A Thought On Localization and Censorship


Funny how my last post was about inaction. And here I am, a week late. But at last some action came together, for this collection of words is now a thing!

Regardless of what circles you happen to be in, most people agree that censorship is a bad thing. The idea that conversation can be halted because some party doesn’t like what the other is saying. And for those involved in video games, the topic of censorship seems to come up every day.

But I’m going to make a simple point that is worth thinking about:

All localization is censorship.

It can’t be helped. This isn’t just about how some words and phrases can’t be translated directly. It’s about how the act of localization is entirely about making sure something from a different culture and cultural biases fits into your culture and cultural biases.

People say things like, “but they’re removing something from the original,” even when the original creator approved the change. And yet, that statement will always be true. Once you take out all of the original language, the game is no longer going to bring the exact same message.

Ironically, for those who don’t speak Japanese and don’t deeply understand Japanese culture, playing a game in Japanese without some of these understandings can lead to a experience the developer didn’t intend. The developer wants you to play and understand the game. By going through with a localization, you’re getting closer to the heart of the experience than by playing the original. Even if you don’t pick up all the references and allusions in Okami or Persona.

You might say: I’m fine with the localization if they’re just changing the words. I don’t want them to change the images. I don’t want them to remove features and activities and scenes altogether. And that’s fair, in a sense. I would love to have the option to buy the game legitimately outside Japan with as few changes as possible. But in most cases, it doesn’t make business sense.

So, my recommendation: come to Japan, learn Japanese, delve into Japanese culture, and play the game as it was intended to be played. It’s a little legwork, but if you really care about experiencing the original, that’s what it takes. Otherwise, are you really respecting the original?

Idle Thoughts

The past week was “Golden Week” here in Japan. It’s only technically three days, which fell on Sunday (Constitution Day), Monday (Green Day), and Tuesday (Children’s Day) this year. Wednesday was also a holiday to make up for the fact that Sunday was a holiday, and Japan’s always making sure everyone’s taking their needed breaks.

I went out Sunday to don a happi and happily help carry an omikoshi around. Like last year, my shoulders hurt a lot while doing it, but the constant alcohol along the way (beer, sake) helped me ignore the pain. I’m sure it was very safe.

Monday I went to a Brazilian festival in a town two hours away where my friend lives. The festival was awesome! The food was great, music not bad, shows good. I learned a lot about coffee (of which Brazil makes a lot) and tried to Samba dance and failed, which should surprise nobody that knows me. It was a good experience. Maybe if I put in the time and effort, I could do it someday.

We had a barbeque at that friend’s place afterward. Good ol’ American barbeque sauce in a jug the size of which could only be bought in America. Talked a little about video games, watched some Key and Peele, ate a little too much.

The next day we went north to Kesennuma, the very northeast most part of Miyagi (essentially, the exact furthest point in Miyagi from my town). Due to the disaster in 2011, we still needed to travel through Iwate to get there since the other roads aren’t rebuilt. After we got there, we enjoyed a little walk, I vacuumed the friend’s house we were staying at while drinking wine, we went to an izakaya where we drank a lot more, and then ended the day at a bar, playing darts and arm wrestling Japanese people who were back here for Golden Week. Sean John, who will probably never read this: you’re great.

The next day we woke up late and groggy, drank a lot of coffee, bought some omiyage and went for Nepalese curry at Kesennuma’s best restaurant ever, Yeti. After eating, we all pretty much donated money to the recovery from the recent disaster. I’m glad I donated, because I’d been meaning to. But to be honest, I haven’t done much donating before. Nothing beyond the coins in my pocket. It’s only really when it’s convenient, like when there’s a box next to the cash register at an amazing restaurant. But I should donate more.

On a completely separate note, a friend let me borrow Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’m still playing Xenoblade X (and probably will be for a bit) (also, it’s awesome). While most of the games I’ve bought in Japan, I’ve played in Japanese, I played Child of Light in English, and I might play DA:I in English too. That was the language of the developers, right? That was the original way the story was intended, if that’s a thing. I certainly believe it’s a thing. As a creator myself, I’m tempted to believe that all games should be played in the language of their creators, if possible, at least the first time.

Of course, I’m tempted to play Child of Light again in Japanese. How would it sound, when the game was so poetic to begin with? Is it all in haikus?

I got back last night, tired, but still with energy to watch videos while I did my laundry. It was a good Golden Week in any case. Good people, fun places, new experiences. But I am ready to play some video games again.