This is probably a topic that could hold a weekly column down on its own for a long time. Thanx for bringing it to light. I am sure it offers insight for a lot of us as to why some games give us that kind of uncannily "off" feeling. (And ya, AoW is basically the best example).

I think this needs a follow up :) u know what would be great? A follow up from a non-north american speaking about their experiences with an american game.

RIP Ribbitribbitt you are missed, kid.

Currently Playing EVE, DFUW

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.

Dwight D Eisenhower

My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud.

Henry Rollins

  kadepsyson

Hard Core Member

Joined: 5/15/06
Posts: 1964

The doctors say his chances are 50/50...but there's only a 10% chance of that.

4/21/13 12:00:15 AM#16

I think the point Quizzical brought up in his second paragraph is excellent.

 

I'd much prefer an original game with its own history and culture specific to the world the game involves than one that tries for being original but is Earth with elves and Santa.

 

Anyone have some examples of games such as that?  Original setting with very little to tie it to traditions in real Earth?

The examples of unoriginal are much more common.

El Psy Congroo

  Quizzical

Guide

Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 12778

4/21/13 9:25:21 PM#17

One other thing that I'd like to throw out there is the approach taken by Uncharted Waters Online.  It borrows heavily from real-life human cultures.  But it takes stuff from many different cultures, and then explains all of it.  Some things in the game that would be familiar to Japanese players wouldn't be familiar to most Western players and vice versa.  Stuff from Yoruba or Aztec cultures would be unfamiliar to the overwhelming majority of players of every language version.

And even for a lot of the familiar stuff, it digs up information that you might not have known.  For example, if you're an American, you probably know where the Mississippi River is, but did you know that "Mississippi" literally means "big river" in its original language?

  Wylf

Advanced Member

Joined: 4/13/13
Posts: 108

4/22/13 1:24:04 AM#18

Great post and discussion!

Originally posted by maplestone
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

Captured the essence of OP's message...fabulous!

  Rajani_Isa

Novice Member

Joined: 3/05/09
Posts: 21

4/22/13 2:15:21 AM#19
Originally posted by bcbully

Nice write. We need more columnist like this. 

 

It's strange how we in america see the world. We know english while the rest of the world  knows their native language plus english. 

Almost, but not quite. It's not so much a language barrier (although that can be part of it) but a cultural one. While heavily releated, they are not the same. For example, while English, how many of us would get saying "F A B" as a way of going everything's fine, here in the USA? (Although not sure how popular it is anymore in UK, but it was used a lot in the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderbirds_(TV_series) as short for fabulous)? Would people from other countries get the joke/reference in naming a horse "Mr. Ed"?

 

There are a number of ways to reference a culture without meaning to, is what the article seems to be getting at, simply because as being a person of that culture it's a given like (as mentioned above) "water is wet"

 
  jesad

Elite Member

Joined: 9/30/06
Posts: 661

Think of something witty and pretend that I typed it in this spot :)

4/22/13 4:34:22 AM#20

I’d like to join in by saying that I also think this was a great post, and a great topic to dialogue about.

As far as localizations go, speaking from experience, they are almost always an afterthought.  Now I am talking from experience gained years ago so don't quote me, but back in the old days (using my best codger voice) even when a company knew that it was going to release a product in a different language or several different languages, it was enough just to make basic game play understandable and get it out the door.  Genuine interest and perseverance were expected to get the player through the rest.  This often even added a level of complexity to the games that later on was greatly appreciated (See Everquest 1).

Game releases were a tricky business though, dates had to be set and met, boxes and instruction booklets had to be printed, bills had to be paid.  In that kind of "rush, rush" environment idiosyncrasy was both too expensive and too time consuming to consider.

If you can imagine, think about it this way.  The instruction booklet for the game has to be printed some few months ahead of the release of the game in order to make it into the box by the time the game is ready to ship.  In that amount of time so many things may have changed via patches, etc...., options removed or added, graphics changed etc... that by the time the game actually releases, the instruction book has become nothing but a waste of money and effort.

This is why a lot of MMO's don't come with instructions btw.

I think that it's something that most gamers eventually get used to though.  The worst times however, are when that inadequacy in localization hits certain cultures in their squishy areas. 

Those moments, whether intentional or not, should always be avoided at any cost as the enjoyment that they provide is minimal and the lessons they teach often embarrassing to all of the involved parties. 

A prime example of this is the use of the Swastika in many Japanese games.  In Japan that symbol stands for something completely different, but the moment an American lays their eyes on it the first thing that pops into our head is "HITLER!".  The same thing can be said about the Iron Cross, which means one thing in one place and another thing in another, or instances when you realize that certain races self-identify in ways that you'd never imagined, or something as simple as there not being a skin color slider in a game when "human" is a choosable race.

All of these things are moments when the lack of awareness of the writer or artist become painfully visable to the onlooker, and all you can really say about it is "shenanigans!" and hope that it gets fixed in the patch.

I always call them on this stuff though, because if someone doesn't say something, no one will ever know what they don't know.

And knowing, is half the battle.........LOL

Sorry for the wall.

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