Sold in Translation

The one-inch-tall barrier

Warning: Once again, I am talking about colonialism. If you don’t like that, there’s a TLDR at the bottom, and while I do apologize for the continued use of the topic, I do not apologize for talking about it itself.

I’m a subs kind of gal.  And before you stop me there, I should let you know that my position once again involves colonialism. So, are you willing to go against me now?  The reasons that I have are good. So good in fact, that it may surprise you that for the same reasons, ultimately for the sake of media itself, I’m wrong.  It’s a sad, blurred line.

This is Elise and this is Game Praisers Deep Dive, where I take a researched and thought out look at topics that I feel are more difficult or interesting that require more than just a glance.  I hope that we all learn something from this, and while I don’t think my perspective is perfect, I think it should be considered.


I don’t know if you were here when Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho came out in 2019 and 2020, but it is a phenomenal film.  Kind of horror, more thriller-ish style of film.  I don’t want to say anything without spoiling it.  In fact, I recommend watching it without knowing very much.  It is rated R by the MPAA though, just in case you have kiddos around.

My point is that it is a Korean film that won an incredible amount of awards and was recognized by the audiences in the United States.  So of course a foreign film that catches the attention is going to bring up that subs and dubs war.  I always believe the original version is the best intended for something like consumable media.  And so here I’m going to say, watch it in subs.  As the director said himself, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”1 I think that’s very true.  Especially when it comes to acting, I think the cadence and movement of people are very important as to keeping the original feeling. 

However, I don’t like when people say subs are all superior, especially if it’s for the sake of keeping Japan-ness in things.  I know we were just talking about a Korean film but in all honesty the media of anime and video games usually concerns Japan.  I don’t want people saying “subs” to gatekeep.  That’s not the point.  It’s to preserve the cultural aspect of what it is.  Which is why I also argue the point of dubs.  

For people who can, subs are great.  But one cannot say that everyone can keep up with subtitles while watching something.  Some people struggle with things like dyslexia.  Some people are still learning to read English or whatever language they use.  For the people who are trying their best but at the moment can’t read, should have dubs.  The voice actors work very hard to try and be the characters as best as they can.  I trust them in their professionalism to do that.  So ultimately, yes, dubs are fine.  But if you can, I truly desire that you watch in subs.


This great success didn’t come with an amount of sacrifice though.  Success does not mean decolonization.  In fact, it could mean the opposite.  I mean, it’s great that things from Japan are so popular and mainstream now.  I can say that I like anime without people cringing at me now.  And yet…I can’t tell if it’s better.  I feel like there is a lot of moral licensing going around.  Once again, I’m going to outright say that it’s very possible that it just so happens to be in my gaming spheres.  So forgive me if this is just a bad coincidence.  

Moral licensing is kind of like tokenism.  The idea that because we accepted something about this foreign culture, we can now be lenient towards it afterwards.  It means we’re allowed to be a little more racist because we’ve accepted anime.  Obviously that is not the way, but I still see it in clubs and groups today.  Accepting culture is more than just saying you watched anime.  It’s more than just saying “baka”.  You can’t turn around and start making fun of Japanese food methods or traditional cultural beliefs just because you “know more” about Japan now / watch anime.  It just doesn’t work that way.


In Carlson and Corliss’ article about video game localization they start off talking about someone wanting to “be” Japanese.  It is completely fine to want to integrate yourself into a different community, especially if you come to an understanding of the cultural implications.  Not necessarily an acceptance, but an understanding. But “being” Japanese isn’t just about consuming the culture either.  It’s all the negatives and racism that comes with it.  It’s the baggage of the bad things your culture has done as well.  If you’re taking only the good things to be “foreign”, that’s colonialism.  Sometimes it’s literally that exoticism that attracts people though.2

Do you know what we did as Asians in the nineties in the USA?  A lot of us fought back at learning our own languages.  Especially those who were born in the United States and are not off the boat.  And a lot of us regret not learning our own languages now, because now it’s a nice attribute.  We colonized ourselves to try and fit in.  And now in a weird turnabout way, it’s kind of happening again, but in exoticism. There are entire videos on Youtube dedicated to this.3 And I agree, it’s not entirely the people’s fault.  It’s us trying to fit in again as well.


All this.  All this to bring me to the point as to why I’m wrong about subs, and why people would rather things get lost in translation.  I want subs because I want foreignization.  Foreignization is when things are purposely left in their cultural meaning to try and maintain what it was before.4  I want people to have to make an effort to be familiar and understanding to consume these things, not as gatekeeping, but as encouragement.  I said effort, not qualification.  

Foreignization is most commonly seen as transliteration in names.  An example is in Genshin, where some names are left as is: Xiangling, Liyue, Tatarasuna.  But games aren’t about making you learn new cultures.  I’m sorry.  That’s the truth.  Games are localized, and sometimes that’s a very good thing.  Bear with me here.  I always have a teddy bear or plush nearby.  But that phrase grouping would not have worked in another language, right?  Puns and wordplay just don’t work.  One of my favorite examples is in Genshin where Hu Tao’s ultimate is a phrase of “吃飽喝飽,一路走好!”, which is like “Eat well, drink well, journey well.”  But the cadence, rhythm, and wording is extremely difficult to combine in English, so in English she says, “Time to go!”  A lot of Hu Tao’s playfulness is lost in translation.  Although not the best used here, most people would use transcreation to maintain that feeling.

Transcreation is when new content is created in order to try and maintain the character, while localizing it so it still makes sense.  “In game localisation, the feeling of the original ‘gameplay experience’ needs to be preserved in the localised version so that all players share the same enjoyment regardless of their language of choice.”5  Sometimes that kind of content is needed.  It’s ultimately too complicated to leave content foreign.  People buy games to play the content to be enjoyed in the language they want.  

Oh yeah.  I forgot.

People buy games to play content.


Because in the end.  This is about consumerism.  Localization isn’t just here to maintain the experience, it’s to sell the game to their targeted language audience.  Unless the game is about teaching you about understanding cultural context or something, that’s not the point.  This is why no matter how much I would like people to watch Parasite in Korean, ultimately, as a movie people are there to watch a movie.  They’re not here to learn about the nuances of Korean speech.

I’m wrong because I want people to use these pieces of media as a springboard to guide them to new cultures and understandings.  And that’s just not what people do unless they already had that inclination to begin with.  There are developers who want cultural understanding and considerations of perspective, but if it’s not a fun enough game the only people who buy the game are the ones who already wanted understanding.  They’re preaching to the choir.

Can we change minds?  We can.  But we can only change minds by changing ideas of what is already being ignored.  Genshin’s presentation of Chinese opera was well received, but I don’t know if it changed any minds.  It brought to light a new style of opera that many people didn’t know about.  It simply didn’t exist yet, but that won’t change the minds of people who will act ethnocentric.  It won’t change people from recognizing privilege.  It just removes ignorance.

Interest for the sake of understanding is just not a good selling point.  And that’s why all of this doesn’t feel like it has changed as much as I’d have hoped.  People understand things and references more, but I feel like these are things thrown at the process of acceptance or denial for a person’s opinions.  It’s not something to make them question whether or not they’re acting with privilege.  

Globalization of products has changed things, but it’s not fast enough.  I met with someone making their own anime now.  They’re not Japanese, and that’s fine, but they’re also the same person that has some pretty negative, and I dare say colonialist, viewpoints of Japan, which is not fine.  In fact…that’s colonialism.  They took something from another country, made it theirs, and do not respect the origins of it.  

And…it almost doesn’t feel wrong, because the point of it is to sell products.  It’s to sell media.  I think I may have been using energy on this tide that pushes me back and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it.  Some people in the gaming group are saying this is just the way it is.  They’re all white people from the United States.  Am I just trying to be a justice warrior?  Should I ignore it all?  It’s all about selling, so why should I care?  


…I feel like I keep standing on this soapbox and I’m sure most people tire of this, which makes sense.  Elise, why can’t you stop talking about this?  Why do you always bring this up?  Because every single day I have to deal with it, so it’s rather difficult to not have it on my mind.  

…maybe this whole Deep Dive stuff is just me ranting.  Ugh, I apologize.  I really do want people to see the nuances that are more than just senpai and memes.  I just want people to see that cultures are more than just memes and jokes.  Maybe that’s what I should’ve just said.  Hold on.

TLDR: I just want people to see that cultures are more than just memes and jokes.

Or maybe I just need new communities to talk to about games.  Too bad my communities are anonymous discord people.

Thanks for reading, and I PROMISE the next deep dive will not be about racism, colonialism, or ethnocentrism.6  It’ll just be about media.

Elise

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mX3obZ0lXoU
  2. Carlson, R., & Corliss, J. (2011). Imagined Commodities: Video Game Localization and Mythologies of Cultural Difference. Games and Culture, 6(1), 61–82. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412010377322
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNkZIJkXI6g
  4. Cai, Mengge. (2022). Translation of Culture-loaded Words and Cross-cultural Communication from the Perspective of Domestic Games. SHS Web of Conferences. 148. 10.1051/shsconf/202214801025. 
  5. Mangiron, Carme & O’Hagan, Minako. (2006). Game Localisation: Unleashing Imagination with ‘Restricted’ Translation. JOURNAL OF SPECIALISED TRANSLATION. 6. 
  6. Unless you want that.

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