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08/19/2003

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Jake of 8bitjoystick.com

I can't wait to see what Japan thinks of GTA3 when Capcom is done with the Nihongo version.

DarkZero

"Too many games simply translate text and do not take into account such things as cultural metaphors, mental models, navigation, interaction, and appearance preferences. Even just scanning some news articles you get a sense of German's extreme dislike of violence, English fear of blood, Korea's connectedness, the dark side of online gaming, potential areas of racism, and so on. Just to name a few areas of contention..."

So basically what he's saying is that, for example, American gamers want Hotsuma from Shinobi to be transformed from a polite, borderline tortured ninja to a street tough, hard-assed mobster that "don't take no shit from nobody", because we enjoy new games more when they appear to be nothing more than the games we already have. My God, this man's a GENIUS! No wonder anime and Japanese video games never took off in the United States!


Seriously, though. Experiencing other cultures' metaphors, appearance preferences, and other cultural quirks is a good thing. Besides the obvious educational value of seemlessly learning the mythologies, beliefs, and contemporary realities of other cultures by enjoying their media, it also offers us something other than what we already have. If all anime were edited into pseudo-American cartoons like Voltron and Robotech were, the anime market in the United States arguably would not be as robust as it is now. If the only way to watch a Hong Kong action movie was with the violence edited out, they wouldn't be worth watching. No one has any interest in a watered-down version of another culture's entertainment, regardless of medium. Thankfully video games haven't suffered very much from this problem since the days of the SNES.

Frank

Does anyone else feel like in Japan the goal of the RPG is to be a lot like real life rather than to be a fantastic alternate world? Rather than serving as an escape from things like work, it embraces the virtual job and makes it fun not by making it any more interesting than your real job, but by making you want to work very hard because your in-game avatar is just so darn cute. If you look at the Japan-only releases of the Final Fantasy series, they're SO different than the ones released in the US. I think it has something to do with the Japanese work ethic. No more than two weeks vacation and after work your videogames have to make you feel useful. -F

Jason Della Rocca

Very good points re: consuming "native" content. But, I suppose it depends on what the goal is.

If your goal is specifically to appeal (ie, sell) to as wide an audience in a given country/region as possible, then you'd be well advised to factor in cultural differences.

As one example, I think Microsoft could learn a lot in terms of device, UI, and game orientation when hiting the Asian markets. Certainly, not all Japanese gamers are interested in consuming American "flavored" content...

DarkZero

"If your goal is specifically to appeal (ie, sell) to as wide an audience in a given country/region as possible, then you'd be well advised to factor in cultural differences.

As one example, I think Microsoft could learn a lot in terms of device, UI, and game orientation when hiting the Asian markets. Certainly, not all Japanese gamers are interested in consuming American "flavored" content..."

It's one thing to factor in cultural differences when you're MAKING the game. If making a multicultural (or at least internationally friendly) game is the idea behind the project, then that can be accomplished. All of the Mario games are great examples of this. They offend no one while still providing a vibrant, enjoyable world with a control scheme that works for everyone. Taking a game that is ALREADY made and then changing it to make it internationally friendly, however, is a different matter. I've never seen a case of a game, movie, or any other form of media being retooled for another country without it becoming little more than a shining example of that country's most vapid, boring cliches. If you take a brilliant and original idea and try to retool it into what you view as a palettable product in another country, you're not going to turn that brilliant and original idea into another, equally brilliant and original idea. You're going to turn it into a cliche that will bore the people of that nation.

I actually think that the Xbox is a great example of what I'm saying here. The answer to the Xbox's problems in Japan isn't to turn all of the characters in Midnight Club 2 into Asian kids racing around Tokyo and Osaka or to make the characters in Halo more closely fit the ideal of a Japanese soldier or samurai. It's to make more original, high quality RPGs, dating sims, and sports sims. That is, for them to create NEW games that are palettable to Japanese gamers, not to take what they already have and turn it into a hacked-up pile of cliches.

I also can't think of any example where heavily editing a game before its release in another country has been responsible for blockbuster sales. Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, Final Fantasy X, and Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire have all done extremely well in both the United States and Japan. Starcraft, Diablo 2, and Warcraft 3 had blockbuster sales in Korea. And to a lesser extent, the Korean MMORPG Ragnarok Online has held one of the top spots at GameFAQs all summer, even though much of its recent beta was still written in Hangul when it was released. None of these games, as far as I know, had anything other than their text changed in their international releases, but they still had blockbuster sales. Which edited, [insert nation here]-ized games beat their sales in their respective nations?

Silhouette

usually blood or profanity is excised as the game crosses an ocean

That's very interesting, because an argument often made FOR including (or basing a game around) gore/profanity is that it will be implicitly understood by people in different regions/cultures. Therefore it's cheap and profitable to export the violence, and therefore more games are made to include violence.

If things like gore are being changed for different cultures, perhaps the idea that violence and gore is universal isn't even being followed.

md

When it comes to translating material between cultures, I think you have to take a look at how important is the cultural content to the material. Despite whats being implied in some posts here, it is not a seemless or easy thing to convey the mental models etc. of a culture. And it's even harder when those cultural ideas are taken for granted by the original author, with no attempt whatsoever to explain them.

Good examples of whole-sale cultural translantions are the remakes of Akira Kurosawa's movies, like the seven samurai, into westerns such as the magnificent seven. To keep samurai s in those movies, when 1950's americans had little if any cultural context about what samurais were, would have been irritating at best. To americans, the seven samurai's message of the importance of humanism would have been lost among their struggles of simply trying to understand what these samurai were about, and questions like why did they do this or that.

Now, if the culture plays a significant part of the movie or game, instead of simply being a backdrop, then yeah, there is a very strong case for keeping that content in there. and sometimes the cultural quirks are a selling point, like in anime. but if it's not important to what the core of the material is about and potential detrimental to understanding, then it should handled somehow.

md

Another point I forgot to make, which is directed at DarkZero's post.

"I also can't think of any example where heavily editing a game before its release in another country has been responsible for blockbuster sales. Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, Final Fantasy X, and Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire have all done extremely well in both the United States and Japan. Starcraft, Diablo 2, and Warcraft 3 had blockbuster sales in Korea. "

The thing is none of those games have a great deal of sensitive/unknown cultural content. If anything, those games are a strong argument to making games which are not high with incompatible or unknown cultural content, as cultural differences are such a signifcant barrier. A better comparison would be edited games versus unedited games with a lot of cultural content in them. Think more along the lines of trying to sell in the US an edited pachinko game vs a hentai-deluxe pachinko game topped with tentacle goodness. Both are tough sells, but the edited version arguably has a better chance.

William

A lot of the search for cultural differences occurs at the wrong scale, looking at the obvious over-the-top differences (samurai! cowboys!) instead of the more historical and deep-social differences.

One major difference in game-culture between the US and Japan, in my observation, is that Japan's game-consumption is more intergenerational. To an extent I almost never saw in the US, I saw Japanese parents -especially mothers (who are less likely to work than American mothers, and more likely to supervise children all day) playing the videogames with their kids. Almost all the time. The parents seemed to know exactly what games their kids were playing, and more than one rather conventional-looking Mom would know the secrets of Final Fantasy games, could show me how to master the nuances of Mister Maestro, and played a mean Taiko no Tatsujin.

The videogames are in the living rooms, and in Japan living rooms usually have more family members in it. There are some latchkey kids, but not nearly as much as in the US. Latchkey kids may well be the foundation of the US video-game market.

There is also a tradition of 'deracinated' development of certain cultural exports. The design goal is called "mu-kokuseki", without nationality - studios want content that doesn't "smell Japanese" (their term, not mine) for export. (This is a design constraint that Hollywood doesn't really internalize - they are exporting Americaness in a way that Japan is not exporting Japaneseness.) It is not a design goal of every Japanese cultural product, but the sense that a signifcant percentage of the market is overseas, and that the overseas market would be discouraged by material that seemed "too Japanese", motivates a lot of the design decisions in anime and videogame production. (It's also one of the reasons why the Japanese film industry is in decline and money that once went to fund films now goes to fund anime - film is impossible to free from obvious national/ethnic/racial determination in the same way animation is.) So if a product is developed with knowledge aforehand of exportability, it's likely that there was an editorial process of removing some of what they thought of as culturally-overdetermined material.

There's a good detailed look at the nature of Japanese cultural exports and the resulting shifting identities in the book "Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism" by Koichi Iwabuchi.

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